I’m fresh off a 3-day stay at Universal Resort Orlando. Yes, the girl who wouldn’t look twice at any other park other than Walt Disney World, spent 3 nights at Universal. The only part of Disney I saw was way off in the distance from my hotel room window at the beautiful Aventura Hotel. As part of the trip, I was attending the media event for Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike Adventure. This was also my first experience at a media event and I kept having to pinch myself to make sure it was real, it felt like a dream.
However, there was a small part of me that felt like I was betraying Disney and I didn’t want Mickey Mouse to find out about this. That feeling lingered with me throughout my time at Universal, and I found myself often comparing the two every other second. I am such a Disney person that I even had family and friends reaching out to me to see if I was “homesick.” Weird, isn’t it? I was allowed to experience this amazing attraction before the public, and here I was, feeling like I owed something to Disney World. Universal blew me away and is much bigger than I expected. In total there are 3 theme parks and to do everything Universal has to offer you have to be there for an extended stay. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter was far beyond anything I have ever seen at Walt Disney World, or any theme park for that matter. I know it’s been open for a while now, but why are people still not talking about how immersive the Wizarding World is? Every corner I turned, every sight I saw of that park, I was left speechless. And believe me when I say, Universal has completely changed the game for theme parks, when it comes to Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure. I know Smuggler’s Run at Galaxy’s Edge has yet to open, but it’s going to be hard to top after riding Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure. On my way back to the hotel after the event, I had such a great time that it got me thinking I might actually want to trade in my light saber for a wizard wand. The good news is, I don’t have to trade either in. I could have both.
It’s not a coincidence that the question I get asked the most is, “Disney or Universal?” The more I thought about it, I realized that as consumers we’re choosing theme parks like we’re choosing the sports teams we root for. I’m a Yankees fan so naturally, I make it a point to root against the Boston Redsox. In any sport, it’s only your team and there’s no other. But here’s the thing, and it might come as a shock to some of us, theme parks aren’t professional sports. There’s no final score, or clear winner and loser. Actually, if anyone loses it’s the consumer. By choosing Disney or Universal, we miss out on once in a lifetime experiences and the chance to make lasting memories with family and friends. Isn’t that the actual point of a vacation?
When there is competition in the theme park industry, it benefits all of us and works in our favor. As a fan of Harry Potter and Star Wars, I should be eternally grateful to Universal Resort. I want to personally thank each human being who created and built the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. It had me feeling like a little kid again, wanting to be a student at Hogwart’s learning how to cast spells. It’s because of Universal’s success with the Wizarding World (specifically in large part to Diagon Alley), that I truly believe Disney had no choice but to answer back with this extremely ambitious and over the top version of Galaxy’s Edge we’ll see open in Florida within the next few months. Because of the competition between the two, all of us are benefiting from it by being immersed in the world of these characters we love so much. The nostalgia factor is there too. Most parents my age have grown up with Star Wars and Harry Potter, how lucky are we that we have these parks to bring our children to and raise them to become Jedis and Hugglepuffs?
If you’re like me, you wonder where and why all of this hysteria and feeling like we need to pick sides came from. To answer the question, one needs to look back at where all of this started, and that’s the late ’80s when Universal Studios announced plans to build a park that would resemble their successful studio tour in California. Michael Eisner was Disney’s CEO, who also happened to be the former head at Paramount. Eisner announced that Disney’s third theme park would be a collaboration between them and Paramount, and the park would be called- The Disney MGM Studios.
Universal was certain Eisner had known of their plans for an Orlando studio park as head of Paramount and quietly started clearing the land for their park ahead of schedule. Originally, Universal had a different plan for what the park would be. They quickly learned that Eisner intended for a tram tour through façade streets and production facilities to be the main attraction of Disney’s new park. Universal then separated the elements that had been contained on their studio tour (an encounter with King Kong, the experience of an earthquake in the New York subway station, a run-in with a very hungry Jaws, and production facility tours) into individual attractions. Technically, we have Disney and Eisner to thank for Universal giving us some of our most beloved rides and attractions. The race was on but it was Disney that in the end, opened their park first. In 1989, MGM opened, a full year before Universal.
With a history like that, how can fans of either park not feel like we have to choose? In a way, it’s almost in our subconscious, it’s ingrained in us. By writing this article, I intended to show Disney fans that success in another theme park, does not hurt our beloved Disney. Harry Potter is not a threat to Mickey Mouse and the success of Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike Adventure certainly won’t affect the inevitable success of Galaxy’s Edge. Visiting Universal Resort Orlando, will not make you any less of a Disney fan. Trust me, having just spent 3 days at Universal, I’m happy to report that pixie dust is still coursing through my veins. The same applies to Universal fans, it won’t hurt you to take a trip down I-4 for a few days and visit some rowdy pirates or live like a princess for a day.
Ultimately, each park provides families with a bunch of these little moments and experiences throughout their vacation, which all add up to create memories that will last forever. As parents to young children, my husband and I know that although we might be in the thick of the craziness, the years will fly by. Before we know it, they will be too cool to vacation with mom and dad, let alone be seen anywhere near a mouse or a minion. These years and these vacations are precious, let’s stop wasting time choosing between the two.
Disney fans can be Universal fans too.
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