October 4, 2023

The CEO of Universal Destinations & Experiences said hopes are high that the new Epic Universe theme park in Orlando set to open next year will extend visitor stays from three or four days to a full week as a new destination for families with kids age eight and above – Universal’s target demo.

That would be huge. Epic “will take us to next level,” he told investors at a BoFA media conference today. Epic will be the company’s third park in Orlando. Four themed lands surrounding a central hub, it is rising with the most advanced technology of any Universal park, he said, including next-generation robotics, drone technology and a facial recognition system to ensure guests a “frictionless” experience.

With Epic likely to drive visitors, and boost the park’s market share, Comcast-owned NBCU is adding thousands of hotel rooms. The Orlando airport is building a new terminal, which will add capacity, and train service from Miami is taking hold, said Woodbury, who doesn’t appear often at investor events. The Epic property will be about three miles from the existing parks on the “north campus,” or a 25-minute ride on a road the company’s rebuilt to include a median for a dedicated Universal fleet of electric buses.

Universal Orlando Resorts — Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Universal’s Volcano Bay and Universal CityWalk — unveiled Epic in 2019 with construction delayed during Covid. It will include among other attractions a version of the Super Nintendo World land in California and Japan (confirmed) and a How To Train Your Dragon Land (rumored). Construction at the site is carefully monitored by theme park enthusiasts.

Theme park in general, flattened by Covid, experienced an unprecedented resurgence in 2022 before softening a bit this year as consumers had more options like cruises and international travel. Overseas visitors, usually about a third of the total, haven’t recovered to pre-pandemic levels. Woodbury said the UK and Brazil lead international attendance.

Meanwhile, work is moving ahead on new regional theme parks for younger kids, the first one set to open in Frisco. Texas in 2026. “One of the things that became clear is that we had an opportunity to segment our audience. We drive our big destination around families with kids eight and above.” That “distinguishes us from the competition [Disney] but leave us with a great portfolio of children’s properties. So we saw the opportunity to speak to kids eight and below” in regional markets and “at a price point that is more repeatable.”

He called these parks “a great stepping up point. [Kids] will be introduced to the Universal brand until they are ready for the big park.”

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