Is it keeping up with Disney, or just time for a change? Either way, Universal Orlando is adding new visitor-drawing attractions to the Florida park.
Universal has opened a wide range of new attractions in the last few years, including the debut of Fast and the Furious: Supercharged, Race Through New York, starring Jimmy Fallon, at Universal Studios Florida, and Skull Island: Reign of Kong at Islands of Adventure.
For 2019, park attendees can look forward to a restaurant inspired by of all things, Comcast NBC entertainment offices in New York with a theme based on the Today Show. The dining spot is made to look like Studio 1A in the Big Apple, where Today broadcasts. Guests can sit inside and watch a live Today broadcast, or seated outside, in an area that looks like the Today plaza in NYC.
The restaurant replaces an existing outpost of the Beverly Hills Boulangerie, a quick service dining experience across from the Universal Studios Store. This stop will have, by contrast, a destination appeal, encouraging larger stays by guests. It will open later in the spring.
A big new ride is taking shape as well – and a magical one it is. Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, to be exact. It replaces the now-closed Dragon Challenge roller coaster, with a goal of drawing guests into J.K. Rowling’s Wizarding World more deeply.
Positioned within the original Harry Potter universe, the new ride takes guests on Hagrid’s motorbike on a flight that brings them outside Hogwarts castle grounds on a roller coaster ride. Thematically, they’ll see, Universal says, “some of the Wizarding World’s rarest magical creatures.” The plot is still under wraps, but the coaster is said to be highly themed – in fact the most themed ever at a Universal park. It will open June 13th, and have a speed of 50 miles per hour at its fastest. In some sections, the ride vehicles will twist, turn, and move backwards. Among the creatures set to appear on the ride, guests will see centaurs, Cornish Pixies, and Fluffy the three-headed-dog. Guests will experience obstacles like the entangling Devil's Snare, as well. Universal is teasing the appearance of a new, never-before seen in films creature at the attraction, too.
While thrilling, the ride is more family friendly than the Dragon Challenge, with a height restriction that should make it accessible to younger riders. It will be set in the Forbidden Forest, and Universal will be creating an actual forest with over 1,200 live trees to surround the ride and make it feel all the more life-like.
Naturally, there will also be indoor sections of this ride, but much of the story will be set outdoors in the forested area allowing surprise visits by magical creatures hidden from view, and a variety of surprising animatronics and sets. It will not rely on screens, which will be unique in the other rides in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Developers view the ride as deeply immersive; and it will also feature many cast and crew members from the Harry Potter films. Work is moving swiftly on the ride, and though construction continues, it appears to be on track for its roll out date in mid-June. Part of the speed is to please summer visitors to the park of course, but it will also be a strong draw ahead of the August 2019 opening at Disney’s Hollywood Studios of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure isn’t the only new attraction set to replace a closed-ride. Terminator 2: 3D, the iconic live action attraction closed in 2017, and something new is about to fill the still empty, large-scale theater space. That will be another all-new live action experience, and is so far only described as being based on a “high energy Universal franchise.” It is scheduled to open in 2019, but so far, the only news of the much anticipated new experience comes from a news report on the filing of permits last year for a project titled Project 126. Social media posts also touch on mysterious activity within the theater, but no announcements have been made.
Universal Orlando Resort is definitely growing, and the focus on making Universal a multi-day destination continues to be strong. With these new attractions pending, and the addition of a new hotel last year, the Aventura, in August. The hotel has 600 rooms and overlooks all three of Universal’s parks, Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, and the relatively new themed waterpark, Volcano Bay. Volcano Bay, which opened in 2017, is centered around a 200-foot-tall volcano called Krakatau. There are four themed areas; and arguably its signature attraction is the unique Krakatau Aqua Coaster, a family slide that allows a four-rider canoe to go uphill. The ride utilizes linear induction motor technology to create the upward motion through magnetic pull.
The Aventura is another park hotel from Loews, which operates all the lodging choices at the resort. A stay includes a variety of theme park benefits, including early park admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and select attractions at Volcano Bay, one hour before the theme parks open, with theme park admission required. Also offered is complimentary transportation throughout the resort, as well as a pool, splash zone, fire pit, and a rooftop bar on site. The bar also offers theme park views. Universal’s CityWalk entertainment district, with its shops, restaurants, mini golf courses and movie complex are also just a short stroll away.
In short, Universal Orlando is giving the Disney parks a good run for the tourist dollars.