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Get ready for Central Florida's coming coaster war

Get ready for Central Florida's coming coaster war

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As you enter SeaWorld Orlando, it's really hard to miss the thing.

Photo by Robert Bish

That enormous construction wall that's been erected around the front of this theme park.

Photo by Robert Bish

Not to mention the rumble of heavy equipment, as that behind-the-scenes construction team clears brush and continues site prep.

Photo by Robert Bish

" 'Site prep' ? Site prep for what?," you ask. Why, for Central Florida's worst kept secret. SeaWorld Orlando's next coaster. As you can see by the size of the construction site ...

 Photo by Robert Bish

... we're talking about a real behemoth here. a thrill ride that you'll be able to spy just as soon as you enter this theme park.

"But ... But ... But ...," you sputter. "The Busch Entertainment Corporation has just spent millions on the construction of Aquatica. Why would SeaWorld Orlando need to build a new coaster now if they've literally just opened this brand-new water park?"

 Photo by Robert Bish

The answer to that question is easy. Aquatica is meant to help drive attendance at SeaWorld Orlando during 2008. This new coaster is being built because Busch Entertainment is looking ahead to 2009, when "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter" will be opening at Universal Studios Islands of Adventure.

Make no mistake, folks. That upcoming addition to the Universal Orlando Resort has all of the other big theme parks in the Orlando area spooked. Hell, even Disney knows that it's going to have to step up its game in order to compete with Potter. Which is why the Mouse is now reportedly revisiting its plans for revamping WDW's Space Mountain.

Photo by Jeff Lange

Where once this Magic Kingdom thrill ride was just supposed to receive some new cars and retheming during its upcoming redo ... Now that this Space Mountain's revamp is sure to be compared to what Universal plans to do with to Dueling Dragons (i.e. Fold all sorts of new story elements & effects into this IOA thrill ride so that this attraction will then themed around the Triwizard Tournament from "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire") ... The Imagineers are now supposedly thinking about throwing a whole lot more money at this 33-year-old indoor coaster ...

Photo by Jeff Lange

... Which -- FYI -- is currently slated to close in January 2009. So that Space Mountain can then undergo an 18-month-long transformation. After which this new-and-improved thrill ride will then be promoted as one of the centerpiece attractions for WDW's 40th anniversary celebration.

So no matter how you look at it, the next three years or so are going to be a great time for all us thrill ride fans who live and/or visit in Central Florida.

Photo by Robert Bish

And I ain't (sea) lyin'.

Your thoughts?

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  • Any rumor as to what the new Busch coaster will be?

  • Mr. Bish and I both agree that when there's a coaster war, everyone comes out a winner.

    As long as TOGO's not participating, that is.

  • I'll believe the Space Mountain redo when I see it. That rumor's older than dirt.

  • Is Disney spooked about Harry Potter?  Really?  I reckon they're looking forward to all the extra business!

  • Quite right, lostincrowds.  Can you imagine bringing the kids to see Harry Potter and telling them "Oh, no, we're not going over to Disney World"?

  • IOA = Place not destination

    Everyone loves Spidey.  The park has long been a must visit among afficionados and locals.  I expect HP will be more of the same.  It will attract a day or two from visitors, BUT when it comes to where to spend a week, the resort aspect of a FOUR park that (true or not) is the gold standard for themed entertainment will still be the "vacation" destination (which is where I suspect the money is).  Sea World and Universal can't win that war

  • Look ... no one expects IOA to become a big resort destination like WDW. That's not what scares Disney.

    What scares Disney is the idea that people might shorten their WDW vacations by a day or two to go spend time at Harry Potterland (or whatever the stupid thing is called).

    Disney has spent years trying to manufacture ways to encourage people to stay on property not only longer, but also exclusively. They go out of their way (including the introduction of Magical Express) to try and keep people on property during their entire stay. Why do you think they fought so hard against that light rail line with the stop near Sea World and Universal??

    Personally, I couldn't give a rat's behind about Harry Potter ... I wouldn't walk around the corner to visit Hogwart's or whatever ... but make no mistake about it, there are HUGE numbers of people who will. It's not that HP is going to steal vacationers from Disney World, it's that it will steal PORTIONS of their Disney World vacations and THAT'S what Disney doesn't want.

    They're scared and they should be.

  • In response to LtPowers...

    I am an insane Disney fan, let me prefice my comment by stating that.  You I assume grew up with Disney (as did I).  I first visited Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure in 2004.

    My Family had been down to Florida a few times (we were from Idaho so it was quite the trek), and every time we came it was exclusivley to Disney World.

    I have a much younger sister (she is 15), and I like to ask her questions so I can know what non central Florida teens think of the theme park world.  Funny thing about this young lady is that She LOVES Universal. She LOVES Islands of Adventure.  If the family vacation was up to her (and her cousins) they would spend their whole vacation at the Universal Orlando Resort.  They have a much closer tie to a lot of the fanchises that Universal owns (i.e. Shrek, Jimmy Noutron, Sponge Bob, Madagascar, and others) than to the Disney Franchises (with much dismay to my Mom).

    I feel the scales tiping.  Now Universal and SeaWorld will NEVER occupy the land mass that Disney does.  But Universal and SeaWorld CAN create experiences and connections with their audiences that create repeat visits.

    Just my opinion. cheers!

  • It's all about marketing and perception. If Uni and/or Busch do their marketing right, they can convince the masses that they have the BIGGER, BETTER, NEWER, ______ (fill in your own) attractions, and for the most part they will bite, to some degree.

    The masses, will then flock to see this new thing that's been created, so they can marvel at it and then go home and tell their friends they got to see it. It's a vicious cycle that repeats itself in the amusement industry every few years.

    Should Disney be scared? Maybe just a tad. I doubt seriously they will lose a huge market share to either of these. But, they will see some short-term drops, unless they too have something, BIGGER, BETTER and NEWER.

    In the end, we all win, because all of the Orlando parks add a new major attraction. The question now becomes, what (if anything) will Disney do?

  • Mmmmmmm ... I think you may be underestimating the impact it could have on Disney.

    First off, Disney has nothing new to draw people down. They've been pulling people in on the back of YoaMD and Everest for like two years now and that draw is going to lose steam with people.

    Secondly, if the economy stays slow as it is now, people are going to cut back on vacations to places they've already been and things they've already seen.

    And lastly, even a moderate dip in attendance can hurt Disney financially big time. If people cut their trip by a day or two (or opt to just visit IOA entirely) that's a huge ding in their wallets.

    Again I'll say what I've been saying ... all Disney's cost cutting and lack of investing in new attractions is going to hurt them at some point. This might be that point.

  • Surely marketing-wise it makes more sense for Disney to build a new thrill ride rather than re-vamp Space Mountain - the message that Space Mountain has been re-worked is not as clear to get across as "NEW! THRILL RIDE!!!"

  • Jim apparently has not heard about Universal Orlando's coaster that will be going in 2009. That is another worst kept secret. Busch Gardens Tampa was supposed to put in a coaster too in 2009 but that has been pushed back. As far as SeaWorld's coaster it is supposed to be a B & M flying coaster(i.e Tatsu at Six Flags Magic Mountain, Air at Alton Towers) themed to Rays. The coaster train would look like a ray and is possibly gonna have some interaction with water where you will come pretty close face first to the water as the wing tips glide thru the water. Now this is just rumor and things can change during the design phase. My only complaint is that they are tearing up the front of the park. It really is gonna change the entrance. But the park really needs another major ride since it will probably be awhile before they get any new shows.

    Disney needs to be worried about Harry Potter. I know people who are already planning on coming here in 2010 just for Harry Potter. There are some people, not alot who come here and they only go to Universal, SeaWorld and Busch Gardens. I have never understood some of these people who come here all the time but only go to Disney. I know how lucky I am to live near some of the best theme parks in the world and I don't know why more people don't leave Disney and hit SeaWorld and Universal.

    As far as Space Mountain, it is ridiculous that WDW mgmt has allowed that ride to fall into the condition it is now. The ride is a joke compared to the one in Disneyland. I really hope they finally close it down and give it a full blown rehab not some half assed one.

    Also, I think when Toy Story Mania opens Disney needs to announce their plans for what they are going to do at DHS. They are going to have all that media coverage there and it would be a good way to announce the alleged projects they have for the revamp of the studios.

  • I completely agree with you photoginit, on just about everything.  To add, though, I was just doing some browsing on the Universal website last night and I was pretty surprised with the ticket prices.  Did you guys know that for $85 a person, you can get a 7-day hopper at both Universal parks, free access to Citywalk for 7 nights, plus, if you're staying at a Universal hotel - which won't cost you any more or less than a Disney hotel - you'll get unlimited, immediate Fastpass at every major attraction?  So, if you're a parent and your kid likes Harry Potter (which, judging by book sales and movie ticket sales, who doesn't?), are you trying to tell me you won't book the Universal trip?  Smart families are going to start staying at Universal to avoid the two-hour-long lines for the Harry Potter ride and then just skate by on a day trip to the Magic Kingdom.  Maybe a second day for the kids who want to do Hollywood Studios for Rock n Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror, but I'm sure that for most kids, that would be sufficient.

    Frankly, Disney can't afford this, and I've been saying for a while now that I don't understand why we haven't heard more from the Mouse Hut.  A revamp of old attractions will help, but I don't think that's enough.  The fifth park Jim talked about a couple weeks ago might help, but my concern is that a park that expensive only applies to a small niche - people with A LOT of expendable income - and unfortunately, I don't think especially in today's economy that you find enough people like that for DNK to be a huge success.  I like it as an AK after-hours event once or twice a week, but not a daily thing billed as Disney's 5th park.  Universal is really raising the bar in Orlando with Harry Potter, and Sea World appears to be right on their tail with the rumored Sting Ray-themed flying coaster.  So is Disney's only response a Space Mountain revamp, a Ratatouille-themed kiddie coaster and a high-roller's nightly park?  As a life-long Disney fan, I certainly hope it isn't.  They risk getting left in the dust.

  • I think photoginit and Tucci314 have it pretty much right on the money.

    Honestly, Disney has been trotting out some REALLY weak new attractions lately. For every Everest and Soarin', there's been a Stitch, a Journey Into Your Imagination, a lousy Spaceship Earth revamp, a Monster's Laugh Floor, and oh yeah an E-ticket torn out in favor of a stinkin' playground.

    And that doesn't even take into account the closed and not replaced attractions like Wonders of Life or the new "attractions" they have touted recently that turn out to be nothing but a new parade or an HSM stage show.

    Truth is, WDW management is clueless and their Imagineering leadership team is clueless (and I heard that from a 20 year WDI vet). They've really been coasting hard the last few years and quite honestly, if they don't step up their game, they're gonna have issues.

    I know the suits and bean counters don't believe it, but people really can sniff out when you're screwing them. And in WDW, the constant "less for more" mentality is building up. A few years ago, you could go to the average Disney Dweeb discussion forum and see maybe one or two cranks moaning about cobwebs and burned out bulbs.

    Now the chorus is growing, and it's not just nit-picky maintenance items. It's rotten customer service, lousy maintenance, lack of interest in WDW's new attractions, and a general sick-and-tired attitude towards the constant hand-in-the-pocket vibe they're getting these days.

    You can definitely get away with this for awhile ... even a long while if you have the name "Disney" printed on the door. But eventually people wise up and if someone up the road from Disney is doing it better and cheaper it's only a matter of time before the defections begin.

    Just look at that price difference!! You can get a week's worth of admission (plus the other perks that Tucci mentioned) for 85 bucks at Universal!! The same length of admission at WDW is going to cost you about triple that amount.

  • Nothing Universal ever does can hurt Disney long term, as long as they keep their current mindset. Universal is great at big ideas, but they are absolutely awful at maintaining their product. Disney takes tons of heat (and many times rightfully so) at the condition they let some of their rides fall into. But even at its worst, the condition that some WDW attractions fall to is nothing like the sorry state that most of Islands of Adventure is. Have you walked through Suessland recently? Its depressing. The bright, vibrant colors have turned into a dull, semi colorful kiddieland. And Dudley Do Right is not working more often than it is. If Universal management had even half of the desire as Disney to keep things in check their theme park would be amazing. Sure HP might look out of this world when it first opens, but what happens in five years when the fallen snow is a brown mess and Hogwarts looks like an old shack?

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