Theme Park Construction Round-up: What's Really Happening at Disney and Universal

July 7, 2015, 1:42 PM · It's time for a reality check. Let's set aside the fan theories for a moment and take a look at what we know will happen next at America's top theme parks, based on official announcements, public documents, and credible leaks to us at Theme Park Insider.

Walt Disney World Resort

Frozen Ever After
Frozen Ever After leads the new attractions coming soon to the Walt Disney World Resort

We know that DisneyQuest will be closing next year in Downtown Disney, to be replaced by a new NBA Experience restaurant and attraction. Also next year, Downtown Disney's transformation to Disney Springs will be complete. Here is what you can expect at the WDW theme parks:

Magic Kingdom: Disney has filed plans to refurbish and reopen the Adventureland Veranda restaurant, with a new name.

Epcot: "Frozen Ever After" will replace Maelstrom in the Norway pavilion next spring, and a new Frozen-themed meet and greet building will be going in between the Norway and Mexico pavilions, as well. In addition, Disney is building an additional theater for Soarin' in the Land pavilion, also to open next year.

Disney's Hollywood Studios: Toy Story Midway Mania is getting an additional track for next year and the park will be getting a new name at some point, too. The Magic of Disney Animation pavilion will be closing this month, and we are expecting additional attraction closures to clear space for Star Wars Land and a Pixar Place expansion.

Disney's Animal Kingdom: The Rivers of Light nighttime show will debut in 2017 (*possibly earlier - see comments), as will the park's new Avatar-themed land, which will include a "Soarin'"-style 3D movie as well as a boat ride.

Universal Orlando Resort

Skull Island: Reign of Kong
Skull Island: Reign of Kong leads Universal Orlando's line-up of expected new attractions

NBA City is closing next month and the NBC Sports Grill & Brew will open in the old NASCAR Sports Grill spot this fall. A fifth on-site hotel, the Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, will open next year, and the new Volcano Bay water park will follow in 2017. The Wet n' Wild water park will close after next summer. Further expansion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter lands is expected, at some point, though we haven't seen the plans... yet.

Universal Studios Florida: The NBC Media Center will be opening in the Garden of Allah buildings any day now. A Hello Kitty store and meet and greet will be coming to the park, most likely to the space now occupied by the Lucy exhibit. In addition, Universal has filed permits that suggest it will be replacing the Twister and Disaster attractions. Leaks to us also suggest that the KidZone land and Fear Factor are not in Universal's long-term plans for the park. We also know that Fast & Furious and Nintendo-themed attractions will be coming to the park, possibly replacing Disaster and the KidZone, respectively.

Islands of Adventure: "Skull Island: Reign of Kong" will open by next summer. The Hulk coaster is getting an extensive refurbishment, starting later this year, which will include a new launch mechanism and show improvements.

Disneyland Resort

The resort has bought the Carousel Inn on Harbor Boulevard, and is planning a parking garage on land east of that hotel, raising suspicion that the hotel ultimately will give way to a pedestrian connection between that garage and the parks. The resort also is promising $1 billion in capital expansion in exchange for the City of Anaheim agreeing to extend its ban on a Disney ticket tax for the next 30 years. However, Disney officials previously have promised expansions based on Star Wars and Marvel, making it likely that the resort will expand no matter what Anaheim decides. (*Update: The Anaheim City Council approved the exemption extension Tuesday night.)

As for now, though, the only expected or confirmed new projects for the parks are the reopening of Disneyland's Innoventions as a meet and greet location for Star Wars and Marvel characters, and the conversion of the old Luigi's Flying Tires ride in Disney California Adventure's Cars Land to the new Luigi's Festival of the Dance, a trackless ride with "dancing" cars.

Universal Studios Hollywood

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter will be opening next spring, including a 3D version of the "Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey" ride inside Hogwarts Castle and the Flight of the Hippogriff roller coaster, which appears to be a Mack model rather than the Vekoma model found in Orlando and Japan. The park's Evolution plans call for the construction of a new hotel near the park's entrance, as well as new attractions on the sites of the current Waterworld and Special Effects Stage shows. Universal also has announced that Hello Kitty and Nintendo will be coming to the park, somewhere.

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Replies (23)

July 7, 2015 at 2:00 PM · The Hulk coaster is getting an extensive refurbishment, starting later this year, which will include a new launch mechanism and show improvements.

Looks like The Hulk might be getting LIMs, ohhh I can't wait for that

July 7, 2015 at 2:02 PM · I'm really curious about the Hulk plans. I've only read about the launch mechanism. What is happening with the show/line experience?
July 7, 2015 at 2:11 PM · I'd heard that Rivers of Light would premiere in the first half of 2016. Has it been pushed back?
July 7, 2015 at 2:43 PM · I'd been curious about the fate of NBC City at UO CityWalk. With news of the new NBA presence at Disney Springs. It's a shame, at least in the first few years, NBC City was one of my favorite places to eat at City Walk, mostly because it was over looked by the majority of the crowds.
July 7, 2015 at 3:10 PM · I also have heard on several podcasts that Rivers of Light will open in the first half of 2016, possibly starting test shows as early as February. The Pandora stuff won't be ready till 2017/2018, but the night time show should be ready next year.
July 7, 2015 at 3:11 PM · I went with the official announcement for Rivers of Light, but if I had to bet, yeah, I'd guess late 2016 for that one.
July 7, 2015 at 5:13 PM · A bit surprised that Robert retreated back to referring to one of the 'Avatar' E-tickets as "'Soarin'-style 3D movie." Especially since he was the one who wrote a few months back: "I think Back to the Future/Simpsons Ride might be a better analogy for Avatar, given that they are moving ride vehicles in front of an IMAX-style screen. Soarin's seats do not move during the show, save for rising into position before the movie and lowering afterward."

Just sayin'.

Also if the 'NBC Sports Grill & Brew' is really worthy of some column inches it would seem reasonable to expect that 'Jock Lindsey's Hangar Bar' and 'The Edison' also deserve a mention.

July 7, 2015 at 6:40 PM · OU & Parkscope Insiders said today that Twister and Disaster will close by the end of Halloween Horror Nights.(future rumored homes of Jimmy Fallon and Fast & Furious attractions)
July 7, 2015 at 7:03 PM · There are some things about these changes that make me happy, and some that raise some concerns for me.

What I Like: the fact that they're building another theater for Soarin means that they could give us a new film, which takes us to a different place. Grant it, it could probably just be to make the lines more bearable, but hey, I can dream, can I?

The one problem I always had with Animal Kingdom was that it has no nightlife whatsoever, a shame considering how beautiful
The park would look at night. It definitely seems like they're trying to turn this around with Rivers of Light and the new nighttime version of Kilimanjaro Safaris (why wasn't that mentioned? It's not just a fan theory, is it?).

I hope to god that they'll update the pre-show for Hulk! That animation is painfully outdated.

The main reason why WDW has always been better than DLR is because they have a bigger property and as such have a lot more things to do (even though some of them will cost you your entire bank account). Now they seem to be buying up the hotels around the park, obviously expanding the property.

My concerns: with the majority of DHS being closed for an unspecified amount of time, what will this mean for Star Wars Weekends? They're always a big draw, and a good counter to Harry Potter Weekends at Universal. How do they expect to accommodate all those crowds?

Replacing Gardens of Allah with an "NBC Media Center" seems a bit more like Old Universal than New Universal. This isn't really much of a concern...just thought it was kinda weird.

Universal really seems to be drunk on Potter (too much butterbeer?). I mean, a third Harry Potter renovation! Wow! I've loved what they've done so far. And the third one would probably be great, too. But what about the big E-ticket ride? The Forbidden Journey/Escape From Gringotts of this land? What more could you possibly do with a third HP simulator, without making it seem like a ripoff if the previous two? I love Wizarding World, don't get me wrong, but Universal has to understand that at some point they can't keep relying on Potter to rake in the dough.

Why replace the NASCAR restaraunt when it's the NBA that's going to a rival resort? Just some simple logic.

Well, we'll have to see what the future has in store.

July 8, 2015 at 12:56 AM · Reign of Kong is by far the most interesting upcoming concept. Looks to me like Universals take on the Indiana Jones Ride. I'm sure it will have 3D but I'm willing to forgive it if there's a life size Kong AA inside. Maybe that'll inspire disney to fix the disco yeti.

Regarding DHS rumored massive expansion, I wont believe it until I see it. Been let down by disney world too many times.

July 8, 2015 at 6:37 AM · I'm confident that the Disney DHS expansion will happen, although in fairly slow stages. And it should end up being a good park. But don't be fooled by those 3 billion dollar figures being thrown around. By true insiders accounts,those that talked about this for a long time and broke the original news that some secondary sites bastardized after the fact, some of that money is going to MK and Epcot. Plus a significant portion will go into structural repairs such as changing the road entrance to DHS and a possible parking garage (keep in mind the going rate for parking garage construction is about $25,000 per space). That will still leave plenty for a immersive Star Wars & Pixar themed lands & rides. Inflation adjusted, it will probably be on the order of the DCA park expansion, which turned out quite well.
July 8, 2015 at 7:18 AM · Anaheim passed the tax waiver for Disneyland. So are we to expect ground to be broken in 2017 and construction completed by 2024 per AP report?

DHS has removed a Bill Cosby statue due to new revelations of his past. No good for him.

July 8, 2015 at 8:55 AM · Is it already confirmed that Nintendo area will be in Universal Studios and not in IOA? I guess that with Hulk's improvement may mean Disney won't get the Marvel's rights yet and in a good time.
July 8, 2015 at 10:46 AM · The shift of attention on theme park enthusiast sites from Disney to Universal is simply staggering. I subscribe to a half dozen podcasts and UOR / USH have been the hot topics for the good part of five years.

Disney should commit to 24/7 construction on all of their expansions to finish them by 2021...

July 8, 2015 at 11:42 AM · I remember being a lone voice for a decade loving US and IOA. Glad it has had a ton of money put into it to make it even better. Piling on DIsney seems to be the cool thing to do these days. Let's not forget that that WDW built the greater Orlando area. There have been lean times over the past 5-10 years while they rebuilt Anaheim. The good times are about to roll in Florida from all accounts. Take a look at what people were saying about Disneyland 20 years ago. Money seems to be cyclical for the theme parks within TWDC. Give it 5 years like everyone has with UO.

What if they turn off the taps in a few years? will everything they have done be forgotten?

July 10, 2015 at 4:34 PM · I liked UOR more than Disney pre Hogsmeade / Simpsons / Despicable Me / Rip Ride Rockit / Diagon Alley / Transformers / King Kong / Cabana Bay / Volcano Bay / Sapphire Falls / Hogwarts Express.... and all those additions to the CityWalk.
July 10, 2015 at 8:15 AM · I agree with N B in that we should see construction 24/7 so everything can be rolled out for 2021.

I also see what Dis has done to have families live in their bubble. Then intense preplanning is like a drug for moms who dream of their dis vacations months in advance - I feel bad for people who get trapped in the bubble and don't see what Universal has to offer.

A good friend recently spent a week in Orlando, and I begged her to get off her Disney bias-butt and go to US and IOA. When she came back I asked her and her 10 year old daughter: "so are you a Disney family or a Universal family?" The little girl, clutching her selfie with Pocahontas said: "Disney" and my friend looked at me and said: "Universal of course!" It's interesting.I think families that start venturing out, will plan more time at Universal properties as time goes on. It's just too awesome to ignore.

July 10, 2015 at 4:42 PM · Anyone with the means should visit both resorts if possible. I know what you mean about the Disney "cult" as I call them. The bias and general "nose in the air" mentality does put a grin on my face.

Universal hasn't even hit their stride yet, and I am looking forward to what is coming over the next few years.

July 11, 2015 at 8:00 AM · I do like Universal Studios but I spent four days there last march and I was nauseous for those four days because of the 3D attractions ! That's never happened to me at WDW.
That being said, both Harry Potter areas were absolutely wonderful and I will come back to USF in the near future.
July 12, 2015 at 9:09 PM · The new hot rumor being mentioned by Why Light Bulb, a fairly reliable insider that makes an appearance a few times a year on Magic & OU, is that a new E ticket is being discussed/planned for Magic Kingdom's Frontierland. He said plans are fairly along but have not yet been greenlit. Just throwing that rumor tidbit out there for curiosity seekers.
July 13, 2015 at 8:17 AM · I think you have a great point -

I would love to have some more animatronic action - I'm sure that sounds super-old-fashiioned, but as I went through Diagon Alley, I loved the detailed immersion aspect, but it was missing rides. Of course I went into every shop, but it was just a big gift store in the end.

It would be fun to have a ride that takes you through the Weasley shop "back room" or a Shrieking Shack ride in Hogsmeade. I know we could all talk for hours about what would be fun to add, but I just agree the 3D think gets old fast.

July 13, 2015 at 10:39 AM · Rumor has it that the next Potter expansion will be Ministry of Magic. I do hope the new ride will be different from the first two. Some AAs and real sets would be great.

I've been begging for a Hulk refurbishment for years. To me, that ride is just too rough; it rattles. The two times I rode it, it left me with a headache and I nearly passed out both times. And I'm a guy who has ridden everything at Six Flags Magic Mountain, so I'm not a coaster weakling.

We're definitely in the "visit both resorts" camp. And we find that taking a cab is the solution to being "trapped in the bubble."

July 14, 2015 at 8:42 AM · There's plenty of AA's at Diagon. They could almost be termed attractions. They're just not on the Gringott's ride per se since it lends itself to massive sets, screens & effects. And Diagon is filled with amazing effects & wonders that take days to fully appreciate. To term it a shopping mall is seriously demeaning all of the unique experiences you encounter throughout the area. Diagon is really one huge attraction, with it's individual parts, to immerse yourself in. There's really nothing to compare it with, at any US & International Disney Parks(including Disney Sea individual lands) or other Universal parks. It's a unique one of a kind experience.

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