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Orange County Recovery Task Force approves Universal Orlando proposal of June 5 public re-opening

Universal Orlando has submitted its phased reopening plans to the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force group, which have been approved and will now be sent for approval by Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and Governor Ron DeSantis. The Resort has been closed since March 16 due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

The reopening plans include a team member only opening on June 1 and 2, passholders and invited guests can visit on June 3 and 4, and then finally opening in a limited capacity to the public on June 5.

During today’s presentation, John Sprouls, Universal Orlando chief executive officer, and Rich Costales, Universal Orlando executive vice president of resort operations, proposed 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.

Universal Orlando’s preventive 3 S Plan.
The presentation included how Universal plans to promote social distancing in attraction queues.

Volcano Bay will also be opening with reduced capacity, along with reduced tubes and rafts.

Much of these operational efforts have been in use at CityWalk since it re-opened to the public on May 14th. Universal stated they have taken over 30,000 temperature checks at CityWalk, with only a handful of guests turned away due to not meeting screening criteria.

Signage found in Universal Orlando’s parking garage before entering the temperature screening area.

High attended attractions will implement Virtual Line technology to prevent close gatherings in queue lines. Other steps laid out in the plans include closing interactive play areas and valet parking, eliminate water and mist effects on certain attractions, and eliminate single rider lines.

As of now, Universal Orlando is the only major theme park submitting their plans for re-opening, with Walt Disney World and SeaWorld expected to submit their opening plans soon. There are no immediate plans on Universal Studios Hollywood re-opening at this time.

You can view the virtual meeting below:

Stay tuned to Inside Universal for more on Universal Orlando’s reopening plans, along with other news around the other Universal Parks & Resorts.

Universal Orlando set to reopen CityWalk for limited operations beginning May 14

Universal Orlando has taken its first steps of reopening during the Coronavirus pandemic, as they have announced CityWalk will be opening in a limited capacity beginning May 14.

Select venues will be opening for guests from 4–10 pm daily (and is subject to change). The following venues are:

Full-service restaurants and quick-service food locations:

  • Auntie Anne’s Pretzels
  • Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Restaurant and Market
  • Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville (outside & Lone Palm)
  • Red Oven Pizza Bakery mobile ordering available
  • Voodoo Doughnut mobile ordering available

Shopping venues:

  • Airbrush
  • Hart & Huntington Tattoo Company (retail only)
  • Universal Studios Store and select merchandise carts

Entertainment venue:

  • Hollywood Drive-In Golf

Each restaurant will have a limited menu and limited seating available. Self-parking will be complimentary, however, Valet parking will remain unavailable at this time.

Universal is taking specific measures that include screening guests and team members, social distancing, and requiring everyone to wear a face covering.  Universal will also be limiting capacity at venues and increasing cleaning and disinfection procedures.

Other measures include:

  • Team members will undergo temperature checks and will wear face coverings.
  • Temperature checks for each guest upon arrival. If a guest has a temperature of 100.4 degrees or greater, they will not be able to enter CityWalk.
  • Guests are required to wear face coverings during their visit. Face coverings will be available for purchase at cost.
  • Each venue will limit the capacity to help enforce social distancing, and all chairs and tables will be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected after each seating. High-touch surfaces throughout CityWalk will be frequently cleaned and disinfected as well.
  • Cashless payments will be available at all venues

Guests are encouraged to follow CDC guidelines, which you can read about here.  For more information about Universal Orlando’s policies during this time, visit their website.

Per Universal, they will continue to monitor the situation and make adjustments as needed. Additional venues may be added over time, and hours of operation are subject to change. Universal Orlando’s theme parks and hotels, as well as Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal CityWalk Hollywood, remain closed through at least May 31.

Construction on Universal Orlando’s Epic Universe officially delayed

Comcast has announced that construction on their new theme park at Universal Orlando, Universal’s Epic Universe, has officially been delayed.

The new theme park was originally set for 2023. The delay was announced during a Q1 earnings call.

While no timeframe was given by Comcast, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings stated during a news conference that he was informed by Universal officials the park would be “delayed by a year”.

As the parks closed in March due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Universal officials initially stated that all construction projects were continuing as scheduled. Impacts of the pandemic have obviously adjusted Universal’s plans since then. As of now, no other impacts on construction have been announced.

Stay tuned to Inside Universal for all the latest on Epic Universe and Universal Parks & Resorts.

 

Whoville Sets from “How the Grinch Stole Christmas” demolished on Universal backlot

Amidst construction continuing on various projects throughout the theme park property, the Whoville sets on the Universal backlot from Ron Howard’s 2000 film, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”, have been demolished.

While the theme park remains closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, a new aerial video of the park was shared by Micah Muzio (go to 10:07 of the video) that shows the now-newly-paved area where the sets once stood.

Though most of the production took place across eleven soundstages on the Universal backlot, one sequence was filmed outdoors in sets constructed on the area near the “Psycho” house, later relocated to the small plot of land adjacent to the Bates Motel that guests became familiar with over the past two decades.

Frequently quoted by Studio Tour guides as trams passed by Whoville, the production as a whole utilized over “two million linear feet of Styrofoam”, “1,938 candy canes”, and “enough artificial snow to cover nine football fields” to construct its fantastical looking sets. Suffice to say, the outdoor sets used in the film were not built with strong materials to withstand the elements beyond the production timeframe, in turn necessitating frequent paint jobs and touch-ups.

“How the Grinch Stole Christmas” first made its way to Universal Studios Hollywood when the studio decided to promote the film’s release by holding a brand-new holiday event, Grinchmas, from November 1999 through January 2000, featuring The Grinch’s Cave Maze, a close-up encounter with the sets on the Studio Tour, and an assortment of activities on the Upper Lot.

Only the sets remained past that inaugural Grinchmas, until a resurgence of the event in 2008. Outside of the Grinchmas festivities located on the Upper Lot, brief performances featuring some familiar characters from the film took place regularly on the Whoville sets for all guests on the Studio Tour to enjoy. However, in 2017, these backlot performances were cut from the event, likely due to complications with the structural integrity of the nearly two-decade-old sets.

Holiday decorations and other props began to be removed from the Whoville sets following their lack of use during the Grinchmas event, and new paint jobs suddenly became less frequent. Prior to their destruction, the sets lacked much of the charm they once held due to both the film’s waning cultural relevance, as well as their gradual loss of vibrant colors after many days under the heat of the California sun.

While we’re sure many will miss the Whoville sets and the nostalgia associated with them, we look forward to seeing what Universal has in store in the future.

The Inside Universal Podcast: Favorite First Memories at Universal Parks

The Inside Universal team discusses the latest of Universal park closures due to the Coronavirus pandemic and our best guesses at the look ahead. We also discuss our favorite first memories of visiting the Universal parks.

(Editor’s Note: This was recorded before Universal Parks pushed back their closures to the end of May)

 

Direct Download and iTunes

You may download this episode directly here. You may also subscribe to the Inside Universal Podcast on iTunes. In addition, you can also follow us on Spotify to listen to podcast episodes on their app.

First Look around Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn & Suites

Universal Orlando invited members of the media to tour around and get a first look inside  Endless Summer Resort as Dockside Inn & Suites before it opens to the public.

During our visit, workers were still adding the final touches around the resort, so we were not able to experience Dockside in its totality; however, it’s very clear that Dockside is all set to open.

“It’s all about process refinement at this point. The hotel is ready to go,”  said George Cronk – Managing Director, Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn and Suites. “We’re making sure our team members are ready for our first guests on March 17th”.

Dockside will open in two phases, with Phase 1 set to welcome its first guests on March 17. Phase 2 is still on track for a Fall 2020 opening. Once Phase 2 opens, it will add 2,050 guest rooms to the Universal Orlando hotel portfolio. Dockside Inn & Suites is the sister resort to the 750-room Surfside Inn and Suites located right across the street. s a whole, Endless Summer Resort introduces extra affordability with the introduction of the Value category, offering the lowest rates of any Resort hotel.

Dockside is very similar to Surfside, especially when it comes to amenities. The big difference is aesthetic. As the name suggests, Dockside is all about a coastal vibe – featuring warm colors, meant to envoke “that feeling at sunset”. As Dockside sits on a larger plot of land, the resort was able to take advantage of its space – most noticeably with the lobby, dining area, and pool.

Dockside features both standard rooms and 2-Bedroom Suites – which can accommodate up to six people, just like Surfside Inn & Suites.  The suites include two separate rooms, a kitchenette area, a picnic table, and a bathroom.

The on-site restaurant, Pier 8 Market, will offer a variety of stations serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks. The featured item at the Market is the Dockside Wrap. Inspired by how dockworkers adjusted to eating their lunch as efficiently as possible, the wrap is filled with pastrami with swiss cheese, coleslaw, and, yes, even french fries. The dining area is massive, featuring over 364 seats, and designed as if you’re sitting under a pier.

The lobby bar – the Sunset Lounge – features a design inspired by a vintage, yellow Volkswagen bus, and serves specialty cocktails and craft beer, including the hotel’s own mango blonde called the Sunset Blonde. We asked Phil KlinkenbergDirector of Food and Beverage, Dockside Inn and Suites – which drink he would recommend, he quickly answered “Our take on the Mai Tai,” which interestingly features Matcha. Klinkenberg was also very high on the Lounge’s sangria, which is bourbon-based.

The pool at Dockside is much larger in comparison to Surfside, featuring over 900 lounge chairs. Universal once again did a fantastic job of isolating the pool area from the surrounding outside elements. The poolside bar, The Oasis Beach Bar will offer refreshing, beach-inspired beverages, and features a lot of shaded seating. As Endless Summer sits on the former home of Wet n’ Wild water park, the drinks at the Oasis Beach pool bar are named after the Wet n’ Wild attractions – including the Bubba Tub, Disco H20, and the Mach 5. The Bubba Tub is the bar’s signature 32oz drink, served in a souvenir Dockside bucket that all cocktails from the bar menu can be upgraded to, and is set to be priced at $16.

As we stated after our tour of Surfside last year, the hotel’s location “off” of the main Universal property didn’t feel like it was an issue. Transportation to and from the Universal hub is actually faster than traveling by bus from Aventura or Cabana. Unless your view isn’t the poolside rooms, it may not be something you notice.

And as many of our followers on social media asked, yes, there is a Starbucks on-site, located in the lobby.

Guests who stay at Dockside will still receive early park admission, complimentary resort-wide transportation, and charging privileges with their room key.

Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn and Suites is set to open on March 17, 2020.

For more information and to book a stay at Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn and Suites, visit the official site.

Updates on Coronavirus and Universal Parks & Resorts

EDITOR’S NOTE: Inside Universal remains dedicated to presenting a fact-based, non-sensationalist driven perspective aimed at educating and informing our readers. As Editor-in-Chief, I was hesitant to broach the topic of Coronavirus (COVID-19), as I did not want to come across as “adding to the hysteria” or sensationalizing current events. Admittedly, as much as we love the theme parks – safety is always the priority. Whether or not Universal Parks, or any theme park, remains open should be the last thing to worry about; however, we understand many vacations will be affected by this pandemic. As impacts of this virus are starting to rise and be felt the world over, including the Universal theme parks, I felt it was necessary to finally address our readers with as much fact-based info we have at this time and provide a rational perspective surrounding the impact of the Universal Parks & Resorts. 


UPDATED 5/22/2020

First off, if you have any questions regarding the Coronavirus, aka COVID-19, we recommend getting all information off the Center for Disease Control’s official website. We also suggest you follow their recommendations for illness prevention, such as washing your hands often and staying home if you are sick.

We’ll try to update this article accordingly if any changes to operating schedules take place.

Universal Orlando Resort will start a phased re-opening on June 1, beginning with a team member only opening on June 1 and 2, passholders and invited guests can visit on June 3 and 4, and then finally opening in a limited capacity to the public on June 5.

Universal CityWalk will open in a limited capacity beginning May 14.

Endless Summer’s Dockside Inn & Suites, which was scheduled to open on March 17, has been delayed. A new opening date will be announced at a later time.

Universal Studios Hollywood will also remain closed through Sunday, May 31. CityWalk Hollywood will remain closed as well. Individual tenants may elect to remain open for business (Guests are encouraged to call to confirm operating hours before visiting).

Both Peacock Live! and Bravo’s Top Chef Food & Wine Festival has been pushed back to a date to be determined later. While the event’s official postponement was listed as “uncertainties with the event’s programming elements”, it’s probable that the uncertainties were due to the precautions being taken by some of the attendees. ‪The Running Universal event featuring DreamWorks Animation’s Trolls planned for April 26, 2020 at Universal Studios Hollywood has been canceled. For questions, including exchanges or refunds, guests are encouraged to call 1-800-UNIVERSAL.

Universal Studios Japan has once again extended the closure of the park until May 31 and will continue to reassess the situation to determine a definite opening date at a later time.

Universal Studios Singapore has extended its closure until Monday, June 1 due to the government ordering all non-essential businesses to cease operation to combat the spread of the virus.

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

How do I modify and/or cancel plans? Universal Orlando guests are encouraged to dial 877-801-9720 for more information and assistance. Universal Studios Hollywood guests are encouraged to call 866-258-6546.

What if I already bought a ticket for a closed date? For Universal Orlando tickets, unexpired single-day tickets that have already been purchased will be valid on any day for 365 days from the purchase date. Unexpired multi-day tickets that have already been purchased will also be valid for first use on any day from 365 days from purchase. At Universal Studios Hollywood, tickets purchased for park visits during the anticipated closure period, from March 14 through April 19, will be automatically extended for use through December 18, 2020; or apply the value of a wholly unused ticket toward a new purchase. For more information, call the numbers of the respective park provided above.

What about my Annual Pass?
Annual passes for both stateside parks will be extended by the number of days the theme parks are closed. Existing benefits and restrictions will continue to apply. Those who purchased a Pass under the FlexPay program, Universal has postponed all monthly payments effective March 25, 2020. They will provide further details on when payments will resume at a later time.

Bravo’s Top Chef Food & Wine Festival postponed at Universal Studios Hollywood

Bravo’s Top Chef Food & Wine Festival has been postponed at Universal Studios Hollywood due to “uncertainties with the event’s programming elements”. Bravo is evaluating dates to reschedule at a later time.

The two-day, separately-ticketed event was set to take place on March 19 & 20, and feature dozens of food, wine, craft beer, and spirit stations; along with watching various “Top Chef” veterans battle it out in a series of live cooking competitions and enjoy panels with fan favorites from the series.

This is the 2nd event postponed this week at Universal Studios Hollywood, with Peacock Live also getting put off for a later day. While not outrightly stated, the postponement certainly could be tied to precaution due to the impact of the Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Guests with questions should call 1-800-UNIVERSAL (1-800-864-8377), option #9 or click here to visit Universal’s “Contact Us” page.

Knott’s Gives a TASTE of the Boysenberry Festival

It’s stated every year, like clockwork, but seeing how the Boysenberry Festival has grown is still an amazing sight to behold. For many years, the Fun Bun was heralded as the most amazing part of it, going unexpectedly viral for the genius combination of boysenberry glaze and a deep-friend cinnamon roll. We have now gone far beyond that single point of interest during this event, to the point where I can’t begin to cover everything that will be offered.Some opinions and facts will be stated in the coverage of the Boysenberry Festival Tasting Preview we were recently invited to, but there is so much to take in, I can’t cover it all. Just as a starting point, this year’s tasting card is $40 ($38 with discount) but will let you pick 8 things from 26 choices. Twenty-six! And that’s only what the card covers. There’s still food options at every location inside and outside of the park that isn’t counted in that list.That isn’t a one-day affair to finish it off. They’re really making this into a multi-day event. While the actual event hasn’t begun yet, we were able to get a head start on the food and a look at some of the merchandise as well. So the entertainment (which includes a new melodrama in the Bird Cage this year!) will be covered when the event actually begins on March 20th.Regarding the merchandise, there’s a lot of surprises this year, and I apologize if something isn’t new, because there’s so much to miss. But the biggest thing is probably the smallest thing, by which I mean the pin.In case you’ve somehow avoided Knott’s social media presence since the start of this year, they undertook the challenge of releasing at least one new pin every week all year to celebrate their 100th anniversary. Yes, there are just 52 weeks in the year, so there’s a bunch more to come beyond weekly. What started out as a simple deal, where they were half-off with any other merchandise purchase, quickly became a craze the likes of which I haven’t seen in years anywhere.The pins themselves have been stellar designs, recapturing some of the most beloved current and former attractions in the park’s history. And not just attractions, but restaurants and events around the park, like this Boysenberry Festival. Because of the high demand, there is now a 2-per-person limit on these pins, and controlled days and locations when they go on sale. We’re far beyond the days of just releasing pins silently.To make matters even more interesting, the card backs themselves aren’t generic throwaway material, either. They’re each individually themed to the pin itself with the numbering, dates and historical facts on it. Back in 2019 for Scary Farm, we mentioned how there were gravestone pins to commemorate the entire runs during the final year of each maze, and this is taking it to the next level.

I realize now that I’ve spent a good amount of paragraphs explaining the pin situation, but it’s warranted. The Boysenberry Festival design is pretty meta this year, being a phone taking a photo of food. That’s really just the kind of humor we love. Beyond that, Knott’s is in on the Spirit Jersey game, with a Boysenberry Festival one, in case you need that oversized sweater look, but want to change it up from the other place. The other clothing has a nice tie-dye look to it in a variety of shirts and pullovers, so you can have a different look for all 31 days the event runs.

Some of these food items may be harder to find than the others, due to the difficulty in sourcing and creating them. I found out this year that there are 3 places in the world that produce a majority of the world’s boysenberries; Washington, Oregon, and New Zealand, and the west coast had some bad weather this year that hurt the batches. That meant this year it was a bit harder to source the core of this event, but Knott’s pulled through. On top of that, it’s not just one place or all in-house to create all these delights. There’s a Churro Boysenberry Toffee I was able to try that will only be sold at the bakery at the marketplace outside. It was glorious. Plus, they also have Boysenberry Churros, if the Boysenberry Churro Toffee wasn’t enough.The company that produces the park’s sarsaparilla unveiled their newest work, which I’m thinking you could safely guess at this point, of Boysenberry Sarsaparilla. While this is on the top of the list of items we will be trying first hand when the event starts in just a few short days, we have been told this specific item will continue to be sold year round. That bodes well for the confidence they have in it. Combining the “wacky” taste of boysenberries with the “strong” taste of sarsaparilla took a long time to get right, which is why we were told it took 11 months for the company to finish their latest creation.If you’re feeling adventurous, there’s going to be some more spirited offerings of the preserved jam kind, with Tequila, Whiskey and Mulled Wine variations on the jams for sale. This is on top of the usual boysenberry tea, boysenberry soap, lotion and whatever else that have become staples at the park.There are two monstrosities that got the most attention at the event, but we’ll get to them last. They deserve your full attention.Working backwards, because dessert is the best meal, there were three offered. The cannolis were great. Crunchy with a soft creamy middle. There were also macarons, a favorite of the French that seems to really be making a toehold here in the states. The bread pudding was my favorite of the three, and the official name is a bit of a mouthful, which is Boysenberry bread pudding topped with boysenberry coulis and anglaise sauce.

In terms of more savory affairs, we also had a pastrami sandwich on a pretzel bun with boysenberry mustard, boysenberry steak chili with a boysenberry cornbread muffin, and also boysenberry beer cheese soup with a boysenberry drizzle and brown butter croutons. I really liked the chili, but the beer cheese was the hit of the night.To wash down the cheesey goodness, don’t worry, boysenberry punch isn’t going anywhere. But if you keep your eyes out around the park, you can find locations with the sugar-free kind! Beyond that there was also boysenberry sangria and boysenberry basil lemonade. The basil lemonade was surprisingly strong, but that probably helps it counter the traditional sweet taste of the classic punch.I could get into the two-foot hotdog that’s inside an entire loaf of french bread, or the mac-n-cheese bites with boysenberry ketchup, or the beef tips with boysenberry mashed potatoes. The list continues, running the full gamut of cuisines. It’s the most beautiful thing in the world being able to find so many options available. Really, the only downside of this event is how most of the options don’t stick around after the event. But you can definitely get your fill in the entire month this event runs.

But there were two offerings getting the lion’s share of attention at the event. The first was The WOW Pasty. We’re personally not that familiar with pasties, but it’s a giant pastry with a cheeseburger filling inside with boysenberry ketchup and topped with two fried eggs. It had a notice that it feeds four. As the picture shows, it’s gigantic, about the size of a tortoise. You can pick that up at the Ghost Town Grill, and please, document the entire process, because that’s an event-worthy food if I’ve ever seen one.But that wasn’t the winner of the night. The winner of the night was a full meal. All the courses. All of them.

It was actually hard to see it on the table from a distance because so many people were crowded around it. The Mega Mrs. Knott’s Chicken Dinner-burger in one is some kind of fever dream. It’s a giant burger, with four patties, topped with a King’s Hawaiian Roll for a bun, and then an upside down boysenberry pie on top of that, finally with 4 entire chicken legs stuck on the top, with a mini boysenberry pie off to the side for good measure.

Talking to the chef behind it, everything is there for a reason, though. The repeated use of “four” is because Mrs. Knott’s had 4 children. And the pie and chicken are there because those are the foods that founded the entire park. And the King’s Hawaiian used for the bun is because it was the first item King’s Hawaiian ever made themselves. Appropriately, it will only be available in the Chicken Dinner Restaurant, and be around $100, we were told. It’s so gigantic, it makes the Fun Bun look like a donut hole.

Outside of the event, we also took a quick stroll around the park during the quiet time of the year. It was a great day for Surfside Gliders, the weather wasn’t too hot or too cold.The blacksmith was working hard on some personalized horseshoes.The mine ride was just as amazing as it has looked since the major refurbishment.And we can see a lot of work is being done on Knott’s Bear-Y Tales: Return to the Fair, opening in a few short months. There’s a lot of hopes pinned on this, as tying together futuristic technology with a fan-favorite attraction of yesteryear. And while it may not look like it from the outside, the arcade is still open, you just have to take the side entrance in through the Nautilus gift shop. However long that remains tied to the Iron Reef theme is to be seen, but that will happen soon enough, too.

We’re really looking forward to the event this year, with the new merchandise, food options and refreshed entertainment. It will run every day from March 20th through April 19th, 2020 and is included with park admission. Tickets available now at Knotts.com.

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