Lord of the Rings, a Jurassic Park roller coaster, and every other rumored attraction coming to Universal Orlando

click to enlarge Lord of the Rings, a Jurassic Park roller coaster, and every other rumored attraction coming to Universal Orlando
Photo by Chad Sparkes/Flickr
Rumors of a new Universal-owned theme park heading to Orlando have been around since even before Islands of Adventure opened in 1999. 

Recently, the rumors cranked into high gear when new land clearing permits were filed for 200 acres of Universal Orlando’s southern property. The 570 acres south of Kirkman is mostly to the east of Universal Boulevard. A small section of the land, to the west of Universal Boulevard, is currently being transformed into a surface parking area with nearly 2,500 spaces, though it’s still unclear who Universal plans to have parking there.

A lawsuit by the former owner currently is blocking theme parks on the property, but despite the precedent-setting legal fight, many expect a new theme park to be built on the property eventually. Recently, a well-respected French theme park blog, Disney and More, broke a story regarding the new park with numerous details that weren’t previously shared but have since been confirmed by multiple other sites.

The previously rumored timeline of early to mid-2020s still seems accurate, with Disney and More stating the new park has a grand-opening before 2024. This would mean the new park would open just after both phases of the Endless Summer Resort are finished on the former Wet ‘n Wild property. The second phase of that resort, the Dockside Inn and Suites, will open in 2020.

Internally known as Project 314, it seems like the new park will be Universal’s big attempt at gaining even more market share after Disney World’s 50th Anniversary celebration in 2021.

Numerous source have confirmed that the new theme park will feature four lands, and Disney and More laid out what they think will be. Interestingly, one land missing from their article is the strongly rumored Fantasyland-style DreamWorks-themed area that would have a substantial presence of Shrek and Kung-Fu Panda.

That new land is the basis for the replacement of Shrek at Universal Studios Florida. A trackless dark ride themed to either Despicable Me or The Secret Life of Pets is believed to be replacing the current Shrek 4D attraction at Universal Studios Florida.

Jurassic World is also mentioned in the plans. Industry expert Jim Hill has also gone on the record stating that the new park will feature a Jurassic World area. Acknowledging the obvious confusion between two areas both themed to the same intellectual property, Disney and More quotes his anonymous inside source directly explaining that the new Jurassic World land could mean an update to the current land, as well.

“[I]t's being played with currently in reference with the new Jurassic World movies. Also, guest research has been out asking guests what they expect from a Jurassic Park attraction and their feedback about the original ride. I agree that it wouldn’t make sense to have 2 lands with the same IP but I know the current ride will be getting upgrades at IOA."

In a recent post on Theme Park University, we were given more details on those rumored Islands of Adventure Jurassic Park updates, where a new roller coaster is strongly hinted at. A wooden coaster was in the original plans for the park, but was cut for budget reasons. It looks like Universal has finally dusted off those plans. Two potential design firms have been floated for the new coaster. The Gravity Group, who did Fun Spot Kissimmee’s Mine Blower coaster, would likely mean a more family-friendly coaster with some thrilling elements. The other design firm potentially tapped for the project is Rocky Mountain Construction. With a cult-like following, RMC has made a name for itself with cutting-edge features and bold designs. RMC is also rumored to be redesigning Busch Gardens Tampa’s standing, but not operating, Gwazi wooden coaster, though there seems to be very little to that rumor which is mostly based on a single name trademark and what looks to be lots of wishful thinking.

It's also possible that Islands of Adventure could keep Jurassic Park, while the new theme park would simultaneously have Jurassic World. The idea of a single intellectual property having a presence in two separate parks isn’t unheard of. Harry Potter has a presence in both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. On that front, if Disney and More is correct, Potter will have a presence in the new park, as well.

The Ministry of Magic was rumored for Universal Studios Florida where it was to replace the Fear Factor Live theater. It’s no secret that Diagon Alley was designed with an expansion in mind, but it now looks like those plans might move to the new park instead. Former Ministry of Magic rumors ranged from a special effects-filled stage show to a walkthrough attraction to an interactive dark ride. The Fear Factor Live area is rather small so the issue seemed to be centered on what could fit into that area.

Harry Potter fan site The Leaky Cauldron pointed out that with the Fantastic Beasts films scheduled for every other year, the new park would open roughly around the time of the last two films, which are expected in theater in 2022 and 2024. The Ministry of Magic area would likely draw heavily upon the Fantastic Beasts films, which are set in a different time period than the other previously released Harry Potter films, so a separate land would make sense.

In the Disney and More article, it’s also briefly mentioned that the Harry Potter family coaster at Islands of Adventure currently under construction will be entirely indoors. Early indications pointed to part of it being outdoors, similar to Test Track. But according to the article, that has now changed so that the ride can run in all weather conditions. This is important in a park where more than half of the rides close in inclement weather.

Lord of the Rings, a Jurassic Park roller coaster, and every other rumored attraction coming to Universal Orlando
Photo via Universal
As previously reported, Super Nintendo World, originally thought to be replacing Kids Zone, may instead call the new park home. Again, the land constraints seemed to be the deciding factor here as the new theme park version of the land includes all the formerly leaked rides, the additional Kirby-themed kids’ area, an enlarged Peach’s Castle, and numerous play areas.

Hello Kitty Cupcake Dream tea cup ride at Universal Studios Japan - Image via Orlando Park Pass | Twitter
Image via Orlando Park Pass | Twitter
Hello Kitty Cupcake Dream tea cup ride at Universal Studios Japan
Kids Zone now looks like it’ll be a new land themed to either Hello Kitty, Trolls, or Pokémon. Comcast has been rumored to be looking at a new partnership or full buyout of Sanrio, the parent company of Hello Kitty.

There are currently a number of smaller kids rides themed around Hello Kitty at Universal Studios Japan. Those rides could be easily replicated here in Orlando. Both Pokémon and Trolls will likely either end up in the Kids Zone area or in the new park.

It’s believed that by the time the new park opens Nintendo will have a presence in all three theme parks at Universal Orlando, with Zelda most likely ending up at Islands of Adventure.

Rumors there have pointed to Zelda replacing part of Lost Continent, though other rumors have pointed to everything from a Grinch-themed family coaster to a Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer-themed attraction also heading to this area.

Both of the latter now seem unlikely, at least for the time being.

Rudolph has also been rumored for Kids Zone, as part of a DreamWorks Classic-themed area that would include Frosty the Snowman, and Santa Claus is Coming to Town, as well as  a set of attractions themed to classic Golden Books characters. The Christmas characters are more likely part of the updated seasonal offerings in the works for Universal Orlando.

What might be the most surprising land mentioned in the article though is one themed to The Lord of the Rings. Supposed discussions between the J.R.R. Tolkien estate and area theme parks even predate those of J.K. Rowling’s talks.

At one time it was strongly rumored that Disney was attempting to pull out all the stops to win the theme park rights of the book series after they lost the Potter discussions to Universal. Now, with parallels of those J.K. Rowling discussions, it looks like Universal might’ve won The Lord of the Rings instead.

The Tolkien estate is infamous in their nearly impossible demands for any adaption for the works, but a recent $250 million TV series deal with Amazon might point to a new era for the Lord of the Rings. When all is said and done, the five-season television series is expected to cost over a billion dollars to produce, making it the most expensive television series ever made.

Warner Brothers, the parent company of New Line who produced the well-known films, never had the television rights to the works, but was involved in the television series negotiations since Amazon may use material from the films. Peter Jackson, the director of the films, may also serve as an executive producer for the new series, though details have yet to be confirmed regarding his role with the series.
Last year, Warner Brothers also settled a lawsuit regarding a breach of contract regarding ancillary licensing rights to Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. With this new quarter of a billion-dollar deal in the works, those rights had to be clearly defined. Now all of that is settled, and it looks like all parties involved are happy to move forward with new projects regarding Tolkien’s works.

Warner Brothers has been highly successful with former theme park partnerships with Universal, including the aforementioned Harry Potter areas. The recent Lord of the Rings discussions may have included the theme park rights. The Lord of the Rings negations do still have a few wrinkles to iron out, including what rights the Weinstein brothers hold. Though The Hollywood Reporter has stated there has been no sign of them attempting to take part in the recent negotiations. No specifics regarding theme park rights has been shared but if they do happen this new Universal Orlando park is the frontrunner of where it will be first realized.

In 2010, Universal sent out a survey focused on a Lord of the Rings theme park. That survey had some very telling questions regarding the potential new park or land.
“Imagine if you will a world unlike any you’ve ever visited before: it’s Middle Earth, the ancient and beautiful land forged by J.R.R. Tolkien as the backdrop for his two most well known creations, Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. Walk as a human among dwarves, elves, orcs and hobbits–all faithfully recreated and portrayed in the spirit of the original characters as they appeared in both the books and the movies. In this land you’ll experience one-of-a-kind rides and attractions that bring to life some of the most memorable experiences of Tolkien’s world including Bilbo’s hobbit hole, the fortress at Isengard (before it was destroyed) and even the dark world of Mordor — including the terrifying volcanic Mount Doom."
That same survey also asked respondents their views on Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Star Trek, and Harry Potter areas beyond those that had just debuted at Islands of Adventure.

Star Trek has been rumored as a possibility for Universal Studios Florida. The new Universal park where The Lord of the Rings is rumored to be headed is widely viewed as Universal’s reaction to Disney World’s new Star Wars land. An Indiana Jones themed area is also supposedly in the works for either Disney’s Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom.

If the early 2020s timeline for the new park is accurate, the current legal issues must be quickly dismissed and permits need to begin being pulled within the next few years. In the meantime, Universal will be busy with numerous other projects including a massive new game-changing nighttime lagoon show at Universal Studios Florida. The new show may likely be the most ambitious nighttime show in Universal Orlando’s history.

Both the new nighttime show and a new Bourne-themed stunt show, replacing the closed Terminator 2 show, are expected to debut sometime this year, or earlier next year.

No timelines on when we can expect details regarding the rumored new theme park have been shared.
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