Walt Disney World attendance continues to break records year after year, making the resort most visited in the US, and for good reason. Even though Universal Orlando Resort has been making huge attendance gains year over year, there’s no way that this park can ever hope to truly challenge Walt Disney World’s attendance dominance in central Florida. Not only do the two Universal parks only have half the capacity of Walt Disney World’s four, but Universal simply doesn’t have the international brand recognition Disney does, even if it has been making excellent use of the Harry Potter license in recent years.
However, even though Universal can’t “win” the theme park wars in terms of total cumulative guests, that hasn’t stopped them from kicking off a rapid period of growth that has seen four rides, a new land, and even a massive hotel built in the past four years. And they’re just getting started.
Though we know about the new rides coming to Universal Orlando in 2016, 2017, and beyond, simple attraction construction alone isn’t going to help the resort truly challenge Walt Disney World. The overall goal for Universal isn't to just get guests in the park when there is a new attraction, but instead to change guest behavior over time and get Orlando area visitors to devote more and more vacation days to Universal Orlando Resort in the coming years, and to entice visitors to stay on property for at least some of their vacation. Though Universal Orlando Resort isn't trying to "beat" Walt Disney World on the attendance front, it is quietly trying to challenge the dominant theme park force in terms of guest attention using some very interesting tactics.
1. Introducing a new shuttle service
If you’ve flown into the Orlando International Airport on your way to Walt Disney World, chances are good that you know about Disney's Magical Express. This shuttle service is free for guests with reservations at a Walt Disney World hotel and is an important amenity that helps guests feel like they are on a “Disney” vacation from the moment they touch down in Orlando.
Though Disney's Magical Express has been the only dedicated theme park direct shuttle in town for some time, Universal made waves earlier this month when they announced that the Universal SuperStar Shuttle Service would offer a new service that ferries Universal guests to and from the airport in almost the exact same way as Disney's Magical Express, but with two large caveats. First off, the shuttle won’t be free, costing guests $35 for a round trip, and secondly, this is now the only direct shuttle between the airport and Universal Orlando Resort.
While charging an extra $35 fee on top of an already pricey Orlando vacation doesn’t sound like a great idea, Universal is getting serious about trying to get guests to stay on property during an Orlando vacation. Though it seems that Universal isn’t quite ready to invest in their own transportation network quite yet (part of the reason for the cost is that this new service is operated by SuperShuttle), this move shows they are serious about making on-property stays as convenient as possible, in what is essentially a blatant rip-off of Disney's success.