Rumor round-up for September 13, 2013: No more Cars Land, Universal adds one new ride per year, Harry Potter movie & Hogwarts Express opening date
Goodbye, Cars Land – hello, something else?
Theme Park Insider has something of a bombshell announcement this week: according to its inside sources at Walt Disney Imagineering, the long-proposed and oft-hoped-for Cars Land expansion at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is now dead.
What happened? A couple things, it turns out, but the biggest seems to be money. Disney had already scaled back the budget for the duplicate area, even going so far as to remove its flagship attraction, Radiator Springs Racers, from the lineup. And with Star Wars Land apparently eating up more and more resources, Disney simply decided to prioritize its construction efforts by slashing the whole project completely. (The irony? Disney wanted to bring Cars Land over in the first place due to the [comparative] lack of expenses – much like Universal and Transformers, everything was already designed and even built once, making its clone a cheap and fast project.)
Lest ye lose hope that Hollywood Studios, a park that is in desperate need of a major facelift, will lose half of its new proposed attractions, Theme Park Insider leaves us with this one tantalizing tidbit: “Just because Disney isn’t doing Cars Land, don’t assume that Star Wars Land will be the only expansion at DHS. Star Wars has taken over the number-one spot, but I’m hearing the plan still is to do two projects at the park. Eventually. No word, though, on what the second project might be.”
This revelation about Disney is disappointing enough, but it really looks like dark days are ahead for Walt Disney World when you consider this next bit of news…
Universal grows… and grows and grows, each and every single year
When the Wizarding World of Harry Potter made Islands of Adventure’s attendance skyrocket some 25% in 2011 (all the other central Florida parks only got somewhere around a 5% increase), Universal knew that it had something special on its hands. Together with brand-new owner Comcast, it decided to dump a great portion of that money back into its resort, specifically targeting Universal Studios Florida with a three-year expansion project: Despicable Me, the Superstar Parade, Transformers, Springfield, and, coming next summer, Diagon Alley.
Recently, we’ve started to get some indications that maybe the construction frenzy wouldn’t just end with Harry Potter in 2014; refurbishments (like with Terminator 2 3D) and replacements (Disaster!, Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone) are now likely to roll out starting in ’15 and going on into ’16 and, maybe even, ’17. That’s a lot more expansion than we initially thought, although, so far, it’s all been kept in the realm of rumor.
Until now, that is. Universal has now officially spoken out on the matter, and it turns out that it’s even bigger than that. Much, much bigger.
At an analysts’ conference on Wednesday, NBCUniversal President and Chief Executive Officer Steve Burke stated that the Parks and Resorts division is now looking to open at least one new attraction at Universal Orlando (and at Universal Studios Hollywood, too) every single year for the foreseeable future. That’s a capital investment of $500 million for this year alone, and, according to the Orlando Sentinel, that’s “an amount likely to become an annual baseline.” According to Burke, the resort is already seeing a return on this newly expanded commitment: USF’s attendance is up 20% “most weeks” since Transformer’s June 20 opening.
Of course, what would be a whole new slew of rides without a whole new slew of hotel rooms to go with them? Universal has previously said that it wants to more than double its number of hotel rooms to 10,000; this week, Burke upped the ante, saying that he expects to see 15,000 rooms(!) in the near future. “We’ve done a study that says we could have 10,000 to 15,000 hotel rooms and still have occupancy that makes those rooms profitable. And all of those people staying in those hotels would be more likely to go to our theme parks. So, I think, strategically, we need to get those hotel rooms open and build out the resort.”
At this rate, if Universal Orlando builds out any more, it’s going to occupy the entire city of Orlando.
Of Fantastic Beasts & opening dates
In our August 30 RRU, we discussed how the current Wet n’ Wild could be bulldozed and rebuilt next to Universal’s theme parks, providing the resort with its official third gate. I speculated, “don’t be too surprised if Harry Potter is trotted out once again to make an appearance at every one of UOR’s three parks.”
At the time, even I thought this was a bit of a stretch, because what Harry Potter material could you really use at a waterpark that wouldn’t feel totally artificial?
Well, perhaps as planned all along, Universal Creative is getting a whole new set of theming possibilities with yesterday’s announcement that J.K. Rowling will pen her first screenplay, and the story will bring us back to the world of Harry Potter. According to Collider.com, “Rowling is poised to make her screenwriting debut on Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which will be an original story and is planned as the first film in a new series. The pic will focus on the mysterious author of the textbook, Newt Scamander.” Rowling herself added, “Although it will be set in the worldwide community of witches and wizards where I was so happy for seventeen years, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is neither a prequel nor a sequel to the Harry Potter series, but an extension of the wizarding world.'”
Could this tale provide ample opportunity for waterpark theming? Time will tell.
Switching to land-based attractions, LeakyNew.com picked up an interesting tidbit from the aforementioned Steve Burke. While talking about Universal’s real Hogwarts Express, Mr. Bruke was quoted as saying, “The actual transition or the movement from one gate to another gate is part of the attraction which has never been done before and it’s a wonderful creative idea that opens next spring.” Next spring, you say? This isn’t breaking news for those of us who have been following the Diagon Alley developments for over a year. Nevertheless, it is the first admission from a Universal exec of an HP expansion opening date other than “2014.”
Do keep in mind we are still expecting Universal Orlando’s multi-park HP expansion to open in phases, and this stays in-line with the Bruke quote, since he describes Hogwarts Express opening in the spring but doesn’t state that the entire expansion project will open in the same time frame. (A grand opening date for the entire Diagon Alley project will likely fall mid-summer.)
Quick hits: More Jurassic Park, Club 33 & Disney’s food trucks
Our rumor-hound friend @HateToFly is at it again, giving us a majestic picture of a survey flag in the empty dirt lot behind Thunder Falls Terrace and next to Jurassic Park: River Adventure. Since survey markers are foreplay to the orgasm of actual construction, it’s looking good that our previous report was spot-on.
Of course, it was also revealed this past week that the fourth JP movie is now called Jurassic World and will release on June 12, 2015 (for now). It looks like we’ll be getting twice the bang for our dino-buck that summer.
Familiar with Club 33? Don’t be ashamed if you aren’t. It’s a “secret,” members-only club, started in 1967 by Walt himself and located in New Orleans Square at Disneyland. And if Stitch Kingdom is correct, it looks like it might be finally getting a secondary location, somewhere in Walt Disney World. It’s far from a foregone conclusion, but if you want to get on the exclusive member list just in case, be prepared to wait 14 years and drop at least $10,000 in membership fees.
And all the way on the opposite end of the food spectrum, it looks like Disney will be bringing in some food trucks to the Downtown Disney area starting this fall. According to the Disney Parks Blog, there will be four trucks, “each themed to portray the essence of a different Disney park”:
- Enchanted Fare – classic dishes from each of the Disneylands around the world
- The World Showcase of Flavors – highlights from Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival
- Superstar Catering – a wide variety of meatballs from Hollywood Studios
- Namaste Café – spicy items from Animal Kingdom
Is this in direct response to Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck at Universal Studios Florida? Possibly – and if so it won’t be the last time we see Disney trying to counter Universal’s growing presence, particularly in the themed food space.
DISCLAIMER FROM THE EDITOR
It is tough to imagine that we need to put a disclaimer at the bottom of a blog post called Rumor Round-Up, but the growing popularity of our articles seems to have raised concern in some camps that our rumor reporting is not a 100% accurate forecast of things to come. So here goes nothing: Please remember when viewing this post that a rumor is a piece of unverified information of uncertain origin; a statement whose veracity is not quickly or ever confirmed.
Thanks to Marc for researching the latest rumor buzz from sources across the Internet and condensing it down into a single post for us each and every week!
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