The Universal Orlando Resort has grown hugely in popularity over the last few years, aided by the spectacular success of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure. It is now firmly established as one of the world's leading theme park resorts, with owner Comcast promising to invest in a major new attraction every single year. We recently took a look at 10 mind-boggling statistics about Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando's long-time rival. While the Disney property still dwarfs Universal's in terms of size and attendance, Universal Orlando still operates on an impressive scale - and it's intent on closing the gap. With that in mind, let's take a look at 10 statistics associated with Universal Orlando, to get an impression of just how much time, investment and cutting-edge technology has gone into carving out a niche in the competitive Florida theme park market.
10. A very, very rich movie director
In March 1987, with planning work on Universal Studios Florida well underway, Universal's then-owner MCA announced that Steven Spielberg, the director of Jaws, E.T. – The Extra-Terrestrial and a swathe of other hits, had signed on as a “creative consultant” for the park. The deal that tied Spielberg to Universal was extraordinarily lucrative for the director. According to executives with knowledge of the arrangement, under the terms of the agreement Spielberg would collect two percent of the gross revenues from Universal Studios Florida (including tickets and concession sales), and this was designed to continue in perpetuity, such that generations of future Spielbergs would also share in the income. To put that into context, if Spielberg is indeed entitled to two percent of gross revenues from the resort, he could have picked up around $40 million in 2011 alone.
9. The most expensive ride ever built?
At Universal Studios Hollywood, a version of Jaws' great white shark lunges out of a lagoon at the famous Studio Tour trams. When Universal was planning Universal Studios Florida in the late 1980s, it was determined to one-up that experience. Riders on the dedicated Jaws attraction would board flimsy-looking boats, placing them in much greater jeopardy. Jaws would even grab the boats with his sharp teeth, dragging them around the lagoon. Unfortunately, the Jaws ride proved to be a liability. It closed after just a few months, having cost some $30 million to build. It was completely rebuilt at a cost of a further $40 million, however, and proved to be an enduringly popular attraction until its removal in 2012 to make way for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter - Diagon Alley. Accounting for inflation, this may well make the first version of Jaws the most expensive ride ever built per minute of operation.
8. The most expensive film ever produced
Another eye-wateringly expensive attraction is still a part of Universal Studios Florida's line-up (though possibly not for long). Terminator 2 3-D: Battle Across Time brought together legendary director James Cameron and megastar Arnold Schwarzenegger for a "mini-sequel" to Terminator 2: Judgment Day...and Universal didn't hold back. There were separate crews working on shooting the main sequences out in the Mojave Desert and on a soundstage in Los Angeles. In total, around 300 people were on the payroll. Nearly 50 digital artists at specialist firm Digital Domain worked for almost six months to bring the Terminators to life, in what was the first ever use of digital effects in a 3-D movie. By the time production was completed, the film sequences would cost some $24 million. At 12 minutes long, Terminator 2: 3-D was the most expensive film ever produced at the time, on a per-minute basis.
7. An enormous parking lot
When Universal was working on the massive expansion that added CityWalk, Islands of Adventure and three on-site hotels to the resort in the mid-to-late 1990s, the first element to open to the public was seemingly mundane: a new parking structure. But it was some parking structure... The enormous, concrete facility was the size of 14 football fields, and featured space for more than 9,000 cars. It was larger than the car park at nearby Orlando International Airport - and Universal increased its capacity even further with a second parking structure that added a further 10,200 spaces. This became the fourth largest parking structure in the world. To put the size in context, the largest single parking lot in the world is at West Edmonton Mall, and it holds 20,000 cars. So Universal Orlando is in the big leagues here. In such a vast complex, it was likely that some guests would forget where they had parked – and finding their vehicle would not be easy. To help avoid this scenario, Universal sub-divided the parking structure into different areas, each named after a different character or movie featured in the theme parks (including Jaws, Jurassic Park and King Kong). Music from the films was piped in to help jog guests’ memories. To help guests to get around, the structure boasts eight elevators, 34 escalators and 12 moving walkways. With so many cars in one building, getting in and out could have turned into a nightmare. To counter this, Universal ensured that the structure was designed to allow up to 3,000 cars to exit within an hour. The first parking garage alone cost more to build than Terminator 2: 3-D, at some $65 million.
6. Seriously thirsty rides
The two water rides in the Toon Lagoon area of Islands of Adventure consume vast amounts of water. Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls alone holds some 400,000 gallons of the stuff. But where does it all come from? Engineering manager Ted Van Winkle reveals: "There's an underground water system connecting the rides to the main show lagoon [at the heart of Islands of Adventure]. When we turn the rides on, all those pumps draw the water from the show lagoon and put it into the rides. When we shut them off, it all returns to the show lagoon." Toon Lagoon uses so much water that it reduces the depth of the vast show lagoon by six inches when its attractions are started up for the day.