Today, the Universal Orlando Resort theme parks fully opened to all. Universal is the first of Orlando’s big three to embark on these socially-distant and lower capacity openings. We went from park open to park close to truly feel what its like to have fun in the new theme park normal. Spoiler, it was one of the best days we have ever had at the Universal parks.
We arrived today at 7:50 a.m. to make sure we were able to get a good spot. We were originally afraid the parks would reach capacity and we wouldn’t be allowed entry. This was not the case, and it seemed less guests came today then on the Annual Passholder previews the two days prior.
In fact, the longest wait time of the entire day was our second ride on Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. And even that was only 30 minutes. Overall, the parks capacity seemed to be no issue with the rides’ lower capacities.
Virtual Line Pass is the new all important factor for a trip to Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. These virtual passes were available today starting at 8:40 a.m., 20 minutes before the park officially opened. Unlike boarding passing at Walt Disney World, guests do not need to be in the park or have all tickets linked to grab a pass. In fact, the passes can be grabbed from anywhere within the parks or at Universal CityWalk.
We were able to quickly grab this spot for Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. Upon arriving, for our first ride of the day, we waited only six minutes to get on the attraction. Compared to the six-plus hour waits that occurred this time last year, getting on the ride was a dream.
Having the Universal Orlando App is now imperative. Guests get Virtual Line passes for most popular attractions. Guests are also encouraged to use the mobile ordering aspect of the app to get food in a faster and safer way.
Guests are encouraged to pre-order their entire meal on the app while waiting for a host or hostess to find them a table. They are brought to specific tables that are pre-chosen to assist in social distancing. From here, Universal team members bring everything to the table. Pre-packaged silverware, food, drinks, annual pass discount refund cash, napkins and smaller condiment packages are brought out to guests on a tray. The team member lets the guests grab the items off of the tray and does not touch the items.
When using a discount, such as an Annual Pass, guests get their refund after the initial purchase when mobile ordering. Currently, the refund is returned to you in cash when your receipt is brought out. Universal is also implementing one-time-usage menus at their food locations. Many quick service locations, such as the Leaky Cauldron at Diagon Alley, where this photo was taken, have modified the dining process.
Dining locations are also one of the few spots guests can take off their face coverings. They’re expected to put their face coverings back on before leaving the table. Universal team members clear and disinfect every table after every use. We noticed an extensive amount of team members cleaning the dining locations. All team members, no matter what position they hold or where they work, are also wearing face coverings.
Masks and social distancing reminders are everywhere. Team members also remind guests, and we saw it enforced several times throughout the day. Social distancing markers are plentiful in ride queues and at shows. We can also happily say that about 98 percent of guests were fully committed to these new safety procedures as well.
The other 2 percent were people who half-wore masks and didn’t cover their nose or took their mask off entirely in less busy areas. Team members did speak to guests who did it incorrectly and had them fix their masks. It’s simply impossible to force everyone to listen all the time. But overall, Universal team members really did try to have everyone follow along. In one case, while in line for Hagrid’s roller coaster, we even heard an announcement mentioning to guests that people who did not follow the mask rules could be escorted out of the attraction.
There are, of course, times that masks are simply not possible. One of those times is when walking around with a snack or drink. Guests are encouraged to take a sip or bite, then return their masks until the next sip or bite of food.
Another exception is when on water attractions, like Jurassic Park River Adventure. Guests can keep their masks on or take them off. The distance between guests is much greater on this attraction than in others. That, combined with the chance of getting the mask very wet, is why guests are allowed this exception.
Today we had a three minute wait to ride the Jurassic Park River Adventure and chose to take our masks off. We were three rows away from the next closest guests. This was a nice time to enjoy a longer attraction, cool down and take a break from the masks. Guests who are not fans of the masks or need a break may want to look for rides such as this.
Another area that masks are not required are in U•Rest locations. These large areas have seating and ample room to social distance. This particular U•Rest location is located in the Central Park area that guests go to watch Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration (which isn’t currently running).
This U•Rest area had shaded tables and a smoking section. It also allowed for great views of the park in an uncrowded location. These U•Rest locations will definitely be helpful to families with young children. These areas would allow a somewhat private spot to unwind and let kids take off their masks. Today we noticed a family have a small picnic at one table.
Keep an eye out for our thoughts on wearing a mask all day during the 90º Florida heat in an article soon.
I’ll be honest in saying that I went today with expectations of a packed park with long lines and new rules. To our surprise, the park was actually way less busy. The average wait time in the parks was 10 minutes per ride. In fact, we walked onto Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit and got our own vehicle.
The busiest areas in the parks was in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter locations, Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. For most of the rides in these areas, Universal did ground markings for the entire queue. They also had the extended queue already setup for most attractions. The markers were easy to see and guests seemed to have no trouble following this rule. It also made lines feel faster since there was more distance to travel per guest than normal.
Along with selling masks and hand sanitizer, Universal also requires guests to use free hand sanitizer before getting on any attraction. This was non-negotiable and happened before boarding any ride. Guests were also highly encouraged to use the free hand sanitizer before entering any food establishment.
While physical contact is minimized as much as possible, there are still some areas that require guest contact. This photo was taken in the locker area of the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey attraction. Guests still use their finger print to secure a locker here. A team member is stationed outside the lockers and tells guests which locker area to go to. After guests depositing their items, a different team member comes by and wipes the scanner and locker door.
Universal has also modified shows and character meet and greets. Characters stay a distance away from guests and most are on raised platforms. Many performers who show their face also wear face masks, as seen here with the stilt-walkers outside of the Revenge of the Mummy attraction.
Most characters had little to no guests waiting to meet them. While you can’t currently get a hug, now would be an amazing time for big fans of characters to do long interactions with them.
Overall, it appears Universal has really thought this re-opening process out. The park’s capacity today was no problem for the new safety procedures. Even with some rides doing 75 percent less capacity than normal, the park kept up. Team members were patient with confused guests and we had numerous positive interactions about the new safety procedures.
In my personal opinion, this was one of the best days I have ever had at a Universal park. I went expecting long lines and uncooperative guests. I was met with a smooth process, kind employees, low wait times and cordial guests. Yes, the masks and new rules are not ideal compared to what we’re used to. But for now, this is the safest way to return to the parks. And, in my opinion, Universal has set a standard for SeaWorld and Disney to uphold.
How do you feel about these numerous new changes to procedures park-wide? Does this article change your mind on coming to the Universal Orlando Resort? Let us know in the comments below.