Universal Theme Parks future expansion looking to steamroll competition

There has never been a better time to be a theme park fan. If you follow the industry of themed entertainment like we do here at Theme Park University, it will come as no surprise that all eyes have been on Universal Studios for the past few years. Sure, the Mouse has their own expansions opening up soon with powerhouse franchises like Star Wars and Avatar, but that is puny compared to Universal theme parks future expansion over the next few years. I’ve got some insider info to share to put into perspective just how much Universal is looking to grow for the next few years.


Universal Studios Hollywood


2016 – Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade 

Currently in soft preview, the third Wizarding World to open is expected to make a huge impact on Universal Studios Hollywood’s bottom line. From adding a new parking garage, to upgrading their front entrance area and even a small refresh of CityWalk.

Looking ahead, the highest grossing live action musical of all time is rumored to be getting a stage show currently in development that could debut by the end of this year. That’s right, “Pitch Perfect 2” should have a stage show that, if all goes well in California, could migrate to Universal Studios Florida by 2017.

Walking Dead Haunted House

2017 – Walking Dead Walk Through Haunted House (Not Yet Announced)

Universal Studios Hollywood will see another permanent haunted house based on one of the most highly rated series of all time. “The Walking Dead” will be a new walk-through haunt that will feature elaborate familiar sets, special effects and sophisticated animatronic zombies. That’s right, at this time there are no actors involved in the new attraction.

Secret Life of Pets

2018 – The Secret Life of Pets Dark Ride (Not Yet Announced)

A Universal film that hasn’t even been released yet is slated to go into the Lower Lot at Universal Studios Hollywood next to Transformers: The Ride. Universal has been big on thrill rides for the older crowd and assuming the film does well, it will be a perfect family dark ride that will be ready by summer 2018.

Universal Studios Nintendo

2019 – World of Nintendo (Not Yet Announced)

Remember in 2015 when Universal announced they were designing attractions based on Nintendo intellectual properties? You’ll actually see them come to life in an entire new land in the lower lot by the end of 2019. The new land will feature several new attractions that are unique to Universal Hollywood and one that will be cloned for both Orlando and Japan.

The new land will actually be far more immersive than what we’ve seen so far with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Think merchandise, food and beverage, characters and lots and and lots of interactivity throughout the entire land. After all, it is a video game you’re entering, right?

Escape From Gringotts

2020 – Diagon Alley (Not Yet Announced)

Indeed, as long as plans stay on track, Universal Studios Hollywood will get their own Diagon Alley by summer 2020. The good news? There will be a Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts attraction. The bad news? There will be no Hogwarts Express connecting the two areas as this is slated to take the place of Waterworld to the right of the park entrance. Frankly, the train would have an incredibly short journey to get from point A to point B.

Universal Studios Japan

Screen Shot 2016-02-25 at 11.54.56 PM

2016 – The Flying Dinosaur

Built by B&M, this is the world’s longest flying roller coaster and it looks amazing. Built in the Jurassic Park section, this one-of-a-kind attraction is staying in Universal Japan and has no plans of being cloned in any parks in the United States as of now.

Copyright Universal Orlando

2017 – New Parade (Not Yet Announced)

The details are still being worked on, but a new parade is headed to Universal Studios Japan in 2017. While you may not think much of it, this is just a primer for what will be a huge undertaking to open in 2018.

Donkey Kong Nintendo

2018 – World of Nintendo (Not Yet Announced)

Universal Studios Japan will be receiving the Nintendo treatment before any other parks worldwide. This will be a massive new area that will feature a marquee attraction that I unfortunately can’t speak about. But trust me, this will be the must-do ride for anyone on the planet. Nintendo fan or not, you will see a trailer for this attraction and immediately want to book your plane ticket to Japan. There will also be characters, merchandise, unique food and beverage and some smaller attractions to boot.\

Universal's Cinematic Spectacular - 100 years of Movie Memories

2019 – Nighttime Spectacular (Not Yet Announced)

Strangely enough, Universal Japan has a great evening parade, but not a show using the lagoon like Universal Studios Florida has. This will all change in 2019 when a new nighttime show debuts, still in production.

Universal Orlando King's Cross Station

2020 – Diagon Alley (Not Yet Announced)

Currently, this version will be the opposite of what will go into Universal Hollywood. There indeed will be a Hogwarts Express that will take you to and from Hogsmeade. However, there will be no ride through the vaults of Gringotts. Instead, this version will rely heavily on merchandise and food and beverage opportunities seen in the Orlando version.

Universal Orlando Resort

Skull Island Reign of King Kong

2016: Skull Island – Reign of Kong

Indeed, this will be another projection based attraction with a very sophisticated motion-based ride vehicle. Just like in the Hollywood version, the ride vehicle will stop on top of a motion base. The good news is, this will be different than the Hollywood version that guests have seen on the Studio Tram Tour for years now. Yes friends, there will be an animatronic ape which was created by a design group who has already had great success in capturing the likeness of the world’s most famous over-sized gorilla.

Here is another interesting factoid. You know how the concept art shows this ride vehicle entering these massive gates to Skull Island? There is a possibility you may not enter through the gates on your trip. Islands of Adventure is filled with attractions that shut down entirely during bad weather like lightning or heavy rain. In the case of Kong, your transport truck can switch directions just beyond load which can skip the outdoor portion of the ride and keep the vehicle within the show building in inclement weather. Nifty, eh?


2017: Jimmy Fallon and Volcano Bay

Race Through New York with Jimmy Fallon is yet another projection based attraction that will feature “The Tonight Show” host and several celebrity cameos. Considering the entire former Twister attraction building was demolished and a new one is going up in it’s place, don’t expect this ride to open until around Thanksgiving 2017.

Universal Orlando Volcano Bay

On the other hand, as long as weather and other factors cooperate, Volcano Bay water park should see it’s first guests welcomed by summer 2017. With three parks to choose from, Universal Orlando now becomes a true rival to Walt Disney World. A place where you can spend an entire vacation and never have to leave property.

Fast & Furious Supercharged

2018: Fast & Furious Supercharged 

I know that Universal Orlando announced this attraction would open in 2017 and while that still might happen, the reality is, they don’t have anything new currently planned for 2018 (though there is something about a mountain being built at IOA floating around). Presently, the idea is for Vin Diesel and the gang to drop into Universal Studios Florida in spring 2018.

I know fans think this is an exact copy of what opened on the Backlot Tram Tour at Universal Hollywood and there will be elements of that show lifted to the Orlando version. However, just like Kong, there will be motion based ride vehicles and some unique special effects that the Hollywood version doesn’t have.

Secret Life of Pets

2019 – Secret Life of Pets Dark Ride (Not Announced Yet)

With all these thrill attractions going up, Universal Orlando will be in desperate need of a family ride. One year after it opens in Hollywood, the Secret Life of Pets dark ride will open in Universal Orlando. Chances are, the rarely used Toon Lagoon Amphitheater will be bulldozed in order to bring some new life into a section of the park which has seen little updates since it opened in 1999. However, there is a small chance it could be a replacement for Shrek 4D at Universal Florida. All depends on that mountain I referenced earlier.


2020 – World of Nintendo (Not Announced Yet)

Universal Orlando will currently be the last park to get the new Nintendo additions as we say goodbye to the Kid Zone area of the park. Easily the most underutilized section of Universal Orlando, the Animal Actors show, Barney and Fievel play areas will see their final days in the next year.


The good news is, this frees up a lot of land for several new attractions, character meet and greets and of course, unique food and beverage and merch opportunities. I promise you, Nintendo will bring another level of immersion that the world has never seen before. It will trump Harry Potter and yes, even Star Wars. Hopefully we will be able to talk about that more in the future, but for now, what do you think Universal theme parks future expansion plans? Let me know in the comments section below.

Universal Orlando

Keep in mind, these plans could change as time moves forward, but as of right now, this is where Universal stands. Projects unannounced should be treated as rumors until Universal releases information to the contrary.

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Images Copyright: Universal Orlando, Nintendo

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One Comment

  1. fan51
    Posted February 26, 2016 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    To be a competitor to Disney, they need to find the logical alternative to Disney’s Princesses, Pirates, and Mickey Mouse. Kids of all ages and “under 12” should be the focus. Nintendo and Pets may not necessarily be the answer, but are are one possible answer.

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