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!