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What's really going on at Universal Orlando these days?

October 12, 2016, 9:42 PM · Last week some fans at Universal Orlando spotted Nintendo's Shigeru Miyamoto with a film crew in front of the globe, sparking a fresh round of rumors over what Universal will do with its announced partnership with the legendary Japanese video game company.

Universal and Nintendo announced the deal last year, and then... crickets. There was a report about a Nintendo land at Universal Studios Japan, and a few fans connected the Nintendo deal with long-standing rumors that the Woody Woodpecker Kidzone would close at Universal Studios Florida, but that was it.

So what's going on with Nintendo and Universal? For that matter, what's going on with all the other projects that have been rumored or associated with Universal Orlando over the past few years?

Here's what we know: Universal Studios Florida will open a new Jimmy Fallon ride next year, in the old Twister/Ghostbusters space. And sometime next summer the Volcano Bay water park will open next to the Cabana Bay, replacing Wet N' Wild across I-4, which will close at the end of this year.

In 2018, Fast & Furious Supercharged will open in the old Disaster!/Earthquake space, and sometime in the next couple years, Universal will announce its sixth hotel, as it has filed paperwork with local authorities to start construction on a tower between the Cabana Bay and the new Sapphire Falls.

But all that's small stuff compared with the much bigger project that Universal has on its agenda — the big plan that's likely holding up news on Nintendo or any of other projects that have been associated with Universal in recent months. And that is Universal's plan for the huge chunk of property that it recently bought near the Orange County Convention Center.

The 475 acres are more than enough to build a third gate for the Universal Orlando Resort. And that could provide a home not just for a world-class new Nintendo land, but also space for lands devoted to some of the Dreamworks Animation franchises that Universal recently obtained, not to mention maybe even a third Harry Potter land, perhaps themed to the upcoming Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them films.

Universal's announced none of that, however. Beyond confirming that it's bought the land, Universal hasn't said a thing about what it will do with the property. It's clearly facing a challenge in how to connect the land with its existing facilities on the other side of the Interstate.

Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure aren't located any farther from Universal's new property than the four Walt Disney World theme parks are separated from one another. But Disney doesn't have to deal with other property owners in the way of its four theme parks. One way or another, Universal has to find a right-of-way to connect the current Universal Orlando Resort property with this new land — and to construct some means of transportation to move people between those properties.

That decision will dictate much of what Universal can do with its new land. So that decision must come before Universal can begin construction on — much less announce — a new park and its contents. Or whatever else it wants to build on that property: hotels, convention facilities, recreation and retail, you name it.

And because Universal doesn't control the land between the two properties, it needs to work with those who do, including local governments. That slows down the works even more. This isn't to say that Universal and local authorities can't get a deal done swiftly — Universal's proven itself to be pretty adept at working with Orlando and Orange County in the past. But it means that the flow of rumors and leaks has slowed as projects wait for a larger "master plan," if you will, that will guide the future development of the broader, expanded Universal Orlando Resort.

So that's why we don't yet know exactly what's happening with all of these tantalizing new possibilities for Universal Orlando — Nintendo, Dreamworks Animation, or more Harry Potter. For stuff that's going on the existing Universal property, such as the sixth hotel, we are getting news because there's nothing holding up that development.

But for anything that Universal is even considering for the new land... well, that's in the cone of silence right now.

Yes, there will be a Nintendo land at the Universal Orlando Resort. Yes, there will be new attractions and maybe entire lands devoted to Dreamworks IP such as Kung Fu Panda and How to Train Your Dragon. And no one honestly believes that Universal would say no to developing another Harry Potter land if it had the space and the belief that the public would support it (uh... yes we would).

All that is coming to Universal Orlando. But until we learn how Universal will connect all this new stuff with the old, we won't have the answers on when or where we will get it.

Replies (19)

October 12, 2016 at 11:56 PM · Exciting times, can't wait to hear the plans! It'll be interesting to see their proposals on connecting the land, needs to be quick and convenient for Universal guests. One of the great features of Universal is the close proximity of the hotels and the parks, i love that you can walk between them. With new developments all the time it's difficult to decide when to make my next visit, particularly now it's getting more expensive for us Brits!
October 13, 2016 at 12:11 AM · Totally agree with prior comment: exciting stuff and hope the connection is smart, thematic, convenient... Thanks for this article!
October 13, 2016 at 1:55 AM · Making a masterplan for the new area is an enormous undertaking. I also heard they are supposedly even buying more land. Bits and pieces to add to the new development. I expect development (on paper) for many of the lands, rides, restaurants are in development but the whole masterplan is probably still in flux.
I also think there will be 2 theme parks there. If Universal incorporates the hotels they need into the design of the park and place them on the direct outer ring of the parks (like Phantasialand in Germany does or the entrance hotel at Disneyland Paris) they could extend theming in the background and need even less space because they don't need to separate them from the parks. The second park could be smaller like DHS or even a boutique park like Discovery Cover (Seaworld) but with a complete different theme. Whatever they do, the future looks bright.
October 13, 2016 at 2:52 AM · The linked source is a post on reddit?? I'd sincerely take that with a grain of salt until further legitimate confirmation appears ...
October 13, 2016 at 2:43 PM · We can solve this problem with a Simpsons themed area and attraction. I would suggest a monorail:

October 13, 2016 at 4:56 AM · I think building a third Harry Potter Land would be a bit much. That is REALLY putting all your eggs into one basket. Expanding the land? More likely!
October 13, 2016 at 5:36 AM · How big is the plot of land that currently holds their corporate offices? It seems decent, but not huge. Could they potentially move those offices to a new location on the land purchased so that they could expand the parks on that space?
October 13, 2016 at 5:51 AM · Since this newly purchased land is free of height restrictions and noise ordinances, I would think a big park would go here with 300-foot rides and nightly firework shows. The old WnW land seems perfect for a new hotel, and maybe buying up other properties along that lake would give UO a second resort area (like Disney's Boardwalk/Beach Club/Yacht Club area).
October 13, 2016 at 6:20 AM · Announcements will be sooner than later. Doubt Universal would have purchased the big property without already having access plans confirmed.
October 13, 2016 at 8:06 AM · Nintendo is moving ahead in Japan first. This was announced many months ago. Orlando will get another hotel complex and Volcano will open next year. Short term, Orlando is not short on projects. I still think the third park is 10 years out. They aren't even close to doing anything new with Nintendo for at least 5 years. Fast and Furious is pushed to 2018 so Universal isn't mindlessly building and opening new attractions. Building too fast can sink the company.
October 13, 2016 at 9:49 AM · Sounds like the problems Disney is having in Anaheim planning it's own third theme park. Maybe Disney and Universal should share sorrow stories with each other.
October 13, 2016 at 10:49 AM · Yay! I'd love to see Kung fu panda!
October 13, 2016 at 12:00 PM · At this point in time, Universal Creative has been assigned several daunting tasks, converting both USO and IofA into full day parks.

Redeveloping Marvel is not part of the process. But, it does appear that Comcast and the WDCo may have reached an agreement that will allow redevelopment of existing 'D' rides into 'E' tickets. To use Disneyland ticket book terms. In exchange, WDW gains certain Marvel rights.

And yes, Team Universal Orlando has been given permission to trade/sell the outlying pieces if it expands the largest piece of the newly acquired land.

But, they have been warned DO NOT REPEAT Team Disney Orlando's HUGE mistake of creating half-day parks or open new parks with no immediate expansion plans already planned out.

They keep pointing to the WDCo most recent blunder in Shanghai. Their most beautiful park, and most likely the most beautiful theme park worldwide, but after paying premium admission prices visitors are quickly done. Of course, on days with limited to no lines. While Team Disney Shanghai has expansion plans 'shovel ready' Disney has a partner concerned more money is already necessary.

On another international note...
Now that the WDCo owns the majority of the Disneyland Paris Resort plans to move beyond restoring the parks are gaining steam. Again, it's all about the cost.

Truly a BOTTOM LINE question... How many battles can the WDCo fight -- China (both locations), Dubai (challenging Paris), Orlando and SoCal. The internal answer has been, we have the premiere franchises and destination resorts. Our attendance figures back it up. We just need to build-out existing parks, but can no longer do it on the cheap. The Board of the WDCo agrees, and like Comcast sees theme parks playing a growing role as the ESPN problem, while small today, will not remain small over the long term. So as ESPN's revenue figures continue their slow decrease, theme park revenues continue to fill the gap.

October 13, 2016 at 5:35 PM · I wouldn't get too excited about a third park quite yet. Universal Orlando still doesn't get the attendance to justify three full scale theme parks, especially with the logistical challenges of the property. Will there be a third park someday? Absolutely, but it will probably be 5-10 years before any work is done on it.

Just like at USH, the two Orlando parks have a lot of moving pieces right now and projects more than two years out haven't been finalized yet. There are at least five years' worth of projects currently planned for the resort beyond anything that has been announced, but the order and exact nature of them are still up in the air. The focus right now is on Volcano Bay...once that opens, more information about the theme parks will likely start to appear.

October 13, 2016 at 7:42 PM · The Harry Potter/Fantastic Beasts franchise has plenty more to give toward future theme parks:
http://variety.com/2016/film/news/fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them-five-movies-1201888226/
October 14, 2016 at 6:54 AM · I have to agree with an earlier post that a park based around another Harry Potter land may be "putting all their eggs in one basket". What I would love to see, and I know it is a long shot, is a third park with the main land based upon The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. If UO could secure the rights for those two properties I personally feel that that would be an awesome set of attractions.
October 14, 2016 at 7:33 AM · Oh yes please build Nintendo Land and include a DisneyQuest style arcade experience with interactive rides, because we miss those already.

Fingers crossed for something amazing.

October 14, 2016 at 3:21 PM · Even if Universal solved the right of way between the new property and their existing parks, the section of International Drive between Sand Lake and Universal Blvd is going to remain, in a word, "Craptacular".

A solution will have to come from the City or Orlando and the families who own the land that the tattoo parlors, luggage stores, and t-shirt shops currently occupy.

October 15, 2016 at 4:11 AM · I too more believe that they will move the corporate offices to the new Location

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