When Universal Epic Universe was first announced in 2019, one of the first questions on theme park fans' minds was how Disney might respond to this blockbuster announcement. Though the announcement didn't confirm much beyond additional concept art, leaks quickly surfaced that detailed the cutting-edge attractions that would be a part of this new theme park, rivaling anything that anyone had seen at a modern theme park, regardless of ownership.
Surely, given the amazing plans for this new park, Disney would be hard at work drawing up some crazy plans to respond in a major way. After all, Walt Disney World took a major hit when the Wizarding World of Harry Potter turned out to be a major hit, quickly becoming the gold standard for immersive lands.
Though Disney tried to duplicate the success of Universal's Harry Potter world with its own Pandora: The World of Avatar and Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, these lands simply were not on par with what Universal created, and many fans started to wonder if Disney was beginning to lose the theme parks wars it had so comfortably been winning for the last 50 years.
Well, wonder no more, as now it is more clear than ever: Disney has fully lost.
Disney isn't even trying to keep up anymore
Back in the late 1980s, when Universal Studios Florida was announced to be opening a new theme park in Orlando, Walt Disney World panicked. Though they already had two theme parks with the Magic Kingdom and EPCOT, and were working on a third, competition in the region from a brand new theme park operator scared them, and construction on what would become Disney-MGM studios accelerated in a big way so that they could have their grand opening in 1989, before Universal Studios Florida opened its gates in 1990.
Though there were some negatives to the competition (Disney-MGM Studios was deeply unfinished when it opened, only having two operating attractions) this situation demonstrated Disney's willingness to knuckle down and do what they had to to ensure that they stayed on top in Orlando.
However, in the four years since Universal Epic Universe was announced, what has Disney done in Orlando? The park has opened a handful of attractions, including Remy's Ratatouille Adventure, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, Tron: Lightcycle/Run, and Moana: Journey of Water. However, all of these were in development and under construction long before Epic Universe was announced.
Disney's recent announcements, which include some ideas for new lands or attractions, prove that Disney either isn't worried about Epic Universe, or just doesn't care. Though work is continuing on Tiana's Bayou Adventure at the Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World's future beyond the construction of Splash Mountain's replacement (and a few other small attraction changes) seems murky at best, with no one really knowing what of their newly announced attractions they'll even get around to actually building. And even if Disney built every single one of the projects that they have mentioned in presentations, would it be enough to rival Epic Universe? It seems unlikely.
Will brand loyalty keep guests coming back to Disney?
Right now, even though Disney has been the recipient of considerable backlash for high prices and underwhelming new attractions, the Magic Kingdom is still the most attended theme park in Orlando. And though some of that likely has to do with size, the power of Disney as a brand with loyal followers cannot be underestimated. Families schedule annual Disney vacations, so-called "Disney Adults" who have grown up with the resort make regular visits, and families bring their children for that iconic "1st Visit" button. Truly no other theme park can claim to have the cultural impact that Walt Disney World has, and that is unlikely to change any time soon.
However, with the opening of Epic Universe, with its massively-anticipated lands based on IP like Mario, How to Train Your Dragon, Harry Potter, Universal Monsters and more, there's a legitimate threat to Disney opening down the street, and ignoring it the way that they currently are doesn't seem like a smart strategy.
While we'd love for Disney to bring the same energy they had in the 1980s to the 2020s and go back to trying to innovate to compete with the new park down the block, it seems Disney isn't as worried about their competition anymore, even though signs indicate that they probably should be, as the stage is set for Epic Universe to absolutely redefine the modern theme park as we know it when it opens in 2025.