Home » OPINION: Universal’s New Theme Park MIGHT Be An Epic Mistake… Here’s What to Consider.

OPINION: Universal’s New Theme Park MIGHT Be An Epic Mistake… Here’s What to Consider.

Here’s a trivia question for you: When’s the last time a major, destination theme park opened in the United States? Which are the newest U.S. parks built by the industry’s leaders, Disney and Universal, respectively?

Given the continuous hum around the themed entertainment industry and the post-Wizarding-World wave of projects that have swept across Disney Imagineering and Universal Creative, the industry was moving at a pace never seen before... except in regards to opening theme parks. In fact, 21-year-olds today – young adults old enough to drink! – have never seen a Walt Disney World without four parks or a Universal Studios Florida with a blacktop parking lot for a neighbor.

But of course, all of that is about to change. Supposedly set for opening in 2023, something electric is forming in Central Florida. Orlando is soon to welcome its first new theme park in nearly 25 years – Universal’s Epic Universe. This upcoming third gate for Universal Orlando is meant to be a game-changing project redefining the industry ahead of its next ultra-immersive, tech-incorporated era. In fact, this (admittedly) epically-scaled theme park just may rewrite the rules of the industry. But here’s a hot take for you: it’s very possible that Universal Orlando Resort would be stronger without Epic Universe.

Now before you start hurling insults, let me make my case for why the most exciting thing to happen at Universal Orlando in decades may just be a mistake… For the most part, all of our doubts about Epic Universe center around one word: maturity. With a new park about to open in the 2020s, we have to take stock of the maturity of the industry, the maturity of the Orlando area, and the maturity of Universal’s existing parks. To that end, we have some real fears (and hopes!) about how Epic Universe will work out…

Universal’s Epic Universe

First things first, it’s important to know what we’re expecting from the landmark new park set to make its way to Orlando. While Universal’s most recent park – 1999’s Islands of Adventure – set a new course for the industry with its intellectual property-focused literary “islands,” it was the park’s addition of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter a decade later that inarguably changed theme parks forever. (It’s also the Wizarding World that allegedly convinced Comcast to keep – and moreso, invest heavily in – the Universal Parks and Resorts division that they’d largely been expected to sell off back when they acquired NBCUniversal in 2013). 

As we know, the idea of a wholly immersive land dedicated to a single IP became industry standard, indirectly creating Cars Land, Pandora – The World of Avatar, Diagon Alley, Springfield U.S.A., Avengers Campus, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and every other original-world with in-universe-eats and authentic-merchandise coming into existence around the world.

Now, Epic Universe will fuse the two. With its astrological, art-deco styling presenting “portals” into fantastic worlds, it is, by all accounts, a park composed entirely of Wizarding-World-style lands fueled by Universal’s acquisition of Tier 1 IPs like Nintendo and Dreamworks. We’re talking about totally immersive areas themed to Mario & Luigi, Donkey Kong, Universal’s “Classic Monsters,” Fantastic Beasts (from the Wizarding World), and DreamWorks’ How To Train Your Dragon.

While details are intentionally scarce, this pantheon of Universal IPs seemingly beats Disney to the punch again (given many experts expect Disney’s next stateside park – whenever and wherever it emerges – to follow the Islands of Adventure / Epic Universe model of immersive IP lands). But even grander, Epic Universe is meant to transform what we mean by a theme park…

Early reports signal that each of those immersive “worlds” could essentially function as a standalone park (with a single, gated entrance / exit). The central “hub” area between them would be open to the public as a new CityWalk style retail and dining area overlooked by a deluxe hotel. [Why? Brilliantly, this pedestrian-friendly park near the Orange County Convention Center could not only keep its “hub” open late into the night, but could rent out individual “worlds” to conventioneers one-by-one.] To that end, guests will need to pass through turnstiles at the single entrance portal to each land… potentially using facial recognition rather than tickets, RFID, or fingerprints. While this feature (and many others) are still merely rumors at this point, the ambition that’s gone into Epic Universe alone proves Universal’s in it for the long haul.

But there’s more that’s confusing about Universal’s Epic Universe than its redundant name… We have serious doubts that this third gate at Universal Orlando is the best path forward for the resort. We want to take a deep dive into the three troubling levels of maturity that we think might be serious hurdles for the latest and greatest park in Orlando. 

Here’s how we’re going to lay out our argument. We’re going to progressively “zoom in” by looking at the BIG PICTURE (the maturity in the industry), MEDIUM PICTURE (the maturity of the area), and SMALL PICTURE (maturity in the parks). For each of those, we’ll define what we mean, then present some evidence (some for Epic Universe and some against Epic Universe) to get to the bottom of this radical, revolutionary, and risky new park.

1. BIG PICTURE: Maturity in the industry

CASE STUDY: Amusement parks in America

Let’s start with the biggest picture – a “thousand foot” view of the entire amusement park industry – to see how Epic Universe fits in.

We opened by asking you to recall the last Disney or Universal park built in the United States. (The answer? 2001’s Disney California Adventure.) So let’s cast a bigger net… When’s the last time a new Six Flags was built? A Cedar Fair park? SeaWorld or Busch Gardens? For pretty much all those cases, the last purpose-built, from-scratch theme parks came online in the ‘70s and ‘80s (after Magic Kingdom proved the formula) and experienced growth spurts and ownership changes in the ‘90s (once the Disney-MGM Studios and Universal Studios Florida made owning theme parks accessible and budget-friendly).

In fact, even smaller, regional park operators are often viewed as players in a “mature” industry. With limited exceptions (like the new LEGOLAND New York, and the shuttered Six Flags New Orleans), the United States is commonly seen as saturated with major amusement parks… Like a sponge that can’t hold another drop of water, it’s full. That is, nearly every metropolitan area that can support one, has one. Trust us: if there were some city out there that could reasonably support a destination park, someone would build it. They aren’t, because there’s not. 

We seem to have almost exactly the right number of parks to satiate our 328 million person population. (Compared to, say, China’s population of 1.4 billion – nearly five times larger than that of the U.S. – explaining why parks are rapidly opening across China, including Disney and Universal sites.) So if the question is, “Can the United States reasonably support another major theme park,” the simplest and most straightforward answer is typically, “No.”  Except…

“Industry” Problem 1: The Orlando exception?

Epic Effect: POSITIVE (+)

All that said, there’s something “magical” about Orlando, isn’t there? Just as Cincinnati can have too many casinos, but Las Vegas can’t, somehow, some way, this unassuming area of Central Florida has seemingly limitless capacity for new theme parks. Theme parks aren’t just an attraction in Central Florida; theme parks are Central Florida – the backbone of its economy, the source of its tourism, and the reason for its development. Maybe Orlando will hit a ceiling, but it hasn’t yet. Orlando already houses seven major theme parks – Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, and SeaWorld Orlando – with a further four water parks. 

So, okay, if any place in the country can support yet another theme park, it’s probably Orlando. But as for what happens when families visiting Orlando now find seven major theme parks waiting for them…? Will they extend their trip, or simply visit fewer parks? And either way, who wins and who loses? Read on as we “zoom in” a bit from our thousand-foot view of the industry and instead focus on the Universal Orlando Resort itself…

2. MEDIUM PICTURE: Maturity within a resort

CASE STUDY: The growth of Walt Disney World

Altogether, the concept of “multi-theme-park resorts” is relatively new.

While Disney World kinda created the idea, it was mostly haphazard. Walt never explicitly called on his “Disney World” to feature multiple theme parks, and in fact only planned on building a “Disneyland East” as a concession to get to his real goal: the E.P.C.O.T. city that was abandoned after his death. Walt Disney World was instead pivoted to become “The Vacation Kingdom of the World,” of course, and the unprecedented idea of a second theme park on the property was born just 11 years later with 1982’s EPCOT Center. Just seven years after that came the Disney-MGM Studios, then nine years after that was Animal Kingdom.

But anyone who’s traveled around Walt Disney World’s network of highways, buses, Monorails, ferries, water taxis, parking lots, and Skyliners will tell you, it was far from master-planned. Instead, the distinct parks and resorts and waterways and regions within the 40-square-mile property have been placed somewhat haphazardly and connected clumsily – something we imagine Disney might actually change if they could start over from scratch.

Disney World is also the perfect example of maturity within a resort. After all, Walt Disney World is about to celebrate its 50th Anniversary and, taking stock of that half-century, Disney constructed four parks roughly in the first half of its life, and zero parks in the next half. Why? Put simply, going from one theme park to two theme parks does not double attendance or profit. Likewise, going from two to three; three to four; four to five… At some point, the complex formula of start-up cost, ticket revenue, and length-of-stay converge in diminishing returns and – eventually – significant long-term expenses.

And worse, you’ve likely heard of the concept of parks cannibalizing each other – in other words, rather than causing guests to lengthen their stays, they may simply opt to visit fewer parks. When Hollywood Studios opened, Epcot’s attendance fell to compensate. When Animal Kingdom opened, it was met with a drop in attendance at Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. While building another park may incentivize people to add another night’s stay and another day’s visit, it may just as easily convince them to replace a visit, such that the incremental increase in guests that may come with a new theme park doesn’t necessarily equate to more revenue. Instead, it creates a situation – like at Disney World – where you have massive, staff-insensive properties with relatively low ride counts and a much slower schedule of reinvement in each as they share capital budgets.

So while rumors of a “fifth gate” will persist and crowds on discussion boards and Facebook will doubtlessly see parks’ popularity and wait times and declare “it’s time for a fifth park,” it’s just not that simple. At least in the latter half of Disney World’s life, the powers that be seem to believe that in terms of its gated units, Disney World is saturated; mature. 

So the question for us is, is Universal Orlando Resort saturated with parks?

“Resort” Problem 1: Universal Orlando Resort(s?)

Epic Effect: NEUTRAL (/)

As we look at Universal Orlando Resort specifically in terms of its maturity, what do we see? In terms of the all-important “physical space” variable, there’s a pretty compelling picture. Unlike Walt Disney World’s decades-long, piecemeal expansion into a multi-park resort, Universal Orlando is a different beast. Whether you prefer its style or not, Universal’s growth into a resort looks and feels different by way of master-planning. In other words, Universal Orlando developed not haphazardly, but all-at-once in a gargantuan transformation in 1999 that set a consistant style, shared aesthetics, pedestrian-based planning, and 21st century design. It feels interconnected, holistic, intentional, and purposeful… because it was.

There’s a tremendous elegance to its “campus,” with purpose-laid walking paths ambling through bamboo gardens along the perimeter of man-made waterways, passing resort hotels launching water taxis to the central CityWalk lagoon; even the ugly side of such an enterprise – cavernous parking garages – were carefully planned such that moving walkways whisk guests toward a central point, depositing them in the center of the “kidney bean” shaped CityWalk, with mirrored bridges on either end leading to the towering icons of the resort’s two theme parks – the Pharos Lighthouse and Studio Gates, respectively – nestled against one another as a poetic dichotomy.

So, yeah, spatially, Universal Orlando is mature. It has taken its alloted space and maximized it, filling every acre of its land with parks, support facilities, hotels, parking without a hint of randomness of inefficiency.

So much so that Epic Universal will famously be set in a new, separate “southern campus” comprised of land Universal’s been acquiring for years. Likely, this new property will be accessible only via shuttle bus (or, to be fair, on foot from the Orange County Convention Center area). In fact, some people are worried that Universal might be making its infamous “Universal Escape” branding mistake once more, being a little too vague about what Universal’s Epic Universe even is. Is it just a name for the collective “mini-theme-parks”? Does it refer to the “mini-theme-parks” including the shopping district between them? The entire “southern campus” – a resort within the resort – while the name of the theme park will be announced later? If industry fans don’t understand, how will the general public?

With so much still unknown about the physical set-up, we’ll rank the effect of the physical space as “neutral.” It’s not Universal’s fault that their initial real estate isn’t large enough to have foreseen the desire for a third park, and Epic Universe is no father from Universal Studios Florida than Animal Kingdom is from Magic Kingdom – just with tourist sprawl in between rather than wilderness… In other words, the way that they get guests there will be an essential piece of bringing the puzzle together and making the Universal Orlando Resort feel cohesive.

“Resort” Problem 2: Got guests?

Epic Effect: POSITIVE (+), but skeptical

But of course, the more important factor for assessing the maturity of Universal Orlando Resort must be its attendance. No doubt, Universal’s attendance has grown by leaps and bounds since the 2010 opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and its two parks rank impressively among the most-visited theme parks on Earth. While each of us may have anecdotal evidence about friends who buy a “1-Day, Park-to-Park” ticket to marathon the Potter attractions and leave, Universal’s move into a third park must signal that their evaluation says differently.

After all, there’s no way Universal would’ve opened an on-site water park (Volcano Bay) and no less than four hotels (Cabana Bay Beach Resort, the Aventura Hotel, Surfside Inn, and Dockside Inn, totaling nearly 5,500 hotel rooms and thereby more doubling the resort’s capacity in the last five years alone) without adequate evaluation that their expanding resort can support it, nevermind that Epic Universe will have its own deluxe hotel at its core

So altogether, it seems that Universal does not view their own Orlando resort as mature. Just the opposite, they seem to think that it can expand well beyond its existing borders in support of an entire second “campus” with Epic Universe at its center. If their internal numbers suggest that a massively ambitious and wildly expensive project like Epic Universe will be met with appropriate guest demand, we can only trust it and say this evidence is a plus. But Universal doesn’t exist in a vacuum… 

“Resort” Problem 3: Cross-pollination?

Epic Effect: NEGATIVE (–)

Even if Universal’s own evaluation and numbers suggest that “if we build it, they will come,” we feel that there’s one more piece of the puzzle to consider in regards to the maturity of the resort. For better or worse, Disney World and Universal Orlando are inextricably linked. Especially if Universal intends to continue going after the existing (and largely Disney-centered) Orlando vacation market, there’s an argument to be made that maybe we ought to view the maturity of Universal Orlando a little more broadly; that it’s really a case of the maturity of the whole Orlando market. 

It brings us back to that inevitable look at Orlando. Once Epic Universe opens, guests vacationing in Orlando will find between Disney and Universal’s campuses seven theme parks, never mind the three water parks and three dozen resort hotels. So rather than examining the maturity of Universal Orlando in a vacuum, consider it that way. Will Epic Universe convince families to add another night’s stay in Central Florida? Or will the city’s seventh major theme park lead families to make some hard decisions about how to spend their time and which parks to skip?

And if they do decide to visit Epic Universe instead of one of Disney or Universal’s six other parks, which do you think it will be? Will they skip Magic Kingdom? Probably not. Epcot with its new Frozen, Ratatouille, and Marvel rides? Doubtful. Hollywood Studios with Galaxy’s Edge? Nope. Animal Kingdom and the must-see Pandora? Ehhh… Unfortunately, we’re worried that we’ll end right back up in that “cannibalizing” situation where families opt to skip the Studios. Unfortunately, that’s a question no one can answer yet… But for now, we have to rank this as a major issue and evidence that’s really against Epic Universe… 

But it’s not even our biggest worry about Epic Universe… Zooming in from maturity in the industry and maturity within the resort, let’s get to the heart of the issue…

3. SMALL PICTURE: Maturity within parks

CASE STUDY: The growth of Disneyland

Arriving now at the “microcosm” of the problem, we offer a unique case study in the “maturity” of individual parks: the two theme parks of the Disneyland Resort.

Disneyland and Disney California Adventure have a collective 80 years of development between them. Disneyland, for its part, feels quite “mature” in the sense that the park has plenty to do. For being the smallest “castle” park on Earth by acreage, Disneyland contains more rides and more E-Tickets than any other Disney Park on Earth… by far! And while evolution will always be a part of Disneyland’s DNA (“…as long as there’s imagination left in the world,” etc etc), the park is bursting at the seams with attractions, nostalgia, memories, and those wonderful sorts of “hidden gems” that Universal Parks tend to lack

If you’ve been around Theme Park Tourist long enough, you may have read our epic dive into the history of Disney’s California Adventure. Suffice it to say, the park’s gone through extensive redevelopment in its relatively short life, resulting – in 2012 – in a park that seemed to be heading “in the right direction,” filled with classic Californian lands recreating a 1900s Victorian boardwalk, 1920s Los Angeles, 1940s Hollywood, a 1950s National Park, and more. Was California Adventure perfect? Of course not. But its path to maturity looked to be laid out…

No one would fault Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge or the blockbuster Avengers Campus lands as being ineffective. Quite the opposite, Disney took two of its recent tier-1 IP acquisitions and created substantial themed lands for Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, respectively! But any longtime Disneyland visitors will tell you, neither really feels… right.

In the case of Star Wars, Galaxy’s Edge doesn’t fit in Disneyland, literally. Requiring extensive rearranging of the park’s backstage facilities, the rerouting of the Rivers of America and the Railroad, and major changes to Frontierland, squeezing Star Wars into Galaxy’s Edge was a logistical challenge. But even more, fans quickly pointed out how strange it felt to have a gargantuan, sprawling, ultra-immersive, mountain-cradled impoverished alien planet placed alongside dainty, diminuitive Fantasyland or Adventureland – the idealized, romanticized, and (frankly) bite-sized lands the park opened with. While Galaxy’s Edge makes great sense at Hollywood Studios, it falls well outside of the narrative of Disneyland, not to mention its intentional arrangement of Americana genres of adventure, fantasy, frontier, and futurism…

Avengers Campus is being similarly squeezed into California Adventure, but even if its relegated to real estate too small to fit the highest-grossing film series of all time, the bad fit there is more conceptual – yet another chip away at the Californian focus Disney spent a billion dollars to restore just a decade ago. It’s all perfectly evidenced by this California-themed park being reigned over not by the Lost Legend: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and its iconic Southwestern art deco facade recalling the legends and architecture of old Hollywood, but by the “space warehouse prison power-plant” “based on the beauty of an oil rig” that is Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!

And here’s what we can learn from this case study: Disney took two parks that were variously approaching full maturity in terms of space, attendence, and creativity, and crammed more in anyway. It makes fans wonder why Disney didn’t just activate on a much-needed and inevitable third park in Anaheim where – again, following that Islands of Adventure model – they could’ve built an entire park of IPs where Galaxy’s Edge, Avengers Campus, Monstropolis, Arendelle, and Pandora could’ve been “islands” encircling a lagoon. Because now, when that third park inevitably does happen, it can’t have Galaxy’s Edge or Avengers Campus – they’ve already been crammed into Disneyland and California where they don’t belong! A short-term gain, but a long-term loss.

What does any of this have to do with Universal’s Epic Universe?

“Park” Problem 1: Creative and complete?

Disney didn’t build a third park when they probably should’ve; now, for those exact reasons, we argue that Universal is building a third park when they shouldn’t. And since we’ve already questioned Universal’s space and attendance (offering they have a “neutral” and “we’ll-take-your-word-for-it-positive” effect on plans for the new park, respectively), we have to face that last one; the one Universal is so often derided for: creativity. 

Listen: we love Universal Orlando, and not just in a “side trip from Disney” way. In fact, Universal Orlando’s parks are among the strongest contenders on the planet! But if you think either of Universal’s parks is completely matured, built-out, and ready to coast into the sunset along its current path, you’re kidding yourself. In fact, attentive industry fans often report that – outside the hallowed acres of the Wizarding World – Universal’s parks can look and feel quite neglected next to the usually high-standards of Disney.

To that end, we can’t truly analyze Epic Universe without using that Disneyland example. Disneyland and Disney California Adventure didn’t really need Galaxy’s Edge and Avengers Campus; they could’ve (and arguably, should’ve) been held off as anchors in a third park. Looking at Epic Universe, we kind of feel… well… exactly the opposite. Here’s what we mean….

“Park” Problem 1A: Stalled Studios

EPIC EFFECT: Negative (–)

Taking stock of Universal Studios Florida, we see a park that’s in the very midst of a much-needed transition. We have explored at length how beige, backlot, soundstage-saddled “studio” parks like Universal Studios Florida looked pretty dim and dingy by the end of the ’90s, with their mis-matched flavor-of-the-week intellectual properties and reliance on pop culture and box office to stay relevant. In the early 2000s, that was mostly about squashing the park’s opening day Lost Legends: Kongfrontation, Back to the Future, and Earthquake to rush in hipper, trendier films in what could’ve been the start of never-ending, soulless “upgrades.”

Luckily, the arrival of the other half of the Wizarding World – Diagon Alley – indicated that Universal was up for the challenge of making even its studio park evergreen by turning it into a place where “real” worlds (New York, Hollywood, London, San Francisco) serve as gateways to step into the movies (see also, Disney’s Hollywood Studios), following it up with a Simpsons-themed Springfield, U.S.A. land taking shape around the existing Simpsons Ride – another step in the right direction!

But after Diagon Alley and Springfield, Universal just… stopped… A series of attractions ranging from blah to bad have opened in the last few years alone seemingly falling back on the old “flavor-of-the-week” trend and resulting in rides themed to The Tonight Show, Fast & Furious, and The Bourne Identity that felt tired even before opening. In spite of those unfortunate attempts to stay cool, Universal Studios Florida is a park marked by stagnation. It’s not just the tired Shrek 4D still playing in the dated Production Central right inside the front gate, the opening day remnants of the Animal Actors stage show or the charming-but-dated E.T. Adventure…

It’s that you can imagine so much more. The vacant Fear Factor Live stadium adjacent to Diagon Alley was once considered certain to be replaced with a Ministry of Magic dark ride accessible from within the land… a project that’s almost certainly evolved into the new Wizarding World at Epic Universe, leaving that stadium sitting, dark, next to the biggest attraction in the park.

Universal Studios Florida has often been regarded as the least “kid-friendly” park in Orlando. (One of the reasons Islands of Adventure exists at all was to compensate.) Given that Universal recently acquired both DreamWorks and Illumination – two of the biggest animation studios on Earth – and has built immersive lands themed to Shrek (in Singapore), Despicable Me (in Hollywood), and Kung-Fu Panda (in Beijing), you’d probably expect that Universal Creative would be developing a similarly epic area for Florida. And they are! But not for the Universal Studios park. 

Epic Universe is getting an immersive How To Train Your Dragon mega-land while Universal Studios Florida will keep its current, tepid Kidzone, themed in messy parts to (and this is real:) Woody Woodpecker, Fieval, Curious George, and Barney (characters with approximately zero relevance to kids today between them) and anchored by the charming-but-dated E.T. Adventure (which every other Universal resort has removed in the name of progress). Wouldn’t a Dragon land fit perfectly there?

Put simply, it feels a little silly if not stupid for Universal to pump attractions into Epic Universe when they’re needed back at Universal Studios Florida… and in that double-edged sword scenario, the massive expense of putting them in Epic Universe makes it even less likely that the Studios park will get the care it needs going forward, as now resources will be split three ways.

“Park” Problem 1B: Idle Islands

EPIC EFFECT: Negative (–)

We have to start by saying, yes, we celebrated Islands of Adventure in the opening of this editorial and its own Park-of-the-Month feature as an era-defining, bold, brash, and often-imitated-but-never-duplicated reinvention of theme parks. In many ways, Islands of Adventure created the “IP Park” formula that Epic Universe is merely innovating upon. But cleverly, Universal had the foresight with Islands to forget going “behind the scenes,” to drop the “backlot” motif, and in fact to forget “movies” altogether, creating a park that was based on super hero comics, novels, picture books, comic strips, mythology, and legends instead. Their hope was to create a park far more evergreen that than Studios, inherently whipped from blockbuster to blockbuster.

It worked!

Islands of Adventure doesn’t need the kinds of continuous “updates” that the Studios’ swappable-soundstages permit. Its rides should be – and are – built to last. But the park has also been famously… well… slow. In its first ten years, it added only two rides: swirling teacups in Marvel Super Hero Island, and a kid’s coaster in the Lost Continent. Once more, the Wizarding World was the agreed-upon shift, revolutionizing the park, the resort, and the industry…

But outside of the Wizarding World, Islands of Adventure has added only one ride in the last decade: the lukewarm Reign of Kong, on land annexed from the adjacent Jurassic Park land. Speaking of which, while we don’t necessarily think it should be upgraded to Jurassic World (that somewhat betrays the whole “timeless, literary” style of the park and goes in the “flavor-of-the-week” Studio direction), it does need its own new ride… maybe the long-rumored Jurassic Helicop-tours Soarin’-style simulator, or maybe by reclaiming the Kong-themed Skull Island entirely and turning the Reign of Kong ride into the long-requested Jurassic Jeep Adventure.

Then there’s Toon Lagoon – a charming, watery land themed to Jay Ward’s “Sunday funnies” from Dudley Do-Right to Popeye – which could stand an upgrade. As it is, Toon Lagoon contained a massive amphitheater that’s been empty since the park’s earliest years, which needs to be home to be reutilized as attraction space. And even as defenders of Islands of Adventure’s “timeless, literary” style… well… we can’t help but imagine the space becoming a tech-infused Pokemon land – a full city of Pokemon Centers, Shops, and Gyms as well as Wild Zones for guests to catch and collect “real” Pokemon. 

See also, the shambling remains of the epic Lost Legend: The Lost Continent – an entire island of original mythologies and outstanding attractions reduced to just one: the Declassified Disaster: Poseidon’s Fury that’s been hobbling along for twenty years on a six-week rewrite of its original form. Considering Nintendo’s The Legend of Zelda is rumored as an expansion of Epic Universe, one can’t help but wonder, why not add it to Islands of Adventure instead? Why not license Tomb Raider or God of War and transform the Lost Continent into an epic adventure land? Instead, it seems that the corpse of the Lost Continent will shamble on…

Then there’s Seuss Landing, the why-didn’t-we-think-of-that sensational solution for a whimsical children’s land that’s as evergreen as it is brilliant. But once more, we see that its one substantial ride – a Cat in the Hat dark ride – hasn’t been touched in twenty years. It, and the land, need a major sprucing up and at least two new rides. The incomparable S.W. Wilson of Ideal Buildout imagines a Jungle Cruise-style outdoor boat ride through Horton Hears a Who, while we’d be happy with the long-rumored Seven Dwarfs Mine Train-esque Grinch-themed family coaster through Mount Crumpet… or both!

In other words, even Islands of Adventure could benefit from not just the money being spent on Epic Universe, but the concepts planned for it. Altogether, the impossible-to-answer question is, is it better for Universal Orlando to have one very new park and two that are coasting on Harry Potter, or to have two fully built-out, filled-in, mature parks?

Epic Universe, Epic Risk

And that’s exactly the point. Universal’s Epic Universe is a radical step in Universal’s quest to match Disney’s dominance in Central Florida. It’s also a creative powerhouse that could truly redefine an Orlando vacation… but it might not do so in the way that Universal hopes.

We have sincere worries that Universal thinks Epic Universe will grow their attendence rather than having enough attendence to justify Epic Universe.

We’re troubled by the very real possibility that Universal’s Epic Universe will be one too many parks for Central Florida, and that guests won’t spend more time, they’ll visit fewer parks – a “cannibalizing” that we expect would hurt Universal, not Disney.

And for all the reasons we’ve laid out, it’s painful to think that the money and creativity pouring into this potentially-redundant third park could be used to instead build-out Universal’s existing parks, which are undeniably in need of continued care. And in that regard alone, Epic Universe may actually lead to the further deterioration of Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.

Look – Epic Universe will live up to its name. It will be a cutting-edge, clever new park incorporating the veritable library of tier-1 IPs Universal has collected over the last two decades. It’ll also evolve Islands of Adventure’s basic model, presenting yet another blueprint for what Disney probably should be doing for their next park – whenever and wherever that appears. But we can’t fool ourselves into thinking a new park will solve all of Universal Orlando’s problems, or that it’ll be a victory right out of the gate. 

While Nintendo and Dreamworks alone may be enough to draw people to Universal, they may not be enough to convince them to lengthen their stays… at which point one has to wonder why they didn’t just add those properties to the parks that already have that need them.