It’s been rumoured for some time, but Universal has finally confirmed plans for a fourth gate in Orlando, officially unveiling its multi-billion-dollar Epic Universe theme park plan.
Announced at an official event at the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Epic Universe will be the latest addition to Florida’s lucrative theme park sector and has been touted as “an entirely new level of experience that forever changes theme park entertainment.”
“Our new park represents the single-largest investment Comcast has made in its theme park business and in Florida overall,” said Brian Roberts, Comcast chair and CEO. “It reflects the tremendous excitement we have for the future of our theme park business and for our entire company’s future in Florida.”
While no specific details have been revealed about what IPs will feature (Nintendo is heavily rumoured to be included), Universal did confirm that the 3sq km (1.2sq mi) site will feature an entertainment centre, hotels, shops, restaurants and more. The development will nearly double Universal’s total available space in central Florida.
“Epic is a word that gets tossed around a lot in today’s day and age,” said Mark Woodbury vice chair at, Universal Parks and Resorts and President of Universal Creative. “When we label something as epic, we want that experience to live up to the promise that the word makes.
“Universal’s Epic Universe will offer an entirely new level of experiences that will forever redefine theme park entertainment. Guests will venture beyond their wildest imagination, travelling into beloved stories and through vibrant lands, with the journey as astounding as the destination.”
Theme park design
“Our vision for Epic Universe is historic,” said Tom Williams, chair and CEO for Universal Parks and Resorts. “A Universe is bigger than a World and it will build on everything we have done and become the most immersive and innovative theme park we have ever created. It’s an investment in our business, our industry, our team members and our community.”
With Universal promising to change the game when it comes to immersive experiences with the new park, its design is the most important element. When asked about the process, Williams explained the company’s approach: “There are three key ingredients,” he said.
“The first is the environment, which hopefully people are familiar with. They want to be immersed in a world that they have become very affectionate with through books, movies and TV shows. They know it well and they want to be immersed in it.
“The second ingredient is characters. In this environment, there are characters hopefully that people of all ages and genders can identify with. We want our visitors to be part of this world along with the characters they love.
“The final piece of the puzzle is storytelling. We want to tell a story in these worlds in new and different ways.”
Technology is also a key part of the design process, with the right technology in the right place taking an immersive experience and raising it up a level:
“We want to take it to a whole other level but we don’t do technology just for the sake of technology,” said Williams. “If technologies offer us an opportunity to tell a story in a way that really sucks you into a world and makes you feel like you’re part of it, that’s when we use it.
“It’s about telling the story in the most effective way. You can see this as an example in the way we delivered Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey or our brand new Hagrid ride” (see p90).
Laying the mousetrap
Joining Universal Studios Orlando, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay, a fourth Universal property will offer increased competition in Florida to Disney, which operates four theme parks, two waterparks and Disney Springs in the Orlando area.
To support longer stays and to draw a larger share of the 75 million people that visit Orlando each year, Universal has significantly grown the hotel side of its business in Orlando, with the launch of its Aventura hotel on 16 August bringing its total rooms in Orlando up to 6,000 – two-and-a-half times more than just five years ago. Another hotel development from Universal opened in early July and another is set for March 2020, bringing total room count for Universal in Orlando to 9,000.
In addition to investment into the new park, Orange County mayor Jerry Demings revealed Universal would also be investing US$160m in a 50/50 public-private partnership to extend Kirkman Road into the area where the new park will be located. Universal is also working to protect the wetlands on the property, which includes the Shingle Creek watershed connected to the Florida Everglades.
“The investment Universal is making in our community and the benefit all of us will see is substantial, benefitting nearly every segment of our economy – from tourism to high-tech,” he said. “The Kirkman extension will improve transportation through a busy and growing portion of our county and open up the entire area for additional development – including an important expansion of our convention centre.”
Such a major investment is projected to have a huge effect on Orlando and the wider Florida economy, with the construction of the new park alone expected to contribute a total of US$11.5bn in direct and indirect economic benefit.
At present, Universal contributes more than US$302m in annual state and local taxes. This number will nearly double when the new park opens. Universal will also hire an additional 14,000 people, adding to the 25,000 it already employs in Florida.
“Epic Universe will bring a new level of entertainment and innovation to one of our state’s most important industries,” said Ron DeSantis, Florida’s governor.
“We look forward to Universal’s continued contribution to our state’s economic growth and development and we’re especially grateful for its partnership in improving Shingle Creek, which plays a critical role in serving the Everglades.”
Work has started on the development, with ground having already being broken. Universal is yet to reveal a timeline for the park’s opening.