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Universal Orlando – Introduction

Have you heard about the magical kingdom in the middle of Florida? There, the halls of an enchanted castle echo not with the squeals of little girls playing princess, but the screams of teens and adults having the ride of their lives. And you can find dozens of other adventures within walking distance of this one, inside an intimate resort that epitomizes new urbanism. For Orlando visitors willing to wander beyond the usual World, an extraordinary new Universe is waiting.

You're forgiven if Mickey immediately came to mind as you read the preceding paragraph. After all, the Mouse has been the Big Cheese of Florida tourism ever since 1971, when Walt Disney World opened on 43 sprawling square miles of scrubland southwest of Orlando in Lake Buena Vista. Two decades later, Disney's domination of Orlando's attraction industry was still essentially unchallenged. By then, this new and improved version of California's Disneyland had been expanded to include hotels, water parks, nightclubs, and multiple theme parks. But when Universal Studios, in distant California, announced plans for an East Coast edition of their famous Hollywood tour, Mickey was spooked enough to rush the Disney/MGM Studios (today known as Disney's Hollywood Studios) into construction.

Universal's entry in the Florida theme park sweepstakes was dubbed Universal Studios Florida. When it opened in 1990 it quickly became Orlando's number-two attraction, but it was just one theme park to Disney's many and seemed doomed to perpetual also-ran status. It didn't help that some of its signature attractions were initially plagued by breakdowns, giving the park a reputation for unreliability that haunted it for years.

 That all changed in 1999 when Universal Studios Florida reinvented itself as Universal Orlando Resort, adding a second theme park, a nighttime entertainment complex, and several hotels. For the first time, Walt Disney World had competition worthy of the name and Orlando had its second multi-park, multi-hotel, multi-activity, all-in-one, never-need-to-leave-the-property vacation destination. Then, in June 2010, almost exactly 20 years after opening its original park, Universal Orlando upped the ante again by opening "The Wizarding World of Harry Potter," a highly anticipated expansion that reset the bar for theming and thrills. The resulting rush of world-wide attention brought record crowds to the resort, and attendance has increased exponentially. And the resort hasn't rested on its newfound laurels; new owner Comcast has purchased substantial acreage in the surrounding area for potential expansion, and announced accelerated capital investments worth over $1.1 billion in their resorts this year.

Universal Orlando is no mere Mouse copycat. It represents a new departure in theme park and resort destinations that is very shrewdly positioned in the marketplace to build its own following and capitalize on any decline of the Disney brand. It is sure to capture the imagination of both theme park veterans and a new generation of vacationers hungry for entertainment experiences designed with the twenty-first century in mind.

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Universal Orlando 2011


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