Taking a look at yesterday’s grand announcement by Universal Orlando, it’s clear the big Comcast-owned theme park company is now going head-to-head with Disney. But what does it mean for Orlando visitors?
The obvious conclusion for theme park fans is that it’s Good News. With the giant telecommunications company willing to bankroll this multi-billion dollar investment, it’s pretty clear there is going to be a LOT in store for the 75 million or so who come to this part of Central Florida every year.
To be sure, for all the razzamatazz about the Big Announcement, there was still a lot left unsaid about what Universal’s Epic Universe will be, but let’s just recap the main points before we dig into the underlying story (rest assured, it is a good story!).
- Universal has acquired 750 acres (and possibly a bit more, as they continue to look at land acquisitions) between Universal Boulevard and Sand Lake Road (see map, below). The current site of Universal Orlando – with its three parks, six hotels and CityWalk entertainment district – is ‘only’ 500 acres.
- The headline news is that the land will feature Universal’s Epic Universe, a whole new theme park at the centre of the expansion. “It will be the most immersive and innovative theme park we have ever created,” says CEO Tom Williams.
- There are no real details as yet about what will be IN this Epic Universe, but it will be surrounded by themed hotels, shops, restaurants and another full entertainment district. Think CityWalk Pt 2, only bigger!
- Universal will employ an additional 14,000 team members, taking their total employment to 39,000. Disney (on a much bigger site, with six parks, golf courses, 24 hotels and Disney Springs) currently has around 75,000.
But, for all that impressive outline, the sub-text wasn’t so much WHAT we heard as HOW we heard it. Right up front at the press conference at the Convention Center on International Drive (adjacent to the Epic site) was Comcast CEO Brian Roberts, making it crystal clear it is all being done as a HUGE vote of confidence in the theme park business.
While Comcast has already invested around $1billion in Universal in the past nine years since acquiring the company, their outlay in Epic Universe is likely to be at least THREE times that. They will be forking out $160million just for a new Kirkman Road extension into the site. More importantly, it is their clear intention to put themselves at the forefront of Orlando’s theme park empire.
Roberts insisted: “Our new park represents the single largest investment Comcast has made in its theme park business. It reflects the tremendous excitement we have for the future of our business and for our entire company’s future in Florida.”
Also at the big announcement were state Governor Ron DeSantis, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and a host of other local dignitaries, underlining the impact this will have in Central Florida – and how Universal can expect massive government support, including the County creating a new permitting office at the Convention Center to help streamline the process.
It wasn’t said out loud (although Universal CEO Tom Williams did allude, for the first time that we can remember, to their theme park “competition”), but Disney has surely been put on notice to expect a much tougher and more overtly head-to-head challenge from their near-neighbours.
It’s always been clear in the past that the House of Mouse is the Big Dog in these parts, but that may not be the case going forward. With the massive economic impact of the Epic park and its associated development, Universal will now have a lot of friends in public places.
“The investment Universal is making in our community and the benefit all of us will see is substantial,” said Mayor Demings. “This will benefit nearly every segment of our economy, from tourism to high-tech.” And all to the potential tune of fully $11.5billion in economic impact through the region, according to a University of Central Florida study. No wonder the bigwigs in attendance were excited!
But if those are the technicalities, what kind of flesh can we put on the bones when it comes to the all-important rides and attractions?
Well, we think the whole Super Nintendo World idea – recently floated as a replacement for the KidZone at Universal Studios – is an absolute slam-dunk to be Epic. The fact the idea was unceremoniously dropped at Universal Studios suggests it will fit much better in a new park. Universal also announced a partnership with Nintendo in 2016, and here’s no reason to think it won’t play a key role now.
Then there are the Fantastic Beasts. The Harry Potter spin-off series seems tailor-made for the extra Universe. With the two Wizarding Worlds of Harry Potter in Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, what better than another JK Rowling creation in the new park? And, with the extra space it affords, how about a Wizarding Hotel right next to it? It certainly makes sense to us!
Trawling through other rumours, the How To Train Your Dragon film franchise also seems set for an Orlando debut in 2023, or ’24, or whenever the park opens (yes, we’re guessing, but it took three years to complete Islands of Adventure for 1999, so four to five years seems likely).
And how about some Universal Monsters? The idea of a ‘land’ based around the classic monster-movie characters like Frankenstein, Dracula and The Wolf Man has been doing the rounds for a couple of years, fuelled by the runaway success of Universal’s Halloween Horror Nights, and we know it would have many proponents at Universal.
There is also the tantalising artist’s rendering of what the park will look like (above). Universal offered no insight into this dazzling representation, but there are some mouthwatering possibilities. See those intertwined coaster tracks in the bottom right section? Several coaster aficionados think they look similar to the new fast-launch West Coast Racers opening at Six Flags Magic Mountain later this year, which could easily be some kind of flying dragon coaster at Universal.
The substantial ‘land’ to the left looks distinctly like it could represent various Nintendo characters, including a Mario Kart ride and the Mushroom Kingdom. If you enlarge the photo and look really, really hard (as our friends at Attractions Magazine did), you can easily imagine Donkey Kong and Yoshi here, too.
And is that an On-site Hotel built into the top right, providing a commanding view of the park and, possibly, right next to that new Wizarding World ‘land’ of Fantastic Beasts? We think so!
Finally, look to the left of that hotel. Could that just be a medieval European village with a Vampire’s Castle overlooking it? Could be, could be.
OK, that’s enough speculation for now. We think we’re in for three or four years of steady ‘reveals’ by Universal as they drip-feed us information about the new park. But, from even this small amount of detail, we think it will be WELL worth the wait.
So, what do you think of all the theme park excitement, and are you eager for more? Come over and tell us on the fab ATD forumsand join in the friendly banter and chat.
Like this post? You may also like...
- Universal Orlando Resort Announce New 'Epic Universe' Theme Park
- 'Killer Klowns From Outer Space' Are Returning to Halloween Horror Nights
- Universal CityWalk Has Got A Brand New 'Fireside' Restaurant