Universal’s Epic Universe Park Opening by Summer 2025
Universal Orlando’s third theme park, Epic Universe, will open by Summer 2025 company executives announced, joining the lineup with Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Florida, and Volcano Bay water park. This post offers other new details about Epic Universe, shares statements from Comcast, and provides some of our commentary about how Universal’s and Walt Disney World’s approaches differ.
As a quick recap, Epic Universe was first announced in Summer 2019 with a piece of aerial concept art showing the contours of the theme park, adjacent entertainment district and hotel. Not many details beyond that, its location south of the existing Universal Orlando complex, and the economic impact were revealed at that time.
Along with pretty much everything else in Central Florida, plans were paused in Spring 2020. No explanation needed. Less than one year later, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts announced that development of Epic Universe would resume immediately, with the project gradually scaling up again before reaching full-speed as Universal restaffs for the project and reassembles its vendor and contractor teams. All of this, along with everything else we previously knew about the park is covered in our main Universal’s Epic Universe Theme Park Timeline.
The latest developments are courtesy of Comcast’s Q4 2021 Corporate Earnings Conference Call. Beyond Epic Universe, there were a lot of interesting statements revealed on the call–you can skim the transcript here, but we’ll cover the major points with accompanying quotes for anyone who isn’t particularly concerned with learning more about Peacock’s progress or the broadband business.
Let’s start with Epic Universe. On the call, Jeffrey Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal was asked about progress on the new park. In response, he said: “Epic [Universe] is full steam ahead. We’re — I was down there a couple of weeks ago and the construction is going really well. And I think we’ve said this in the past, but we expect that park to open in ’25, and certainly in time for the summer of ’25. And we’ll be back to you and everybody when we get more granular on the date.”
Brian Roberts added, “Just on that point, if I look back over COVID, one of the things I wish we could redo was slowing down Epic because I agree…This is a business that if you build wonderful attractions, there is pent-up demand. And we’re going to
make a fabulous park at Epic, and we’re full steam — we’re going as fast as we can now to make up for lost time.”
They also indicated that in fiscal 2022, CapEx related to the construction of Epic Universe to be up around $1 billion. Keep in mind that’s just for the year, and is not the total cost of the park–there’s no firm number for the park yet beyond “billions of dollars.”
Turning to theme parks, generally, the earnings call began by stating that their recovery is “truly remarkable” with the most profitable fourth quarter on record and demand especially high in Orlando, which had the best quarter in the company’s history for any quarter.
Theme Park revenue increased by $1.2 billion to $1.9 billion. It was the highest earnings on record for any fourth quarter, driven by strong momentum in the U.S. and Japan. Throughout the call, the theme parks trajectory was described in glowing terms and called a “faster-than-expected recovery.”
When asked about the theme park business, Shell said that it’s impossible not to be excited about it, reiterating that the parks are doing really well. “I think part of that…is because we continued to invest in our attractions during the pandemic…with VelociCoaster in Orlando and Pets in Hollywood and Nintendo, which is doing really well in Japan, has led that park to rebound really, really quickly. So all signs are pointed up in our Theme Park business…we have a lot of growth ahead.”
Finally, they noted that these record numbers were despite international visitation being down, which are normally strong drivers of attendance at Universal Orlando. Europeans are starting to return, but they expect another big boost once Latin American guests are back. They also noted that Universal Orlando hasn’t been impacted at all by Omicron, which we believe to be the case with Walt Disney World, as well. General fatigue and a desire to get on with life means each future wave will likely have limited impact.
When it comes to commentary, there’s a lot of this that’s very familiar from Disney earnings calls. There was a clear fixation on Peacock, with executives trying to put a positive spin on growth of the streaming service. Broadband is another big focus for Comcast, which is obviously a difference from Disney.
Another difference is the way the executives spoke about the theme park business. There’s a lot of excitement about the future, and as you can see from the quotes, there’s also talk of real growth–and even regret about not being more aggressive. And this from a company that was already pretty aggressive as compared to Disney!
They also point out that continuing to invest in attractions during the recovery was fruitful, with Jurassic World VelociCoaster at Islands of Adventure, Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash at Universal Studios Hollywood, and Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Japan helping to drive attendance.
In Disney’s defense, they did open Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and Harmonious at Epcot and Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure. I’d argue that the distinction is one of quality–VelociCoaster and Secret Life of Pets won our highly coveted awards for best rides of last year. I’d imagine the same would’ve been true for Super Nintendo World had we been able to enter Japan. With VelociCoaster, there’s also the reality that significant construction was done in the reopening period, whereas everything else mentioned above (for both Universal and Disney) was originally supposed to debut in 2020.
Ultimately, it’s really refreshing to listen to a corporate earnings call and hear genuine enthusiasm and talk of achieving growth in the traditional way of building new stuff. As a theme parks fan, this certainly gets me more excited than hearing fluff about brand loyalty and finding new ways to increase margins or per guest spending. I’d feel similarly as an investor–smoke and mirrors to squeeze more money out of people is certainly a viable strategy for a time, but how long before it backfires?
Even if Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure are “not for you” due to too many thrill rides, simulators, or whatever, this earnings call should be heartening. It vindicates Universal’s more aggressive approach to restoring normalcy, and demonstrates that theme parks are rewarded by consumers for offering commensurate value for money. Or to put it more plainly: if you build it, they will come.
Disney undoubtedly listens to the calls of competitors, and here’s hoping this leads to the company reevaluating its direction with Walt Disney World, and maybe not taking another decade to open a cloned roller coaster in an empty warehouse, being beholden to per caps at the expense of the guest experience, or trying to further spread Epcot CapEx over the course of several more years.
I’m not suggesting that Epic Universe reignites the “theme park wars” in Orlando, but rather, that the greater success and faster recovery of Universal Orlando causes Disney to revisit its own strategy, and get more aggressive. While Walt Disney World has also bounced back faster than expected and has “enjoyed” plenty of high attendance days, Universal’s recent results are objectively better. I’d hazard a guess that guest satisfaction is also higher there, due to the subjectively superior and friction-free nature of the experience right now.
Need trip planning tips and comprehensive advice for your visit to Central Florida? Make sure to read our Universal Orlando Planning Guide for everything about Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. Also check out our Walt Disney World Vacation Planning Guide for everything about those parks, resorts, restaurants, and so much more. For regular updates, news & rumors, a heads up when discounts are released, and much more, sign up for our FREE email newsletter!
What do you think of Universal’s Epic Universe? Think this third gate will be a worthy addition to Universal Orlando Resort? Have you visited both Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World in the last two years? If so, which did you think was the subjectively superior guest experience? Which offered better value for money? Do you expect Disney to “respond” with a big announcement of its own at the 2022 D23 Expo? Any questions? We love hearing from readers, so please share any other thoughts or questions you have in the comments below!
We are currently enjoying our first real vacation at universal and have been very impressed. Disney will always have a special place for me but we skipped it this year due to lack of discounts, high crowd predictions during what used to be a slower season and the poor genie reviews combined with the paid fast pass. I really wish they would revisit how genie plus and lighting lanes work. I understand that free fast pass is a thing of the past but I wish they would allow you to pay for the old version instead of paying for a worse new version. The ability to be in universal and swipe my express pass without having to be one my phone constantly and check my booking windows and party size has been a game changer. I’m not killing my phone battery halfway through the day and I’m enjoying my experience so much more! If Disney has us pay per person for the old “three guaranteed fast passes a day booked 30/60 days out” I would still morn the loss of the free option but completely understand. Or I suggest they roll out different tiers based upon where you stay (deluxe vs value). We typically stay at the boardwalk even for the astronomical price tag because of convenience and comfort but with all the rising cost/no discounts and a paid fast pass that is worst than its free predecessor, we are instead enjoying the ease at the Hard Rock with the included express pass. I couldn’t even tell you how crowded the parks are because it’s has been such a breeze to navigate our party of 8 (with two kids) through the past few days. Thanks for a great blog Tom and Sarah, hope to run into you two at a park someday!
I am huge Disneyland fan, and I go there at least once a year. My family went to Disney World in 2019 and Universal Orlando in November 2020. My 40th birthday was in November of 2020, and my family chose to go to Universal Orlando, since Disneyland was closed, Disney World did not have any perks for staying onsite, and Universal Orlando was a great price. In my opinion, Disneyland is the most magical and I will continue to go yearly. But I did not enjoy Disney World as much as I thought I would, even pre-pandemic. Making advanced dining reservations 180 days in advance, and fast pass + bookings 60 days in advance made the trip to stressful and structured and didn’t leave any room for spontaneity (maybe that aspect has improved since then). Transportation was slow, sit down food service took forever and I felt like I was always rushing to get to the next scheduled ride. Universal Orlando was amazing, even during the pandemic. Great perks for staying on site, efficient transportation, and very fun. I would love to try Disney World again with less sit down meals and Genie+, but I will 100% return to Universal Orlando. And the 3rd park will definitely make Universal Orlando a vacation destination on its own.
One thing I want to say is: I been to Disney World about 25 times and to Universal Studio 7 times. Never been to sea world at all. I really think that Disney World needs to up grade there water-parks. They are nice but they need to change their parks some what. Its the same old thing. The Theme is over with. Blizzard Park is too old now. I like going to Florida for the warm weather , not to be reminded that I am floating around snow cover slides. It needs to be more tropical and not snow. All the other water parks in Florida don’t have snow cover slides. This is just my opinion only.
Although none of Universal’s offerings appeal to me (not a Harry Potter fan or Nickelodeon or Nintendo) I think it will do extremely well and hopefully attract many Disney fans who are disenchanted and leave Disney less crowded for people who enjoy Disney’s type of magic.
I already have families booking a 5-6 day trip to Universal now, and adding 1 day at Disney. From a planning perspective, Genie+ is an unmitigated disaster. By the time I have my third call explaining how it works to clients I can tag they are already regretting booking a trip. I’m trying to make it fun for them but “get up at 645 and hope you get to book a ride” is pretty much the worse start to a theme park day. We did a 5 day stay at Universal (pre-masks) in December and it was amazing (other than the Theme park food like someone mentioned.) I think if they can improve food, update a few shows and revamp the kids area in Studios they will be able to pull families in for longer stays. Right now I have too many families with little kids saying that one parent will just take the older kid to Universal for the day during a Disney trip. If they can add some of the younger kid IP over into the very very dated kids area of studios and create a few more family friendly shows then I think that they will be pulling more and more. Also the fact that they weren’t requiring masks in Orlando was the sole reason that many families were booking trips there. Literally the main factor in their choice. My guess is quarter one is going to see a dip in attendance due to the cancellations that we are all having from the fact that they are requiring masks right now.
Thanks to you and the insight of others replying regarding the service at Universal. Maybe I just had a bad experience and should give them another shot!
Well, my first trip to Disney was at the age of 31 and I definitely felt nostalgia so I don’t feel as though first timers visitors don’t experience that. It is the IP that creates nostalgia, not necessarily previous trips.
Universal does not really appear to try to market themselves like this. After about 6pm it almost feels like they want kids out of the park entirely.
I don’t think many people under 40 walk through Universal thinking “Oh wow, I just loved…Cat in the Hat growing up!”
I’ve always wondered why Universal doesn’t do more with some of their IP. I’m hoping that’s coming with EU.
Was at Disney last in November and Universal last week. I had fun at Disney, always do, but the guest experience at Universal is currently blowing it out of the water. The unlimited express I got by staying at Royal Pacific AND hour early entry to get on Velocicoaster destroys anything Disney offers at onsite properties.
Once I’m in the door I’m basically doing what I want and enjoying myself, as opposed to Disney where the entire day has an itinerary and is continually getting worse in this regard.
Disney has better dining, better night time displays, but perhaps most significantly is that it still has a “magical edge” or nostalgia or whatever you want to call it. When I’m in MK I want to go into the shops and look at new merch. More about Disney reminds me of childhood, but I wonder how long I can continue to care about that when the other place is doing SUCH a better job.
Thanks for sharing. A couple of points:
1) First timers are a big chunk visitors, so neither would benefit from nostalgia with them. (Otherwise, agree with your point there.)
2) Disney also benefits from having the superior IP, which I suppose you could say is a form of magic–or at least brand recognition/appeal. That will definitely be an obstacle for Universal.
Universal needs to focus on service. We went in Oct 2021 and by lunch time regretted being there, wishing we were back at Disney. Getting food was a cluster compared to the tech the Disney app brings to ordering / reserving. The quality was so bad it was not worth the wait. The workers also don’t have the enthusiasm or helpfulness Disney cast members. I probably will not return, even with this new park. Their service reflects the bland service Comcast gives their customers.
Totally agree about Universal needing to improve its food. Outside of Wizarding World of Harry Potter, a handful of other locations, and events (e.g. Mardi Gras), it’s nothing special. The gap between Disney and Universal is especially large when it comes to table service dining.
Don’t agree about service. The two pull from the same labor pool in Central Florida, and many frontline employees have worked for both companies. At a time, this was true–but most of Disney’s old-timers are gone. The main difference is pleasantries, and “have a magical day” doesn’t always mean what you think it means.
Any specific news on Super Nintendo World? That’s what I’m most excited about!
At this point, even if Disney announces several new attractions in the next year or so, I don’t know that they’ll be able to monopolize the market share in the same way they have for decades once Epic opens. Disney makes a ton of money off the hotels, so even if families are visiting both parks, they have a vested interest in people doing 5 days at Disney, 2 at Universal, hopefully staying on Disney property the whole time but at least doing the bulk with Disney. Universal opening a third gate (plus Volcano Bay) moves it that much closer to being a vacation destination, especially with some of the Disney parks really only requiring a half day. Sure, Universal needs to nail the mix of broader appeal (keeping both the family toddler and adrenaline junkie entertained all day), but they’ve been improving immensely these last few years and the rumored lands seem to accomplish that. They’ve also been killing it in the show department recently, which helps. Im thinking Bourne Stuntacular and Nightmare Fuel, which are both really popular and takes some edge off Disney being the clear winner when it comes to entertainment.
As someone else noted, I don’t think Universal will maintain its cost advantage. A third gate means APs will go up by the hundreds and park tickets will also take a big jump. The hotel rates will also probably skyrocket. But that still massively affects Disney if families start doing Universal vacations and tacking on a day or two at Disney. And it could lead to people having to pick either, or because doing both won’t be as affordable. There are already so many defectors based on Covid strategy (how many comments have there been here and on other forums from families who never went to UO/IOA and went this last year over frustrations with Disney and are now singing Universal’s praises). As a park guest, it benefits us all to have both parks getting wins, and I hope that’s what ultimately happens. But for now, Universal is firing on all cylinders at just the right moment.
In fairness, I don’t think there’s anything Walt Disney World could do, even assuming the best case scenario with building more. Wizarding World of Harry Potter brought more people to Florida, arguably benefitting Disney. This turns Universal into a bona fide vacation destination, making for more competition on the hotel front. Good for consumers, as hopefully it cools down Disney’s hotel pricing to make them more competitive.
Universal’s prices will definitely go up. Certainly on Annual Passes, but I’d also expect hotel pricing to increase–a lot. (I think I covered this in another Universal hotel post recently.)
It will be interesting to see how the dynamics shape up between WDW and UO in terms of incentives/discounts and arms race for attractions.
I doubt Disney will go towards the 5th gate. They have plenty of unused/under utilized space (looking at you picnic tables at Dino-Land, and well, EPCOT among a few) that if they want to reach into their pockets, they can do what they did best to create an experience and not just drag and drop a ride or attraction.
Good stuff as always Tom. I love the attitude of this earnings call as the acknowledge slowing construction was a mistake, however no one had any experience of what 2020 brought to economy. To those that as a consumer keep trying to pit these companies in a battle royal the fact is even though they are competitors new and updated rides and resorts help all of Orlando. As a DVC member I visit a few times a year and always hit up Universal once a year and I’m sure because of value prop there are people that stay at Universal but head over to Disney. Facts are demographics are actually setting up for better economic growth through 2030 due to Millennials all be it behind schedule having kids buying housing. So both companies need to keep cap ex to meet with demand as we are going to get an 80’s / 90’s boom with even more juice to the boomers have more disposable income then their parents did. I cannot tell you how many of my friends are coming to me asking for Disney advice planing upcoming trips. Both resorts are going to be busy for years to come so here to new and improved rides and experiences.
PS Velocicoster is Sweet though it had my 58 year old mother begging for Mine Train. Different speeds for different needs.
Totally agree with you: demographics is destiny.
Two things you touched upon: millennials forming households and baby boomers retiring and having disposable income. That’s great for multi-generational trips with the grandparents bringing the parents and grandkids. (It also supports developing attractions for a broader age range–like the Asian parks have done.)
Another that you didn’t mention is international visitors. More people around the globe are entering the middle class than ever before, and international travel is easier than ever (well, not right now–but in normal times). That will only get bigger for Orlando in the decades to come.
I don’t think people fully appreciate just how much the potential audience for Central Florida theme parks has expanded in the last decades, and will continue to do so in the years to come.
Competition is good, this is great to hear.
And, I’d venture to say, get your reasonably priced trips at the universal premier hotels now, while the gettin’ is good.
I went through both articles and didn’t see it at first blush… any info as to how the third gate will “connect” to the other two parks? One of the brilliant pieces to the two Universal Orlando parks was the use of the Hogwarts Express and walking/boat connection to go between the parks. I’m assuming standard bus service, but any rumors / announcements about more creative connection services? Gondolas, underground subway, Florida swamp airboats, duo-rail (because I’m sure Disney at this point has some sort of trademark / copyright protection on theme park monorails:) )…
My guess is buses. I don’t expect any form of novel transportation since they’re separated by major roads and highway.
Three things….1) I guess we can assume TRON will open sometime before 2025 :-), 2) You nailed it with this sentiment, “achieving growth in the traditional way of building new stuff”, and 3) Universal has many flaws; so does Disneyworld. That being said, my family was blown away by the recent additions to Universal (specifically Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley). If Universal puts the same level of attention to detail into Epic Universe I think it will seriously shuffle the market down there (I know that’s not exactly a bold prediction).
With regard to your third point, absolutely. That’s especially true when viewing the parks as a whole, as some of the additions from the late 90s and early aughts don’t exactly hold up. A lot that could use a refresh or total overhaul, better placemaking, etc.
If looking at what Universal has done in the “Potter and beyond” era, it’s mostly top notch. A few stumbles, but they’re clearly doing things differently as compared to the prior decade–and the current trajectory is fantastic.
Congratulations to Universal and its management. They appear to be following guest requests and are making smart decisions at every time. All the while but not doubling CEO salaries. Time for the silver spoons over at Disney to wake up and realize what is happening. While they are in their richy rich slumber party, Universal is poised wipe Disney’s ass in Orlando. Competition is good.