announced the new Universal's Epic Universe theme park in Orlando last week. We've already looked at the questions of what attractions will be in Epic Universe as well as when Epic Universe will open. Now, let's tackle two more: Who will visit Epic Universe? And how will they get there?Universal Orlando officials left plenty of questions unanswered when they
Frequent visitors to Theme Park Insider might remember my podcast last year with designer Dave Cobb, in which he talked about how it's a lot easier to justify building new parks in markets with rapidly growing middle classes, as opposed to the United States' more mature economy, where middle class stagnation over the past generation means that new attractions have to fight to claw customers from established destinations.
Since America isn't creating a bunch of new middle class families with money to spend to support Universal's new theme park, that means Universal Orlando will need to find other sources for market share. In my upcoming newspaper column this week, I suggest some of the potential winners and losers from Epic Universe. Universal would not make what it is calling its biggest-ever investment in Florida just to cannibalize its own business. Universal is expanding onto a South Campus and building Epic Universe because it wants more of its visitors to make the Universal Orlando Resort their "home base" for an Orlando vacation, rather than just being a side trip from Disney. But Universal needs another gate to get to that critical mass.
As much as Universal would like to take business from Walt Disney World, I would not dare bet against Disney given its recent track record across all businesses. I suspect that Universal will find more success getting some Disney fans to plan separate Universal vacations than it will convincing anyone to skip a Disney trip.
Universal might grab a few visitors from SeaWorld, but I think it's already taken most of what it can from that park. Ultimately, while I suspect that Universal will help fill Epic Universe by getting some current Orlando visitors to stay longer, the real growth potential lies in enticing more people — especially from out of the country — to visit the Orlando area. (Which, ultimately, helps Disney, too. See?)
International travel to the United States has been slowing, but a strong marketing effort from Universal, coupled with a new terminal at the Orlando International Airport, can help Orlando defy that trend. If Universal can create a unique experience with Epic Universe — a collection of immersive, single-IP lands with competitive on-site hotels and compelling amenities, it could bring a new audience of theme parks fans to Central Florida.
In fact, it will need to.
But once all those visitors get to Orlando, how will they get to Epic Universe? Fans have been wondering how Universal would connect its campuses ever since news first leaked that Universal was buying property around the convention center. Walt Disney World's theme parks might stand farther from each other than Epic Universe and Islands of Adventure will, but Disney contains all its parks within a common property, linked by Disney's own roads, buses, and other transportation systems.
People traveling between the existing Universal Orlando theme parks and Epic Universe will be leaving Universal property, however. This creates an extra incentive for Universal to provide its own transportation systems, to keep its visitors within its "bubble." Universal is spending $160 million to help Orange County expand Kirkman Road to Universal Boulevard to help serve this new campus, and it is expected that the deal includes dedicated bus lanes for exclusive use by Universal. But the Epic Universe project site plan includes a surface parking lot with 5,000 spaces, so there's clearly an expectation that a lot of private vehicles will be driving to the park.
During the press conference, Universal Parks Chairman Tom Williams fielded a question about the oft-proposed high-speed rail line from the Orlando International Airport to Tampa. Williams repeated Universal's long-stated opinion that such a line should include a stop at the Orange County Convention Center — which also would serve Universal's new campus and International Drive — before continuing to Disney and then Tampa. Disney has long insisted that the line go directly from the airport to its property, skipping I-Drive. (Florida's previous governor rejected federal funding for the project, effectively killing it and making this question moot... for now.)
The new Orlando terminal includes a rail depot that could connect a future Tampa rail line with the Virgin Trains USA line now under construction to the Miami area, as well as possibly to Orlando's SunRail commuter line. If ever again both Florida and the federal government got administrations that supported major mass transit programs, perhaps the Orlando-to-Tampa line could become reality. But the question would remain whether Universal gets a station on that line or not. One way or another, if Epic Universe ever gets a nearby rail station, it will be many years before that's open to passengers.
Any other transportation options for Epic Universe remain conjecture at this point. So, for now, when Epic Universe opens (whenever that is) its visitors (whoever they are) will be arriving on site by bus or by car.Tweet
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