Home » The 5 New Theme Parks That Will REALLY Make Universal’s Empire Universal

The 5 New Theme Parks That Will REALLY Make Universal’s Empire Universal

Universal is busy preparing five new parks, with two more possibly in the works, including a new water park and a third gate in Orlando. Watch out, Disney – there’s a new kid on the global block!

Universal Parks and Resorts is incredibly busy, in the midst of a building spree not seen since former Disney CEO Michael Eisner blew out Walt Disney World back in the ‘80s, adding on three additional theme parks, two water parks, and a whole host of hotels and other recreational services. The main difference between then and now? Universal is building properties across the real world, not just one location.

While Disney is busy putting the finishing touches on its Shanghai Disneyland, Universal is currently overseeing three new properties, with a fourth rumored to land somewhere in India (and a fifth stalled out in Dubai that could theoretically be revived at any time). Even more impressively, the company is currently prepping a brand-new water park for its Universal Orlando Resort by the end of this decade, with a third theme park currently being planned to open by the end of next decade.

If everything goes according to plan – an admittedly iffy proposition, given the nature of the business and the constant jitters of the global economy – Universal Parks and Resorts will very shortly be overseeing a total of 13 parks, just shy of Disney’s 16.

5. Universal Studios South Korea

Location: Hwaseong, South Korea
Opening date: TBA 2016
Announcement date: May 22, 2007
Current status: Under construction

If it seems strange that the Korean Universal Studios was announced seven years ago and still hasn’t been opened, that’s because the project was dealt a heavy blow after the Great Recession rocked the global economy back in 2008. Construction has been repeatedly delayed, although work is reportedly continuing at a steady pace (it should be noted, however, that it’s been a significant amount of time since Universal has last spoken on the subject) and is expected to be finished sometime in 2016.

Old concept art of Universal Studios South Korea. Image © Universal.Old concept art of Universal Studios South Korea. Image © Universal.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that there is a lot of money being poured into the project – somewhere around $3 billion, last anyone heard – and, according to officials, this will be the single biggest Universal development on the planet, dwarfing even Universal Orlando Resort (which is currently at some 900 acres), thanks to the inclusion of a water park, larger CityWalk shopping/dining/entertainment complex, several hotels, and, but of course, convention facilities.

There should also be enough room for at least a second theme park sometime down the road, too, which means that, at long last, Orlando’s Islands of Adventure could be seeing a sister park.

(The only known map, as vague as it is, of Universal Studios South Korea is located here.)

The best news? Beyond the fact that there’s room for a fourth Wizarding World of Harry Potter – along with all its attendant exclusive features – Universal’s building a second resort means that the company is becoming increasingly aggressive in the worldwide themed industry, which should, in turn, push Disney to up its game, as well.

We could very well be on the cusp of the Golden Age of theme parks.

4. WonderSea Island

Location: Universal Orlando Resort
Opening date: TBA 2017/2018
Announcement Leak date: April 27, 2011
Current status: Rumored

Over three years ago, word first broke that Universal was planning on building a new water park from the ground up somewhere directly on resort property (unlike the company’s Wet ‘n Wild Orlando, which it purchased 16 years ago and which is located a small distance away, on International Drive).

Although the project has laid dormant virtually ever since then, it suddenly roared back to life last week when the company filed new trademarks pertaining to the new park (kudos to Parkscope for spotting these).

Goodbye, old water park icon. Hello, 200-foot erupting volcano!Goodbye, old water park icon. Hello, 200-foot erupting volcano! Image © Disney.

So what would the so-called WonderSea Island consist of? There are very few definites, especially considering that Universal may not be ready to announce the project for another year or more, but some tidbits have made their way into the limelight. The water park’s centerpiece is said to be a “massive, 200-foot erupting volcano,” and its location is supposedly just south of the recently-opened Cabana Bay Beach Resort, on a little plot of land sandwiched in between Turkey Lake Road and I-4.

(The other, bigger swathe of real estate located to the east of Cabana is rumored to be the site of the resort’s fifth [and, just possibly, sixth] hotel in the very near future, which may or may not tie into WonderSea.)

3. Universal Studios Beijing

Location: Tongzhou, China
Opening date: January 2018
Announcement Leak date: March 4, 2014
Current status: Planning

Much like Universal’s two pre-existent Asian parks, Universal Studios Beijing will have a tiny footprint: just 51 acres, making it two acres larger than Universal Studios Singapore and three smaller than Universal Studios Japan (which just so happens to be Universal’s most-visited park in the world). However, in keeping with Universal Studios South Korea, the development comes with a hefty price tag: $1.95 billion (nearly half of Shanghai Disneyland’s budget, just for the record).

Cited as a “Hollywood-themed facility” in the Chinese press, Universal is partnering with Beijing Tourism Group, a local tourism company; it will provide the land and a certain percentage of the funding, while Universal will handle the rest of the money and will oversee the park’s branding, licensed material, technology, and its day-to-day operations – not all that different from what is already in place at both Osaka and Sentosa Island. Even more interestingly, the Beijing local government is looking to build a monorail throughout the city and its assorted suburbs, with its terminus being USB.

China's about to get a LOT more crowded. Image © Disney.China’s about to get a LOT more crowded. Image © Disney.

If China suddenly seems a bit on the crowded side – with Hong Kong and Shanghai Disneylands already there, and a number of other parks, including one by DreamWorks, shortly on the way – that’s because, quite simply, there’s a population to support so many developments (as in the US) and a great amount of demand for them, even though Chinese consumers already make up a significant portion of Universal Studios Japan’s, Singapore’s, and, even, Hollywood’s visitors.

As of right now, demolition of the site’s current buildings is ongoing, with construction expected to commence sometime in the last quarter of this year (October to December).

2. Universal Studios Moscow

Location: Moscow, Russia
Opening date: TBA 2018
Announcement date: December 20, 2012
Current status: Planning

The premise behind Universal Studios Moscow’s development is very similar to that of Universal Studios Singapore, where the park is just one component of a larger, multi-faceted resort complex (although this one, unsurprisingly, won’t feature any gambling).

Located in the southern part of Moscow, the resort will be called Galaktika Park and will occupy approximately 170 acres, with roughly 37 of these being dedicated specifically to USM. This will easily make the Russian park the smallest in Universal’s portfolio (and, also, its only “indoor” venture), but it will also feature the cheapest tickets: just $30. (Curious as to what the rest of Galaktika Park’s real estate will be devoted to? Hotels, retail and office space, a water park, and, most amusing in its juxtaposition, a winter garden.)

Is Disney Quest a hint at what Universal Studios Moscow might be like? Image © Disney.Is Disney Quest a hint at what Universal Studios Moscow might be like? Image © Disney.

Being the first theme park operator to set up shop in Eastern Europe, Universal is taking something of a gamble; the economies of the former Soviet Union territories, most especially Russia itself, haven’t been the most surefooted of performers even before last decade’s Great Recession, and they haven’t necessarily had the best of luck recovering since then.

However, should the enterprise prove successful, NBCUniversal would stand to make a significant windfall, particularly considering the park’s small price tag: just $500 million, which is exactly what the company spends on both of its American locations each and every year. And, furthermore, when combined with reports that Universal won’t have any financial investments in the development at all, the deal gets even sweeter.

Approval for Galaktika Park was granted on December 13, 2012. There is no word, however, on when construction is supposed to begin.

1. Universal Orlando’s third gate

Location: Universal Orlando Resort
Opening date: TBA 2020s
Announcement Leak date: N/A
Current status: Blue-sky planning

Although on the drawing board, in one form or another, since the mid-‘90s, when Universal was making the transition from the one-park Universal Studios Florida to the fully-fleshed-out Universal Orlando Resort, a possible third gate in Florida has never managed to materialize. Its creation and subsequent dismissal, however, was before a certain boy wizard arrived in full force, and now that Universal Orlando is the mammoth cash cow that it is, old plans are being revisited – and, one can hope, revitalized.

This map is about to get a LOT bigger. Image © Universal.This map is about to get a LOT bigger. Image © Universal.

Literally the only scrap of information to surface over the past several years is that Universal will build its third park on brand-new land, which it will, of course, have to purchase before any construction can even begin. While this would ordinarily prove to be problem – as mentioned previously, Wet ‘n Wild, located “off-property,” is barely recognized in most Universal Orlando communications – other rumors hold that Universal is actively looking into installing a monorail system that would link all of its parks, hotels, and shopping centers together. And since this is expected to include the I-Drive water park, there is no reason that it wouldn’t also link up the third plot of Universal land in the area.

With money and land therefore not being an issue, the only remaining hurdle to the third theme park’s existence is its very premise: if USF is the place to “ride the movies” and Islands of Adventure is where literature comes alive, what is left to tackle?

We should know sooner rather than later.