The Cabana Bay expansion will be just beyond the Americana and Continental Towers. // © 2015 Universal Orlando Resort
Feature image (above): Skull Island: Reign of Kong will open in Islands of Adventure in the summer of 2016. // © 2015 Universal Orlando Resort
With 18 new experiences, Universal Orlando Resort has seen unprecedented growth in the last five years, and it doesn’t look like the theme-park resort will be slowing down anytime soon. In fact, according to Tom Schroder, vice president of corporate communications for Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Parks & Resorts, “the potential is unlimited for this destination, so we’re far from done.”
Skull Island: Reign of Kong is the next Universal Orlando blockbuster attraction opening in summer 2016 in Islands of Adventure. While King Kong has been present throughout Universal’s history, the scale of the new attraction is unlike anything the parks have done before.
“We look at it as the next generation of the storytelling of King Kong,” said Mike West, executive producer for Universal Creative. “So we want to make sure that the entire experience, from the time guests go through the entrance until they get off the truck, is all about that story.”
In keeping with the goal of immersing guests in the story, “scare actors” will be incorporated into an attraction for the first time, making the experience on Skull Island even more interactive. In addition, a first-of-its-kind ride system features five drivers who will each tell the story from a different perspective, meaning guests can ride up to five times with a new experience.
In 2017, park guests will be able to ride along with characters from the incredibly popular “Fast & Furious” films on Fast & Furious Supercharged, a stand-alone ride with both 3-D and physical elements that put visitors right in the middle of the nonstop action.
According to West, the challenge when creating attractions based on popular films is not just retelling the story from the films, but creating entirely new experiences that can only be found in the parks.
New Hotel Rooms
The brand-new, full-service 1,000-room Loews Sapphire Falls Resort is projected to open in mid-July 2016. Inspired by the rivers and waterfalls of the Caribbean, Sapphire Falls’ key feature is water. While Universal’s hotels all have spectacular pools, Russ Dagon, vice president and executive project director for Universal Creative, promises that Sapphire Falls’ pool will be the biggest yet, with the water flowing into a waterfall to a lagoon from which guests can take boats to the theme parks.
“The on-site hotels were designed to be attractions themselves, because we want the vacation experience to begin the moment guests arrive at the hotel,” said Jennifer Hodges, director of public relations for Loews Hotels at Universal Orlando. “That type of immersive experience will continue with Sapphire Falls.”
In 2017, an expansion of Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Universal’s value-price property, will add two towers and a new Cabana Courtyard food venue.
“We were able to expand Cabana Bay so quickly because it really delivers in terms of theming and overall experience,” said Vince Laruffa, vice president of resort sales and marketing for Universal Orlando.
Between its three motel-style buildings and two seven-story towers, Cabana Bay currently has 900 family suites and 900 standard rooms, but the expansion will add 400 rooms and introduce a new suite category to the inventory.
The hotel represents a window of time between 1958 and 1962, so the expansion represents what would have happened next.
“We’ve always seen Cabana Bay as evolving from the Cabana Courtyard architecture to the towers surrounding the lazy river courtyard,” Dagon said. “Now, elliptical towers will be that next evolution.”
A New Theme Park
2017 will also bring a brand-new concept to Universal Orlando: Volcano Bay, a water theme park and all-day immersive experience. Of course, the most notable feature will be the central volcano, which, at just under 200 feet, will be the single largest fabricated structure in Florida, and the “thrill slides” that originate at the top of the volcano will be among the tallest in the world.
To make sure the entire family has a great experience, the park will be divided into villages, with some geared toward adventure and some toward relaxation. The 30-acre park’s location, just south of Cabana Bay, will put many on-property hotel guests within walking distance, and half of the new rooms at Cabana Bay will enjoy spectacular views of the park.
New for Travel Agents
“Not only has there been a tremendous expansion at Universal Orlando, but our relationship with the travel trade has evolved in a very significant way,” said Dennis Quinn, vice president of destination sales for Universal Orlando.
To further that evolution, Universal is developing an update to its travel agent website to make the experience of selling the destination that much easier, according to Quinn.
Additionally, Universal Orlando is offering an introductory special for agents who book clients at Sapphire Falls by Jan. 31, 2016, for stays from July 14 to Dec. 15, 2016. This offer includes standard room rates, which start at $120 per night for a seven-night stay and $144 per night for a four-night stay. Guests who take advantage of this offer will receive complimentary breakfast for two each morning of their stay.