When will Universal Orlando's Epic Universe open?

August 4, 2019, 2:49 PM · Now that Universal Orlando's next theme park is official, many fans want the answer to the next question about Universal's Epic Universe — when will it open?

Universal Parks chairman Tom Williams declined to provide an answer, but last week's Epic Universe press conference at the Orange County Convention Center left us several clues.

If you are wondering why Universal chose to hold a press conference to which it invited only about a dozen news outlets (including Theme Park Insider) at the convention center rather than at its own property, that's because the corner of the convention center where the press conference took place overlooks the Epic Universe construction site. At the press conference, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings announced that the county would be opening a permitting office at the convention center to serve the Epic Universe construction project.

Having the ability to obtain building permits on site, rather than having inspectors come from downtown, should help accelerate the construction process. Previous permits detailed the site plan for the project, which will include a theme park and surface parking lot, as well as the hotels, shopping, and dining that Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said at the press conference that the Epic Universe development would offer. Site prep work is well underway, though much remains to be done, including the extension of Kirkman Road to Universal Boulevard, a project for which Universal is kicking in $160 million to make happen.

So with work underway, how fast can Universal get this theme park done? The resort earned its reputation for banging out construction projects when it cleared the site for, then built, its Transformers ride in Universal Studios Florida in less than a year. But that was a project with existing plans and blueprints. Fans noted that Universal did not reveal any attraction plans or line-ups at the Epic Universe press conference. Could that be because Universal does not have those plans completed yet?

Universal Creative has been adding and shuffling personnel recently, but it also is working on the Universal Studios Beijing project, which is tipped for an early 2021 opening. All this suggests that Universal might not yet be ready to go vertical right away on a bunch of new theme park attractions in Epic Universe. Yes, Universal can work fast — especially with on-site permitting — but that's when all of its plans are in place. If the design of Epic Universe remains work in progress, fans should adjust their expectations for when this park might open.

So let's see what those expectations are right now, shall we? There's zero chance that a miracle occurs and Universal embarks on the fastest major theme park construction project in history by completing Epic Universe next year. So that's not an option. But with site work underway and local government clearing the decks to make this project happen, it's equally unlikely that Epic Universe languishes in development hell for something like seven or eight years... or more.

That gives us a window for our consideration. The original Universal Orlando theme park, Universal Studios Florida, took four years from site prep and press conference to its opening — from 1986 to 1990. The resort expansion that added CityWalk and Islands of Adventure came together in just over two years, but Universal was building those on its own parking lots. Epic Universe stands on a new site for Universal, one with water protection requirements. That complicates things beyond what Universal faced in building Islands of Adventure.

What we don't know for certain is how far along Universal is with its internal planning for the resort. As we saw with the "Fantastic Worlds" name, what leaks from Universal does not always equate to what ultimately happens. If Universal is still working on its basic plans for attractions, then you should add time to an estimated opening date. But if Universal has its plans ready and simply is refusing to share them, this project might happen faster than one might expect.

As for why Universal would hide its plans, I have one name for you: Michael Eisner. Though Disney flat-out refutes the story, it is gospel belief within Universal that Eisner saw the plans for Universal Studios Florida when he was the head of Paramount. Universal officials to this day believe that's why Eisner green-lit plans for what was then Disney-MGM Studios at Walt Disney World when he took over at Disney, to get what Universal charged was a copy of a Universal theme park open in the Orlando market before Universal's park could debut.

Whether that story is true or not doesn't matter. That's what Universal believes — which one is reason why Universal Creative team members tend to be way tighter about leaks than their counterparts over at Walt Disney Imagineering. But while Universal can control what its employees do, it loses control of its plans once it has to file for public permits and contractors begin their work. With that process beginning, we soon will get a much more clear picture of when Epic Universe will be ready to welcome its first visitors.

But for now, all we can do is guess.

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Replies (11)

August 4, 2019 at 3:33 PM

Here's a link to an L.A. Times article from 1989 when Universal accused Disney of "borrowing" their theme park plans:
https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1989-04-23-ca-1913-story.html

August 4, 2019 at 3:43 PM

>>When will Universal Orlando's Epic Universe open?

Thursday. Tickets are still available. :p

August 4, 2019 at 3:46 PM

>>But while Universal can control what its employees do, it loses control of its plans once it has to file for public permits and contractors begin their work.

That will be one area where I imagine on site permitting will help. Universal can keep the plans in the safe until the last possible moment... that last moment being a lot later than it otherwise would be.

August 4, 2019 at 5:52 PM

I kind of like Universal not giving too many details. I'm sure they'll open as soon as the park is up to par. After all I bet they are looking forward to the extra revenue to come in. We will find out info slowly with leaks and such and its should build anticipation and interest. Speculation is always fun as well. For a lot of younger folks this will be the first time they get to follow the opening of a major domestic theme park. I was around when AK,IOA, and DCA opened but was too young to really know whats up. Not the case this time around as I will follow any news on the EU. June 29, 2024 is my guesstimate.

August 4, 2019 at 8:53 PM

It`ll take at least 4-5 years to build a new park. Those who voted 2021 are (to put it kindly) starry eyed optimists.

August 4, 2019 at 11:07 PM

The soonest I could see it opening would be the second half of 2022, and that would be if everything went perfectly. Given the scope of the project as well as a few hints I've heard, I'm going to guess the tentative timeline is for a four year build, which would put completion in summer/fall 2023. My guess is Universal doesn't want to compete directly against WDW's 50th anniversary celebration, so they won't try to open it before that concludes. However, I'm betting they want it to be ready to go as soon as possible afterward.

August 5, 2019 at 3:27 AM

We know the plans for Super Nintendo World are done as they are building it (at least for the front part of the area) in multiple locations. We also have seen the model for the Donkey Kong area so I guess that one is also ready to be build.
We know from Universal that rides and systems are often developed but not always see the light of day. A Van Helsing ride (classic monsters) changed into Forbidden Journey when the movie under preformed. Universal wanted a Dark Universe for ever with their monsters to it's not unlikely Universal Creative was developing rides and a themed area for one of their parks. A Mount Crumpit was rumored for ages and I'm almost sure they at one time presented a Lord of the Rings themed land and not get the ip. Also Universal once had the land and the plans to go forward with a new theme park. So there is a lot of work done.

Sure all those plans won't be translated into a them park but I think a lot of that work will find it's way, after rework, into the new park.
Universal killed it with their hotels, building fast and creating beloved hotels together with Loews and I expect there are many concepts un-used before they decide on one so there is a developed history there.
In the end I think getting 14,000 workers is the biggest problem together with getting enough construction companies.

August 5, 2019 at 8:51 AM

I'll second 2023, Summer. Same reason -- Disney World's 50th anniversary will generate huge amounts of press in Central Florida.

We'll get details next Spring, after The Mouse cements their openings for Summer 2022/23 and Universal gets a feel for how much competition will really arrive with the opening of Star Wars Land and both rides at Hollywood Studios.

Star Wars success/failure will really dictate how much money Universal spends to open the new park. Nintendo is almost a lock at opening if Star Wars works in a big way for Disney, but rides like a Mario Cart attraction will be complex and a risk for downtime.

August 5, 2019 at 6:47 PM

I really think they’re going to push hard to get this done by summer 2022 to piggyback off WDW50. Tourism to Orlando is likely to continue to increase through WDW50, but waiting beyond may be placing this park to additional factors that may not be as predictable.

August 8, 2019 at 3:25 PM

OK, thirty years ago Michael Eisner got the drop on Universal and pre-empted Universal Studios Florida with Disney-MGM Studios, but the dynamic is different now. Universal has two world class parks in Orlando and their own legions of fans. I can't envision a scenario where Disney could possibly hurt the third Universal Orlando theme park. If Universal builds the right park, Disney can't touch them. The biggest problem right now for Universal is managing the expectations and winning the PR battle. So far, I'm giving them a grade of D for their recent press event.

August 8, 2019 at 3:31 PM

When will Epic Universe open? Not until that sewage treatment plant on Sand Lake Road is moved or heavily modified. 2023 is heavily optimistic in my opinion.

I wonder if that swanky next-to-the-park hotel will offer park view, pool view, and settling pond view options for rooms?

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