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Disney World's Top Rival Will Fight Back in 2023

By Rick Munarriz - Oct 26, 2019 at 5:30PM

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Comcast's Epic Universe resort finally gets a launch date, but it's going to be a long four years between now and then.

When it comes to the theme-park hotbed of Central Florida, this is Disney's (DIS -0.11%) time to shine. Disney World is adding several new rides and attractions ahead of the resort's 50th anniversary in the fall of 2021. Rival Comcast (CMCSA -1.66%), meanwhile, has been largely firing blanks at Universal Orlando. People have widely panned two of its last three major additions, and the third, a fan-fave Harry Potter-themed family-friendly coaster, has been marred by unacceptable downtime in its first four and a half months of operation. 

The tables could turn in a few years, when Universal Orlando opens Epic Universe, a new theme-park resort a few miles away from Universal Orlando. Comcast has been tight-lipped about what will be going into the new resort, aside from the nondescript concept art it unveiled over the summer, but this week we finally got an opening date. Comcast revealed during Thursday morning's earnings call that the new gated attraction will open in 2023. 

The iconic Universal spinning globe found at its theme parks.

Image source: Comcast.

Four more years

A lot can happen in the next four years. Universal Orlando has had a bit of a dry spell since the 2014 expansion of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, but it should have a few hits at its existing parks under its belt before then. The Jason Bourne-themed high-tech stunt show that opens early next year isn't generating a lot of buzz, but it will probably be a different story when the Jurassic Park-themed roller coaster that hasn't been officially announced but is clearly under construction makes its debut in 2020 or 2021. 

Epic Universe could give Disney a run for its money, just as Universal Orlando started to close the attendance gap with its larger rival with the introduction and subsequent expansion of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Epic Universe will sit on land that's roughly on par with the entire existing Universal Orlando resort, opening the door for several hotels, an entertainment and shopping district, and another theme park or two. 

There are still some logistical hurdles for Comcast to clear between now and 2023, the biggest challenge being how to get guests from one resort to the other. Unlike Disney that owns all of the land that separates its gated attractions, Universal Orlando will need to find a way to whisk guests from one land to another across miles of congested streets and third-party businesses. Simply busing visitors from one resort to the other is the obvious but unsavory solution. 

It's also quite possible that preparation for Epic Universe will scale back the possibilities to improve the existing resort. It's been three years since Comcast revealed that Super Nintendo World would be coming to its Universal Studios parks in Japan, California, and Florida. The expansion originally slated for one of the two original parks is obviously going to head to Epic Universe in 2023, a whopping seven years after the late 2016 announcement

Comcast won't mind the possibly lean years between now and 2023, especially with fears of a recession looming along the way. That's just as well, with Disney investing heavily in preparation of its golden jubilee in late 2021. It won't be until Oct. 1, 2022, that Disney finally exhales when its iconic resort turns 51, and that makes 2023 an ideal time for Universal Orlando to strike -- as long as Disney World doesn't have a new park of its own to announce before then to keep hogging the industry spotlight. 

Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Comcast and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $60 calls on Walt Disney and short January 2020 $130 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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