With land preparation well underway and multiple permits regarding the project already posted, it came as no surprise when Universal last week confirmed their new theme-park anchored south campus, Universal's Epic Universe.
The new park will be "the biggest, the best, the best [park guests] have ever seen," according to Universal Parks CEO Tom Williams. He went on to explain that the south campus is "more than a park. It's hotels. It's shops. It's a whole resort."
Despite these comments, only the park's concept art was released. Few details were given at the press event but one, albeit vague, piece of concept art was provided. Concept art is just that, and rarely is it wholly accurate, compared to the final result.
Williams stated that Universal Creative is looking at three key ingredients in designing the new park; immersive environments, characters that people identify with, and storytelling via new and different ways.
As is industry standard, no prices were revealed but the similarly-sized Universal Studios Beijing project is now believed the most expensive theme park ever built, costing a reported $6.5 billion
, nearly six times the cost of Islands
Universal did confirm that the new Epic Universe will be the largest single theme park investment in the company's history, though it's unclear if this statement by Comcast CEO Brian Roberts includes the parks in Singapore and Beijing, which are developed via partners.
Guests will enter the park via a set of arches, similar to those found at other Universal parks, but with a steampunk-meets-sci-fi, galactic-inspired design. The park is laid out with an updated version of the traditional hub-and-spoke design with an oval-shaped central hub corridor anchored by a significant water feature that stretches the entire length of the park.
While it may not at first glance have many similarities to the more traditional Main Street, U.S.A. style entrance retail corridor, the lagoon anchored hub corridor seen in the concept art is lined with plenty of large buildings that will be more traditional retail, dining, and guest service outlets. Unlike the individual lands, where many of the specifics have been set for some time now, the hub corridor is still going through design revisions that could still dramatically alter the final product from what is seen in the concept art.
While closer to a more traditional hub-and-spoke design, Disney used a similar garden-like design similar in their most recent park, Shanghai Disneyland. There the Gardens of Imagination
central corridor is where classic attractions, like the Dumbo spinner and the carousel, can be found, along with certain dining and retail venues. The Epic Universe concept art seems to show a comparable design with certain rides, restaurants, and retail venues scattered along the corridor. A carousel has been mentioned by multiple insiders as one of the attractions to be found in this area, though the concept art does not confirm this.
Image via NBCUniversal
Universal's new theme park, Epic Universe
Taking the place of a castle, the park's ‘weenie' is instead a large multi-story luxury hotel that overlooks the central lagoons and corridor. When guests first enter the park ahead of them is an impressive natural looking waterfall garden that fills the lagoons. The pathway splits with guests choosing between two glass-covered corridors, reminiscent of Disneyland Tokyo
or Universal Studios Singapore
The middle of the three lagoons has a large art nouveau style pavilion, likely a restaurant or attraction. Other buildings around the central corridor seem to draw from art nouveau, steampunk, and atomic age with splashes of Victorian. Multiple water features and tree-lined pathways crisscross the corridor.
The lagoon closest to the hotel has a theater in the round style amphitheater circling a fountain, again similar to the fountain amphitheater
found in Shanghai Disneyland's Gardens of Imagination. While the concept art shows off fireworks, the park's location close to residential areas, a military research development
site, and highly critical environmental areas mean that nightly fireworks might not be the case despite a planned firework launch platform. Instead, it looks like Epic Universe will continue the trend of shifting the focus from nighttime shows in the sky to ones on the water and buildings. Near the fountain show amphitheater is a set of buildings, possibly holding one or more restaurants with viewing areas for the show. The lagoon will also be visible from multiple areas within the hotel, perhaps with projection mapping onto the hotel building itself.
Like what was previously rumored
, the concept art shows that each of the individual lands will be stand-alone with only one primary entrance off of the central corridor. These entrances block views into the lands, providing a surprise moment like that of Diagon Alley.
Starting at the entrance plaza and moving clockwise, the first land guests will encounter is believed to be Super Nintendo World. Like with all of the lands, the concept art gives us few details on what intellectual properties will be found in the park. This land is split with half of it having a city look and the other half having a jungle-like vibe. Despite the city look, the boxy multi-level layout is nearly identical to leaked concept art for Super Nintendo World with the Mario Kart ride on the bottom left and an elevated pathway, likely for the indoor/outdoor omnimover style Yoshi ride on the top center. Alicia Stella of Orlando ParkStop leaked numerous details
regarding the Yoshi ride in recent weeks including photos of a scale model for the previous Kids Zone plan. The concept art looks nearly identical to the leaked photos of the scale model. The back of the land has a rollercoaster believed to be the Donkey Kong attraction. A large warehouse-like building just above the assumed Super Nintendo World could be the gift shop for the land.
One of the potential stand-alone attractions is wedged between the world of Nintendo and the world of monsters is a small, fast-casual dining venue. One of the two large expansion pads is found in-between Super Nintendo World and the Classic Monsters area, with this expansion pad rumored to be slated for the second phase of Nintendo.
Moving along, the next of the four lands is a European village one that looks nearly identical to the Classic Monsters land concept art
that was leaked by Orlando ParkStop a few months ago. The leaked documents refer to this land as the ‘Worlds of Universal Classic Monsters.' Few details on what this land will include have been leaked, but a boat ride similar to the award-winning trackless Pirates of the Caribbean one found at Shanghai Disneyland or another groundbreaking attraction is rumored for it. Possibly themed to the Creature from the Black Lagoon
, this attraction will have multiple Classic Monsters within it.
Also seen in this land is an outdoor amphitheater. Previously, Universal Studios Florida was home to the popular Beetlejuice Graveyard Revue
show that had Universal's classic monsters singing dance hits. This has led some to speculate that this amphitheater may be bringing back that show while other rumors pointed to the Waterworld that every Universal resort except Orlando has. Neither of those show seems to be the case with a brand-new action-packed show filing this venue, that will also be used heavily for after-hours special events.
Now halfway around the park, guests pass the grand hotel. A fine dining establishment inside the hotel will be just across the turnstiles, similar to the Hard Rock Café at Universal Studios Florida. It looks like the hotel will have an elevated garden overlooking the park with the in-park pathways passing underneath the gardens. Hotel guests will be able to pick from an in-park view or a water view with a large retention pond being constructed just behind the hotel. The pond will sit in front of the hotel when visible from the Kirkman Road extension, part of road network being developed around the new park that Universal has provided a $160 million for. It's rumored that Universal will be looking to make this new hotel at least four stars, with the aim of it being on the same level as the Four Seasons at Walt Disney World and a step above WDW's Grand Floridian hotel. Near the top of the hotel are two outdoor areas, likely connected to one or more rooftop dining venues.
The next land is a Parisian inspired area that is likely themed to the Fantastic Beasts films. This would be third Harry Potter-themed land for Universal Orlando but the first to not feature Potter or his friends. In the top center of this land is a small courtyard area that looks like Paris' Place de Furstenberg, home to Wallace Fountain entrance to the Paris Ministry of Magic. This entrance connects to the most extensive indoor section of the entire park. A large indoor Ministry of Magic expansion was previously planned for Diagon Alley, but like Super Nintendo World, it now looks like this concept will instead be moved to the new park where it can be expanded. At least one or two technologically advanced rides will call this land home.
After leaving this land, guests will pass a collection of buildings in the central corridor that can be viewed as its own mini-land. A small village like area with classic European style buildings and watchtowers can be seen, possibly a reference to Maison de Jules Verne
, the home of the famed science fiction writer. This mini-village could be home to one or more of the park’s original characters. After the success with Professor Doctor Penelope Toothsome at the chocolate-themed restaurant that bears her last name, it's rumored that Universal Creative is looking to create more original characters.
Across the pathway from the European like buildings is a space-age looking one with an orrery like model on its roof and what seems to be a spaceship or comet near the assumed entrance. Rumors for what this building will house range from the long-dormant Star Trek attraction to a Battlestar: Galactica ride to an original concept designed specifically for the park. This mystery building sits in front of the second large expansion pad.
Nearby a set of dueling coasters can be seen. Viewed as an updated version of Islands of Adventure's now sorely missed Dueling Dragons, this new coaster is accessible from the central corridor via a covered entrance. The building has what looks to be another comet or spaceship crashing out of it, similar to the one seen on the nearby mystery building. No lift hills are seen along the dueling blue and yellow coaster tracks leading to the assumption that these coasters will instead use a launch system like the ones used on Rock ‘n' Rollercoaster or Hulk.
Beyond this mini-land is the final full land of the park. Guests enter through a cave-like entrance to a Viking style village circling a small lagoon. Rumored to be themed to How to Train Your Dragon, this Fantasyland like world of dragons is the most kid-friendly section of the park. The concept art shows a family coaster and what looks to be a double Gerstlauer Sky-Fly
attraction. What seems to be a kids play area with shade structures is seen in the middle of the land.
While the going assumption is that this land will be exclusively themed to How to Train Your Dragon the lower two-thirds of the area seem to be slightly different looking than the other section so it is still possible that this land could include other DreamWorks franchises such as Kung-Fu Panda or Shrek. Though at this point, all indications seem to point away from this. A flying theater, like Soarin' and Legoland Florida's recently opened Masters of Flight, and at least one indoor dark ride are also rumored for this land.
As mentioned above, all of the plans for Epic Universe are still very much in the works with the possibility that the eventual park may look drastically different than this concept art, especially the hub corridor. But the various franchises and basic concept are now mostly set with permits for the park beginning to be filed. To speed up the approval process for Epic Universe and other I-Drive area projects, Orange County is opening a satellite office for permits at the Orange County Convention Center.
Beyond the new park, other hotels and projects are planned for the south campus but details on those projects have yet to be shared.
Universal has shared no timeline, but it is believed
that the Epic Universe park will open 2023 or 2024.
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