Starting next year, and over the next few years following, five developments will debut at theme parks around the world that promise to change the direction of the industry.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in 2010 opened the current era in the themed entertainment business, when parks either made a commitment to developing more immersive and sharply focused environments... or they started to fall behind those parks that did. The projects coming up, starting next year, promise to advance what Universal began with its Potter lands. Whether they succeed or fail remains to be discovered, but each project represents a massive financial investment that has the potential to drive traffic and revenue as the Wizarding World did for Universal, if not beyond.
Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge at Disneyland and Walt Disney World's Disney's Hollywood Studios
Disney's largest-ever themed lands will include what its Imagineers promise to be the most interactive and immersive theme park experience ever developed. The 14-acre Black Spire Outpost will include two rides — one where you fly the Millennium Falcon plus a motion-base ride through a battle with the First Order — but the land itself will be the attraction, supporting an ongoing, personalized interactive narrative through the rides, queues, restaurants, shops, and on-street interactions for fans who want a deep dive into the Star Wars universe. The Disneyland installation opens in Summer 2019 (we are guessing late June), while Disney World's debuts in late fall 2019.
Disney's 'Marvel' land at Disney California Adventure
Disney hasn't said much about what it will include in its Marvel-themed land that will replace "A Bug's Land" and incorporate the neighboring Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout! at Disney California Adventure. In fact, the resort is not even using the word "Marvel" to describe its "Super-hero land," thanks to that Universal contract. But with Marvel films having earned more than even the Star Wars franchise has, can Disney afford to roll out of subpar land for a more popular franchise just months after the opening of Galaxy's Edge? Especially after Universal set a such a high standard with its Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man rides in Orlando and Japan, which some fans still consider the best theme park rides in the world.
With just two years until the land's announced opening in 2020 and demo of A Bug's Land not starting until next month at the earliest, Disney is not leaving itself much time to pull off what the public will expect to be a blockbuster. But, hey, I could count on one hand the number of people outside the company who thought that Mission Breakout would be a hit (for the record, I was one of them), so Disney has surprised people by pulling out a winner on a tight schedule before.
Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Japan (then Hollywood, and at some point, Orlando)
Universal will seek to do for video game fans what it did for the wanna-be witches and wizards when it opens its first installation of this Nintendo-themed land in Osaka in 2020. Despite the company's reputation for screen-based attractions, Universal appears to be going practical here, creating a real-life Mario Kart attraction, among other interactive adventures. With Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge debuting the year before, Super Nintendo World provides Universal's best chance to reclaim the title of "world's best theme park land," should Disney's Star Wars land wrest it from The Wizarding World. But when will U.S. theme park fans get their chance to step into the world without booking an airline ticket to Japan? While Universal has promised installations at Universal Studios Hollywood and the Universal Orlando resort, it has yet to provide any dates or to start visible construction on those projects.
Universal Studios Beijing
Disney reinvented its Magic Kingdom template for the 21st century when it opened Shanghai Disneyland in 2016. And in 2020 (or thereabouts), Universal will show the world its future vision for its studio parks when it joins Disney in the battle for the Chinese market with the opening of Universal Studios Beijing. The concept art for the new park includes an All-Star line-up of Universal's best lands, include both the Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley versions of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. A Jurassic World is expected, too, but the first thing that Universal actually confirmed for the park was Fast & Furious: Supercharged, which didn't exactly set the world on fire like a NOS boost when it opened in Orlando. But if Chinese visitors embrace what Universal will offer them, they could help provide a massive income boost that could allow Universal to take another step toward Disney, as it did with Potter in 2010.
Universal Orlando's fourth park
But the project that looms over the industry right now is Universal Orlando's all-but-confirmed fourth gate, which it will build on hundreds of acres near the Orange County Convention Center that it has acquired (or re-acquired) over the past few years. This could end up being the home for Orlando's version of Super Nintendo World, as well as a third Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and a home for Universal's DreamWorks Animation franchises. Beyond that, take a guess. The fourth gate (or third, if you don't count the Volcano Bay water theme park), offers Universal an opportunity to redefine its resort experience and provide a template for connecting separate properties within an urban resort. (Do keep in mind, though, that the fourth gate will remain physically as close to Universal's two existing theme parks as Disney's Animal Kingdom is to the closest other Disney World park. Universal just won't own all the land in between, as Disney does for its resort.)
When will the new property open? There's no official announcement of this project yet, much less a date. Our best guess? Let's say 2022 or 2023.
All five of these projects are from Disney and Universal, which currently own or license the nation's top nine most-attended theme parks, as well as the world's top 10 and 14 of the top 15. (China's Chimelong Ocean Kingdom, come on down!) And these are not the only theme park projects these two companies have under development, with a new Harry Potter-themed coaster experience opening at Islands of Adventure next year and Epcot v3.0 and a TRON-themed coaster coming to Walt Disney World in the next few years after that, too. With Warner Bros. coming strong into theme park business, the pressure is on established competitors SeaWorld, Cedar Fair, Six Flags, and others to find a way to step up if they don't wish to fall further and further behind the market leaders.Tweet
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