The Backstory and History of Why These Parks Are So Similar
If you’re a theme park enthusiast or a fan of blockbuster movies, you’ll know that two of the biggest players in the game are Universal and Disney. Both of these entertainment giants have their own versions of movie-based theme parks in Central Florida, those being Universal Studios Florida and Disney’s Hollywood Studios respectively. With both parks offering a range of attractions, shows, and experiences, it can be tough to decide on which one to visit.
In this article, we’ll compare and contrast Universal Studios Florida and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, looking at everything from the rides and attractions to the food and ambiance, to help you decide which park is right for you. So, grab some popcorn, put on your favorite pair of Mickey ears or Harry Potter robe, and let’s dive into the battle of the movie-based theme parks!
History Between Disney and Universal
Universal and Disney are two of the biggest entertainment companies in the world today, but their histories are vastly different.
Interestingly, Disney and Universal were once connected in a way that few people realize. In 1927, Walt Disney created Oswald the Lucky Rabbit, a cartoon character that quickly became a hit. However, in 1928, Disney lost the rights to Oswald to Universal Studios, which led to a falling out between Disney and Universal’s founder, Carl Laemmle. Disney went on to create Mickey Mouse as a replacement for Oswald, and the rest, as they say, is history.
However, in 2006, Disney reacquired the rights to Oswald from Universal, which marked a significant turning point in the relationship between the two companies. Today, Disney and Universal are fierce competitors in the theme park industry, with each company offering their own unique brand of entertainment and experiences.
Race Between Universal and Disney
In the late 1980s, the two entertainment giants entered into a race to create the first Hollywood-themed theme park in Central Florida. Both companies recognized the popularity of movie-based attractions and saw an opportunity to capitalize on the trend.
Disney’s MGM Studios, won the race to create a Hollywood-themed park. The park, which was eventually named Disney’s Hollywood Studios, opened in May of 1989 and featured attractions and shows based on classic movies and TV shows such as Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and The Muppets.
Universal Studios was not far behind. Universal opened their Hollywood-themed park in June of 1990. The park featured rides and attractions based on popular movies such as Back to the Future, Jaws, and E.T., as well as a variety of shows and experiences. Universal Studios Florida became an instant hit, attracting millions of visitors each year.
Universal Studios Florida faced some stiff competition from Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Disney’s park had a larger budget and more resources, which allowed them to create more elaborate attractions and experiences. However, Universal Studios Florida had the advantage of being a major player the movie industry, which gave it a certain level of authenticity and credibility.
The creation of Hollywood-themed theme parks marked a turning point in the theme park industry, as they catered to audiences that were hungry for immersive experiences based on their favorite movies and TV shows. Today, Hollywood-themed theme parks are a staple of the industry, with both Universal Studios and Disney’s Hollywood Studios continuing to evolve and expand their offerings.
Things That You Will Find in Both Parks
A Lot of People – Both parks are incredibly popular to this day. Did you know that Universal Studios Florida and Hollywood Studios average the same number of visitors a year, which for 2022 was around 11.5 million?
Stunt Shows – Isn’t funny that Disney’s Hollywood Studios has the Indiana Jones’ Stunt Spectacular and fairly recently Universal Studios added the Bourne Spectacular? Both shows break the 4th wall showing audiences how the stunts are performed in our favorite action movies.
Behind the Scenes – Both Universal Studios Florida and Disney’s Hollywood Studios have the same general vibe and backstory where you are supposed to be transported to the glamor age of the silver screen. To keep from being too similar, Universal Studios designed their lands after areas of New York City, while Disney focused on the golden age of Hollywood.
Walk of Fame – Is there anything more iconic that the Hollywood Walk of Fame? Well, in Universal Studios you can find the iconic stars featuring big stars. Disney’s Hollywood Studios took it an extra step further by creating a replica of the Chinese Theater and invited the real life stars out to Walt Disney World to have them make hand and shoe prints in the sidewalk, and of course, add their autograph.
Brown Derby – This is a weird battle – Disney’s Hollywood Studios recreated the famous Hollywood dinner spot, the Brown Derby. You know, the place that claims they invented the cobb salad and the grapefruit sponge cake. Universal Studios also built a Brown Derby… But they literally just built the shape of the derby hat and wrote “Brown Derby” on it. It’s just a merchandise store selling hats.
Are Universal Studios and Hollywood Studios Still Competing?
Yes, Universal Studios Florida is considered a direct competitor to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Both parks are Hollywood-themed and feature rides, attractions, and shows based on popular movies and TV shows. They are located within a few miles of each other in Orlando, Florida, which makes them easily accessible to visitors who are looking for a Hollywood-themed entertainment experience.
Universal Studios Florida and Disney’s Hollywood Studios both offer a unique set of experiences and attractions, which can appeal to different audiences. Universal Studios Florida is known for its thrilling rides and attractions, such as the Harry Potter-themed rides and the Transformers ride, which cater to adrenaline junkies and thrill-seekers.
On the other hand, Disney’s Hollywood Studios is known for its immersive shows and experiences, such as Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which allows visitors to fully immerse themselves in the Star Wars universe.
Despite their differences, Universal Studios Florida and Disney’s Hollywood Studios both share the goal of providing visitors with a memorable and entertaining experience that is based on their favorite movies and TV shows. As such, they are considered to be direct competitors in the Hollywood-themed theme park industry, and visitors to Orlando can choose between the two parks depending on their personal preferences and interests.
Simpsons vs. Toy Story – As far as the cartoon lands competition, Universal was first. Universal Studios opened their Springfield land in the summer of 2013. This immersive recreation of the Simpsons home town features among other things, Moe’s Tavern, Kwik-E-Mart, Lard Lad Donuts, Duff Gardens, and Krusty Burger.
Disney opened up its own animation centric land in Hollywood Studios in 2018, when it opened Toy Story Land that features rides and restaurants based on the popular series of movies.
MIB vs. Toy Story Mania – As far as the interactive, scored shoot em ups, Universal Studios opened their interactive game/ride Men in Black: Alien Attack in April of 2000. Disney’s Hollywood Studios didn’t add their own interactive game attraction, Toy Story Mania, until May of 2008.
Character Parades – Disney has always been known for their intricate parades in the Magic Kingdom with iconic music, characters, floats, and dancers, but Universal Studios keeps it pretty simple: Bring out the characters that people want to see. Parades in Universal Studios are pretty quick bursts of energy and characters and then people get back to their day. In the last few years, we have seen Hollywood Studios start doing a similar concept with their cavalcades of characters, but Disney had to flex on Universal a little bit by giving each character a custom Camaro. I mean, come on, even Doc McStuffins has her own Camaro!
Harry Potter vs. Star Wars – Both parks have learned about the power of major fandoms. Universal Studios won the rights to use the massive brand of Harry Potter and opened the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in its two parks in 2010 (Islands of Adventure) and 2014 (Hollywood Studios Florida) 2016. FUN FACT: Disney also had bids in for the Potter rights and were so confident that they were going to win them that they already hired a team of Imagineers to completely design the land. When they lost the bid to the Universal Orlando Resort the Imagineers left Disney to complete the project.
Losing Harry Potter was a big blow to Disney, but they had their own fandom-based land in the works. In 2012 Disney bought the full rights to Star Wars, one of the largest fandoms in the world. In 2019 Disney’s Hollywood Studios opened the hugely immersiveStar Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Fast Food and Table Service Restaurants – Both parks offer both types of dining, so you can tailor your schedule. As in grab a quick bite and get on to more rides, or relax and enjoy a good meal. Table Service dining at both parks is a great experience, with good to great offerings at each. Disney offers 6 different table service restaurants from good food with unique experiences to fine dining. While Universal offers 2 table service locations, an Irish pub and a seafood restaurant. While the table service food quality is pretty equal, Disney wins with ambience.
If Disney wins slightly for table service dining, they win big for counter service! Since the 80s Disney has been continually innovating the fast-food dining experience. Fast food at Disney is varied and always very good. However Universal’s fast food seems stuck in the 70s! Tasteless hamburgs and pizza are the mainstays of most locations. Big win for Disney here.
Which Movie Park Should You Choose?
We think the answer is pretty simple: You need to visit both parks to choose for yourself! We’re still researching… We think another 100 visits and we should know which park is best. Maybe.
40 Movies to Watch Before Your Trip to Universal Orlando Resort (external link)
This MDT Post By: Steve Bell and Erin Schreiver
Steve is the MDT founder and Editor in Chief, Erin is a MilSpouse who loves going to Walt Disney World with her family, pin trading, and collecting Minnie ears and coffee mugs! Check out their bios here.
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