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Friday, October 15, 2021

Following a pandemic lull, Universal Studios Florida has major changes planned for next year

Posted By on Fri, Oct 15, 2021 at 12:34 PM

  • Photo courtesy Universal Orlando/Facebook
With attendance back up and profits rolling in, the delays Universal Parks saw during the pandemic are long gone.

In Beijing, the Universal Studios resort opened last month, and Orlando’s Epic Universe theme park has been a hive of activity as construction begins to ramp out on that project. We’re also seeing our first major projects at Universal’s existing parks since the pandemic, with confirmation on two new projects in the works for the Orlando resort.

The indoor roller coaster dark ride Revenge of the Mummy will see a lengthy refurbishment that will close the attraction for the majority of 2022. In recent years the ride has seen updates to many of its special effects, so it’s believed this refurbishment will focus on the track. Since opening in 2004, the coaster has seen various updates but little work to the track.

While indoors and not facing the same elements a coaster like The Incredible Hulk sees, the track likely needs significant updates after nearly twenty years. Despite the failure of the Dark Universe, a singular cinematic universe for Universal’s Classic Monsters, the ride and other Classic Monsters remain popular. It’s thought the Classic Monsters will be getting their own land in the upcoming Epic Universe.

click to enlarge Concept art for what is believed to be a Classic Monsters-themed land at Epic Universe. The land will house one indoor attraction, a show venue, and food/beverage offerings. - IMAGE VIA NBCUNIVERSAL
  • Image via NBCUniversal
  • Concept art for what is believed to be a Classic Monsters-themed land at Epic Universe. The land will house one indoor attraction, a show venue, and food/beverage offerings.
Across Gramercy Park from Mummy sits the Classic Monsters Café. This half-acre site, which also includes the rarely used extended queue for Transformers, is one of the rumored locations for Orlando’s version of The Secret Life of Pets dark ride that opened earlier this year at Universal Studios Hollywood. While the second Secret Life of Pets film didn’t perform well at the box office, the ride, and more importantly, the merchandise associated with it, have proven extremely popular.

The eastern edge of the Monsters Café building is home to the popular Shrek and Donkey meet-and-greet. Universal has stated this meet-and-greet will remain open for now, but the Shrek attraction across the street will be permanently closing. The 4-D film consistently ranks as one of the least popular attractions at Universal Orlando, and rumors of its demise have been persistent for years.

Housed in a large nondescript studio-themed warehouse-like building near the front of the park, Shrek and its soundstage building, originally housing a Hitchcock attraction, are a holdover from Universal’s past iteration where film production was a primary focus of the park. Now with a true ‘ride the movies’ focus that envelopes guests in the worlds from their favorite films, the bland soundstage are likely going the way of most other early attractions at the park, which today features a single opening day ride, E.T. Adventure.

With Pets likely going to another site, the rumored replacement for Shrek remains the Minions concept shared on here in 2018. Since then, the concept has moved from a trackless ride system to an interactive walk-thru experience. It’s unclear if the hands-on exhibits in the Villains-Con-themed attraction have been altered due to fresh concerns surrounding high-touch surfaces. At Disney, Epcot’s Play pavilion has been delayed, possibly due to similar high-touch exhibits being reworked. There are also conflicting rumors on how far along the Minions attraction is in the design phase.

Since 2017, the rumored plans have remained of this entrance plaza area being transformed into an Illumination-themed land. A live stage show based on Sing has also been rumored for this area or nearby. In early 2018, NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke confirmed the company was looking to expand its DreamWorks and Illumination offerings, with plans for multiple films from each company every year. Burke pointed to these two units as a potential way to enhance the company’s theme parks.

“We very much believe that we need to have the ecosystem of new IP, strong consumer products, and then appear in our theme parks and we've got that cranked up now,” explained Burke.

That new IP ecosystem was on full display at the new Beijing park, where more than two-thirds of the park’s original attractions were linked to DreamWorks and Illumination franchises. The Secret Life of Pets also created an Illumination-based mini-land in Hollywood. Despicable Me features its own mini-land in every Universal park it's found in, except for Orlando. For years, the rumors have pointed to Universal wanting to fix this by introducing an Illumination-based land where the current Despicable Me attraction is found at the entrance of Universal Studios Florida. With rumors of a second Minions attraction, a possible clone of the Pets dark ride, and the potential of the Sing stage show all in the works for this area, that possibility seems more likely than ever.

There's also a chance the theater is used to screen DreamWorks films, similar to the DreamWorks Theatre found at Universal Studios Hollywood.

All of these attractions are quick builds that will be good projects to focus on while much of the bandwidth within Universal Creative is dedicated to Epic Universe. The Creative division is also busy with plenty of rumors of major new additions slated for CityWalk and Volcano Bay. A Potter expansion to Diagon Alley is also expected to be announced sometime soon, with that VR experience likely welcoming guests ahead of Epic Universe’s expected mid-decade opening.

With so much in the pipeline, it may be some time before we see any confirmation on the next big project for the former Shrek area. For now, we don’t know what will be replacing Shrek, but after a nineteen-year run, the 4-D attraction will close for good on January 10.

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