Is Universal trying to take young guests from Disney?

Since the beginning of Disney theme parks, it has been a place made to entertain the whole family. Especially young members of the family. Children have often been a target for Disney theme park marketing, and for a long time Disney has held the reins. But is Disney letting the grip of younger guests slip away, and is Universal more than happy to welcome those younger fans? That may just be the way things are heading.

The Walt Disney Company has made it clear that their latest strategy for the theme parks is to fill them with less people who spend more money. In theory, this would make the parks less crowded, and therefore a “better” guest experience, without a monetary loss.

The problem with seeking guests who are willing to spend more money is that, in general, this tends to be more established families. It’s not uncommon for a young family with young children to have less expendable income. Especially in these days of what seems like endlessly rising costs in every area of life.  

disney young guest

The fact is, Disney has never been an inexpensive vacation. But now it can become simply absurd when you account for travel, hotel, food, consistently rising theme park admission, plus numerous add-ons like Genie+ and Lightning Lane, just to have a full vacation. What once felt like a rite of passage for many families is simply out of reach. Enter Universal Studios.

Universal Studios theme parks has had a long tradition of marketing themselves as the non-Disney vacation, featuring thrill seeking adventures versus Disney’s pixie dust filled fantasies. Basically, once kids hit their teenage years, it was time to move onto Universal theme parks. That’s not saying Universal didn’t have any attractions for children, the same way Disney had some attractions for thrill-seeking guests. But they each have their brands that they’ve stuck to for the most part.

But recently we’ve seen some interesting moves on Universal’s part. These moves can make you wonder whether or not they’re trying to create more affordable options for young families with young children.

universal kidzone

First, there is the new development that is coming to the former Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone area of Universal Studios Florida. As the name goes, KidZone was made for kids to enjoy. The fact that they’re demolishing much that was in that area to build a brand new space for kids shows that Universal is willing to invest heavily in this younger demographic. If they weren’t taking it seriously, they could have simply done an inexpensive facelift on the already existing space.

Second is an even more impressive undertaking with the proposed theme park in Texas. Universal has mentioned that this theme park will be smaller in scale than typical, for the specific purpose of appealing to young families with young children. That sounds a lot like the demographic Disney typically targets.

universal texas

In both cases, Universal hasn’t confirmed any particular themes for the updated land and new park. But based on concept art and clues, it seems that DreamWorks Animation (a subsidiary of Universal Pictures) is where this is all heading. This could include franchises like Shrek, Trolls, Madagascar, How to Train Your Dragon, and more.

Overall, it will be very interesting to see how this plays out. If all goes as is currently laid out, will Universal start taking younger families away for Disney? Will Disney look at what Universal is doing and try to create a whole park specifically for younger visitors, and with lower overhead costs, in another part of the country? How do you think this will end? Leave a comment and let me know.

Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles.

Jeff DePaoli is a producer and voiceover artist living in Los Angeles. He can be heard as the voice of Disney Trivia on Alexa as well as the host of “Dizney Coast to Coast,” the ultimate, unofficial Disney fan podcast. Get your FREE gifts of “America’s Hidden Mickeys,” “On the Rohde Again,” “Theme Park Comfort Kit” and more at DePaoli’s opinions are his own and do not necessarily represent Attractions Magazine.