One of the most exciting features about Universal Orlando Resort is its current state of unprecedented construction and expansion. Ever since 2012, parent company Comcast has been pumping some $500 million a year into the crown jewel of its global theme park empire, having new rides, restaurants, or hotels open up each year – with some years getting all three at once.
This may result in an ever-changing landscape for vacationers to lose themselves into, but it also has a drawback: for every one project that gets approved and eventually realized, there are several others that were on the drawing board at one point that subsequently got deep-sixed. Some of these concepts are genuinely engrossing, and they would’ve easily made some of the most intriguing themed attractions around. (If this is the case, why wouldn’t Universal have gone ahead and greenlit them? There is a whole host of factors that could’ve altered the company’s decision-making process, from the lack of merchandising opportunities to a disagreement with a property holder.)
Having been around the Orlando Informer block for a while now (five years this month!), and having covered rumors for the vast majority of that time, I’ve come to collect in the back of my nerdy mind a stack of these half-whispered rides that never quite managed to materialize. Call them Universal’s greatest hits that never were – I’d pay good money to experience these in one form or another, and I’m betting most of the Universal faithful feel the same exact way.
Here are the top five.
5. Mt. Crumpit
Seuss Landing has seen very few changes since it first opened to the public along with the rest of Islands of Adventure all the way back in 1999, but what few attractions were rumored to arrive at one point or another – especially now, in the post-Wizarding World of Harry Potter days, when the resort is awash with attendance and revenue growth – have all been noteworthy for their attempts at continuing to flesh out Dr. Seuss’s whimsical world.
The most promising of these was a Mount Crumpit coaster, which would’ve been themed to How the Grinch Stole Christmas, of course, and would’ve been located on hitherto-unused real estate, stretching down towards CityWalk. There seems to be some disagreement about whether the 1966 animated classic or the 2000 live-action Jim Carrey vehicle would’ve been the basis for the ride – if the latter, word had it that Universal Creative wanted to line up Carrey himself to provide his voice – but all accounts seemed to agree that it would’ve provided a slightly more older-skewing attraction for the definitely-younger Seuss Landing.
The real kicker here, however, was the idea that Universal was apparently toying with that would’ve had the coaster leave its station at Seuss Landing in Islands of Adventure and deposit riders off at another brand-new location at Universal Studios Florida, possibly where the Blue Man Group theater is currently situated. I have absolutely no idea how, exactly, this would’ve worked, but we can see how the company was already keen on repeating the success of the Hogwarts Express – an idea that has supposedly been recycled for the upcoming Super Nintendo World next decade.
4. Universal purchasing SeaWorld
This was, in hindsight, a development that was never going to happen, given just how profoundly SeaWorld continues to be hurt from the 2013 Blackfish controversy. (And, even if there were some truth to these rumors, one can only assume that Universal and Comcast are only too happy that the deal didn’t end up going through.)
Still, the possibilities of the hypothetical situation still send chills down my spine: at one point, some three or four years ago, it was whispered that Universal wanted to move in on its significantly-weakened rival, SeaWorld, and scoop up its three Orlando parks – SeaWorld, Aquatica, and Discovery Cove – to make up the elusive Site B that Universal has been attempting to cobble together since the mid-‘90s (and which it just might have finally done late in 2015). In this way, the company could have a direct, if more aquatic-skewing, answer to Disney’s Animal Kingdom without having to invest all the hundreds of millions of dollars in construction.
Considering that SeaWorld is currently in the process of setting itself up as the value option for Orlando tourists, and considering its multi-year plan of transforming itself from an orca-based performance park to a more Universal-like collection of thrill rides, a merger is not quite out of the picture just yet, though the company’s stock price is still down considerably. Who knows? Maybe if SeaWorld can somehow successfully finish its painful transition process, Universal could come sniffing around again (just imagine what Mako would be like with Comcast money behind it!).
3. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Land
It’s no secret that Universal has been going from attraction to attraction in its Florida parks to see what needs to be replaced with Potter-quality theming, and it’s also no secret that both Toon Lagon and, more especially, The Lost Continent are in the most desperate need of being overhauled.
Just what would replace one or both of the areas has been an open, ongoing question for Universal Creative; ideas have reportedly ranged from The Lord of the Rings to World of Warcraft. But none got me as boyishly excited as the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory rumor, simultaneously bringing my childhood dreams to life and conjuring visions of Wizarding World-esque exclusive culinary delights.
Once again, there’s some confusion as to what, exactly, this proposed land would have entailed – would it be the 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory starring Gene Wilder (yes, please!) or the 2005 Tim Burton-directed Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? – but let’s be honest: most of these considerations are moot. Wonka’s magical playground, no matter its exact contours, is one of those few golden (no pun intended) concepts that could result in an instantly-legendary theme park land – certainly one of the best in the entire world.
This is an even bigger no-brainer than either the Wizarding World or Nintendo, and that’s saying quite a bit.
(Our consolation prize that Wonka Land never came to glorious fruition? Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Savory Feast Kitchen, which approximates the chocolatey delights of a fantastical world, replete with steam-powered robot.)
2. The Ministry of Magic
When The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley opened in July 2014, rumors swirled that Universal deliberately positioned it next to Fear Factor Live in order to eventually allow the latter to become an expansion pad, an area that could be gobbled up and made part of the new Potter land. (The fact that Diagon Alley’s backstage area directly points to the Fear Factor stadium, allowing the two to potentially connect seamlessly, was only seen as further proof of this scenario.)
Alas, it is nearly three years later, and there’s been absolutely no movement on this front. Universal Studios Florida’s weakest stage show still stands, and its supposed replacement, the Ministry of Magic – which is also located in downtown London and which is the last major location from the Harry Potter mythos that can be realized in theme park form – is nowhere to be seen.
Just what would the Ministry bring to the attraction table is unknown, but one’s imagination positively swims with all the possibilities; new dark rides, eateries, and gift shops (which are the true flagship experience of the Wizarding Worlds) are all possible, and all can easily fit within Fear Factor’s footprint. My personal money is on some type of confrontation between Professor Dumbledore and Lord Voldemort, like from Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – I’ve actually written all about it right here – but I would be equally as happy with a quick jaunt through the Department of Mysteries.
We might not have gotten the Ministry of Magic add-on, but the wizarding rumors haven’t stopped churning. The most recent magical scuttlebutt has Dragon Challenge being torn down, probably sometime this year, and replaced with one or more brand-new attractions. While not a whole new area to explore, they would nonetheless offer fresh ways to interact with the Wizarding Worlds – count me in.
1. Hogwarts Hotel
What many Universal diehards would consider to be the ultimate themed experience possible has absolutely nothing to do with rides, merchandise, or overarching areas. It’s a hotel.
Being able to walk around, explore, and even sleep in Hogwarts Castle would be a dream come true for many millions of people across the globe. It would also prove to be a money-printing machine, likely raking in millions of dollars in revenue. Why it hasn’t happened, many believe, goes directly back to author Jo Rowling, who has defended her intellectual property like a hawk, although there may be other factors to consider (such as investing the large sums necessary to design, build, and then manage a hotel, which Universal likely wouldn’t want to do on the back of a licensing agreement that could theoretically change in a rapid fashion).
What would a Hogwarts hotel have consisted of? The only specific detail we heard revolved around the inclusion of actually-moving staircases, though this sounds like an idea from a blue-sky design phase and not actual blueprints or anything else that more closely resembles the nuts and bolt of the really real world. And then there are, of course, all the other hallmarks of the castle as it’s been depicted both on the page and on the screen, including many of the same locations that guests can quickly walk through in the queue for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
The only ray of hope here is that Rowling has slowly, carefully been loosening her death-grip on Potter, allowing small Christmas decorations to go up here in Orlando, for example, and permitting a Halloween celebration to be held at Universal Studios Japan. Maybe her trust in Universal Creative’s abilities will increase to the point where she finally does greenlight what would be one of the most lucrative hotels in the entirety of human history.