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Battle between Disney and Universal Catches Eye of New York Times

There has always been a cross-town rivalry between Walt Disney’s theme parks and Universal Studios’ attractions. When Walt Disney opened Disneyland in Anaheim, Universal Studios had already been offering studio tours at it’s Hollywood park for decades. When Universal Studios decided to build in Orlando, Michael Eisner fired back by opening Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios) at Walt Disney World.

These days the stakes are even higher. Not only are the resorts expanding in Los Angeles and Orlando, they’re also expanding globally. Brook Barnes in the New York Times has a profile looking at this arms race for tourist dollars:

$265 million Harry Potter-themed addition to its resort here sent 2010 attendance soaring 30 percent over the year before, draining attention from Walt Disney World in the process. Universal is now racing to replicate the attraction at its parks in California and Japan while expanding the boy wizard’s presence in Orlando.

To maintain momentum, Universal — with more Comcast money — is introducing a swarm of offerings. A major 3-D ride themed to Michael Bay’s “Transformers” movies opens this Friday at Universal Studios Hollywood, at an estimated cost of $100 million. New draws at Universal Orlando include a refurbished Spider-Man ride, a lavish parade, a high-tech fountain and pyrotechnics show and a ride based on “Despicable Me.”

Disney denies they’re involved in trying to match Universal Studios. But history has proven that Disney is often coy when in reality they’re working hard to be seen as a leader in theme park development. When a rival claims that title, like Universal has arguably done with Harry Potter and Transformers, then Disney will step up to the plate sooner or later with it’s own challenge.

Do you see this as a war between the two rival companies? How do you feel about how Comcast’s ownership has changed the Universal Studios brand parks?