Universal Restarts Epic Universe Construction
Universal Orlando’s Epic Universe will be a new theme park in addition to Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Florida, and Volcano Bay. This runs down the lands, rides, shops, restaurants, entertainment center, and adjacent hotel, all of which will be a short drive from Walt Disney World. (Updated March 3, 2021.)
Let’s start with the latest good news on Epic Universe. Almost a year after temporarily closing Universal Orlando, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts spoke during a Morgan Stanley Investor Conference on March 3, 2021 and announced that construction on Epic Universe will resume immediately. Comcast had paused construction until the company felt confident enough that the future became more certain, and to that point Roberts said, “we now feel that way.”
After the conference, Universal Orlando issued a press release on Epic Universe: “The restart will begin immediately, but is expected to take several months before reaching full-speed as Universal restaffs for the project and reassembles its vendor and contractor teams. Restarting Epic Universe will result in hundreds of jobs within Universal and thousands of jobs across Central Florida. These positions include highly-skilled professional positions, all levels of construction jobs and more.”
Epic Universe’s construction will infuse billions of dollars into the Central Florida economy, generating thousands of jobs during its development. It’ll also create more than 14,000 permanent jobs once completed. Roberts further stated that Epic Universe is Comcast’s “single largest investment in the state and represents our enthusiasm for the spectacular park and the economic opportunities it will generate.”
“We are excited to begin work on Epic Universe again and for what this moment means for our industry, our community, our business and our team members,” said Tom Williams, Chairman and CEO for Universal Parks & Resorts. “Our confidence in our collective future is as strong as ever.”
Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings said that the resumption of Epic Universe’s construction “couldn’t come at a better time,” and “our community has so many talented workers who will benefit from this massive project. I am confident it will deliver a huge economic boost to Orange County.”
We are surprised but elated by this news. When previously discussing the delay, we pessimistically commented that “indefinitely delayed” was the face-saving term for Epic Universe’s likely cancellation. Our view was that Central Florida’s tourism industry had been hit hard, and the region’s status as a theme park travel destination means a full recovery and the ‘future becoming more certain’ would take years. We are very happy to have been very wrong on this.
Universal Orlando resuming work on Epic Universe only a year after shelving the project is great news for theme park fans, and also the local economy in Central Florida. We’ve discussed “revenge travel” in 2021 a lot on the blog, but it’s still hard to fully comprehend the degree to which the U.S. economy has roared back in just a year. This is the clearest sign yet that one of the major Florida theme parks has reason to believe an economy recovery is on the horizon for the hospitality sector.
Even if you don’t care about Universal at all, this also bodes well for Walt Disney World. For one thing, competition is healthy and ultimately benefits consumers. We’ve already been documenting the many ways Universal has been aggressive during the reopening, trying to capture business from Walt Disney World. This is another sign of that, and at some point, Disney will have to take notice.
Beyond that, Universal is only resuming this project because there are signs of the travel industry recovering. If that’s true for them, it’s true for Disney, too. That could means that plans previously derailed or postponed indefinitely could be picked back up. This is especially good news for EPCOT, where the Spaceship Earth Reimagining and the Marry Poppins Cherry Tree Lane expansion were shelved. Walt Disney World announced other cutbacks and cancellations, including the three-level Festival Center. It wouldn’t surprise us in the least if Walt Disney World announces within the next few months that some of these plans are also back on.
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 shared 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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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!
I’ve stayed at Portofino Bay Hotel 4-5 times. It’s wonderful. Less expensive than Disney, bigger rooms, just gorgeous, not as crowded and much more quiet. Great restaurant (Mama Della’s). No need for car rental or Uber–water taxi takes you everywhere and quickly. Not sure how this will work with new park however. Love HP but most of rest of Universal unfortunately is for dare devil rides. I like the rides/attractions at Disney better (other than HP which is a 100 out of 100). Universal is not for small children–they won’t be able to ride or will be bored (except for HP–if they are fans, this is the mother ship!). I never split trips. I make separate trips to Disney and Universal and my location requires a plane trip.
Thanks for covering Universal and yes, please continue to do so. This Disney fan has done several split stays and with the new park will have a more difficult time on planning days. Ah, to have such a first world problem. Thanks for your blog!
We generally split our Florida vacation between the parks about 60/40. They are distinctly different as Universals thrill rides far outclass Disney’s. HHN is epic and one of the most memorable experiences of my life. The attention to detail in Hogwarts and Diagonal Alley is exceptional.
Disney is classic and magical. I still cry at the fireworks and nothing can beat Fantasmic as a show. The feeling I get when I drive onto the property up Osceola Parkway under the Welcome sign still makes me feel like a kid.
I’ve stayed on both and they each have their benefits however up until 2019 Disney’s were slightly more appealing. Now with a lack of EMH, FP+ and paid parking they are pretty much comparable.
We are so sad that we will not be visiting as planned this year but I have to hold out till Fantasmic is back before I can return!
We have done Universal many times. We are “larger than average” people. Disney does a better job of accommodating people of size on their rides than Universal. I am hoping Universal keeps their larger than average guests in mind when designing their rides in their new theme park. This is one area Disney really excels.
That’s really a shame; I’d never thought about that. Don’t wait (or just hope) though – tell Universal now. Voice your concerns. Beautiful people come in all shapes and sizes. Be well.
Right now, Disney is living on its history. They believe they can just roll out the same old tired stuff and believe people will pay increasingly more money to see the same things. This WILL come back to haunt them and in the long run will cost them more money than this current short sightedness ever will. The economic recovery has already started, it really only impacted the lower income earners and they don’t exactly go to WDW often. So Disney is going to be caught short handed and WAY behind Universal. Disney…..you need to change your focus back to planning on the future as it is arriving this year!!!! QUIT COASTING. IF YOUR BUSINESS ISNT GROWING, YOUR DYING.
I get so discouraged by Disney’s HIGH prices for hotels so I’ve never stayed on-site although I can afford it. I know some people think it’s so magical and that’s why they pay the high prices but I just can’t bring myself to do it. We have a fabulous time when we go but have a MUCH better time when we hit BG, SW, and Universal. Those thrill rides is where the magic and value for my money is. Have a beautiful day.
I question the idea of a Classic Monsters park simply because the film’s tanked so hard at the box office. Without any outside media to generate new interest Universal would be launching a theme park on nostalgia which might not work long term. Star Trek has a lot of new material out but its aimed at a specific demo (older nerds) that doesn’t necessarily overlap with the theme park audience. I don’t see a lot of 5 year olds jumping up and down to go to Star Trek land sadly. Plus with Disney’s Star Wars land still fresh in everyone’s minds it would look like Universal is just following Disney’s lead.
I think we shouldn’t count out Lord of the Rings just yet with the new Amazon show coming out. Plus it fits in well with Harry Potter and has its own esthetic that would lend itself to a really cool immersive experience.
Yet another example of Universal leading through the pandemic. They have owned Disney since the reopening as began. More entertainment, more food choices, moving ahead on new projects like this and Velocicoaster. Just more “normal”. And I’m first and foremost a huge Disney fanboy.
Great news for keeping the pressure on Disney.
I’d argue we wouldn’t have Pandora or Galaxy’s Edge if it wasn’t for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Prior to Harry Potter, Universal was a 1-day visit for tourists at most.. it was more of a locals park, a regional 6 Flags. A poor man’s version of WDW..
Harry Potter put it on the map. At least for my family, for the first time, it was a true alternative to WDW..
So hopefully the pressure that Universal is moving ahead aggressively prevents Disney from sitting on their budget-cutting laurels at WDW..
Wow, I am stunned and will admit I was wrong/did not see this coming.
It seems like Universal keeps going bold while Disney keeps…not. My son has shown me the promotional videos from Super Mario World in Tokyo [they are smart with the marketing on the Switch]. Very cool and good news.
Universal Studios Japan is not in Tokyo. It’s over 300 miles away, in Osaka.
Thank you. Another data point to confirm that I am an idiot :-).
Great news!! Competition is good. Get with the program WDW! If Universal added a Magic Express comparative, I think WDW would be on the ropes.
We stayed at Cabana Bay once a few years ago. Loved the fact that I didn’t have to walk a mile to get a cup of coffee and could take my supper up an elevator to my room. I agree, if Universal does put in some type of “free airport transportation” our next trip, God willing next summer, may be on site at Universal with a couple of Uber rides to Disney. Definitely the complete opposite of how all our other trips have been.
My gamer son thinks this will be a total Gamer Park or is hoping it will be. Something that reflects the movie ‘Ready Player One’. As soon as he read about the name, he said “Doesn’t Epic Games own Fortnite?”. It is called Epic Universe after all. Nintendo will undoubtedly be included in this new park, but if Fortnite is there, kids will go crazy. Minecraft, and Roblox are also little communities of gamers. I know a ton of little boys who would go bananas with a theme park that would make their video games come to life.
I have three boys, when this is complete the youngest will be 8 or 9. There’s no way they will want to go to Disney if there is a park with video game theming. We always stay in Disney and we always say “maybe next time universal”. This would put us staying in DVC but possibly skipping Disney.
I am excited about construction starting up again! I would love to have Fantastic Beasts & LOTR featured. But, not holding my breath.
Count me as somebody else who can’t wait to read about your expanded Universal (and Universal hotel) coverage!
Universal has the best hotels. I love Disney but Universal has bigger rooms, more things to do within the hotels, and the hotels are updated.
I love Harry Potter world so I am a big fan of Universal, but I also have a family of 5. To compete better with Disney it would be nice if they offered fast passes (instead of the huge added express pass cost, some hotels offer it with stay though) and something like Disney’s Magical Express (which is the best, so convenient and not an added cost like it is for Universal just to transport with no help with luggage). Instead the cost to Universal is so much more expensive for my family size then to go to Disney that we have not gone in some time. Also, Disney has more parks and way more to offer. A new park will be amazing, but they need to get more competitive with what they offer in their prices and I do not see that happening with the added cost of building a new park. And I agree with Jeff, the magic is not there…it’s not the happiest place on earth, although fun.
Katie: I completely agree with you (& Jeff).
Disney is the clear leader ~ everyone else has just been scrambling to catch up to them. Never going to happen. But as you said ~ Universal is still fun. Just not with all the added perks & “magic”.
I agree with you on Magical Express, but I disagree about the Fast Passes. I just recently did a WDW “vacation” and found the Fast Passes to be a real pain. Scheduling everything months in advance was not magical. But express passes that make it so I don’t have to do any planning ahead of time? Extremely magical. We’ll definitely be back to UOR before WDW.
I agree that Fast Passes can be a pain. I think Universal charges something like an added $85 a ticket a day for their express passes. That is a lot of money for my large family!
Super Mario World?
My inner 13-year-old just died and ascended to heaven.
I, personally, love that Universal is expanding and at such a rapid rate. Anything that continues to kick Disney Orlando into gear is fine by me.
I am a huge fan of Universal, and this expansion sounds so exciting! However, it does take away from one of the biggest appeals to staying on site at Universal – the ability to walk everywhere! I love how compact Universal felt and how easy it was to access the parks/CityWalk without ever getting on a bus if you didn’t want to. The location of this third park takes away that intimacy. I also loved Universal because it was easy to accomplish everything in a long weekend. As a non-Florida resident who works full time and enjoys international travel annually, I don’t often have time for an entire week at a theme park. I enjoyed Universal because I could stay 3 nights and do everything I wanted, sometimes riding my favorite attractions 5x!
I apologize if I missed it, but is there a year they think the new theme park will be built and ready?
Also, a random universal tip: we usually stay at Disney and do one or two days at universal (doable with a fast pass for each person). If you get a higher up hotel at universal for your group, it includes fast passes for the day of check in and check out – so you could save money and get early Potter magic hours by buying a hotel room for one night rather than buying fast passes for your family for two days. We usually stay at Disney but get the universal room for the early admission to Harry Potter, the fast passes for two days, and use it for naps or for the pool.
We’ve enjoyed visits to Universal (both Orlando & Los Angeles), and they definitely are the 2nd best theme park operator on the Planet.
Problem is, it’s a distant, distant, distant 2nd.
And the Magic I feel on Disney Property every time I’m there precludes me from wanting to add even a day at Universal.
But competition ups the ante, and this 3rd Park can only help motivate Disney.
I previously priced a day at Universal, while staying at Disney, but decided against it. The price for 1 day, with myself & 4 kids was $650. Didn’t make sense since the price to add the day to Disney was so much cheaper. I hate that you have to pay for both parks to ride the Harry Potter ride. Maybe in the future, we can visit.