December is always one of the busiest times in Orlando for the theme parks. That fact was very apparent today when both Universal Studios Florida and Universal’s Islands of Adventure were closed for capacity before 9 a.m. Due to social distancing measures, all the major parks in Florida have followed CDC guidelines to limit visitors, which has reduced capacity to less than half for most locations.
Universal Orlando Resort does park entry differently than Walt Disney World and SeaWorld. Where Disney and SeaWorld require advanced reservations to visit, Universal is a first-come, first-served style of entry. While many people praised this system, on extremely busy days such as this, it does bring up the risk that the park may not be able to accept those who arrive later in the day.
Universal is always quick to notify guests if they do reach capacity. For Universal Orlando Resort hotel guests, Universal’s website says this:
Hotel guests will be given priority entrance to theme parks during our phased reopening. We encourage our hotel guests to take advantage of their Early Park Admission benefit to access the parks prior to our daily opening to the general public, and we will accommodate hotel guests on a priority basis in the parks throughout the day.
According to their online reservation website, SeaWorld Orlando is still fully open for guests today, whether it be ticket holders, Fun Card holders or annual passholders.
According to Walt Disney World’s reservation site, only Epcot is available for day-of park reservations. Therefore, it is understood that Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios also all reached capacity today.
Upon re-opening this summer, Universal Orlando made some big changes to the parks to be ready for reduced capacity and the need for social distancing. At the parks, mobile ordering was amplified, new signage was added throughout the park, and required hand sanitization was implemented for all attractions.
Again, Universal Orlando is currently the only of the three major parks in Orlando to offer “walk-ins.” SeaWorld Orlando and Walt Disney World require advanced reservations prior to visiting. We received an email from traveler Michael Meador about their recent struggle heading into a park at maximum capacity:
I made flight arrangements from Oklahoma to Florida, rental car, hotel reservations and purchased four 2-park/2-day tickets for my family to visit Universal Studios and Universal Island of Adventure for our family’s Christmas gift and my son’s 18th birthday gift. We arrived, paid for premium parking, parked, walked into the park toward the Universal Studios side and was denied admission due to the park being at capacity, we showed our tickets and explained that we had already purchased our tickets weeks ago. We were told the park was closed and they would not be re-opening. We watched employees grant park access to hotel guests, guests that had left and returned and to guests with single day tickets.
I spoke with a manager who explained the park was closed due to ‘the feel’ that the park was at capacity. He could not give a number of park guests that was in the park currently. He said they do not let guests in as others leave so not to wait in line. He explained they would not be reopening. He recommended contacting guest services for a refund. On our way out with a 3-year-old crying, a security officer stopped and gave us a card and suggested we email guest services and that we should be compensated for our ruined vacation.
We came to Florida to take our family to your parks. This has cost us over $3650 and we were denied access to use the tickets we had paid for in advance.We only were able to use one of our two tickets and we didn’t use it as long as we would have had we known we would not be allowed back the next day. Universal should only allow admission to pre-paid guests. We fly home tomorrow and are unable to stay and try again.Michael Meador, traveler
This photo, taken on the opening day of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade, shows what the true maximum capacity can be of these theme parks. Universal doesn’t have an exact percentage of what amount of guests are allowed in per day on their website, but when the parks re-opened in June, many were around 25%. Bob Chapek, CEO of the Walt Disney Company, stated in November that, “Walt Disney World, which was at a 25% capacity constraint, which was our industrial engineering estimates to keep six-foot social distancing, now has been able to increase to 35% of capacity.”
If you are interested to learn more about the Florida COVID-19 Phases for re-openings and capacities, head to the official website.
How do you feel about how the capacities of parks are handled? Do you prefer the early reservations of Disney and SeaWorld, or the freeness of Universal to show up day-of? Let us know in the comments below.