This week’s SATURDAY SIX takes a look at current construction projects at Walt Disney World and the Universal Orlando Resort! For the most part 2018 was a “place holder” year for the parks in Orlando as both Disney and Universal are gearing up for an all out theme park arms race that starts with a bang later this year with the opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Among other things, in the next couple years we’re going to be seeing several E-ticket roller coasters, 6 new hotels, a new nighttime spectacular at EPCOT, a gigantic celebration for Magic Kingdom’s 50th anniversary and (knock on wood) the announcement of Universal’s third theme park. Thankfully there are a lot of boots on the ground covering pretty much every minute detail of every single one of these projects. Blogging heroes such as @bioreconstruct, Alicia Stella, Seth Kubersky, and @Blog_Mickey are inside the parks – and flying above them – pretty much every single day keeping us all in the loop. So today let’s look at some of the more notable projects going on in Orlando, starting with..
# 6 – Today Show Cafe replacing Beverly Hills Boulangerie
In the classic TV show Pee Wee’s Playhouse, there was a running bit with the “secret word of the day.” When the secret word was said by anyone, everyone else would scream. Well, the secret word every day at Universal is SYNERGY. Since Day One, Universal has heavily depended on other companies to help grow their resort. This includes licensing movies from other studios to make attractions – such as Harry Potter from Warner Brothers or The Simpsons from Fox (now Disney) – and having outside parties run restaurants in CityWalk. The “new and improved” Universal has a new way of running the business. Several of the rides made recently (including Race Through New York starring Jimmy Fallon and Fast & Furious – Supercharged) are Universal/Comcast owned brands. In the recent overhaul of CityWalk, Universal now runs many of the restaurants including Toothsome Chocolate Emporium, Antijitos, and Vivo. In late 2018, Emeril’s Orlando closed in CityWalk to make room for the (rumored) Universal-run BigFire Grill.
With a huge NBC Sports Grill & Brew restaurant right outside Universal Studios Florida, it was only a matter of time before the similar type of corporate synergy took place at smaller places inside the parks. Turns out that time is now, because the popular Beverley Hills Boulangerie quick service closed for good on January 7th and is going to be transformed into the NBC Today Show Cafe.
The loss of the Boulangerie was a surprise to many, as its location being so close to the turnstiles into the park made it a convenient stop for people starting out their park day. Walls quickly went up around the restaurant, and work on its transformation to the Today Show Cafe is going just as brisk inside, as the venue is already gutted.
Several theme park insiders had speculated that the Boulangerie would be transformed into something that better fit the Universal/Comcast portfolio, but it wasn’t official until an intrepid theme park forum user found the permit.
# 5 – Preparations for a new ride coming to Jurassic Park
Speaking of new attractions based on an IP that Universal owns…
For a while now it seemed like Universal was on the verge of announcing something new for the Jurassic Park area of Islands of Adventure. Combined, the two recent Jurassic World movies made over 3 Billion dollars at the box office. Anyone who has been down the toy aisle of a major chain will see that Jurassic World toys are still flying off the shelves. While not officially announced, it appears that Universal is moving forward with a roller coaster for the Jurassic Park “island.” Construction walls have appeared all around the area, the midway games have been removed, and it appears several other locations will be moving shortly once Jurassic Park River Adventure opens up from its annual refurbishment.
Walls near the Jurassic Park Discovery Center. Guests no longer have access to the peaceful area by the lagoon at the edge of the Discovery Center.
The comedian John Pinette once said, “When I see a salad at a table I sit down. It means something good is coming soon.” For theme park fans, seeing a lot of walls in the park means something good is coming soon as well.
Guests can still go out the back of the Discovery Center, and see the awesome carved murals, but they can not go down to the lagoon area.
Not long ago the Jurassic Park Midway Games were shuttered.
Good midway games with great prizes is a theme park hill I will die on. However the Jurassic Park games rated – at best – a “B” on my scorecard and the prizes for the most part were ridiculous. They will not be missed.
When the day came to remove the midway games, a second wall was added.
Today the games are completely gone. The iconic Jurassic Park logo has been added onto the walls as well.
Orlando Park Stop is reporting that soon we will see the Jurassic Park hot dog stand and vacation planning booth moved. Both are seen in the picture below. Once they are gone, the walls behind them will be moved out even more. The Natural Selections food cart will remain.
# 4 – Wizarding World of Harry Potter coaster
It still seems unfathomable how little information Universal has doled out on the upcoming coaster coming to the Wizarding World – Hogsmeade Village. If it wasn’t for Pottermore releasing a poster of the attraction, we wouldn’t have anything. Work is still chugging along though. Since our last update we’ve seen the ride vehicles arrive onsite, and they certainly look like they will be based around Hagrid’s motorcycle and sidecar. More and more “forest” is being added to the attraction footprint while details are being added to the various show buildings.
Theming being applied to a gateway in the queue for the attraction.
Aerial shot showing the position of the arched gateway.
# 3 – EPCOT
Several things are going on as EPCOT transitions from being the most unique theme park ever made into a Magic Kingdom with a lot more alcohol. Let’s start off with…
Guardians of the Galaxy roller coaster. Still no official name for this attraction from Disney. The outside of the large show building is now pretty much completed. The sheer scale of this attraction is hard to comprehend, even seeing it in pictures. At a D23 panel last year, Disney’s Bob Chapek said that the building was so large that “the volume of four Spaceship Earths could fit inside it.” This will be one heck of a thrill ride.
Guests will go from the main show building we all remember from Ellen’s Energy Adventure and through this connector into the large show building.
Because of the runDisney marathon, guests involved in the race had the opportunity to see angles of the Guardians attraction we normally do not get to see. Here is a view of the connection between the two Guardians of the Galaxy show buildings. Scrims have been put up to help hide the construction.
Speaking of the runDisney marathoners, here are some of them going past the Guardians attraction on their way to the finish line.
The track for the Guardians coaster has been staged in a way that resembles the logo for Marvel’s Avengers. For some great shots on this coaster track staging taken at ground level, check out this article by Blog Mickey. Believe it or not, this area is actually closer to Animal Kingdom than EPCOT.
This photo – taken from Disney’s Contemporary Resort – shows the Guardians of the Galaxy attraction of the left with Spaceship Earth on the right (and a bunch of various hotels in the middle.)
The Space-themed Restaurant situated in between Mission: SPACE and Test Track is still chugging along. If you look in the center of the picture below, you’ll see a curved double wall section. That looks like where the projections of space will appear (as seen in the restaurant’s concept art.)
A closer look taken a couple days later reveals giant beams have gone up.
Ground shot of the area from inside the park showing the beams.
Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure in the France pavilion is using Disney’s Go Away Green as the color of choice for the large show building.
From inside the park, here is a shot of the construction at night.
A lot of hearts will be broken when IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth fires its last shell into the air later this year, but Disney is already working on elements that will be used by its replacement. There has been work going on at the islands in the lagoon, the lagoon itself, and a nearby staging area. From above you can see an excavator digging around on an island while pilings have been placed in the center of the lagoon.
Closer look at the pilings.
Closer look at the island.
Here’s a shot of the island taken from the ground inside World Showcase.
A look at the staging area near the American Adventure pavilion.
# 2 – Coronado Springs
Much like the Guardians of the Galaxy show building, it is impossible to understand how huge the Gran Destino tower is at Coronado Springs until you see it with your own eyes. I had lunch at the El Mercado del Coronado food court recently (formerly known as the Pepper Market) as I was legitmately shocked when pulling into the property. To quote Buddy the Elf, “its ginormous.” Personally I think it’s hideous and looks worse every time I see it. My family loves Coronado Springs, but this may be too big of a change.
THAT SAID, it’s not done yet. Even if I have a hard time adjusting to the outside of the building, I’m open to the chance that the inside is so good that I can overlook the things I don’t like. I think the lounge being constructed on the water is amazing and exactly what the resort needed. Gran Destino opens later this summer and we have a reservation booked. I will go into the experience with an open mind, like Michael Scott.
Anway, here is the front of Gran Destino, including the frame for a porte-cochère going up in front.
Ground level shot of Gran Desinto, with the porte-cochère on the right.
The rear side of Gran Destino.
Some of the theming elements are going into place.
Blue tile on the outside walls.
For scale, check out the workers at the very top center of Gran Destino tower.
Here is an aerial of Coronado Springs, with Gran Destino at the right, the Dig Site and its amazing pool on the left, and the new dining venue located over the water near the middle of the picture.
Three different bridges will connect guests from areas of Coronado Springs to the new lounge.
Here is a shot of the actual lounge.
Another view of the lounge.
I love this aerial shot, because it shows the relative distances from Coronado Springs (in the top right of the picture) to Disney’s Hollywood Studios in the foreground.
# 1 – Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge
You can’t spell EPIC without IP, and the king of IP coming to theme parks is Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – Bob Chapek, probably.
This is the big one. The one we’re all waiting for. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Getting access to the details in this 14 acre land has probably cost many Bothan lives (ask yourself, have you seen a Bothan lately?), but the details that are making their way out are – well – epic. The phrase “game changer” has been overused in the theme park industry, but there are many parts of Galaxy’s Edge that look like they will completely transform how guests experience a land inside a park.
Here’s an aerial of the entire land, with the area for the Star Wars hotel at the top left. Toy Story Land is at the top right of this photo.
The arrow in this picture is marking out a space that doesn’t exist in the Galaxy’s Edge they are getting out in Disneyland.
A shot of Black Spire Outpost, with the Millenium Falcon being built in the middle.
A closer look at the Millenium Falcon.
Even closer. Seeing this is literally a dream come true for 10-year-old me.
The Millenium Falcon attraction is going to draw long lines just because of the name and the fact that so many of us have always dreamed of stepping foot onto that ship. However, the ride which looks like it may just be the greatest theme park attraction ever built looks to be the other attraction in the land – Rise of the Resistance. Recently /SlashFilm put out an article which suggests the Rise of the Resistance experience will be almost almost a half hour long. It’s a great read, and /SlashFilm put together information from both Theme Park Stop podcast and Attractions magazine that will make you consider stopping everything you are doing and book the next flight to Disneyland and be part of the rumored 200,000 guests when Galaxy’s Edge has its grand opening.
Here is the area where guests exiting Rise of the Resistance will come out from. It will look like a ship just crashed.
Here is the concept art of the area from Walt Disney Presents.
Let’s check out some sections of Black Spire Outpost and compare them to the concept art seen in Walt Disney Presents gallery.
Black Spire Outpost.
View of Star Wars hotel area. Its rumored that this new hotel will be based around the Disney Cruise Line business model. Instead of “rooms” you’ll be booking “cabins” in a space ship. Instead of normal one night stays, everyone will need to book 2 or more night stays.
Honorable Mention – Disney Skyliner
Art of Animation of the left, Pop Century on the right.
EPCOT’s station seen during sunrise.
The main terminal for the Skyliner will be at Caribbean Beach, and can be seen in the photo below on the lower left.
Here’s a closer look at the Caribbean Beach Skyliner station. The arrow points to what looks to be a bus stop. Most likely this would be for an internal bus loop that would drop Caribbean Beach closer to their rooms.
Double Secret Honorable Mention – Universal’s replacement for Terminator 2: 3D
Let’s close it out with some aerial shots of an upcoming show that has been kept under tight wraps, even by Universal’s standards. In October of 2017, Terminator 2: 3D closed its doors “to make way for an all-new live action experience based on a high-energy Universal franchise. The large T2:3D gift shop remains open, and guests can hear a lot of work going on in the background. The strongest rumors indicate the new show will be based around the Jason Bourne franchise. This is something that literally no one asked for, but since Universal Studios Hollywood created one of the best theme park shows ever made based around the movie Waterworld (yes, that Waterworld) this has a chance be something cool.
Peeks inside the building reveal a sunken floor, which will allow for under stage effects. The new show in this building has some big shoes to fill. Terminator 2: 3D was a true gem of a stage show combining a lot of unique elements in a wonderful way. It’s going to take some real creativity to top it, and that task is made even harder by not working with a true visionary like James Cameron and needing to live up to his standards. It’s a lot easier to say “well, that’s good enough” when someone like JK Rowling isn’t there to reply, “no it’s not.” Bringing us back full circle to Universal and synergy… while it’s great to see Universal taking more control of their projects, remember that them working with licensees on projects like Harry Potter, Terminator, and The Simpsons – and more importantly being held accountable by the license holders – brought out some high quality attractions that everyone loved. When they are not held accountable, we can get Fast & Furious – Supercharged. To quote the wise Ben Parker, “with great power, comes great responsibility.”
So there you have it: A look at current WDW and Universal construction projects! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles, or, for your listening pleasure, check out the E-Ticket Report podcast. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).
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Special Thanks to The Elite Brandon Glover, theme park blogging’s Rookie of the Year winner Alicia Stella, SAT SIX personal hero Blog Mickey, the bio-est of all reconstructs @bioreconstruct, Mr. ‘Ohana Tim Grassey, and Hermione Granger’s tutor Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. The SAT SIX is inspired each week by goofballs Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde and you Potterheads will enjoy Meg’s other blog work over at the Central Florida Slug Club.
FINAL PLUG! Did you know The 2019 Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando has a special edition of the SATURDAY SIX in it?That’s right, ANOTHER NEW ONE EXCLUSIVE TO THIS EDITION!Finally, someone came up with an actual reason to read a book. ORDER this baby now!