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Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Universal just opened one of the world's greatest roller coasters. Now what?

Posted By on Wed, Jun 30, 2021 at 2:11 PM

click to enlarge The area in Epic Universe believed to be themed to How to Train Your Dragon - IMAGE VIA NBCUNIVERSAL
  • Image via NBCUniversal
  • The area in Epic Universe believed to be themed to How to Train Your Dragon

Universal showed they were still pushing forward despite the pandemic when Islands of Adventure welcomed VelociCoaster to its lineup earlier this season. The high-speed, high thrill coaster has quickly become a must-do for many coaster enthusiasts.

VelociCoaster and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure combine to make Universal Orlando a major destination for thrill-seekers. With these two highly anticipated new rides now open, it’s unclear what Universal has planned next for the Orlando resort.

Leadership at parent company Comcast has remained steadfast in their commitment to adding new attractions to every Universal park every year. The company has also indicated it will continue to invest in the two existing Florida theme parks while it builds Epic Universe.

That park is expected to open around 2025. It will feature a mix of thrill rides and family attractions, all of which will harness the latest amusement technology. But, even as these massive new attractions are built at Epic Universe, things at the North Campus should begin ramping up in the coming months.

Alicia Stella of Orlando Park Stop has made a name for herself with original reporting on numerous projects across Universal Orlando that have proven accurate. With a near-perfect record, Stella is now once again turning to her crystal ball to predict what will be next for the thirty-one-year-old resort.

In a wide-reaching interview with Orlando Weekly, Stella laid out numerous rumors she’s been tracking. Despite the comments by leadership indicating new investments coming to every park, Stella isn’t convinced we’ll see any significant additions to Islands of Adventure ahead of Epic’s opening. Instead, she points to currently closed attractions, such as Poseidon’s Fury, as what may help keep crowds in the coming years.

Stella believes the primary investment focus during the next few years will be at Universal Studios Florida. That park welcomed an impressive new stunt show last year. Still, numerous previous attractions prior to the stunt show opened to mixed reviews, with the high profile Fast and the Furious-themed attraction being nearly universal panned.

Instead of introducing more intellectual properties to the park, Stella believes we’ll see an increase in Minions or the Wizarding World.

“A sequel to the spinoff 'Minions' film, called The Rise of Gru, is coming out next year. So a new attraction that ties into the first Minions film and set within the Villain-Con convention where Gru first meets the Minions would be a good move for synergy ," they said. "And Universal has had nothing but success with every Wizarding World addition, plus Diagon Alley has far fewer attractions than Hogsmeade, so that makes it a good candidate for a new ride.”

The Villain-Con attraction, thought to be replacing the Shrek 4D attraction, has been rumored since at least 2018, but Stella believes the trackless ride system has now been removed from the concept.

Every ride rumor involving trackless technology now seems to be paused. Universal did face a steep learning curve with the massive trackless ride vehicles used on the Skull Island attraction at Islands of Adventure. Stella points to a confluence of personal struggles with the technology and high-profile uses of it by competitors as a possible reason why Universal has seemingly backed off of the technology for the time being.

Universal may instead continue to venture into augmented and virtual reality within high-capacity attractions. For example, Universal Studios Japan made history this spring when it opened the Mario Kart-themed dark ride, the first major permanent theme park ride to use user-based augmented reality. That attraction is also currently under construction at Universal Studios Hollywood and will be included in Orlando’s Epic Universe.

Epic Universe was rumored to include a VR attraction allowing for guests to take a simulated broomstick ride. However, that ride may now instead be moved to Universal Studios Florida.

“The rumors for a virtual reality flying broomstick ride would have it set up similarly to The Twilight Saga: Midnight Ride at Lionsgate Entertainment World in China, which won the THEA award for outstanding attraction last year. If true, this could end up being the highest capacity VR attraction in the world,” explains Stella. “The Wizarding World has not been a stranger to breaking through theme park attraction barriers when it comes to new technologies, and this may be no exception.”

At Universal Studios Florida, the broomstick attraction would replace the Fear Factor stage that’s adjunct to Diagon Alley. Within Diagon Alley, a currently closed gate is believed to connect to this potential expansion plot. It's unclear why resort leadership has chosen to speed up this attraction, moving it to Universal Studios instead of waiting for it to debut at Epic Universe.

Plans for a Lionsgate park similar to the one in China were leaked last year. Those plans show a multi-story indoor theme park just blocks away from Epic Universe. It's thought it would include many of the same attractions as the Chinese park, including the award-winning Twilight VR experience.
In a bit of irony, the original plans for the Diagon Alley expansion area were thought to be the Ministry of Magic, but those plans are now expected as part of Epic Universe.

click to enlarge The hotel for Epic Universe can be seen on the left side of the image and the entrance area for the Wizarding World themed land on the right side. - IMAGE VIA NBCUNIVERSAL
  • Image via NBCUniversal
  • The hotel for Epic Universe can be seen on the left side of the image and the entrance area for the Wizarding World themed land on the right side.
Surprisingly, the Wizarding World has yet to be confirmed for Epic Universe. Stella warns us not to read too much into this.

“I don't think the company would be best served by announcing a new Wizarding World land in a virtual industry call with investors. That's the type of announcement you build hype around, with all the pomp and circumstance," they said. "I'm sure it was no coincidence that the properties that were mentioned were ones owned by Comcast, Universal's parent company.”

The properties confirmed for Epic Universe include DreamWorks, thought to be a How to Train Your Dragon land, and Illumination. Previously there no indications that Illumination was to be featured in the new park. “I'm not sure anyone knew what Comcast CEO Jeff Shell meant when he said Illumination was coming to Epic Universe,” explained Stella. “My first instinct was that we could possibly see a new mini-land added to the plans featuring clones of attractions like The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash, SING On Tour from Universal Studios Japan  and perhaps even Beijing's version of the Minions-themed Super Silly Fun Land. But again, that's where my mind went.”

click to enlarge The area in Epic Universe believed to be themed to How to Train Your Dragon - IMAGE VIA NBCUNIVERSAL
  • Image via NBCUniversal
  • The area in Epic Universe believed to be themed to How to Train Your Dragon
Stella also believes we may see more DreamWorks within the existing two theme parks despite few rumors pointing in this direction.

“We've seen what looks to be a land-based on How to Train Your Dragon for Epic Universe, but that's only one of a very large catalog of properties under the DreamWorks umbrella. DreamWorks Destination in KidsZone may be just the start for more representation of the brand within the existing parks,” they said.

Trolls, Kung Fu Panda, and Madagascar attractions have all been heavily rumored. There's also been some chatter regarding a DreamWorks stage show in the former Blue Man Group venue.

That may include copies of existing DreamWorks attractions, such as the Kung Fu Panda rides at Universal Studios Beijing. That park is expected to open later this year.

As is common, Universal is likely waiting for more announcements from Disney regarding their upcoming anniversary celebration to release details on their future attractions. It’s expected Disney will be releasing that information sometime this summer or early fall.

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