Universal Orlando opened up its theme parks to guests for the first time since its March closure due to the Coronavirus pandemic, with new guidelines.
Passholders were amongst the first to check out the new procedures before the theme parks officially opened to the general public on Friday. Universal Orlando’s plans based on the “3 S’s” – screening, sanitization, and spacing – including face mask requirements, temperature screenings for employees and guests, reduced capacity, and improved cleaning and sanitization procedures.
As guests park in the garages, Universal team members are making sure to stagger spaces to encourage social distancing, parking cars in every other spot.
As has been the case with the opening of CityWalk on May 14, guests must go through temperature checks before entering the security hub. Temperatures are taken with infrared thermometers to identify if guests have a fever. Per the new guidelines, those with temperatures of 100.4 or greater will not be allowed to enter. The checkpoints will expected to take a little longer than usual, so be prepared for a slightly longer process to enter the Resort. Our wait was roughly 20 min from parking and through security. Guests and their parties were wearing masks, roughly 6 feet apart (without visual signs on the floor to indicate distance), and respectful of personal space.
All staff donned face masks of different varieties, whether it was single-use or washable, but they were protected. It’s important to note that our visit saw many team members constantly cleaning areas with higher interaction and touchpoints.
Approaching the parks, several team members over loudspeakers were keeping the mood light while informing guests of the new safety guidelines – reminding guests to be mindful of their distance to those outside their party. Once at the ticket entrance, passes are now scanned with a handheld scanner, with ID now required for passholders, as finger scanners are no longer needed to enter the park – obviously to maintain sterility.
Throughout the park, staff members were welcoming guests back to the park, waving and asking questions about their return. It felt very personable and warm, like being embraced by a family member you haven’t seen in a while.
The Universal Orlando app is now highly encouraged for download to help with your day at the parks. Many of Universal’s attractions are implementing virtual lines to reduce the number of people in each queue. Some of the lucky few were able to access Hagrid’s Motorbike Adventure during their time at Islands of Adventure, we were not. Mobile ordering is also strongly recommended, to limit interaction while also allowing you to get your food quicker.
Of the rides we went on, one of them being Spider-man, guests followed guidelines and maintained the 6-foot gap based on distance markers. Once at the front of the line, a staff member gave you a squirt of hand sanitizer (along with our 3D glasses) and directed you to your row. Guests were seated one party per row, every other row – leaving a lot of empty seats per vehicle. This also was the opportunity for those with a small party of 1 or 2 to not be placed with other guests outside their own party.
While Universal does try to limit interaction, there are certain instances where it cannot be escaped. Guests must still use their fingerprints to secure a locker. A team member is now stationed outside of each locker to limit and instruct guests to a respective locker. After each guest’s use, team members continuously wipe down the scanner and locker doors to keep them clean.
Freestyle machines were open, but no two next to each other were available. There was also an attendant at each station with sanitizing wipes to clean the touchscreen machines after each use.
Character interaction and meet & greets have changed a bit as well, with many interactions now greeting guests from raised platforms or distant areas. For example, as guests entered Islands of Adventure, King Julien from Madagascar was atop one of the bridges welcoming guests. Over at Universal Studios, Beetlejuice was entertaining guests from a platform in front of the Horror Make-Up Show.
It seems that other park guests were also making an attempt to be cautious and courteous of others. There were instances in some of the tighter areas, such as in the Wizarding World – Hogsmeade, were guest interaction got a little tight – but it was mostly guests briefly passing by each other and avoiding shoulder bumping. Throughout Islands, we could only count a handful of times that we saw someone (that wasn’t under 2 years old) without a mask.
The mask is going to be a pretty big adjustment, especially as we enter the hotter and humid months of the Summer. Luckily, Universal has set up several “U-Rest” locations throughout the parks to allow guests to take a break and remove the mask while maintaining social distancing. The theater for the former Sindbad stunt show is being used as a U-Rest spot, allowing guests to sit in the shade while also getting a look at the stage which remains virtually untouched. Guests can also remove the mask while eating, enjoying a drink, and while riding water attractions.
To those who come to the parks unprepared, worry not. Many stores throughout the Resort were selling Universal-branded facemasks for $6 (The UOAP masks seems to be currently out of stock). Hand sanitizer is also on sale for $3.
Dining in CityWalk also features safety measures in place. For example, while dining at the Hard Rock Cafe, guests must enter a queue with distance markers before entering the restaurant. Something to note, dining at the Hard Rock Cafe requires a 2nd temperature check, while other CityWalk restaurants do not. The hostess station had a plexiglass barrier atop and the waitress that sat us donned new gloves to get our silverware and menus and escort us to our seats. On the way, you could see tabletops marked off to alert staff to avoid sitting patrons and adhere to social distancing tactics. Once seated, our waitress greeted us and made note of a new system they were starting. A place marker was available on the table to signal whether we wanted our server’s attention or to let our party be left alone, in attempts to limit interaction. Bags are also provided so guests can store their facemask while seated. In regards to our meals, it seemed to have taken no time at all to get our meals delivered to us. The entree appeared to have been meticulously prepared and was the best looking and tastiest burgers I have ever eaten at Hard Rock to date. The restrooms had an attendant at hand to wipe down all surfaces guests were touching to maintain sanitation. While exiting the restaurant, signs were made available to exit through the store in one direction to avoid criss-cross interaction with other patrons.
Since the start of this pandemic, we’ve been hearing terms like unprecedented, or “the new normal”, and while the overuse of those words is probably driving you crazy by now, they are accurate. During this “new normal”, it was a pleasure to not only have been able to return to a place I love but to see how serious Universal is treating their reopening as they evolve with these new guidelines. It’s obvious that there are going to be some growing pains. The first day was far from perfect, but it’s important to keep in mind that Universal is enforcing a completely new way to operate their resort, and that’s a pretty dramatic adjustment – but overall, it seems Universal has set the bar.