Thanks to the pandemic, Universal Orlando seems to have an Epic problem

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ARTWORK VIA UNIVERSAL STUDIOS/YOUTUBE
  • Artwork via Universal Studios/YouTube
This past weekend saw long lines at Universal Orlando. Yet, the resort has indicated that they expect the big crowds, or at least the big-spending out-of-state multi-day crowds, to not remain with two hotels going dark later this month and with numerous discounted ticket deals still being offered. They’ve also paused the development of their upcoming multi-billion-dollar theme park Epic Universe giving no indication when, or if, they plan to move forward with the various projects across the resort that are now on hold.

In the past few weeks, multiple scenarios have emerged on how Universal plans on addressing the quickly changing economic and social realities that affect their resorts.



Universal does seem to be a better place than Disney, thanks to parent company Comcast’s non-entertainment-based divisions and Universal’s more nimble corporate structure. Still, the company is hesitant to continue any significant investments with so much uncertainty. Universal is rumored to have put all major projects on hold until at least December, with the exception of the Jurassic Park roller coaster, which is already well underway. December looks to be when leadership will meet to discuss the economic and pandemic forecast for the next 3-5 years. Three primary paths seem to be under consideration; one with no changes, one with slight modifications to Epic Universe’s timeline and offerings, and one with a complete halt to the new South Campus where Epic Universe is located.

If in December the economy is improving, and there is progress in addressing the pandemic, Universal may opt to restart its numerous projects, including Epic Universe.



A slower economic recovery may mean that Epic Universe is canceled or, at least, delayed once more. In either of these cases, certain aspects of the project may still move forward in other locations. Most notable of which is Super Nintendo World. The Orlando version of the Mario and friends themed land was originally planned for the Kids Zone area at Universal Studios Florida but was then moved to Epic Universe. Multiple leaks of the plans confirm that the Studios version of the land, which is nearly identical to the one proposed for Epic Universe, is, for intents and purposes, practically shovel ready. It’s believed that the contract between Nintendo and Universal requires the Florida land to be built within a specific timeline. This type of requirement is common.
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While an extension of the original schedule is possible, and likely has already happened, if Epic Universe is canceled or postponed indefinitely, Universal may still be required to open a Super Nintendo World land or face some penalty for breaking the contract. Multiple sites are now reporting that Universal is looking at the possibility of moving Super Nintendo World back to Universal Studios Florida, allowing it to open before Epic Universe.

Even if Epic Universe does eventually happen, it may see not only Super Nintendo World not in the lineup but also a replacement for its How To Train Your Dragon themed land. The more the park is delayed, the less relevant the franchise, which saw its final movie released in 2019, becomes. This land may also be replaced with something more relevant. With two of the four major lands for the new park now in flux, Universal may have to rework a significant amount of the plans for Epic Universe before moving forward with the park.

Universal Orlando's Epic Universe park is moving forward, despite the coronavirus-related shutdown. - IMAGE VIA NBCUNIVERSAL
  • Image via NBCUniversal
  • Universal Orlando's Epic Universe park is moving forward, despite the coronavirus-related shutdown.

There’s also an issue with the park's design. Similar to how Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida works, each land within Epic Universe had its own entrance, which allowed for each to also be rented out separately. The location and layout of Epic Universe is all about taking advantage of the nearby convention center, one of the busiest in the nation. Every land within Epic Universe can host after-hours events and other convention focused offerings. Business travel and conventions are now facing an even more uncertain future than the travel industry as a whole. A recent report by McKinsey noted that even within the slower business travel segment, industry conferences and trade shows are expected to be some of the last segments to recover. The extra income these after-hours events would’ve brought Epic Universe is no longer a sure bet, and with their loss, so too is a significant aspect of the park’s ROI plan.

2020 has proven that predicting the future is nearly impossible, but Universal must do just that if they plan to stay relevant. There’s still plenty of time before the supposed end of the year meeting, so there’s no telling what may happen before then, but, for now, the only thing that does seem certain is, somehow and somewhere, Orlando will eventually be getting a Super Nintendo World land.


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