Sunday, November 6, 2022

Universal Orlando Rumor Status Update - 2023 & Beyond

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic threw the themed entertainment industry into a turbulent year of closures, downsizing, delays, and cancellations. As we continue to adapt to a new normal, deploy vaccinations, and continue on a path toward an endemic disease the theme parks have resumed many projects and announced new opening timeframes. In this article, we will cover the currently rumored and in-progress projects at Universal Orlando and peek into its future.

All right, let's go.


The Groove & Red Coconut Club Replacements

First up are the old Groove and Red Coconut Club locations which are closing permanently per Orlando Entertainment News. Red Coconut has turned into a seasonal location with the Dead Coconut Club for Halloween Horror Nights and Green & Red Coconut Club for Christmas. At this time Red Coconut Club does not appear to be reopening permanently but instead will continue to receive these seasonal overlays (Mardi Gras? Summer?).

Universal's Great Movie Escape is now official and will open sometime in 2023. The escape rooms are based on the Back to the Future and Jurassic World movies. Pricing and length of experience is to be announced, but I'm expecting it will cost $40-70 per person based on surge pricing. The experience will likely be 45-60 minutes long. For those wondering how the house could work read this post from an escape room builder on Inside Universal for some ideas.

Blue Man Group Replacement

In February 2021 came the news Blue Man Group Orlando was closed for good having never reopened after the March 2020 pandemic shutdown. After the news drop, several people wondered if the old theater would be turned over to park operations for a new attraction. At this time it does not appear to be happening with the theater used for renting. Currently, Grinchmas performs in the theater and it's likely the park and 3rd parties will use the theater in the future.

Universal Legacy Store

One of 2020's surprise additions is the Universal Legacy Store, a sort of expanded Studio Store with a focus on the history of the parks. While many like the Legacy Store it was on borrowed time the day it opened. Rumors have circulated about a Legacy Store/Hot Dog Hall of Fame revamp that will combine the two into one larger counter service location. One plan is for a beer hall-type location serving pub favorites with a large beer selection. Another rumor is for the Epic Universe Preview Center/Store possibly featuring food and merchandise from the new park in addition to videos, photos, models, and more.

There are no active plans we are aware of at this time to replace the Legacy Store, but keep in mind that it is earmarked for future changes.

Universal Studios Florida

Shrek 4D Replacement / Minions Attraction

Shrek's closed. Good riddance.

A new Minions attraction will replace Shrek 4D. The old Shrek 4D building will be split into two - one side will house a moving walkway-based attraction based on the Minion's movie VillainsCon. Guests will use interactive shooters in this attraction, similar to Men in Black Alien Attack. Our speculation is that it will combine the projection-mapping scenes from Secret Life of Pets and the projection-mapped paint effects from Tokyo's Goofy's House into the ultimate interactive ride. We expect guests will test evil gadgets in different "booths", allowing for varied gameplay. The new Minions attraction is expected to open in 2023.

The other side of the building will be something less interesting at first glance - a flex-use space for entertainment and operations. What this DOES mean is Halloween Horror Nights has a new house space that isn't encumbered by the limits of the Shrek 4D theater. This new space even opens up the door for moving the Tribute Store or an Epic Universe preview center (this is speculation on my part, of course).

Fear Factor Live / Potter VR Attraction

We infamously predicted with confidence that a Potter VR attraction was coming to replace the Fear Factor Live theater. Then something funny happened - executive leadership changed. Tom Williams and Bill Davis were out, and Mark Woodbury and Karen Irwin are in along with a new head of Universal Creative. Potter VR, both in USF and EU, is dead.

At this moment there are not any substantial rumors of a Fear Factor Live replacement.

Fast & Furious Supercharged Retheme / Replacement

Prior to the COVID-19 shutdowns, rumors popped up about Supercharged replacement due to its low guest satisfaction scores. Since then all has been quiet, but word has leaked out about a new USH F&F coaster at that park. Maybe Universal will transform this attraction into a new outdoor coaster to replace HRRR. There are no solid rumors of a replacement at this time.

KidZone Update

The beast has been slain. The famously untouchable KidZone area will receive a huge refresh starting in early 2023.

Replacing KidZone has been on the cards since the 2000s with IPs like Spongebob, DreamWorks, Nintendo, and Pokemon all rumored to go here. The last time KidZone was close to death was 2018 before Super Nintendo World was punted to Epic Universe.

ET and Animal Actors are saved in the current plan, with work walls going up immediately after the two attractions. Fievel, Curious George, and much of the pavement will be going. The current home of DreamWorks theater is staying, but at this time we haven't heard if it will receive any modifications or updates. But if we were betting we'd say that outside modifications are probably likely.

This leaves the Nuthouse coaster to receive a new IP and at least new two play areas based on new properties. I'll take a guess and assume these play areas will be much drier than the two current water play areas. Other left-field possibilities are some interactive elements like we've seen in Super Nintendo World.

Tribute Stores 

Reportedly Mummy would like their queue pack plz. Williams of Hollywood and the photography spot have closed and the Brown Derby is being refurbished. Schwab's Pharmacy (ice cream) and the UOAP lounge remain, but it's possible one or both will close which would open up three or four rooms for a Tribute Store relocation.

Islands of Adventure

Lost Continent

Rumors abound of replacing the remains of Lost Continent after Hogsmeade opened in 2010. At first, the rumors centered around More Potter but after the Nintendo license was acquired rumors of Zelda started popping up. Alicia Stella at OPS has reported on several concepts for Zelda going into the land, all of which involve demolishing most of the land and retheming Mythos. Current rumors say there are no concrete plans to replace Lost Continent at this time but it is likely this will be one of the big projects after Epic Universe opens.

Toon Lagoon

Nothing of note here, Dudley is currently under a long refurbishment and will reopen once Universal gets a handle on the scope of repairs.

Epic Universe

All right, the big one! Epic Universe is on track for an opening by the summer of 2025. Feels like a great way to celebrate the resort's 35th anniversary on June 7th, don't you think?

Anyway, things are progressing rapidly at the new park with new buildings and foundations going in weekly. Fans have noticed that the area previously housing an indoor theater in the Monsters land is now replaced with a ride. More specifically, a family coaster. Rumors point to Universal reacting to VelociCoaster and Hagrid's positive reception and pivoting the theater to a family coaster. We believe the coaster will be in scope to Hippogryph in Hogsmeade, but with spinning seats. We are expecting the overall area to be less cramped than Hippogryph and fit better into the land.

Meanwhile some people are already discussing expansion to EU. Solid rumors point to a Gillman/Creature From the Black Lagoon ride as the first phase 2 attraction. While it's entirely possible, it's also just as likely it becomes the JP Jeep Ride of EU. Lord of the Rings remains a perpetual addition too, but while I think Universal has several concepts for a great land it really comes down to the license holder if they'd grant it. Finally, Pokemon keeps popping up as a new land/attraction, but that seems to be a better addition in USF or IOA than EU.

Sunday, July 3, 2022

Epcot Updated: Musings and Thoughts

Epcot has never been EPCOT. Walt's 1960s vision of a techno-utopia in the middle of central Florida's swamps died with him. Throughout the 70s Epcot then became all of Walt Disney World - see you don't need a separate city when all the infrastructure we built is Epcot! After the semi-successful Lake Buena Vista Village, Disney then combined the proposed World Showcase located next to the TTC with a proposed technology-focused Worlds Fair park to form EPCOT Center.

The EPCOT of 1982, of course, was nowhere near what EPCOT the city would be proposed as. Instead, it was a park based on sponsorships, corporate and governmental, and all the baggage that comes with that. Think Exxon telling people about global warming was bad? Just imagine what would have happened if the prominent supporters of apartheid sponsored the South Africa pavilion. Yeesh. The park was well-liked by the general public despite its obvious flaws. Slow-moving dark rides, walk-through attractions, and theatrical presentations are the bread and butter of a Worlds Fair but generally disappoint people who just rode the new Big Thunder Mountain Railway at the Magic Kingdom.

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser – Weighing the Cost of a Miracle

How do you describe something that has never existed before and how do you assess the value of what it’s worth?

These are the two interlocking problems one runs up against while trying to talk about Disney’s new Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser immersive experience. Even that, “immersive experience”, what does that even mean? For people like myself who are deeply interested in theme parks, immersive theatre, weird art installations, and the like, it can conjure up images that get you in a similar zip code to what Starcruiser is doing. But for your average person, even your average Walt Disney World vacationer, I’m not sure it would sound like anything to them. And then you hit them with the punch that this thing – whatever it is – costs a little over $5,000. For two people. For two nights. That’s more than what 90% of American families spend on travel in any given year, and we’re still not totally clear on what on earth it even is.

Friday, February 25, 2022

Gearing up for Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser: Immersion 9 years in the making

Well, in just a few days, I will step aboard the Halcyon Starcruiser as part of Disney’s latest immersive interactive offering, that clearly has to to tell you it doesn’t go to space - which sits beside a theme park. Yet, the goal of the experience isn’t really to take you to that theme park, or go on a fake space cruise - it’s designed to be the next generation of storytelling - and represents the final vision of 9 years of experiments with WDI R&D.

Living in Southern California, and being a huge fan of theme parks, rides, haunts, and immersive entertainment - I feel like I’ve been playing in these spaces for almost my whole life - so I want to give you a leadup of my experiences before I cover the Galactic Starcruiser next week.

My Interactive Legacy

In addition to Disney stuff, I’ve also played and explored in Alternate Realities outside theme parks, here’s just a few of them:

Myst Online: Uru Live (2003)

I consider Uru Live to be my first real ARG (Alternate Reality Game). A failed concept by Cyan Worlds (of MYST fame), the idea behind Uru was that You Are You, and that you were playing in a massive online world, attempting to bring back to live a hidden city beneath the surface:

As part of the launch of this game, clues were hidden around the real world, including in the New Mexico desert. A kid without a car at the time begging my parents to drive out to the middle of the desert didn’t sit well with them - it was the first time I was exposed to what an ARG was - and how storytelling in the real world would captivate me.

Explore ages and solve puzzles with friends, Myst Online was a virtual “ARG”.

The online game itself would have many ARG like components. Specific meetups with characters in the virtual space, stories and puzzles you must solve with friends. I became a seasoned explorer also enough to join the Guild of Greeters - a specific group of people to welcome new visitors to the cavern.

The whole thing was a massive failure, and after being rebooted two times in 2004, and 2007 - it was never a failure in my eyes. That experience of exploring caves, talking to characters, and living out that fantasy in my life would be a common theme I would explore again and again. You can still play Myst Online for free - if you want to check it out.

Monday, February 14, 2022

Harry Potter NYC VR Experiences - What The?, Thoughts, & Review

 First and foremost, before you read this, please check out The Trevor Project. Read their site, learn some new stuff, share their materials, and if you can, donate to them. This project helps LGBTQ youth through hard times and helping fight back against anti-trans hatred, like the stuff JKR spews, is very important. We highly suggest reading Daniel Radcliffe's response to Jo on their site.

Your life matters no matter your racial, gender, or sexual identity.


Concept art for Harry Potter NYC store.

Harry Potter NYC is a two-story shopping destination located south of the Flat Iron in Flat Iron District.  The store features all sorts of merchandise you'd expect if you have visited the Universal parks in the past 20 years plus higher-priced items like Le Creuset cookware, jewelry, and Vera Bradley bags. This is New York, after all. Potter fans will also appreciate the exclusive MACUSA merch (hahah sorry I couldn't type that without laughing) and HP NYC branded items (which are very very cool). I personally bought some exclusive candles for myself and my sister. In addition to the merchandise is a small cafe selling Butterbeer at $10 a pop, Butterbeer soft serve, and other pastries.

The real unique factor are two virtual reality (VR) experiences offered at the store. One, Wizards Take Flight, is a simulated broom ride around Hogwarts and through London. The second, Chaos at Hogwarts, takes you from Platform 9 3/4 into Hogwarts as you help Doby deliver a suitcase to Dumbledore. Both experiences are booked online prior to visit and cost $34 plus tax per person.

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Shrek Closing, Mummy Refurbishment, Pokemon in Japan, and More

Two weeks ago we shared that we had heard enough to believe Fear Factor Live is closing. At the end of the post we hinted there were other rumblings going around about other closures and new attractions. Today the other shoe fell with a behind-the-scenes note, confirmed by Universal Orlando, that Shrek 4D is closing January 10, 2022. We had heard this too was closing but have not heard from enough other sources to confirm at that time. While there are several rumors of what could be replacing Shrek we believe Alicia at Orlando Park Stop has it right: it's a Minions Villains Con experience. This, plus Minion Mayhem, will flesh out a nice Minions mini-land at the front of the park for families.

On the same note, and also confirmed by Universal Orlando, is a lengthy refurbishment for Revenge of the Mummy from January 7, 2022, through "late summer". While we haven't yet heard the amount of work being done it would not be surprising to see at least a partial track replacement, upgrades to the effects, and possibly upgrading the queue. This is great news for the attraction as Universal views the ride as saving and not one to replace.

Over in Japan, The Pokemon Company and Universal Studios Japan announced a joint partnership for medium-term and long-term entertainment projects. This announcement is unique in that it's with that one park and not with the overall Parks & Resorts division. My thoughts are Pokemon will be part of the very popular summer anime entertainment offerings featured at USJ. My guess is this is a test run with Universal and once the event goes well Pokemon will enter into a longer-term partnership with the other parks for new rides, shows, and attractions.

Finally, it seems the pre-pandemic plan to fix the Fast & Furious Supercharged problem seems to be still on and possibly the much-rumored escape rooms for CityWalk. There seem to be several projects of various sizes happening throughout the resort prior to Epic Universe that will keep the resort fresh before Epic Universe arrives.

Friday, September 24, 2021

The Fear Factor Live Theater is Closing Soon (For Real)

Ok, we’ve seen enough. The Fear Factor Live theater located in Universal Studios Florida is closing shortly after Halloween Horror Nights. It will be demolished for a future attraction. 

Yes, we’ve all been here before, most notably in 2017 when walls went up around ET Adventure during Halloween Horror Nights for the rumored Super Nintendo World. Of course, it’s 2021, and Fievel, Curious George, and Barney Dreamworks are still here. But in terms of closed attractions, this one feels sealed and delivered similar to when Jaws and Twister closed. 

So now for the actual info. We’ve heard for a while now that Fear Factor Live’s days were numbered, going all the way back to post-pandemic reopening in 2020. Late spring 2021 we began hearing about demolition prep going on in the theater and Universal started hiring for a new project to being soon. While we continued to hear a new attraction was on its way the theater wasn’t demolished and work began on Halloween Nightmare Fuel for HHN30. But now over the past week, we’ve heard louder and louder drum beats that the theater’s days are numbered. 

So what’s coming? Secret Life of Pets? Super Nintendo World? Nah, it’s very likely the Potter VR attraction original designed for Epic Universe. Sounds like the attraction was spun off from the park and moved to USF as a stop-gap attraction addition before the new park is built.  

While there are many questions that remain about the project we do not think it will physically connect to the interior to Diagon Alley due to backstage areas and access ways. Instead, we think the theming will extend from the current London waterfront down towards Men in Black to and the attraction will be accessed from outside Diagon Alley. This information is all conjecture based on what we’ve observed with theme park operations and safety and could be wrong. 

Fear Factor Live started as the Wild Wild Wild West Stunt Show with the park back in 1991. The show closed in 2003 for a revamp into the Fear Factor Live show which opened in 2005. Since then the show played intermittently in the park, outliving not only the original television show’s run but the REBOOT’s run. Fear Factor Live closed in March 2020 with the rest of the resort due to COVID-19 and never reopened. 

We also have heard of several other Universal Orlando projects in the works that will open prior to Epic Universe. We will share more as we can confirm our information.