Home » The 6 BIG Changes Coming to the Universal Orlando Resort

The 6 BIG Changes Coming to the Universal Orlando Resort

Universal Orlando is experiencing unprecedented success – and owner Comcast plans to invest hundreds of millions to keep improving the resort.

Last week, we highlighted the 10 big changes that are coming to Walt Disney World over the next few years. Whereas Disney is focusing on what it believes will be enhancements to the guest experience, Universal Orlando has a simpler strategy: build more stuff. Lots of it.

Over the coming years, we can expect a host of new rides and attractions, with Comcast promising major additions to Universal Orlando every single year. We’ll also have a much greater range of options for staying in on-site accommodation.

Here’s a complete round-up of the major changes we can expect to the Universal Orlando Resort as it continues to bask in the success of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

6. New Hotels

Universal Orlando will seek to bolster its status as a multi-day resort destination by constructing a lot of new hotel rooms. In September 2013, NBCUniversal CEO Steve Burke claimed that it could fill 10,000-15,000 hotel rooms, and the company plans to do just that. “We need to get those hotel rooms open and build out the resort,” said Burke.

The first step will be the opening of the 1,800-room, moderately-priced Cabana Bay Beach Resort. The resort is already taking reservations ahead of a preview opening on March 31, 2014 (of the family suites only), with the full opening set to come on July 1.

Whereas Universal Orlando’s three existing hotels are aimed primarily at the high-end of the market, the Cabana Bay Beach Resort is designed to be an affordable option for families. It will be themed around old-style “road trip” vacations, and will be managed on Universal’s behalf by Loews Hotels & Resorts.

Cabana Bay Beach Resort concept art (3)

Image © Universal Orlando Resort

The fourth on-site hotel to open at Universal Orlando will be centered around two courtyards. The North Courtyard will open first, and will be themed around 1950s and 1960s motor courts. It will be surrounded by 600 family suites, each boasting a foam bed, a kitchenette, two televisions and a large bathroom. The suites will accommodate up to 6 guests.

The South Courtyard, meanwhile, will open later in July 2014 and will be surrounded by 900 standard guest rooms and a further 300 suites. Each of the standard rooms will sleep four guests and contain two queen beds.

Guests at the new resort will not receive the same perks as those at the existing Portofino Bay Hotel, Royal Pacific Resort and Hard Rock Hotel. Most significantly, they will not be equipped with unlimited Universal Express passes, which enable guests at the other resorts to skip the lines for major attractions. However, they will be able to take advantage of early entry into Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure – a particularly important perk for those visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Cabana Bay Beach Resort concept art

Image © Universal Orlando Resort

Located on a 37-acre site next to Islands of Adventure, the new resort will be squarely in the same category as Walt Disney World’s recently-opened Art of Animation Resort, which aims to compete with nearby “value” resorts such as the Nickelodeon Suites Resort in Orlando.

Cabana Bay Beach Resort concept art (4)

Image © Universal Orlando Resort

Cabana Bay Beach Resort concept art (2)

Image © Universal Orlando Resort

The construction of the new hotel marks the first time Universal Orlando has taken on Walt Disney World in the family accommodation market, as it aims to claim a greater share of the time that families spend on vacation in Orlando. It will be heavily-themed, with 50s-style rooms, lobby area, a pool and a lazy river.

It won’t end there, though. Rumors have been swirling that construction work on a fifth hotel between the Cabana Bay and the Royal Pacific Resort will begin later in 2014. While this may just be speculation, given Burke’s comments and Universal’s recent track record of capital investment, we’d say that such a development is almost certain to take place.

5. New slides at Wet ‘n Wild Orlando

Wet ‘n Wild Orlando, Universal Orlando’s water park, has announced that it will open a unique new “racing” water slide for the 2014 season, dubbed Aqua Drag Racer. It claims that the slide will be the tallest and fastest of its kind in Florida. It will stand at 60 feet tall, and will allow guests to race each other through a series of twists, turns and steep hills while lying on a foam mat. Four riders will race each other at a time, hitting a top speed of 15 feet per second.

Aqua Drag Racer

Aqua Drag Racer will feature a clock at the bottom, allowing guests to see how fast they plummeted down it – and to declare a winner. The slide is being manufactured by Canadian specialist ProSlide, and will be a customized example of the firm’s KrakenRACER model.

To make room for the new addition, the Bubba Tub family raft ride will be removed. Wet ‘n Wild plans to reuse some of the infrastructure from Bubba Tub, particularly plumbing work, to make the installation of the new addition faster and easier.

Wet 'n Wild Orlando map

The expensive addition of Aqua Drag Racer should put an end to rumors that Universal might move Wet ‘n Wild, re-installing it on the main Universal Orlando site rather than its current location on International Drive. Such an undertaking would be very complex, given that all of the existing plumbing would need to be recreated on the new site.

4. The NEW CityWalk

Universal Orlando’s CityWalk dining, retail and entertainment district opened in 1999, and has established itself as a very popular evening hotspot. Perhaps that’s why Disney is undertaking a radical overhaul of Downtown Disney, which will see it re-emerge as Disney Springs in 2016.

But Universal Orlando is not sitting still. CityWalk is currently undergoing a radical transformation that will include a total of 8 new restaurants. Closing to make room for these are Pastamore and Latin Quarter, as well as Katie’s Candy Company and Cigarz.

Antojitos Authetnic Mexican Food

Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food will take guests on a journey through the cantinas, street carts and markets of Mexico City, offering tapas-style dining.

Cold Stone Creamery

The 23-year-old ice cream chain Cold Stone Creamery will receive its own outlet at CityWalk, serving up custom creations on a frozen granite stone.


CityWalk’s existing Starbucks outlet will close, with a new, 130-seat coffee shop opening up next to the Cold Stone Creamery.


Blending sushi with burgers, the Cowfish is a version of the popular North Carolina restaurant. Items on the “Burgushi” menu will include both sushi rolls containing burger meat and sandwiches containing sushi.

Pranzo Italian Kitchen

Vivo Italian Kitchen will be a new Italian restaurant created by Universal Orlando, with a culinary team that handcrafts pasta dishes from scratch.

Hot Dog Hall of Fame

Located between Emeril’s and Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, the outdoor quick-service stand Hot Dog Hall of Fame will sell some of the most iconic hot dogs from ballparks across the US.


Bread Box will be a sandwich outlet combining quality meats and vegetables and freshly-baked bread.


The frozen yogurt chain Menchie’s will open an outlet at CityWalk, including its usual expansive self-service toppings bar.

Red Oven Pizza Bakery

Already open for business, the Red Oven Pizza Bakery boasts an outdoor seating area.

Universal Studios Store

Alongside the new restaurants, there’s also an updated Universal Studios Store, selling a range of collectibles tied to characters seen in the parks.

3. The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley

Exictement is building ahead of the opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida. The new land will be the second Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando. The first, which is a recreation of Hogsmeade village and Hogwarts Castle, is located in neighboring Islands of Adventure.

Despite its name, the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley will consist of much more than just a recreation of the Diagon Alley shopping street seen in the Harry Potter books and movies. The new land has replaced Amity, the former site of the Jaws ride. This means that it faces onto Universal Studios Florida’s main lagoon. Of course, in the movies, Diagon Alley does not face onto a lake. So the front of the second Wizarding World will be a recreation of several London landmarks. Universal has dubbed the area the London Embankment, but actually it will be a mish-mash of different icons from the city.

London Embankment

To enter Diagon Alley itself, you’ll pass through a cut-out archway. Once inside, you’ll be completely immersed in the Wizarding World.

Diagon Alley entrance

Gringotts Wizarding Bank, topped by a fire-breathing animatronic dragon, is at the far end of the alley. Between us and the ride that the bank hosts is, effectively, one long shopping street (Universal is going to make a fortune from merchandise sales).

Diagon Alley

Accessible via an archway from Diagon Alley opposite the Weasley’s Wizard Weases store will be the murky Knockturn Alley – a favorite hangout of dark wizards. The area will be covered to ensure that the Florida sun doesn’t brighten up the atmosphere.

Knockturn Alley

Towards the rear of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley is a new area dubbed Carkitt Market. This doesn’t feature in the books, and was named by Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling. Inspired by Leadenhall Market in London, it will of course have magical elements. Another huge area that is yet to be detailed by Universal is Horizont Alley, which will run perpendicular to Diagon Alley. Again named by Rowling, the nature of this street is a mystery.

The headline attraction of the under-construction Diagon Alley will Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, a major new roller coaster themed around Gringotts Wizarding Bank. Harry’s first encounter with the bank is an innocent descent in its mine-cart-style conveyance in the first film; by the last, the out-of-control race through the vaults was accompanied by loops, waterfalls, and captive dragons – perfect material for a theme park ride.

Because it’s enclosed in a enormous ride building, we’ve seen little in the way of construction photos of the ride itself. Universal has, though, released some concept artwork of the coaster:

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (1)

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (2)

The latest rumors point to a June 2014 opening date for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley, but Universal has so far only announced the vague “summer 2014”.

2. The Hogwarts Express

Linking the existing Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure with the under-construction Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida, the Hogwarts Express will recreate the journey taken by Potter and his friends at the start and finish of every year at Hogwarts. It will actually travel through a backstage area between the two parks, but multimedia technology will be used to convince guests that they are journeying between London and Hogsmeade.

Initially, Universal envisaged the attraction as little more than a basic transportation link. But it quickly became clear that many fans were more excited about the Hogwarts Express than they are about the rest of Diagon Alley. Now, the Hogwarts Express will be a full multi-sensory experience, telling a story as well as getting guests from A to B.

Linking two lands with a shared theme in two entirely separate theme parks, the Hogwarts Express will be a truly unique attraction. In fact, it’s the only ride listed in our extensive database of 3,500 attractions that is listed as belonging to two parks!

Hogwarts Express locomotive

The trains that will run on the Hogwarts Express line are faithful recreations of those seen in the movies, and also closely resemble the existing, stationary train that sits at the entrance to Islands of Adventure’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter (see the photo above). There will be two trains, so that the ride can run in both directions (from Hogsmeade to Diagon Alley, and vice-versa) simultaneously.

Kings Cross station

The exterior of Kings Cross Station in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley will closely resemble the real thing. The station will be located on the waterfront-facing section of the Diagon Alley expansion, close to Universal Studios Florida’s lagoon. Riders will board the train on platform 9 3/4.

Kings Cross Station

The Hogsmeade station, meanwhile, is located close to the Dragon Challenge roller coaster in the existing Wizarding World at Islands of Adventure. It is expected to closely resemble the station seen in the movies.

Very little has been revealed about the experience that awaits guests riding on the Hogwarts Express. Once thing is known, though: riders won’t actually see the backstage areas that they are passing through. Instead, sound and video effects will be used – possibly even in conjunction with live actors – to bring the journey to life.

Guests will look out “windows” projecting new Harry Potter stories, giving the illusion of traveling from one destination to the other while having a few magical encounters. It is also rumored that the Hogwarts Express experience will feature several different stories not unlike the multitude of adventures that are brought together on Disney’s updated Star Tours attraction. One of these may feature an attack by Death Eaters, but there has been no confirmation of this.

Riders on the Hogwarrts Express will be required to hold a Park-to-Park ticket, covering admission to Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. It is expected that, to cater for those who have purchased single-park tickets that wish to ride, Universal will set up ticket booths at the two stations.

1. A new ride for Islands of Adventure

Universal Orlando is yet to confirm what’s coming after Diagon Alley, but has made clear that the spending will continue. With Universal Studios Florida set for a major attendance boost, attention is likely to switch to neighboring Islands of Adventure. Specifically, an area close to the existing Jurassic Park island has been earmarked as the site for a major new attraction – with construction work set to begin imminently.

Jurassic World logo

Some rumors have pointed to a new ride themed around Jurassic World, the fourth movie in the series that it set for release in 2015. Suggestions have included an on-rails jeep ride similar to that seen in the original film (although this is probably too close in plot to the existing Jurassic Park River Adventure to get the go-ahead), a roller coaster set in an amber mine and an indoor, movie-style attraction.

King Kong

However, the strongest rumors are that a new land dedicated to King Kong is on its way to Islands of Adventure. This would be themed around Skull Island, the home of the giant ape in the movies. The rumors are that the headline ride will not be a simple recreation of King Kong 360 3-D at Universal Studios Hollywood. Instead, it could be a major dark ride with outdoor sections featuring high-capacity, safari-style vehicles.

Skull Island

Permits have been filed (as revealed by Parkscope) that go by the vague name of “Project 340” – which has been tossed around as the code name for the King Kong project.

Given the construction timescales involved, Skull Island will probably debut at Islands of Adventure in 2016.