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Disney World's Plan to Take On Universal Studio's Epic Universe

TheStreet logo TheStreet 4/1/2023 Daniel Kline

Universal Studios has a new theme park coming in Florida that will make it a much stronger rival to the Mouse House.

For decades, Disney World was a week-long family-destination collection of theme parks, water parks, shopping, dining, and entertainment. 

With four theme-park gates -- Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios, along with the Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon water parks -- a family could easily book a long stay and never leave the Disney World property.

Universal Studios Florida has never offered that kind of experience. The Comcast (CMCSA) - Get Free Report theme-park property has two parks -- Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure along with the Volcano Bay water park. 

Even when you add in the City Walk shopping and dining district and the many on-site hotels, many vacationers still view the company's offerings as an add-on to a Disney trip or a day-long escape during your Disney World vacation.

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Epic Universe, Universal Studios' under-construction third gate (fourth in Comcast's parlance as the company considers its water park the third) may change that. 

The new theme park will house the company's Nintendo World attractions, a land devoted to its iconic monster characters, and of course, a third "Wizarding World of Harry Potter."

In theory, three traditional theme parks, including one that's completely new featuring top-tier intellectual property, could tip the balance in favor of Universal Studios and prompt families to vacation there. 

That's something Walt Disney (DIS) - Get Free Report executives must be worried about, but you may be surprised by what the company is doing to answer this massive challenge.

Universal Studios Florida will add Super Nintendo World as part of Epic Universe. Universal Studios Hollywood © Provided by TheStreet Universal Studios Florida will add Super Nintendo World as part of Epic Universe. Universal Studios Hollywood

Here's What Disney World Isn't Doing   

While Disney has made some major additions to Disney World, including "Pandora: World of Avatar" at Animal Kingdom and both "Toy Story Land" and "Star Wars: Galaxy Edge" at Hollywood Studios, it has very little on the new rides/lands docket after some current projects are completed.

Magic Kingdom is about to add "Tron: Lightcycle / Run" while Epcot recently added a ride based on "Ratatouille" and the "Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind" roller coaster. But Disney has been very quiet about its plans for after the Epcot remodel is finished. That seems odd when you consider that its crosstown rival in Florida has an entire new park opening in 2025.

Disney won't be doing one particular thing, according to Theme Park Tourist, a well-respected blog that covers the theme park industry.

"There's a reason that Disney World hasn't added a new theme park since 1998, nor a waterpark since 1995," the site reported. "It's because Disney World is viewed as a largely 'mature' enterprise; one whose growth phase is behind it, and that has now settled into a very nice, steady, and respectable status quo. 

"This perspective imagines Walt Disney World as something of a 'Goldilocks' with just the right amount of things to do -- enough for a once-a-year family from the Midwest to stay five nights with a four-day ticket, but enough for a British family to stay on-property for two weeks without getting bored."  

That does not mean, however, that Disney World won't be expanding. Disney CEO Bob Iger addressed the issue in a recent speech.

Disney CEO Has Big Plans for Disney World    

While Disney is not likely to build a fifth gate at Disney World, that does not mean it's not going to expand its offerings. Iger has been very clear that he's worried about crowding at the parks and says there's an easy way to solve that problem.

"Certainly, in Florida, we have a lot of property, and we have a lot of opportunity outside the United States. We actually have more opportunity in California than people are aware," he said. 

"As we continue to invest in those businesses, which is essentially building out new capacity or new attractions, it gives us the ability to ... service more people. The more attractions you have, obviously, the more people have to do. We can also mine our IP more effectively." 

That's not a direct promise of more rides and attractions at Disney World, but it's a heavy implication that that's the plan. Iger also made clear that he sees nearly endless opportunity in building out rides and attractions based on the company's library of characters.

"Franchises that we do well with in film and in television are truly leverageable at the parks level, as we learned with the Star Wars investments that we've made, the Avatar investment we made in Florida, the Toy Story investments that we've made," he said.

"And that creates growth for us because it increases capacity and it improves our marketability. And that we have opportunity that is almost -- I mean, I'd say endless, but we obviously don't have endless amounts of capital. But in terms of IP to mine, we have almost endless opportunity there, and that's growth."


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