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History of Universal Studios

Universal Studios and the Walt Disney World ® Resort may be direct competitors in today’s market, but it was this competitive edge that not only influenced the growth of Walt Disney World ®, but also led to the opening of Universal Orlando.

Universal Studios Florida, much like Walt Disney World ®, was originally designed as an Orlando version of the famous Hollywood theme park. Its conception was originally thought of in the early 1980s, and while MCA, owner of Universal at the time, did purchase the land they needed in Central Florida, they were very hesitant to put forth all the money needed for construction costs. They approached several potential investment partners to help the park materialize, including Paramount and one of its most promising executives, Michael Eisner. While Eisner and Paramount did not undertake the project, Eisner was left with a fresh concept in his mind, and when he became CEO of the Walt Disney Company several years later, he immediately set plans in motion to open Disney’s third theme park, the Disney-MGM Studios, which became a reality on May 1, 1989, more than a full year before Universal opened its doors.

Meanwhile, Universal Orlando was indefinitely postponed because of the reluctance of investment partners. Oddly enough, however, it was famed Hollywood director Steven Spielberg who set the wheels in motion for the completion of the project. Spielberg wanted to get behind the Florida project, but first wanted to see if the new King Kong attraction at the Hollywood park brought in a significant number of new guests. After seeing that the ride was a smashing success in Hollywood, Spielberg decided to help bring Universal Orlando to fruition and hopped on board as a creative consultant, and thus began working on projects for the Orlando theme park. This included a Back to the Future ride, which, along with Kong, became the park’s founding attractions. Universal Studios opened in Orlando on June 7, 1990 behind an eventual 0 million dollar investment from Universal.

Universal Orlando had to overcome many obstacles from the beginning of its existence to become the tourism power that it is today. From the get-go, there were many glitches to the park’s rides, leading many to believe that Universal would be a failure. But, with more money flowing into the parks in the coming years, and the partnering of Universal with Nickelodeon, the park’s success flourished, and Universal ultimately decided to expand its doors after just three years in Orlando. In 1993, plans were unveiled to open a second theme park, Islands of Adventure, while also adding a dining and entertainment district, CityWalk.

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