With all eyes on Epic Universe, it’s easy to forget that Universal Studios Florida is currently working on several new projects of its own. The KidZone area is being reduced to rubble, yet Universal has not announced what is set to replace it. And the Villain-Con Minion Blast attraction is set to open this summer, along with a new Minions retheme for the front of the park.
Let’s dig into what we know and what we think we know about the KidZone replacement, as well as some interesting new details for the Minions attraction, in today’s news update. See the video version of this story below for additional visuals.
Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone at Universal Studios Florida officially closed on January 16, 2023, and work walls went up around the area that same day. E.T. Adventure, SpongeBob StorePants, and the Animal Actors show remain open, but the rest of the area is being replaced with something new.
Universal did not say what would be replacing the former KidZone-branded area, only saying they would soon begin work on “bringing new family entertainment” featuring “beloved animated characters.”
Shortly after the walls went up around the area, images from various DreamWorks properties appeared on them. While Universal still hasn’t confirmed it themselves, I think we can all agree that the new KidZone replacement will in fact be based on DreamWorks properties, as many had predicted.
Recent aerial photographs from Bioreconstruct on Twitter show just how quickly the company has been to remove the old structures.
As permits from December indicated, it appears that all of the former Fievel’s Playland is being completely demolished.
As we had reported previously, it appears, at least so far, that the kiddie coaster is remaining intact. It is rumored that it will be refurbished and rethemed, but will remain as part of the new DreamWorks area when it opens.
Demolition of the Curious George area is still ongoing, but permits did describe this area’s demolition as partial, so it is possible that some structural elements may remain. So far most of the town sections have been removed, including all themed elements, but the Ball Factory area remains.
Public documents filed with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection show a construction timeline that ends March 29, 2024. That lines up with rumors for the new KidZone replacement being ready by summer of next year. The same document shows a construction start date of January 16, 2023, which was the day work walls went up around the area, so the end date may be accurate as well.
As for what will be replacing this area, rumors from even before DreamWorks characters were added to the walls had the Fievel’s Playland section replaced with a new play area themed to Shrek’s swamp. This possible new Shrek-themed area might also include a new permanent location for the Shrek and Donkey meet and greet.
The former Woody’s Nuthouse Coaster is rumored to be rethemed to DreamWorks’ Trolls, creating a sort of “Trollercoaster,” if you will. And since there does not appear to be any demolition permits for the former Barney theater, which was used for a DreamWorks dance party in recent years, it is possible that that will remain intact and possibly be used for a Trolls dance party when the new area opens.
The back section of the land is rumored to be reserved for Kung Fu Panda. So far there are only rumors for some type of interactive character experience and perhaps a small quick service window location.
A new patent from Universal seems to back up the interactive character rumors, as it shows an animated Panda on a projected surface with diagrams on how a human performer can control the cartoon character backstage using a puppeteering rig.
The patent illustrations appear to take place at Mr. Ping’s Noodle Shop, from the Kung Fu Panda series of films.
The patent explains that perhaps customers could even order something, like a box of cookies, and they could be delivered via a chute from an employee backstage. One interesting section of the patent description even talks about using the chute to supply food, using a “bowl of noodles” as an example.
Whether this technology would only be used for an interactive meet and greet or could be instead used for a hybrid interactive experience that also acts as an actual quick service food location, is not known yet.
Other rumors suggest the interactive animation technology could be used for a kids’ training academy show led by Po himself. It could be set up similarly as interactive show like Turtle Talk with Crush at Disney Parks. With the animated technology used for a show, perhaps a separate experience could be found in the area featuring Mr. Ping, using the traditional puppet as seen previously at Universal Studios Hollywood.
Universal has not confirmed any of these rumored details or speculation, and haven’t even given us an opening timeframe for the KidZone replacement. It is rumored that this will be the resort’s new offering for 2024, bridging the time between the Minion Blast attraction opening this year and Epic Universe in 2025.
On the other side of the park, we’re in the home stretch for the attraction replacing Shrek 4-D. Illumination’s Villain-Con Minion Blast was officially announced to be opening this summer. The former Monsters Cafe is being transformed into the Minion Café as well, creating a sort of mini-land that Universal is calling Minion Land on Illumination Ave.
The former Shrek building has received a new coat of paint, purple awnings have been added over a section of the exterior queue, small signs for standby and Express have been installed, and Villain-Con banners within the covered queue area.
Banners have been installed on the front entrance arch for the attraction. These banners are welcoming us to Villain-Con at Universal Studios Florida featuring The Vicious 6.
Unlike the promotional poster for the attraction, which appeared to include villain characters from the Despicable Me films, which take place decades after the setting for this attraction, these final banners only include the actual villains seen in Minions: The Rise of Gru. Although, you may notice there are only 5 members of the Vicious 6 pictured. That is because we are here to audition to become the 6th member ourselves.
To see if we have what it takes to become the newest member, we will be picking up an interactive blaster for this attraction and will step onto a continuously moving pathway. We will earn points, according to the official press release, “by blasting a variety of items and causing as much mayhem and destruction as possible.”
The image in the tweet below may be what these handheld blasters could look like. The graphic, which was discovered within the mobile app’s image assets, shows what appears to be the ability to connect the blaster to your smartphone. This fits within rumors that we will be able to track our scores from the attraction and even view leaderboards.
This image has shown up in the internal files of the latest USH app update. Looks like an icon for the app functionality of the Villain-Con attraction. USH and USF likely use a shared database, which is how it got there.
Credit: death_cares pic.twitter.com/kbGKfHEyqi
— Cygnus (@CygnusParkYT) February 10, 2023
The blaster seems to have the words “E-LIMINATOR X” written on it. It is worth pointing out that this has not been confirmed by the company to be the actual blasters for this ride, and the only information for it we have is that the file is named “onboarding_wearables_usf.png.”
In addition to the moving belt pathway for the main part of the attraction, as well as some indoor queue with blaster pickup and an exit gift shop, a large portion of the building is still being set aside for Halloween Horror Nights haunted houses. They may not have time to utilize this multi-purpose space this year as work around the area is still ongoing, but they should be able to reclaim this former Shrek house location beginning next year.
Next door to the Minion Blast attraction, work is picking up steam for the Minion Cafe. The entry for this new dining location is being extended, but is still expected to be on the same side of the building as the entrance to the former Monsters Cafe.
Steel framing is also being added along the side of the building. It is rumored that this area will be themed as a city street featuring multiple colorful false facades. They may be similar to some of the facades seen at Minion Park in Universal Studios Japan.
On the side closest to the exit gift shop for Minion Blast, it is rumored that we will be getting the “Bake My Day” sweet shop, as first seen in Despicable Me 2, and exactly as it appears in Minion Land at Universal Studios Beijing.
This small shop features packaged treats, as well as a prepared dessert case in Beijing. It would be replacing the former face painting and Donkey meet and greet area on this side of the building.
Now, if that rumor is true, that would mean there would be THREE Minions-related gift shops all on that one path intersection of Universal Studios Florida: The “Super Silly Stuff” exit gift shop for the existing Minion Mayhem ride, the new Villain-Con themed exit gift shop for the upcoming Minion Blast, and the possible “Bake My Day” sweets shop on the back corner of Minion Cafe.
Team Members for the commissioning of Minion Blast are being hired now, so we could see this attraction open as soon as May—but more likely June—assuming they do not run into any serious issues.
Construction on the Minion Cafe seems to be lagging behind, so it is possible that the attraction could open first, even as previews and soft opens, with the Cafe coming online later.
That’s all for now, but be sure to check out the video version of this story for additional visuals. A big thank you to Bioreconstruct on Twitter for providing us with a bird’s eye view of these projects.
Be sure to subscribe to the news feed to never miss an update, as we will be sharing more details on these projects as we hear them, as well as more detailed information on Epic Universe in the coming weeks!
Subscribe to the news feed or enter your email address below to never miss an update. Illustrations: U.S. Patent and Trademark Office | Original Photos: Alicia Stella | Aerial Photos: Bioreconstruct | Other Images as Captioned