NBCUniversal CEO shares a ton of new details on Epic Universe theme park in unexpectedly frank interview

click to enlarge NBCUniversal CEO shares a ton of new details on Epic Universe theme park in unexpectedly frank interview
Concept art courtesy Universal Orlando

Just hours before Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek was scheduled to speak, NBCUniversal’s CEO Jeff Shell made plenty of news with his candid openness during an interview at Credit Suisse’s 23rd Annual Communications Conference.

The forty-six-minute-long discussion touched on nearly every facet of NBCUniversal’s post-pandemic recovery, but Shell was especially forthcoming with details regarding the company’s theme park division, including confirming multiple aspects of Orlando’s upcoming Epic Universe theme park.

Shell signaled early on that this interview would be different when he gave hard numbers regarding theme park attendance. Theme park companies work hard to block any official data regarding attendance numbers, but Shell confirmed Universal Parks have welcomed eleven million guests since reopening.

Universal Studios Hollywood opened just weeks before the interview and the company has struggled to keep its Japanese park open during the pandemic. That means the vast majority of the eleven million guests have likely been via the Orlando resort, which includes two theme parks and a water park.
“We have virtually no international visitation yet, which normally, depending on the time of year, is between 20% and 30% of our attendance. And yet, without any of that attendance, we're already hitting our capacity and doing better in some cases than 2019, which is remarkable, given how soon coming out of this we are. One of the things you'd expect actually is with less international and more domestic visitation, you'd expect per caps to be lower. And we're actually not seeing that. So people are not only coming back to our Theme Park and enjoying the experience out of their house, but they're buying stuff.”

Later in the conversation, Shell announced multiple new details regarding the Epic Universe theme park under construction near the Orange County Convention Center.

The location across from the convention center will provide a unique opportunity for Universal, with Shell explaining NBCUniversal plans to “play with pricing a little bit” to draw in convention-goers and host convention-related events at the resort.

click to enlarge What is believed to be the How to Train Your Dragon area of Epic Universe. - Image via NBC Universal
Image via NBC Universal
What is believed to be the How to Train Your Dragon area of Epic Universe.
While not previously confirmed, it came as no surprise when Shell mentioned Nintendo would be featured at Epic Universe. One of the major lands at the park is identical to a multi-phase Nintendo land for Japan. The first phase of that land opened earlier this year, though, as Shell admitted, restrictions in Japan have meant few people have yet to experience it. In Orlando, Super Nintendo World will anchor Epic Universe, according to Shell.

Besides Nintendo, Shell also mentioned DreamWorks and Illumination intellectual properties will be featured in the upcoming park. Another strongly rumored but yet to be confirmed land for the park is one based on the DreamWorks franchise How to Train Your Dragon. That kid-focused land is thought to include three rides, a stage show, and a counter service dining venue.
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.
Notably missing from Shell’s comments is any acknowledgment of Harry Potter’s presence in the park. A Ministry of Magic area is thought to be one of the four major lands in the park. Instead, Shell focused on properties owned by NBCUniversal. He didn’t mention the Universal Monsters, which are also believed to be included in the park.

The mention of Illumination came as a bit of a surprise as, so far, there’s been no indication any Illumination properties were to be included in the park. Best known for the Despicable Me franchise, Illumination has multiple properties with an existing presence in Universal Parks. A Secret Life of Pets dark ride opened earlier this year at Universal Studios Hollywood, immediately becoming a fan favorite and receiving high praise. The attraction along with a large Illumination sign nearby now makes the area near Secret Life of Pets and Despicable Me an unofficial Illumination land.

In Japan, a stage show based on the animated music industry-focused film Sing! has seen success, with rumors of it soon to be replicated at other Universal Parks.

The cultural juggernaut Despicable Me saw its first theme park attraction open in Orlando in 2012. Since then, Universal has introduced the ride to all of its corporate-owned parks with plans to add it to the Singapore park later this decade. Orlando’s version is in an awkward position at the front of the park, hemmed in by a roller coaster, an events lawn, and a major pedestrian pathway. The Minions are given a much larger presence at other Universal parks with a large play area in Hollywood and a whip ride in Japan. The yellow creatures will be getting their first custom-designed land at the soon-to-open Universal Studios Beijing.
Freeze Ray Sliders at Universal Studios Japan - Image via Wikimedia | Christophe95
Image via Wikimedia | Christophe95
Freeze Ray Sliders at Universal Studios Japan
Rumors of the minions getting a mini-land in Orlando have existed for years but most assumed they would remain within Universal Studios Florida. Sing! and Secret Life of Pets have also been strongly rumored for the thirty-year-old Orlando theme park. Shell’s comments may indicate that some of those plans have now changed, with at least one Illumination property making its way into Epic Universe.

Illumination is working on an upcoming animated Mario Bros. film, though it’s unlikely this what Shell was referencing as he mentioned Nintendo separately.

While no hard dates have been announced, Shell also stated Epic Universe will open “in a couple of years.” In the meantime, details regarding the new park are expected in the coming months as Universal files more permits with the county.

Epic Universe will be the first major theme park to open in Florida since Legoland Florida’s opening in 2011 and the first newly built theme park since Universal opened Islands of Adventure in 1999.  

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