Rumor SPOTLIGHT for February 14, 2014: Staying at Universal’s FIFTH on-site hotel

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Exponentially increasing construction? Eh – business as usual

Last month, word broke on Orlando United that a fifth hotel would start construction later this year; once all the work finishes up on the impending Cabana Bay Beach Resort – which has its soft opening in just a few weeks’ time – all the construction crews would essentially move over to the plot of land that sits in between Royal Pacific Resort and Cabana to break ground.

The fifth plot of land.
The fifth plot of land lays between Cabana Bay and Royal Pacific.

On the one hand, this is pretty much standard operating procedure for Universal these days – we’ve already heard stories of the construction companies currently heading into the home stretch on Diagon Alley being told to pivot overnight to Islands of Adventure, to work on either the Jurassic Park or King Kong expansion, after all. And when Universal’s parent company, Comcast, proudly proclaims that it’s going to be spending half a billion dollars each and every year for the foreseeable future on its American theme park locations, one can only expect such a string of back-to-back projects.

On the other hand, though, this is nothing short of a breathtaking development. Universal originally thought it would’ve had enough business on-hand to erect hotels on all five of its plots shortly after the 1999 expansion to the full Universal Orlando Resort, but it had to make do with just three (Royal Pacific Resort opened in 2002) until just this year, when the hand-over-fist business of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter finally accumulated enough capital and consumer demand. That the fabled fifth (and final?) hotel would open just 12 or 18 months after Cabana – which contains, in and of itself, nearly as many rooms as the first three properties combined – is the biggest indicator yet of Universal’s finally having “made it.”

But it does leave one incredibly fascinating question: just what, exactly, would this new hotel be?

 

The guessing game begins: Luxurious or ultra-budget?

All three of the original resorts – Portofino Bay, Hard Rock, and Royal Pacific – are what is called in theme park parlance deluxe resorts. The name comes directly from Disney, and so, too, do its constituent parts: bigger rooms, more robust theming, direct (and free) transportation to the parks. There’s also the little matter of Universal making unlimited Express Passes free to all deluxe resort guests, which is nearly enough to justify the hotels’ otherwise exorbitant room rates.

For Cabana Bay, of course, Universal is heading into the value and moderate resort territories, with smaller rooms, no direct access to the parks, and, most (in)famously, no complimentary Express Passes. This now covers three of Walt Disney World’s six(!) resort categories, which means that a fifth hotel could conceivably go in any of the remaining directions: deluxe villas (which are, essentially, “vacation club” timeshares), camping/RV/cabin grounds, or a traditional value resort (Cabana, with its larger family suites, would technically fit Disney’s “value plus” designation).

Disney's Art of Animation Resort, the sole "value plus" property.
Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, the sole “value plus” property.

It’s somewhat difficult (and utterly depressing, given the effect it’s had on Disney World) to imagine timeshares going into Universal Orlando, however, and there really isn’t enough land to warrant campgrounds. This would ordinarily leave a value resort as the sole remainder, but that’s not taking into consideration the fact that Universal could just as easily build a second moderate hotel – or a fourth deluxe, for that matter. Given just how many families will be flocking to Diagon Alley (and eating at CityWalk’s newer, family-friendlier venues), adding another moderate would make much sense, as well as putting – theoretically, at least – more money in Universal’s pockets.

Here’s the thing, though: the company has shown a keen interest in blurring the demarcation lines that Disney has so fastidiously erected over the past 40 years. Cabana still features an overall level of theming that is nearly impossible to find on the lower-tier Disney properties (with the possible exception of New Orleans – Riverside), along with a host of amenities that is definitely reserved for its deluxe resorts: a 10-lane bowling alley, lazy river, 100-foot waterslide, and a couple of other fun extras. Even if this mysterious fifth hotel were to be placed in either the moderate or value level, the sky would still truly be the limit.

 

The guessing game continues: Minions, monsters & wizards

While the pricing level is important to consider, it’s much more interesting, of course, to contemplate what the theming will be. Portofino Bay, Hard Rock, Royal Pacific, and Cabana Bay all hew to original – that is to say, non-intellectual-property-based – themes, with more of an emphasis on real-world destinations. Universal certainly could hit this well again, reaching for another luxurious European vacation spot or another exotic island paradise. If the company were truly interested in netting as big a swath of the park-going audience as possible, however, smart money would have to go on an altogether different subject – a Egyptian pyramid, say, or a medieval fortress.

Even here, though, it’s hard to go by past experience to make any sort of educated guess – Universal’s just proving to be so “disruptive” to the industry across the board, from multiple-park-single-ride experiences (the Hogwarts Express) to hotel accommodations. It’s just as likely, given the amount of capital it has to invest and the size of the financial prize it’s going after, that the company will go for an IP.

And this is where things get really interesting.

Imagine staying at Super Silly Fun Land, with a (small) number of amusement park rides in your backyard, or having your room be part of Dr. Frankenstein’s lab, or the lobby doubling as Jurassic Park’s Visitor Center. There are a number of in-house properties that contain the appropriate level of atmosphere, architectural detail, and envelope-pushing possibilities, and each would almost automatically guarantee the most popular hotel at all of Universal Orlando, regardless of its resort classification.

Super Silly Fun Land, as seen from your hotel room.
Super Silly Fun Land, as seen from your hotel room.

Even better – though certainly less likely, given the contractual stipulations that would be imposed – would be an outside license. A Transformers resort, replete with “transforming” courtyards, has a great deal of enticement, as does The Walking Dead (though having a permanent number of zombies patrolling the grounds may provide certain logistical difficulties, not to mention a questionable pool).

Though, of course, the undisputed winner here would be a certain boy wizard who already has a presence in both of the parks and who would provide a nearly infinite number of possible venues or locations to utilize. If Universal would go with Harry Potter one final(?) time, it would instantly have a slam-dunk in both the Imagineering and consumer demand arenas.

Gryffindor Common Room as seen on the Warner Bros Studio Tour.
The Gryffindor Common Room, as seen on the WB Studio Tour, could be in the lobby of the next hotel.

Unlikely? We’ll find out by the end of the year, when ground breaks.

 

NOTE FROM THE EDITOR

The propose of our weekly rumor column is to provide a window into what might be happening by collecting the latest speculation from sources across the internet (which we always link to). We take that speculation and condense it into one weekly post as a service to our readers, so you don’t have to spend hours tracking down all the stories yourself.

We rarely claim to be the source for our stories. In reality, anyone can do what we do: Google “Orlando theme park rumors” and see what the darker corners of the theme park community are chatting about. But we know you don’t have hours of free time to seek out this stuff — plus, Marc is really good at analyzing it — so we do the heavy lifting for you. Overall, this is a simple premise, and we’re happy to have been executing it every week for almost two years (this is our 99th rumor post).

View all of our Rumor Round-Ups

 

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CMfan
CMfan
February 14, 2014 1:59 pm

Just out of curiosity, why would a Harry Potter-themed hotel be unlikely, given, as you say, the undoubtedly huge popularity it would have? Simply too expensive to build? They could probably charge double what the other hotels charge and still fill the rooms.

OrlandoInformer
OrlandoInformer
February 14, 2014 2:13 pm
Reply to  CMfan

@CMfan I, personally, think it is unlikely, because it would just be too much Harry Potter – that’s a lot of real estate for Universal to be putting into one brand, even if it is as phenomenal as Harry Potter. However, I don’t think Marc was saying it’s unlikely. I believe Marc is leaving that up for the reader to decide… or discuss 🙂

CMfan
CMfan
February 14, 2014 2:45 pm

OrlandoInformer Thanks for the reply – that makes sense. Still, an HP-themed hotel sounds like a slam-dunk, business-wise, for Universal to me!

Cassy
Cassy
February 14, 2014 2:05 pm

Can you just imagine how much Universal would charge for a Harry Potter themed hotel?

TheBig2na
TheBig2na
February 14, 2014 2:31 pm

I think an HP hotel is not out of the realm of possibility.  if licensing were running out, changing the theming wouldn’t be too hard.  If you look at something like Pop Century or POrt Orleans, a coat of paint and changing out say the giant Juke Box would be easy enough.  it could be replaced with something else entirely.  A new paint scheme would change it.  Removing any HP related materials would be a good excuse to freshen up the drapes and carpets and paint.  TO be honest though.  I do like the idea of multiple “lands” within the… Read more »

RjFerraresi
RjFerraresi
February 15, 2014 2:31 pm
Reply to  TheBig2na

TheBig2na  I second that(multiple themes). Add to that Triassic Quarters, Skull Island Hut, Hitchcock’s Laboratory, Bart’s Treehouse, and other awesome themes like Woody Woodpecker. Even Hanna Barbara could be thrown in the mix.

Kristen DC
Kristen DC
February 14, 2014 4:58 pm

Can you imagine an HP HOTEL?!?!?!?!!? GAHHHH! I think I would combust with excitement!

ThomasGreco
ThomasGreco
February 15, 2014 3:30 am

How are guests at the Cabana Bay expected to get to the parks?

OrlandoInformer
OrlandoInformer
February 15, 2014 6:32 am
Reply to  ThomasGreco

ThomasGreco Shuttles will be provided, and Universal is also building a walkway from the hotel to CityWalk. But neither of these really feel like “direct” access, especially when compared to the water taxis that service the deluxe on-site hotels.

ThomasGreco
ThomasGreco
February 15, 2014 5:23 pm

OrlandoInformer ThomasGreco  Sure hope they are better than the Disney shuttle system. Plus with all those rooms they are going to need a ton of buses to transport that many people. I can see traffic on Universal Blvd. becoming a nightmare every day.

Chuck Plagmann
Chuck Plagmann
February 14, 2014 2:09 pm

That would be cool. I might even have to stay there, even if I am a local.

April Vanorder
April Vanorder
February 14, 2014 2:12 pm

I wonder if Comcast will start offering discounts for Universal….

Diana Weiss
Diana Weiss
February 14, 2014 2:13 pm

I am so there!

Tim Hunt
Tim Hunt
February 14, 2014 2:41 pm

But with the expansion of Potter land would a hotel be too much potter?

James Galliford
James Galliford
February 14, 2014 2:46 pm

love all thats being put into Universal Orlando by Comcast…beyond exciting stuff. there was also a rumor of that space between cabana bay and RP was going to be a new water park and wet n wild was going to get demolished for the 5th hotel land…so much to fantasize about lol but just what we see coming already is exciting enough its AWESOME

Laura Phoenixx
Laura Phoenixx
February 14, 2014 2:46 pm

if there were a harry potter themed hotel even I would stay there and i’m close by! lol

Todd Losey
Todd Losey
February 14, 2014 3:16 pm

Let’s just start calling “Universal Harry Potter theme parks” and get over it! Don’t get me wrong I like Harry potter but it is getting out of hand!

Nick Silva
Nick Silva
February 14, 2014 8:40 pm

Damn 1/2 Billion with a B. A yr.
Love my Company

Becky Lindberg
Becky Lindberg
February 15, 2014 3:26 am

I would literally die, heart attack…omg! Amy

Amy Ehrlich
Amy Ehrlich
February 15, 2014 3:27 am

I would def shell out the money to stay there! Becky

JayMac
JayMac
February 15, 2014 12:44 pm

I think a HP themed hotel would be overkill, they could have themed rooms ….. that would without question be a money spinner..

Angie Galley Schluter
Angie Galley Schluter
February 15, 2014 11:52 am

That would be cool

Ryan Stamberger
Ryan Stamberger
February 15, 2014 7:59 pm

If they do a 5th hotel they should do a 3rd theme park

FLThemeParkGuy
FLThemeParkGuy
February 16, 2014 12:13 pm

I love the idea, but I just don’t think it would ever work. JK is too strict with her amazing IP and material. Having 2 Hogwarts castles at Universal Orlando, A. its Harry Potter overkill. B. its a licensing nightmare. JK rowling’s material would be compromised as a result and she would never allow this. Allow me to begin: Why are there 2 Hogwarts castles on Universal property? Why is one of them a school for witches while the other is a hotel for muggles?  Would they be banned from serving ‘muggle’ drinks like they are in the park? Would… Read more »

FLThemeParkGuy
FLThemeParkGuy
February 16, 2014 12:15 pm
Reply to  FLThemeParkGuy

Also, congrats Marc on 99 posts!!!! Rumour round-up is my favorite part of Orlando Informer. Keep up the great work!!! I look forward to your post every week, its such a treat to see a new RR! Here’s to the next 99!

Michelle Briggs Hogue
Michelle Briggs Hogue
February 16, 2014 8:24 pm

I don’t think it should just be Harry Potter, now I love Harry, but I think they should do something along the lines that Disney did with their value resorts, have different theming, no reason why you can’t have a Harry floor, then maybe a Dr. Suess floor, a Marvel floor and so forth… jmo

Claire Harris
Claire Harris
February 17, 2014 1:27 pm

I’d love to see Harry Potter themed rooms but not a whole hotel – I think they should do a mix of themes within the same hotel then guests could choose which area they prefer. See I’d love a simpsons theme too, and I bet there are families who would love transformers or spiderman etc.

DebfromMA
DebfromMA
February 26, 2014 7:54 am

I am excited about the new value resort. I have stayed at all three onsite resorts and will be staying at the Cabana and the Hard Rock in April. But I must say I am concerned with the rumored 5th hotel. I was once a huge fan of Disney. The last time I went there was my last trip for a long time. The number of resort rooms has multiplied leaving the parks and rides beyond congested. I spoke to a woman from New York on the Disney bus heading to the parks. She had 2 small children and was… Read more »

About Marc N. Kleinhenz

Marc N. Kleinhenz’s first dream in life was to be an astronaut. His second was an Imagineer. While neither completely worked out, he's now the editor of Orlando Informer, along with being its podcast co-host. He’s also written for 32 other sites (including Screen Rant, IGN, The Escapist, and California Informer [OI's sister site]), has had his fiction featured in several publications, and has even taught English in Japan. Imagineering school won’t be too far behind.