Universal Delays or Cancels ‘Epic Universe’ Park

Universal Orlando has announced Epic Universe, which will be a new park in addition to Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Florida, and Volcano Bay. This park will feature new lands, rides, shops, restaurants, entertainment center, and an adjacent hotel. Like the existing parks, it’ll be a short drive from Walt Disney World. (Updated July 31, 2020.)

Almost a year to the day after announcing Epic Universe, Comcast released its second-quarter 2020 earnings results. The company’s theme parks division, Universal Parks & Resorts, took a colossal financial hit. Revenue was down 94% in the quarter, generating $87 million as compared to $1.46 billion during the same period last year. This is unsurprising, as Universal’s parks were closed for most of the quarter.

Consequently, Comcast executives stated that development on its Epic Universe theme park in Orlando remains paused for now. Plans for the park will resume when “the future becomes more certain.” This comes after a round of layoffs last month, including Universal Creative employees working on Epic Universe. Following that, Universal cancelled Halloween Horror Nights, a huge revenue generator. With a rough road ahead, the Epic Universe news shouldn’t be a huge surprise…

As with Walt Disney World’s recent announcements about the status of upcoming projects that have yet to break ground, “indefinitely delayed” is the charitable and face-saving term. Central Florida’s tourism industry has been hit hard, and the region’s status as a theme park travel destination means a full recovery and the ‘future becoming more certain’ will take years.

We don’t doubt that Universal Orlando will develop that parcel of land into another theme park at some point in the future. Maybe they’ll pick it back up in 3 years if the industry recovers quickly; maybe a decade if not. In any case, it’s delusional to think that Universal’s Epic Universe theme park as-announced is anything but cancelled. Between the delay and Universal’s reliance on hotter properties, the plans will inevitability be significantly modified or redone entirely once revisited.

Nevertheless, what follows are original details of Universal’s Epic Universe for the sake of posterity, in case future ‘theme park historians’ want to compare what was announced last year with what’s announced in 2028 or whenever…

At a press conference, Universal announced that a third theme park would be built in Florida, that it’d be called “Universal’s Epic Universe.” The positive economic impact of Universal’s Epic Universe was also touted.

In terms of substance, the logo for Universal’s Epic Universe, along with the above concept art were the bulk of what was released. Universal declined to provide additional information, such as a timeframe for the opening of Epic Universe, the movies and other intellectual property it’d feature, or specific attractions. However, rumors about this park have swirled for over a year, so we have some pretty credible insight into what else Universal’s Epic Universe will entail…

A couple of internal Comcast presentation leaks from the last year pointed to the name of Universal Orlando’s third theme park being called “Fantastic Worlds” and also suggested what some substantive offerings at the park may include. Obviously, we now know that the name has changed since then.

One thing that has not changed is where the park will be located, as this was pretty much confirmed by permits and plans filed with Orange County. Here’s the map released today by Universal Orlando:

Another thing that’s almost certain about Universal’s Epic Universe is that it will be anchored by Super Nintendo World, which is presently being built in Japan. Universal has previously officially confirmed that Super Nintendo World is coming to its Orlando Resort. Super Nintendo World is expected to include attractions themed to Mario Kart, Donkey Kong, and Yoshi. This is expected to include a dark ride and physical environments; the concept art that has leaked makes this look like something special.

Other rumors are less reliable, but there are several potential lands that could find a home in Universal’s Epic Universe. The first of these is a land from the Wizarding World Fantastic Beasts franchise, which would fit nicely with the existing Wizarding World of Harry Potter lands in the two existing parks. A third likely candidate is a DreamWorks Animation area, which would be an eclectic Fantasyland-style mix of franchises such as How to Train Your Dragon, Trolls, Kung-Fu Panda, Shrek, and Madagascar.

Another is a similar land featuring Illumination Entertainment properties. These could include a Minions mini-land and Secret Life of Pets attraction. Such a dark ride is almost certainly in these plans irrespective of anything else Illumination Entertainment-related, but the attraction is already under construction at Universal Studios Hollywood, and cloning it would save development costs.

We don’t follow Universal rumors nearly as closely as we do Disney, but other rumors/speculation (honestly, I can’t distinguish between the two on this) I’ve gleaned over the last year or so from spending way too much time on Twitter includes Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, and Universal’s Classic Monsters.

Just at first blush, I’d say that Universal’s Classic Monsters seems the most likely of this trio. Either of the other two would be huge, and Universal has demonstrated an ability with Halloween Horror Nights to attract and leverage big intellectual property, so other big IPs don’t seem outside the realm of possibility.

Universal insider Alicia Stella of OrlandoParkStop.com has tweeted the above map (reposted here with permission) that has each area of the concept art labeled with what it’s likely to be.

Alicia has been one of the main sources of rumors, leaks, and other information concerning Universal Orlando Resort’s third gate, and we’d consider her as (or more) credible as anyone when it comes to Universal’s Epic Universe. (Of course, this is still just rumor, subject to change, and all of that.)

On a personal note, we’re really excited for Universal’s new park. While we have a Walt Disney World v. Universal Orlando post, it’s probably not what you’d expect from the title. We don’t even remotely buy into the faux-fan rivalry that has been concocted–and we’d note that the companies themselves don’t even partake. (To the contrary, many at Universal Creative are former Imagineers, and vice-a-versa!)

In addition to Universal Orlando, we’ve been USH Annual Passholders (read our Guide to Universal Studios Hollywood for more on that fun and uniquely California park) and regularly visit USJ in Osaka (read our Guide to Universal Studios Japan for more on what makes it special, including fan favorites like JAWS!). Universal is different from Disney in a lot of ways, but there are also plenty of similarities–and both know how to create some great attractions.

In fact, we recommend those with longer recommend Walt Disney World vacations allocate at least a couple of days at Universal Orlando, and use our Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure Trip Planning Guide for strategy. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is absolutely mind-blowing, and on par with the best of Walt Disney World.

Admittedly, we’ve been slacking in our coverage of Universal Orlando on the blog. That’s partly because there’s “Disney” in the title, and many readers do buy into the dumb rivalry and have complained about past coverage (ironically, no one complains about off-site hotel reviews).

In fairness, it’s more so on us. There are some significant elements we still haven’t experienced, like the new Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. More importantly, we haven’t stayed in any of the hotels yet, and it feels a bit premature to start doing itineraries and more comprehensive coverage until we experience Universal as on-site guests.

This announcement was just the kick in the pants we needed. It’s clear Universal Orlando is going to be even more of a serious competitor for your Walt Disney World vacation time and hotel nights. Accordingly, we think it’d be a disservice to those of you planning Florida trips to not offer better coverage of Universal, particularly from a tourist perspective. To that end, we’ll start booking hotels and hopefully have more frequent (but still comparatively infrequent) planning tips and updates from Universal Orlando.

If this announcement of Universal’s Epic Universe is any indication, it’s going to be a fun decade in and around the Central Florida theme parks, and we think everyone benefits–including Walt Disney World fans with zero interest in Universal–from fiercer competition among the parks.

We don’t quite buy into the notion of ‘theme park wars’ nor do we expect a direct response from Walt Disney World. Big announcements are likely to come at the D23 Expo later this month, but those have been in the pipeline for a while, and aren’t “caused” by Universal’s Epic Universe. However, we do think a ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ (to a degree) and competition will improve the guest experience for all of us. And that’s what matters most to us in the end!

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Your Thoughts

What do you think of Universal’s Epic Universe? Excited for Super Nintendo World? What about Fantastic Beasts, Universal’s Classic Monsters, or the potential DreamWorks Animation or Illumination Entertainment lands and/or attractions? Think this third gate will be a worthy addition to Universal Orlando Resort? Expect Disney to “respond” with a big announcement of its own at the D23 Expo? Any questions? We love hearing from readers, so please share any other thoughts or questions you have in the comments below!

46 Responses to “Universal Delays or Cancels ‘Epic Universe’ Park”
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