With the exception of Universal Orlando Resort's Volcano Bay
waterpark, which opened in 2017, Universal's Epic
Universe will mark the first major park opening in the U.S. in nearly 20
The last was Disney's California Adventure in Anaheim,
Calif., which opened in 2001.
Epic Universe, which was announced earlier this month, will
be the first theme park to open since the industry firmly shifted to offering
more immersive, enveloping products that make guests feel like they've walked
onto a movie location. That shift has left many industry experts excited about
what the park might hold.
"This just solidifies that Universal is moving up into
the top tier of this industry with Disney," said Robert Niles, editor of
ThemeParkInsider.com. "It used to be that Universal was clearly in tier
two with SeaWorld and Busch Gardens [which have the same parent company]. They've
left SeaWorld and Busch Gardens in the dust, and now they're clearly moving up
to the top level with Disney, which is what [Universal parent company] Comcast
NBCUniversal management has wanted all along."
Universal has been tight-lipped about what immersive
features might be planned for Epic Universe, but it will be joined by an entertainment
complex, hotels, shops and restaurants on a 750-acre parcel of land. It will be
located south of Universal's existing campus in Orlando, which is home to
Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, Volcano Bay, seven hotels and
the entertainment and dining area CityWalk.
The new southern campus, which nearly doubles Universal's
acreage in Central Florida, is the single largest theme park business
investment Comcast has made.
Level of immersion
While no details have been disclosed, Universal Parks and
Resorts chairman and CEO Tom Williams said in a statement that Epic Universe
will "become the most immersive and innovative theme park we have ever
Universal's "Harry Potter"-themed areas have been
lauded for their level of immersion for years, and experts expect more of the
same, if not better, at Epic Universe.
Niles said he expects the whole park to be reminiscent of
the Wizarding World of Harry Potter -- Diagon Alley at Universal Studios
"It's going to be that same type of immersive
experience," he said. "That's really the direction the industry is
going in. But this is going to be the first major theme park in the United
States that has been built since the industry started going in that direction,
so they can do this from scratch. They don't have to have one or two immersive
lands in a park with looser-themed lands because it's 40 years old. They're
starting from scratch, and they can do nothing but these separate, immersive
lands, like they did with Diagon Alley."
Bob Chambers, founder and co-CEO of the Producers Group,
which offers consulting and design services to theme parks and produces
attractions around the world, agreed with Niles that immersion like that seen
in Universal's Harry Potter lands and Disney's Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge has
become the standard.
"I think all the new projects that we're going to have
moving forward are going to only go above and beyond that," he said.
While no official announcements have come from Universal,
speculation is rampant about what kind of attractions Epic Universe will hold.
Niles said it will almost certainly hold Super Nintendo World, the
Nintendo-themed land Universal is building in Japan.
Universal has said it will bring Nintendo to Florida, and
with no sign of another existing land being replaced, Epic Universe is its
Wealth of intellectual property
Universal also holds the rights to a number of DreamWorks
Animation franchises. The "How to Train Your Dragon" franchise has
been discussed as a potential element of Epic Universe, Niles said. And it
would only make sense to include more Harry Potter.
"They seem to like having a Harry Potter land in every
one of their parks, which makes sense because it's wildly popular," he
said. "So you've got this huge 'Fantastic Beasts' prequel franchise that
they could draw from.
"It's not like they're lacking for intellectual
property to put in here," Niles said. "In fact, there are several
expansion pads in the concept art that they released, so it's clear that this
is not just a park that's going to be filled with stuff at opening but that
they have the potential to expand over the years, as well."
Niles said he believes the new park moves Universal Orlando
Resort into the category of a primary destination for many visitors, as opposed
to an add-on to a Walt Disney World vacation.
Claudia Nunn, project director at the Producers Group, said
she believes the new park propels Orlando as a whole neatly into
"I worked for Disney at one time," she said. "And
we used to hear, 'Oh, kids get tired of Disney Parks. What do I do?' So then
they go to Universal, so there's this leap. But I have seen over the past
decade or more that as Disney acquires different intellectual properties and
Universal is expanding, people aren't making a choice of 'I'll do this' or 'I'll
do that.' They may in that year, but they're coming back."
Unusually split campus
Chambers called the location of Epic Universe, a few miles
south of Universal's existing campus, "highly unusual," saying, "I
can't think of any other park complex where they have the real world in between
Hilary Osiecki, marketing manager at the Producers Group,
said the distance could offer Universal some unique opportunities. She pointed
to Universal's Hogwarts Express attraction. It links the theme parks on the
north campus, taking visitors through backstage property but distracting them
with an experience on the train, whose windows are video screens.
"With the theming taken to the level that it is, they
could very easily turn that into an experience, getting to the second land,"