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!

YOUR THOUGHTS

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!

23 Responses to “Universal’s Epic Universe Park Opening by Summer 2025”
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