Universal Orlando’s upcoming Epic Universe theme park won’t open until 2023, but we’re starting to learn more about what the park will offer.
Local longtime Universal fan, Alicia Stella is known for her accurate reporting on yet-to-be-announced Universal projects. Using public document requests, she has now shared very detailed updates on what to expect on her website, Orlando ParkStop, posting permits for three of the five lands, and the hub.
The park will be the most expensive Universal has ever built, with a price-tag expected well north of six billion dollars. Speaking to Orlando Weekly, Stella explained Epic Universe will be unlike anything previously seen in Central Florida. It's expected to have a level of detail similar to that of Tokyo DisneySea, which is viewed as one of the most beautiful theme parks ever built.
"Universal's Epic Universe has the possibility of being the most beautiful theme park in Central Florida," said Stella. "We already know Universal is designing it to be the most immersive park in Orlando, but I believe the architecture and design may be on par with what we see in parks overseas like Tokyo DisneySea. Universal is paying attention to every little detail, taking what they were able to accomplish with Islands of Adventure in 1999 to the next level."
We already have confirmation of at least nine rides within Epic Universe. That’s as many as both Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. It’s one more than Animal Kingdom, and even more rides are expected to be confirmed in the coming weeks as more public documents are published.
Using a hub and spoke model similar to the Magic Kingdom, Epic Universe will have four fully immersive lands, along with a large center that will house its own attractions, dining venues, and retail. In concept art shared by NBCUniversal, a dueling roller coaster, similar to the now-closed Dueling Dragons, can be seen in the hub area. Both the hub area and the Wizard World area of the park have yet to have their permits published."
Permits have been filed for several of the park's lands so far, but we have not yet had a chance to examine the site plans for the central hub. This massive area will be larger than two of the themed lands combined,” explained Stella. "It will feature many full-service and quick-service restaurants, gorgeous park spaces, fountains, and sculptures and even a ride or two, including a massive space-themed racing roller coaster."
All three of the lands with permits published thus far show at least one restaurant each, and multiple buildings we can assume are gift shops."Considering each land only has one way in and out, all guests will need to pass through the hub area to move between portals into other lands. That means the hub must not only be large, but must also cater to the needs of this heavy guest traffic," said Stella.
In the lower right section of the park appears to have a How to Train Your Dragon-themed area. Public documents show three outdoor rides, a kids play area, what is believed to be an indoor ride, and a theater. The first outdoor ride is a Splash Battle ride, likely made by Mack Rides and nearly identical to one found at Legoland Florida. These rides have both boat riders and guests on the shore "battling" each other with water guns, while the boat slowly moves around a lagoon. Nearby is what looks to be Gerstlauer Sky Fly.
So far, this is the only carnival-style traditional flat ride confirmed for the park. The Sky Fly has twelve riders at a time strapped to the end of a long arm. As the arm spins the ride, each rider controls their own ride vehicle, allowing riders to decide how thrilling they want to make the ride. Two of the rides can be seen side-by-side in the permits for the land.
A roller coaster with three small indoor sections wraps around half of the area. In the concept art, the buildings this coaster rides through are mountain-themed, helping to block the racing coaster found in the hub. An indoor attraction, likely a flying theater that’s a mix between Soarin’ and Pandora’s Flight of Passage, has a long outdoor queue linking up to it. An Express queue is also seen outside of this attraction. It’s thought that this attraction will use a new flying-theater concept that Universal previously patented.
The land also features a counter service restaurant, likely gift shops, a possible theater for a live-action stage show and a smaller building with a short outdoor queue, likely for a meet-and-greet area. A play area is confirmed in the permits, with water, rock work, and a forest-like ambiance expected in this kid-friendly land.
Across the hub is Super Nintendo World. This land will include the highly anticipated Mario Kart dark ride that is also in the works for the other three Universal parks around the world (the upcoming Universal Studios Bejing will not have a Super Nintendo World when it opens next year).
A Yoshi-themed family-friendly park will have both an indoor and outdoor section, very similar to Splash Mountain or The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride!, though this ride will be far shorter than Splash Mountain. Japanese news site NHK recently confirmed that the Yoshi ride is in the works for the Universal Studios Japan version of the land, as well. At Orlando’s Epic Universe, both the Mario Kart and Yoshi rides are in a Mushroom Kingdom-themed subsection of the Super Nintendo World.
Behind the Mushroom Kingdom sits a second subsection of the land, themed to Donkey Kong. The Donkey Kong roller coaster attraction will be in this area, despite it not appearing on the public documents that Stella received. When it opens in Orlando, Donkey Kong will likely not be found at any of the other Universal parks around the world, making this the first Donkey Kong themed land developed by Universal.
As with the Super Nintendo World in Japan, the one in Orlando is expected to have Power Up Bands that allow guests to interact with props throughout the land. These bracelets are a mix between the TapuTapu bracelets used at Volcano Bay and the interactive wands found in the Wizard World areas. Interactivity will be built in throughout Epic Universe, with multiple upcharge wearables and items that can be used to augment the already immersive worlds.
The final land is in the upper left corner of the park. Believed to be themed to Universal’s Classic Monsters, this land might come as a surprise to many.It’s not often that a park land is themed to a film franchise that’s nearly a century old, but over the years the Universal Monsters have proven that, despite their age, they’re still relevant.
"If theme parks are looking for lasting intellectual properties, I think the Universal Classic Monsters is one the greatest ones out there. Films that are now close to 100 years old have helped shape the culture and how we even perceive the stories they were based on," explained Stella, who said this might be the land she is most looking forward to."
Everyone knows Frankenstein's monster as green with bolts in his neck, and we have Universal Studios to thank for that. I'm extremely excited to see how Universal themes this area because a creepy, old European village would be an entirely new type of environment for the [Orlando theme] parks."
Unlike Super Nintendo World and How to Train Your Dragon, the Classic Monsters land has no outdoor attractions. This land is believed to feature references to Frankenstein, Dracula, Wolfman, the Mummy, and the Creature from the Black Lagoon.
Frankenstein’s Castle will house the land’s only ride, which is believed to use a ride system similar to the one found on Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey. While the concept art shows an outdoor amphitheater, the documents feature an indoor building that is likely a theater. While this means the popular WaterWorld show found at every other Universal resort around the world won’t be making its way to Florida, this does allow for the show to run during inclement weather. Space for a second phase is found near the rear of the land, with rumors of a Creature from the Black Lagoon boat ride similar to Shanghai Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean, slated for this area.
Beyond the documents published by Stella, we know that at least two hotels are planned for the South Campus with a possible third in the works. The records for the hub, and Wizarding World lands, are expected to be published in the coming weeks. This should help clear up some mysteries regarding many of the hub’s unidentified buildings. A carousel and a fine dining restaurant are expected to be found in this area.
Despite documents detailing the park’s offerings, it is unlikely Universal will confirm any of them until we get closer to the park’s opening. As is typical with Universal, they’re possibly waiting until Disney announces its own plans, likely surrounding Disney World’s 50th Anniversary in 2021 and the post 50th Anniversary plans for Epcot, before sharing all the news about Epic Universe.