When Universal Orlando called a big press conference in August 2019, we were put on full alert that something major was in the offing. It was 20 years since the opening of their stunning Islands of Adventure park, and they had something equally significant up their sleeve.
Lo and behold, it was another whole new theme park, Epic Universe, and it was going to be the most dramatic thing Orlando had seen in more than two decades. Universal CEO Tom Williams was extremely bullish about its future in the Theme Park Capital of the World.
There was no immediate word on what would actually be in the park, Williams insisted, as they didn’t want to tip their hand yet “because of the competition. But a Universe is bigger than a World. It will build on everything we have done and become the most immersive and innovative theme park we have ever created.”
The gauntlet was well and truly thrown down, though!
Then along came the pandemic that promptly threw the travel and tourism world into chaos. Work on Epic Universe was suspended and we all wondered if this was a road block or just a detour.
Happily, it was the latter. Work resumed on the new theme park in 2021 and the opening date was put back to 2025, but with almost complete radio silence on what we could expect of this new 750-acre colossus (which is almost twice the size of the existing Universal Resort area).
There had been no further confirmation of any elements of the park – until Tuesday this week (Jan 30). And then Universal really rolled out the battle wagons, with a full-court press about Epic Universe and its primary components.
There was a major press release, a barrage of artist’s conceptual renderings, and a brilliant video that featured Universal’s chief creative folks, highlighting exactly what the new park would consist of and revealing much of the opening area, which will be called Celestial Park.
(Be sure to see Amy’s full blog on the substance of the big press release, and the five immersive worlds that we can expect, on this AT.com blog)
Back in 1998, we were fortunate to get an interview with Mark Woodbury, president of Universal Creative, in advance of the opening of Islands of Adventure. Woodbury was the ideal person to give us chapter and verse on what to expect from their new park (and it was a lot!), while there was also another big name waiting in the wings, as the Creative Consultant for IoA was none other than Oscar-winning film director Steve Spielberg.
Lo and behold, in this week’s introductory video, there was Mark Woodbury front and centre once again, telling us what to expect of this exciting new plunge into the immersive world of theme park entertainment, and who should be providing the big sign-off at the end than Spielberg himself.
It’s one heck of a double act, one of them with more than 35 years of theme park creativity and the other with more than 40 years of movie magic on his resumé.
And it’s that combination – along with a creative and design team that already has the likes of the Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter under their collective belt – which promises to deliver an unparalleled experience with Epic Universe. As Woodbury insisted: “Even though we’ve created some incredible experiences, we’re always looking to make the next one better.
“Epic Universe is comprised of five incredibly themed worlds, and in those are over 50 compelling, unique experiences. The idea was to bring you to these worlds that you otherwise couldn’t possibly imagine. To do that, we wanted to create a mechanism that allowed you to be transported to another world, and it starts at the very entrance to the park itself.”
“Epic Universe is built on an amazing concept,” added Spielberg. “It’s the idea that you can go into a world through some kind of portal and you come out in a world you never could dream of, but you can experience it. I think it’s going to be the imagination of so many people of all ages.”
For anyone who has already experienced one of the Universal parks, and especially the Wizarding Worlds, you will already know that the company’s designers raised the bar for an immersive theme park experience. Now, they are basically saying they will take that expertise to the next level and do it on a park-wide basis.
The main gateway, Celestial Park, will be the all-encompassing key to the rest of the park, with one-of-a-kind “portals” to the other four worlds, which consist of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Ministry of Magic (adding a third essential element of the Potter world, a mix of Harry’s story and the 1920s Paris from the Amazing Beasts films); Super Nintendo World; Dark Universe (inhabited by the classic Universal horror movie characters like Dracula and the Wolfman); and How To Train Your Dragon – Isle of Berk.
We’ve already seen Universal’s success with the Nintendo franchise, at the Universal Studios Japan and Universal Hollywood parks where they have been a huge hit in their own right, and we know the Potter universe remains massive with both die-hard fans and casual visitors.
Now we have to imagine two just as compelling worlds with How To Train Your Dragon – including lots of Viking theming – which promises to be “the world’s first dragon-Viking utopia,” and the monster-filled realm of Dark Universe, which might just be the best of them all.
Knowing Universal’s mastery of their Halloween Horror Nights seasonal overlay, we think the idea of a permanent realm of this dark, intense and visceral experience should be completely stunning. As Woodbury says: “We have this great history with horror. So we thought, is there a way to breathe new life into the classic Universal monster family?” Prepare for a complete re-imagining of Frankenstein and Co in “an ominous and chilling experience.” Or, as Universal’s chief creative officer Brian Robinson says:
“Everything you’ve ever wanted to experience with monsters is in this world.”
Now, when you combine those kinds of promises with the level of detail we can immediately see in the artists’ renderings of things like the Atlantic restaurant, a grand steak and seafood culinary experience set inside a Victorian aquarium, and the Nintendo Super Star Store, packed with references to the key gaming experiences, well, it’s pretty clear this park is going to be truly Epic.
And the reality is, there’s going to be a LOT more to see and anticipate in the next few months. Universal’s big preview video only hinted at the attractions that might be in store at the new Wizarding World, while there is still much more to come in the How To Train Your Dragon realm.
On top of that, we can expect a whole new hotel experience from the Universal Helios Grand Hotel, which will actually be set inside the park and offer guests their own exclusive park entry.
Yes, there’s still a lot more that Universal has up its sleeve before we see the full reality next year. The only other thing we can possible say right now is: Is it 2025 yet….?!