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The Rumor Queue: A look at the top theme park rumors for 2015

by Matt Roseboom

Sunset over Universal Orlando

By Fowl Owlerson

Disclaimer: The thoughts expressed here are not purported as fact and should be viewed as rumor until officially confirmed or denied by the companies mentioned.

Hello, fellow theme park fans! Happy new year! Join me, your fine-feathered friend, as we delve into the noteworthy rumors of potential projects for 2015 and beyond.

Universal’s 25th Anniversary Museum, Kid Zone Overhaul and E.T. Refurbishment

A construction permit filed in late 2014 affirmed work will soon commence on the Garden of Allah Villas, which is within close proximity to Universal’s Central Park and Kid Zone.

Hearsay around the park suggests a museum celebrating the park’s 25th anniversary as well as the production company’s extensive history will be erected in the space. We’ve heard a new entrance for E.T. Adventure will be coupled with the rumored exhibit. Following this new entrance, we expect the ride will undergo an extensive refurbishment and serve as a way for guests to enjoy the studio’s legacy along with the museum.

Unofficial sources have related that Kid Zone will be flattened, sans for E.T. and Animal Actors on Location. The replacement attractions have yet to be decided upon, but we’ve heard the Spongebob StorePants addition has been a major success for Universal.

With a new film in the works and two new seasons of the series in production, SpongeBob is still a viable property for Universal. We’ve heard talk of the construction of a water area themed to Bikini Bottom, a Krusty Krab restaurant and a brand new attraction starring SpongeBob, Patrick, Squidward and probably Gary too.

Orange Harvest: Star Wars Land

We’re just as surprised as you we haven’t seen an official announcement, given the time that’s passed since Disney acquired Lucas Films, as well as how far back we reported on these rumors. So what happened?

Disney CEO Bob Iger affirmed in an event held by Variety that the company is waiting for the new trilogy of films before implementing the property into its parks. What was once crystallizing into an expansion based on the “original” trilogy is now a project in the “blue sky” phase with the “new” trilogy as its muse. How this expansion will come to fruition is anyone’s guess. Will Disney delineate the experiences by timeline, such as original trilogy vs. prequel trilogy vs. new trilogy, or geographic region, à la The Wizarding World of Harry Potter?

Universal’s aggressive expansion makes Disney’s output as of late look myopic as the lone barn owl in the family tree (us horned owls have high standards). Despite the closure of Hollywood Studios’s backlot and the shuttering of Maelstrom at Epcot, we still seem far off from any announcement regarding Star Wars.
Fast & Furious L.A. Drift

Several theme park websites have reported that Twister … Ride it Out is going to be no more soon. Rumors from the attraction’s team members have revealed a tentative closure date of early 2015. Its replacement is a fickle thing given the constraints imposed by the coaster track of Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. We’ve heard Universal Creative is considering an improv comedy show in the spirit of The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

Fast & Furious will be opening at Universal Hollywood in 2015, and the synergy between the two parks seen so far would make the attraction a likely addition to Universal Studios Florida. But if the concept can’t fit in Twister’s venue due to Rocket, where else could it go?

Disaster and BeetleJuice are rumored as the future site of a new Los Angeles backdrop, restaurant, gift shop and a version of Hollywood’s Fast & Furious attraction. Should a BeetleJuice sequel happen with Keaton and Burton returning, rumors suggest Universal will retool the show and put it in Fear Factor’s venue for the time being.

Turner Classic Movies Partners with The Great Movie Ride

We learned of this rumor on the eve of its unveiling: Turner Classic Movies will be partnering with Disney Imagineering to revitalize The Great Movie Ride. The controversial removal of the Sorcerer’s Hat was just the first part of the ride’s renovation.

This new partnership will place TCM’s branding all over the attraction, as well as a slew of enhancements for the queue. We’ve heard an additional scene will be added, as well as some enhancements to the ride’s finale.

These changes are expected to happen at some point after the Sorcerer’s Hat’s departure in early January.

Star Trek Into Universal and Kaiju to Invade Universal?

We have heard Universal’s contract with DreamWorks Animation was extended to maintain Shrek 4D. For a time, rumors were circulating that How to Train Your Dragon was being considered as a replacement. Now, we’ve heard Star Trek is at the top of Universal’s list as a potential successor for Shrek’s venue.

In this rumored concept, guests would take the role of Starfleet Academy cadets and join the USS Enterprise on an expedition. Paramount is presently retooling the script for a third movie and hired Justin Lin (Fast & Furious) to helm the picture.

Alternatives are rumored to currently be in contention. Universal Pictures will be distributing Pacific Rim 2. We’ve heard rumors that Universal Creative has had early discussions with Legendary Pictures about the possibility of building an attraction set in the franchise’s universe. Should the property’s spinoff series, as well as sequel fare well, we could see it being a future staple in Universal’s parks.

Epcot’s Reinvention: Frozen, Studio Ghibli and more!

In an effort to revivify Epcot for a younger audience, Disney tasked veteran Imagineer Tom Fitzgerald as the new lead creative director in early 2014. The first phase of Fitzgerald’s new direction: a brand new Frozen attraction for the Norway pavilion in 2015. What’s next?

Innoventions is rumored to be getting an overhaul with Big Hero 6’s colorful roster of characters. It’s a perfect match, given the heartening message of the film and its success both critically and financially. We’ve heard a rumor that the France pavilion may get an attraction based on Ratatouille. Disney Imagineering is also rumored to be mulling over creating an attraction based on the works of Studio Ghibli for the Japan pavilion.

Halloween Horror Nights 24: Return of The Walking Dead

The rumors about Halloween Horror Nights 25 excite us: a maze that takes guests through Alfred Hitchcock’s assortment of brilliant works (“Psycho” wasn’t his only masterpiece); a maze and/or scare zone based on third “Purge” film, which is in production and said to be a prequel; the implementation of special interactive elements in mazes for guests with chipped badges or an application on an electronic device; a maze based on “American Horror Story”; a maze based on the Dark Christmas scare zone at Horror Nights Hollywood 2014; and the return of Jack the Clown, the event’s first proper icon since Lady Luck in 2011.

Art & Design is hard at work conceptualizing and prepping to pitch Halloween Horror Nights 25 for approval, as made evident by recent social media posts. Something tells me this will be a special year with familiar faces, newcomers, and a fusion of the two.

Universal’s New Water Park to Wash Wet ‘n Wild Away

A source revealed to us that Wet ‘n Wild will be closing within the next two years. A trademark filed by Universal revealed “Volcano Bay” as a potential name, although we’ve heard a rumor that this will be just one of several intricately themed lands inside “Universal WonderSea Island”. Another section of the park is rumored to have Universal’s more popular properties, such as Despicable Me.

Loews and Universal’s partnership is rumored to extend beyond Cabana Bay Resort with the company handling WonderSea. Speculation about where this new park will be located is abound on the Internet. Some have posited that Wet ’n Wild’s present location will be used, as Universal now owns the land. Others have suggested that Universal could use the vacant land it owns off of Turkey Lake Road.

Rumors from the resort’s employees suggest Comcast is scouting land within close proximity of Universal to expand the resort’s boundaries. Perhaps the land acquired could house the rumored new hotel, as well as “WonderSea”, although we remain skeptical.

Skull Island: The King is Back

In response to the positive feedback from Kong’s inclusion in Universal Hollywood Backlot Tram Tour, Kong is rumored to be returning to Universal Orlando Resort. Construction is speeding along for “Project 340” between Toon Lagoon and Thunder Falls of Jurassic Park in Islands of Adventure.

An extensive queue is rumored to take guests through the vestiges of an ancient temple. The rumored concept will load patrons onto a heavy duty tram-like vehicle with the accompaniment of a tour guide. As they always do, things will go awry and pit guests between Kong and the island’s menagerie of monsters. This will be accomplished with practical effects, ride vehicle movements and 3D domes, although we’ve heard the effects may be skewed toward the practical side more so than previously heard.

We’ve heard murmurings of a post-ride element to “surprise” guests, as well as an intricately themed restaurant and shop. Previous rumors said a 2016 release was likely, but we’ve heard Universal Creative is pushing hard for a 2015 grand opening.

We covered this in a lengthy digital column that made it in the top 10 Attraction Magazine stories of 2014 which you can read about here. I want thank each and every “Orlando Attractions Magazine” reader for making this happen, as “The Rumor Queue” wouldn’t be where it is without you.

2015 is shaping up to be an exciting year. I hope all of you join me as we sift through the latest rumors and hearsay floating about this big, vibrant industry. Adventure is out there!

Fowl Owlerson, or “Fowly” as he’s affectionately known, has been attending theme parks since he was a spry owlet. When he’s not filtering through the latest murmurings around the industry, he can be seen writing, reading, and snacking on the occasional mouse. Follow him on Twitter @fowlowlerson for the latest rumors or drop an anonymous letter to him at [email protected] if you feel so inclined.

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