Disney World will begin construction on a fifth theme park at the Walt Disney World Resort in an effort to remain competitive in Central Florida, per an industry expert.
The Central Florida Theme Park Wars
The Central Florida theme park war continues as it has since 1990 when NBCUniversal built its first theme park location in Florida to compete with the Walt Disney World Resort. At the time of Universal’s theme park debut in the Sunshine State, Disney World was already home to three unique theme parks: Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios, then known as Disney-MGM Studios.
In May 1999, when Universal first welcomed guests to its second theme park location in Orlando called Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Disney had already added a fourth theme park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, outnumbering Universal’s theme parks two to one.
Since 1999, no new theme parks have been added to either of the mega theme park resorts in Orlando. Rather, both Disney and Universal have instead chosen to fortify their existing parks with new themed lands, including a massive expansion of Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom in 2012, the creation of Avatar: The World of Pandora at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in 2017, and the additions of Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2018 and 2019, respectively, at Disney World.
Universal Orlando Resort beefed up its theme parks with the additions of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida and Hogsmeade at Universal Islands of Adventure.
Universal Makes a Huge Announcement
But in early 2023, Universal Studios made an “epic” announcement. Though the resort hadn’t added a new theme park in years, Universal appeared to be making up for lost time.
A brand-new theme park–the third gate at Universal Studios Orlando–was in the works, and it would open in 2025. Initially, the news was not earth-shattering. After all, it had been more than 20 years since Universal added a new theme park, and aside from Volcano Bay water park, the resort still only had two theme parks. It was time.
In late January 2024, Universal unveiled the names of the themed lands inside Epic Universe, Universal’s massive new theme park, and it became glaringly obvious that Universal has a good shot at becoming the victor of the Central Florida theme park wars.
In addition to an amazing new theme park, Universal has also announced two new resort hotels, and the most amazing thing about them is their nightly rates, deemed reasonable by most standards, especially when compared to the nightly rates of many of Walt Disney World Resort hotels.
Disney World Has to Do Something to Stay Competitive
Disney World will likely have to make a move now to keep up with Universal.
In fact, Dennis Speigel, CEO of International Theme Park Services, says that Universal’s newest addition will put things in Universal’s favor in Central Florida.
“This is going to tilt the axis of the theme-park world, I believe, in Orlando,” Spiegel said. “This park is going to perform at enormous numbers.” He estimates that between five and six million people will visit the park during its inaugural year alone.
In 2023, Disney took steps to further the possible development of a villains-themed land at Disney World, and during the Destination D23 event in late 2023, Disney unveiled artists’ renderings of a new themed area that will replace Dinoland, U.S.A. at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The new area will reportedly feature a “Tropical Americas” theme.
Disney Imagineer Bruce Vaughn also shared information about plans for another expansion at Magic Kingdom, calling it the “largest ever” expansion at the park that will include attractions, rides, restaurants, and other offerings.
In September 2023, Disney Experiences Chairman Josh D’Amaro said that the company has “a wealth of untapped stories to bring to life across our business,” which could easily mean a fifth theme park is in the works–one that could serve as the stage on which those stories could play out.
Additionally, Disney execs confirmed that there are more than 1,000 acres available on Disney World’s property that can be used for the future development of a new theme park or the expansion of an existing one at the resort.
A Fifth Disney World Park is Coming
Spiegel says he’s heard things about a fifth park at Disney World for years now, and he thinks that the announcement of Epic Universe will serve as a catalyst for Disney to finally make their move.
“You’re going to see a big announcement,” he said. “They’re going to add a fifth park.”
As of the time of this post, Disney Company execs have yet to make the official announcement, but preparations for park expansions, along with the company’s announcement of an infusion of $60 billion into its theme parks division over the next ten years, seems to line up with that.