Universal Orlando construction update: It's a great time to be in the theme park design and construction business
If you're looking for work in a sluggish economy, there's a business that can't hire and put people to work quickly enough:
Theme park construction.
Universal Orlando has asked many of its big contractors to plan to stay on-site for at least a year following the completion of their current projects for the resort. Universal's clearly planning to continue major construction work on its properties after the completion of the current Cabana Bay and Harry Potter Diagon Alley projects.
There's lots of construction work under way in the Orlando theme parks, and more to come soon.
But what for? Here's what we know will happen: Universal will be taking on major construction work in Jurassic Park and at the Wet n' Wild water park property. I've not yet seen blueprints for either of those projects, so I'm not willing to report specifics of what will be happening on those sites. But I do know from sources on the ground in Orlando that Universal's focus will shift in those directions once Cabana Bay and Harry Potter are completed.
Honestly? Any area or attraction that was built before The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened in June 2010, and that hasn't been substantially refurbished since, is a potential target for redevelopment over the next five to 10 years, either for a major Spider-Man or Springfield-like refurbishment, if not complete replacement. Banking so much cash from Harry Potter has convinced the NBCUniversal overlords to turn on the money hose for Universal's theme parks, and anything not up to "A"-grade quality (i.e. Disney-level finish standards) will be upgraded.
That's not just in Orlando. Remember, Universal Studios Hollywood has started its billion-dollar-plus "Evolution Plan" makeover of that property, with a new Central Plaza under construction, and Curious George and the Gibson Amphitheater closing over Labor Day to make room for Harry Potter. Throw in Despicable Me, a new hotel, at least two new attractions and a refurbished Studio Tour, and construction crews will remain busy on the mountain in Universal City for years to come.
Don't think the construction binge is simply a Universal development, either. Remember that Walt Disney World has Cars Land, Avatar and a Star Wars land all in various stages of development. Disney's Imagineers are slammed with work on Shanghai Disneyland, too.
I'm hearing that people at Disney would love to get going on expansion projects in Disneyland and California Adventure, building on the resort's momentum after the hit debut of Cars Land, but that the reawakening of Walt Disney World (following the reassignment of former Disneyland President George Kalogridis to oversee WDW) and the Shanghai work means that Disneyland doesn't have the parks division's development focus all to itself this time.
Another industry insider recently told me that theme park design firms simply can't staff fast enough for all the work in the business now, and with Imagineering and Universal Creative hiring so many top candidates, independent firms are having to get far more aggressive in recruiting than they have been in the past.
In short, if you're experienced in stagecraft, film production, architecture design, or construction management and want to get into the theme park business, now is the best time in a generation to do that. Join TEA. Get down to Orlando for the IAAPA Attractions Expo in November. And when you get your gig, don't forget who encouraged you. We love leaks at Theme Park Insider! ;^)
Even fans who don't care about the business of making theme park attractions can get excited about the industry's direction. More construction means more and better attractions in the years to come, in Orlando, in Southern California, and in Asia, not to mention at all the regional parks around the world that are hiring independent design firms to help them compete with Universal's and Disney's new developments.
It's not just a great time to be a theme park designer. It's a great time to be a theme park fan.
Update: Cedar Fair announces a three-year, $50 million capital improvement project for Carowinds, which will include new attractions.
Which new project are you most looking forward to visiting?
Exciting stuff, and we'll be there next year for the Potter expansion and the full opening of the New Fantasyland.
I am most excited for Pandora at Animal Kingdom. I think it won't matter whether or not you like the movie, and really you either love it or hate it, the land will just be amazing. Judging by Cars Land and New Fantasyland, Disney Imagineering really knows how to create a completely immersive themed land. Cars Land's level of detail is extraordinary, and I expect Avatar to be no different. The richness and uniqueness of Pandora in the film will translate very well into a theme park land. WDI has spent a long time already researching and planning the project, with more time to come. I know a lot of people complain how slow WDI is compared to Universal Creative lately, but slow and steady wins the race sometimes.
I would like to write down a few wishes I have for Orlando and hope they come true. This is just from my heart, but I would be so happy if this happened. I would love to see:
Well said Cory, I agree with you 100%
Avatar will have 3 sequels filmed consecutively like Lord of the Rings. The sequels will be released every year after the first sequel. It will be interesting. I am certainly hope the New Avatarland is opened in time for the first sequel. Otherwise, it will be a missed marketing opportunity.
I would love to hear what and when Disney is going to start making some new E ticket rides. They are repairing the asphalt at the studio's fake streets so development won't start there anytime soon. And building the new theatre at AK is going at a snail pace and I don't think they start building the genital haired smurfs land until they can transplant the Lion King show otherwise there would be even less to do in the park. Then it will take Disney 3 to 4 years to complete the stuff in AK and DHS. Still nothing mayor is announced for the ageing Epcot. So maybe in 6 or 7 years all parks will have something worthwhile to visit it. Hell, maybe they have repaired the tree and the Yeti while they are at it. Until then I'm at Universal resort Orlando.
I thought Cars Land was all but shelved, Avatarland's announcement was nearly two years ago and still there's no real progress, the latest rumours suggest Star Wars Land been value engineered to death. New Fantasyland is absolutely gorgeous (if you can ignore the construction in the middle) but the Little Mermaid is B team stuff - horrible narrative and awful sight lines throughout. I see no sign that Disney have woken up to the competition down the road and I find it extremely frustrating and don't see them changing given their miserly approach to CAPEX and general park upkeep.
Exciting times ahead!
Nice photo. ;o)
Regarding Cedar Fair's announcement to invest $50 million in Carowinds, their Charlotte, N.C.-based amusement park: This really isn't very impressive. The news report said this money will be spent over several years and include infrastructure improvements. This means that it's not all going into new rides. Until they spill the beans and give any specifics, it's hard to know exactly what's on their drawing board. But the likelihood that the park gets at least one killer coaster or other ride from this money, I think, is pretty small. I'm sure they'll be getting something new. But worth getting excited about? Meh.
I am most excited at what Universal is doing. Disney is always telling everyone something is coming and it never does! Once Men in Black has run it's course I think Universal Orlando should turn the Men in Black building into a creepy old mansion. Maybe put in a Resident Evil dark ride. This could be the Uni version of the Haunted Mansion. (based on the games not the movies) I really want to see what Universal can do to make their own Haunted Mansion. Toon Lagoon needs a total make over. The water rides are not utilized in the winter and having two in one area is wasted space. Mount Crumpit as well!
This is my first post on the website, but I've been following this website for a while and I've enjoyed pretty much everything that has been posted on it so far.
@ Paul A ticket booth to upgrade 1 day tickets to a hopper pass is included at the train stations. If Uni is going that way is still not officially announced but I'm sure they'll want to cash in on it. I'm also wondering how the ride is going to be. According to Uni it's going to be a full blown e ticket ride so I can't wait to ride it.
Robert -- can you do an article updating us on Cars Land at DHS and if it really is canceled? There's so much confusion right now.
From what I've heard,
The news about Cars Land East makes sense. WDI had the Avatar and Star Wars areas at D23, so clearly those are the two projects they're focusing on. And as long as they are done right, they will be enough. It will be nice to see Disneyland Resort be unique with Cars Land, and WDW be unique with New Fantasyland, Avatarland, and Star Wars Land. Plus it makes more sense to really push Avatar and Star Wars, since there will be 3 sequels for each coming out in the second half of the decade. Those films will be dominating pop culture from 2015-2020 and beyond, while it will have been seven years since the most recent Cars movie by 2018 (and seven years since the most recent HP film too btw).
Another great article, Robert... The upcoming billion dollar battles of the two major theme parks will be interesting to watch. Universal obviously has the edge right now, as attendance is way up from a few years ago, but Disney doesn't have to do much to get people to visit.
After Potter 2 opens in 2014 ... What else does Universal have planned for its parks? I've heard only rumors about further expansion but certainly nothing solid.
Permit applied for construction trailer in Jurassic Park for an 18 month period for the same company that did some of the original JP work. That's not necessarily a Universal declaration of JP expansion but it sure indicates construction will probably be occurring there. If I was a betting man, I would say there will be a new attraction(s) etc. in JP for 2015. OU has been speculating on that for the last 6 months. Once again, no solid declaration from Universal, but that's not generally their style. They haven't been releasing info until after construction starts on their recent projects.
I agree that a new E-Ticket ride for Jurassic Park should and will be Universal's next project after WWoHP 2. Another ride has long been rumored for the island, and with Jurassic Park IV finally hitting theatres in 2014, the time has never been more perfect. I have a friend who is very high up the ladder at Universal Orlando who told me the next project is going to be huge (of course, that is all she could say). And the construction area going up behind JP is certainly promising.
I don't mind screens at all, as long as it is coupled with something like KUKA or the Transformers type ride system and real props.
Universal is spending so much money because I was able to take a peek at NBC/Universal's financials while they were operating as an LLC while Comcast and GE owned them jointly.
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