The latest on plans to open a Universal theme park in Bedford, England
Theme park giant Universal has revealed ‘very early’ plans for a potential park and resort experience in Bedford, England.
There are no Universal theme parks in Europe yet, so this would be huge news for UK families.
Universal Orlando Resort was the highlight of our trip to Florida, so here at the Family Holiday Guide, we are VERY excited at the idea of some of that magic being brought so much closer to home.
So here we look at everything that is known so far.
Where might Universal be opening a theme park in the UK?
Universal are looking at a former brickworks site in Bedfordshire, England.
The 480-acre (195 hectares) plot is in Stewartby, between Bedford and Milton Keynes.
It lies between London and Birmingham. It’s around 60 miles (97km) from London and 78 miles (126km) from Birmingham.
Why has Universal chosen this site?
Universal say they have chosen the site:
Due to its ‘transportation connectivity to London and Europe’.
Because ‘more than half of the UK population live within two hours’.
Its proximity to Luton Airport.
Has Universal actually bought land?
Yes, Universal’s parent company Comcast Corporation has purchased the parcel of land.
What stage are the plans at?
Universal says the plans are in the ‘very early stages’.
It is conducting a feasibility study and it could be months before they decide whether the potential project will proceed.
What has Universal said?
“We are always looking at new locations around the world, including in Europe, and the UK is an attractive place for a potential project.
“While we do own the land, we are only at the beginning of our feasibility study as part of our evaluation of potential sites.”
Where are Universal’s other parks?
Universal Destinations & Experiences has some of the world’s best and most innovative theme parks with advanced film and television-based attractions, hotels, resorts and live entertainment.
It has five entertainment and resort complexes:
Universal Orlando Resort
Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Studios Japan (Osaka)
Universal Beijing Resort
Universal Studios Singapore.
Is the project being supported locally?
The idea has been welcomed by Bedford Borough Council.
Its mayor Tom Wootton, said the theme park could be ‘transformative for the borough’.
Universal is keen to consult with the local community and has already created a website to inform people living in the area and has also written to residents.
The letter includes details of the thousands of jobs that its parks create and states that the company is committed to enhancing the natural beauty and protecting the ecology of the areas in which it operates.
It added: “While we have been encouraged by the positive nature of conversations we’ve had so far with various national and local stakeholders — including Bedford Borough Council and the Mayor of Bedford Borough — we plan to work closely with our local communities should we progress. “
What about the Government?
The plans have also been discussed by the Government and appear to have the backing of Bedford Labour MP Mohammad Yasin.
He said a park would bring ‘enormous prosperity and jobs’ to the area.
The MP spoke in the Commons to ask the government to support road improvements to help deliver the proposed theme park.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper and Chancellor Jeremy Hunt have also been briefed on the bid.
What do you think?
We will keep you updated with the plans. What do you think of the idea? Let us know in the comments.
Our 10-night Florida itinerary – Universal, Disney World, Legoland, a basketball match, five hotels, three waterparks and four days by the coast
A trip to Florida can be a once-in-a-lifetime holiday so if you are lucky enough to be going, you need to plan wisely.
There is SO MUCH to see and do that when you first sit down to organise this adventure for your family, it can seem overwhelming.
We’ve just taken our children to Florida – it was their first time in America and very special.
Our trip included Universal, Disney World, Legoland, a basketball match, five hotels (including one dream hotel – more of that later), three waterparks and four days by the coast staying on two of America’s best beaches.
I feel tired just writing all that! But it was manageable thanks to enthusiasm and some down time.
So here is our 10-day itinerary, we hope it inspires you.
Travel and settle in at our first hotel
Hotel 1 – Springfield Suites at Marriott Village Orlando.
This was a great location – a 20-minute taxi drive to Universal and a free shuttle to Disney World.
The amazing attraction that is Universal Resort Orlando is made up of the theme parks Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure plus the Volcano Bay water park.
This had the edge over Disney World for us especially as three of us are Harry Potter fans. It’s where the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is – Diagon Alley is at Universal Studios and Hogsmeade is at Islands of Adventure. You can even catch the Hogwarts Express between the two.
Highlight: Our son being chosen by ‘Olivander’ to select a wand for him in the mini-show at Olivander’s Wand Shop.
Disney World is one of the reasons that Florida is so popular. There are four parks – Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios plus water parks.
We did a long day here to maximise the value of the expensive tickets. We started at 8am and left Epcot at 8pm. Yes, it was tiring but we saw a lot in one day.
We bought a Park Hopper ticket and started at the iconic Magic Kingdom, leaving after the parade in the afternoon and heading for Epcot. This was a great decision as the Frozen Ever After boat ride there is amazing.
Legoland Florida Resort
Now with a hire car, we drove 45 minutes to Legoland.
Fantastic for younger ones and without the queues of Universal and Disney World (at least not when we went), this was a slower-paced couple of days in the park and at its water park.
We stayed on site at its Pirate Island Hotel and our favourite part was the Ninjago ride, which we went on four times.
Our room opened out on to the beach and we enjoyed water slides and zip wires and an evening’s magic show.
We headed into St Petersburg to enjoy its pier, markets, museums and laid-back harbour vibe and our final lunch overlooking the water before a last beautiful Florida sunset. For more ideas on what to do in Clearwater and St Pete, read our guide to the best attractions for families.
After pancakes for breakfast, we left for our flight home.
What do you like to do in Florida? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
All you need to know about Marriott Village Orlando and its three hotels SpringHill Suites, Fairfield Inn and Courtyard Hotel
We stay at Marriott Village Orlando – a great base from which to get to the top Florida attractions of Universal or Disney World.
Marriott Village Orlando
Where is it?
Marriott Village is in the Lake Buena Vista area near Disney World. It’s in a quiet development just off the main International Drive road which runs from Orlando to Disney.
What is it?
A village with three different hotels, SpringHill Suites Orlando, Fairfield Inn Orlando and Courtyard Hotel Orlando.
Each hotel has its own pool with all three available to those staying. There is a shared food court, playground, shops and gym.
If you stay in one of the hotels you can use a free shuttle bus to Disney World.
Is it family friendly?
Yes, very much so. We stayed at SpringHill Suites Orlando which is probably the most family-orientated with large rooms, free breakfast, Disney shuttle and ticket outlet and an outdoor pool with splash pads.
The view from our room
The hotel could do with a slight modernisation on decor and furniture but was excellent value, very practical and a pleasant place to stay.
All the rooms are the same and they are a great size with two double beds and a sofa bed if needed.
There is also a sink, fridge and microwave if you want to make your own food.
The decor is a little dated and could maybe do with an upgrade in places but with a desk, bathroom with bath and shower, separate sink area and storage cupboard there is loads of room.
Desk in our room
There were also two televisions so our children could have one each and the free WiFi was fast and reliable.
Food and drink
Breakfast is self-serve and can get quite busy. We suggest going early.
The highlight is definitely the Mickey Mouse waffle makers which give you a Mickey-shaped snack to start your day.
Mickey Mouse waffles for breakfast
The queue to use them gets long but it is great fun for children to make their own, under supervision.
There is also plenty of other food with a good range of cereals, yoghurts, fruit, drinks and hot food.
There’s a shared food court area if you want a quick and easy lunch or dinner like pizza and fries. It isn’t a restaurant as such but there is a nice seating area outside if the weather is good and a few stools and tables inside.
The food court
There is a standard menu of family favourites and you can also buy drinks and snacks for your room.
Then there are three restaurants next door within walking distance next to the Marriott Village.
We ate at BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse and had a tasty meal with a good children’s menu and an activity pack to keep them entertained.
About a five-minute walk away are five more restaurants including an Italian grill but it means crossing a very busy road which we weren’t too keen to do with young children.
There is also a small store attached to a petrol station for water and snacks.
*Disney World is the nearest attractions with a daily shuttle from the hotel. Book as soon as possible the day before to guarantee a place.
The shuttle bus runs between Marriott Village and the Magic Kingdom Transportation Center.
The room size – there is lots of space and having two TVs, plus a fridge and sink gives you options for entertainment and self-catering.
Location – it is in a really nice, quiet area away from the hustle and bustle of Disney or Universal but near enough to get to both quickly.
The pools – being able to use three pools is a bonus. We found the one at SpringHill enough for our needs with a shallow main pool big enough for a proper swim, separate jacuzzi and splash pads for smaller children.
The play area – a small but well stocked play area with two climbing frames – one for ages two to five and another for six to 12-year-olds.
There is also a basketball hoop, giant chess set and hopscotch.
Marriott Village Orlando information
Address: Marriott Village Orlando, 8623 Vineland Avenue, Lake Buena Vista, Orlando, Florida.
What is new for the Theme Park Capital of the World this year at attractions including Disney World’s Hollywood Studios, Epcot, Universal Orlando Resort and SeaWorld
Orlando in Florida is welcoming 30 new additions for 2020.
There will be a theme park expansion, the world’s tallest slingshot ride, an ‘acoustically perfect’ theatre, a new celebrity chef restaurant and one of the largest booms for hotel growth in decades.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios (Walt Disney World Resort)
*The first-ever Mickey-themed ride-through attraction, ‘Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway,’ will open.
*Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance’ has opened and is the second attraction for the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land.
Epcot (Walt Disney World Resort)
Epcot is undergoing one of the biggest transformations of any Disney park in history, bringing a host of new attractions and experiences in 2020, including:
*Three new films from January 17: Beauty and the Beast Sing-Along, Canada Far and Wide in Circle-Vision 360 and Awesome Planet.
*Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure opens in summer 2020, shrinking guests to the size of Chef Remy and racing them through Gusteau’s restaurant on a wild adventure.
*Epcot’s new nighttime spectacular HarmonioUS, the largest nighttime spectacular ever created for a Disney park.
*La Crêperie de Paris, a new restaurant located in the France pavilion at Epcot, debuting in summer 2020, offering both table and quick-service crepe options.
Universal Orlando Resort
*The Bourne Stuntacular, a cutting-edge live-action stunt show based on Universal Pictures’ blockbuster Bourne films, will debut in spring 2020 at Universal Studios Florida.
SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment
*Ice Breaker at SeaWorld Orlando, opening spring 2020, takes riders on the steepest vertical drop in Florida.
*Riptide Race at Aquatica Orlando will be Florida’s first-ever dueling water slide, featuring side-by-side racing lanes through nearly 650 feet of slide.
New Entertainment Beyond the Parks
Outside the famous theme parks, Orlando is reaching new heights this year, from some of the world’s tallest thrills rides to one of the most acoustically perfect spaces on earth.
*Steinmetz Hall at the Dr Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, opening September 2020, will achieve an N1 sound rating – the lowest level at which humans can detect sound.
Dr Phillips Center for the Performing Arts
*ICON Park, located on International Drive and home to The Wheel and Starflyer attractions, will welcome more record-breaking attractions in 2020, including two major thrill rides:
The Orlando Slingshot will catapult guests 450 feet into the air and is set to the be the World’s Tallest Slingshot ride.
The Orlando Gyro Drop Tower will reach 400 feet, making it the world’s tallest free-standing drop tower. Riders freefall at up to 75 miles per hour.
*The Orlando Science Center’s ‘Pompeii: The Immortal City,’ runs June 6 to September 7, 2020 and is one of only four US sites for the interactive exhibit.
Orlando Science Center
*’Drawn to Life,’ a new Cirque du Soleil show, transports guests into the world of Disney’s animation in Cirque’s signature style, opening at Disney Springs in March 2020.
*Wild Florida’s 75-acre drive-through safari park brings visitors nose-to-snout with giraffes, wild boars and other animals. The safari area will include a zipline over a grazing area.
*Two Orlando malls are set to undergo enhancements in 2020 – Pointe Orlando and Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets.
New Resorts and Hotels
Orlando has the second highest number of hotel rooms of anywhere in the US and is undergoing a huge hotel expansion.
*JW Marriott Orlando Bonnet Creek Resort & Spa opens February 2020 with 516 rooms, a Spa and a rooftop terrace with nightly views of theme park fireworks.
JW Marriott Orlando
*Universal Orlando Resort’s 2,050-room Dockside Inn and Suites opens March 2020. It is a coastal-themed budget hotel with rates starting at $76 per night.
There are a host of new eateries adding to Orlando’s diverse food scene.
*Knife & Spoon at The Ritz-Carlton Orlando, Grande Lakes, is a concept from chef John Tesar, opening spring 2020.
*Ole Red, a new restaurant by country superstar Blake Shelton, will open at ICON Park in 2020 and merge southern hospitality, good food and live country music. Also coming to ICON Park in 2020 is Ox Grill, offering contemporary fare with steaks, pasta and a selection of international dishes.
*Camelo Pizzaria opens on International Drive in early 2020. The Brazilian thin-crust pizza place is the first location outside Brazil.
*Sixty Vines, a restaurant with Napa Valley-inspired seasonal cuisine, will open in spring 2020 in Winter Park and offer guests 60 varieties of wine on tap.
*Norman’s will be moving to Restaurant Row. Created by celebrity chef Norman Van Aken, the concept will open in the Dellagio Plaza spring 2020.
*Kavas Tacos + Tequila at Pointe Orlando opens September 2020. The locally owned restaurant will feature Mexican comfort food, tequila flights and entertainment. Also opening at Pointe Orlando is The Hampton Social, themed after the New York coastal resort region.
*AG’s Market, a lakefront food hall opening late 2020, combines retail, beverage and food options with a second-floor seating area showcasing the theme park fireworks.