Universal Studios Beijing is set to open next year with 7 highly-themed and immersive lands, but the development process for this park may have started out a bit more conventional.
Under construction now, and set for a mid-2021 grand opening, the Universal Beijing Resort will feature two hotels, a 24-venue CityWalk entertainment district, and their first major theme park: Universal Studios Beijing.
Originally, it was reportedly being designed similarly to the other Universal “studios” parks around the world.
It would feature soundstages, classic attractions like Revenge of the Mummy, and use loosely themed lands to hold the hodgepodge of rides and shows.
Early concept art for the park seemed to illustrate this when the resort was first announced back in 2014.
Like a “Where’s Waldo” game, you could pick out your favorite existing attraction facades like they were plucked out of the closest Universal Studios park near you and crammed together in this new one.
However, around this time, a tide was turning in the industry. With the opening of Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida in the summer of 2015, it was starting to seem like the genie was out of the bottle and there was no putting it back in.
The world was ready for immersive, single IP lands. Gone would be the mish-mash Fantasyland-style groupings of various properties.
It was clear almost immediately after the first Wizarding World that theme park lands based on a single property may become the future.
Cars Land in Disney California Adventure provided more data on the theory just a couple years later. Merchandise and food sales seemed to increase when they helped to reinforce a single theme.
Guests rated attractions higher when they felt more immersed outside of the ride as well as on it. It was becoming a proven theory.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter: Hogsmeade was of course one of the first approved lands for Universal Studios Beijing.
This seemed like a no-brainer. Another surefire selection would be a land based on the Jurassic Park film franchise.
Now, while one of the original pieces of concept art for the park showed the classic “Jurassic Park” land with a Discovery Center and River Adventure, it was decided pretty early on to give Jurassic the “Potter” treatment as well, and design a whole new land, one that looks like it was ripped straight out of “Jurassic World.”
There were still some rides and attractions that were clumped together in the original park plans, and that wasn’t aligning with what designers likely felt was becoming the new industry standard.
Revenge of the Mummy, Fast & Furious: Supercharged, Transformers: The Ride, Waterworld, and a couple others were still organized together in old-fashioned ways.
One idea was to flesh out the area around Revenge of the Mummy. Give the ride an ancient Egyptian temple facade, and design a land around a dig site surrounding the main attraction.
A kids’ Jeep ride similar to Treasure Hunters at Universal Studios Singapore would be added so families would have something to do together while the thrill seekers enjoyed the indoor coaster.
The land would be known as “Epic Adventures,” (because we all know how much Universal loves the world “Epic”).
Another concept would mash up Transformers and Fast & Furious, called “Heroes & Legends,” because, why not.
But, this still wasn’t feeling like true immersion, so it was ultimately decided to give Transformers its own land.
A popular franchise in the region, Transformers would be the perfect concept to get the immersive land treatment. To save time, a clone of the plans for Marvel Super Hero Island from Universal’s Islands of Adventure would be used.
The biggest notable difference, of course, would be Transformers: The Ride replacing the Spider-Man attraction.
Cloning the popular Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem ride and Minion Park land from Japan was an easy choice for this new park, given the massive success of the franchise around the world.
Although, while wanting to better differentiate this new park—and create more indoor attractions—they decided to create an inside version of Super Silly Fun Land to compliment their edition of Minion Mayhem.
This will feature a couple child-friendly flat rides. A new Minion themed show seems to have been added to help fill out this land as well.
A franchise that Universal was designing for their theme parks around the world when Beijing started development was Nintendo.
And, just like every other Universal resort, Beijing included the Mario Kart ride in their early plans.
They must’ve been informed pretty early on that Japanese video games are not very popular in this particular region, because Super Nintendo World was supposedly replaced almost as quickly as it was dropped into those early concepts.
In place of Nintendo, another family-friendly franchise was considered for the park: SpongeBob SquarePants.
Well, more than considered. By some accounts, an entire Bikini Bottom land was completely designed at one point.
It would feature a “Boating School” boat ride, the Krusty Krab restaurant, a play area, and two kiddie rides. Plus, the whole land would be set indoors, to better create an “underwater” atmosphere.
Cut to 2016, and Universal’s parent company acquires DreamWorks Animation.
In an effort to bring DreamWorks characters into all of the Universal parks, Bikini Bottom was suddenly redesigned as Kung Fu Panda: Land of Awesomeness.
Without the time to start from scratch, the design for the land, including its boat ride and flat rides, would remain pretty much the same. The theming would be changed to overlay the new property.
The park was starting to feel like something different now. Something that more resembled a new type of theme park.
But, there were still some stragglers to find a home for. As with all of the “studios” parks, one thing that never changed for Beijing was a land based on Hollywood.
Mel’s Diner, a show inside of the Pantages Theater, and a Main Street-esque entry road remained part of the concept since inception.
It was decided that Fast & Furious: Supercharged could exist here, with its original Los Angeles themed 360 scene.
A new version of Singapore’s Lights, Camera, Action! special effects show would also be located in the Hollywood land.
Although, it was becoming clear that Fast & Furious was not performing well in the States, so at the last minute it was cut, seemingly replaced with a multi-purpose theater.
The park was looking a bit too big for its britches and so the Epic Adventure land, along with Revenge of the Mummy was cut, leaving a large expansion space between Hogsmeade and Minions.
This could become home to Beijing’s version of Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure someday, or a new land if they so choose.
All of these decisions left poor Waterworld all by its lonesome. Not wanting to lose this highly acclaimed attraction, it was decided to just give Waterworld its own “land,” (and I use that term loosely).
And with that, the seven immersive themed lands of Universal Studios Beijing were born.
I’m sure all theme parks go through numerous changes and adjustments in their early developmental years.
What makes this story interesting to me, is how it feels like the park wanted to evolve to meet the needs of a changing industry, every step of the way.
While it started out as just another studios park, it ended up with a layout more closely resembling Islands of Adventure.
The decisions made during the design process of Universal Studios Beijing would help pave the way for an even more immersive theme park concept down the line: Universal’s Epic Universe.