As this was our first visit to the parks since COVID, I want to highlight Universal’s protocols in this blog post. Don’t worry, there is still lots of wizarding magic to be had! So keep reading.
Reduced Park Capacity
Universal Orlando is operating on a reduced capacity. I haven’t seen where Universal has stated its exact percentage, but experts agree that it is around 35%. Our school district has an early Spring Break. We were there the first week of March and did not experience massive crowds. The most popular rides did have long lines, but the wait times were no where near those pre-COVID. It will be interesting to see how that plays out in the coming weeks when more schools are out.
Universal Orlando does have a mask mandate. Guests ages 3 and over are required to wear masks except when actively eating or drinking while stationary, at a designated U-Rest area, or swimming/in pool area. Of course social distancing guidelines still apply in all cases.
I couldn’t help make the following comparisons:
- Universal requires masks for children ages 3 and up, while Disney requires masks for ages 2 and up.
- Universal permits neck gaiters, while Disney does not.
- For socially-distanced selfies, and water rides, Universal does allow guests to remove masks for pictures. Disney does not. Sometimes we did, most times we didn’t. It was nice to have a choice without endangering anyone.
The weather was what I’d like to call Florida Winter. Mornings and evenings were crisp, with mild afternoons. We’ve been wearing masks for over a year now, and were not encumbered by them in any way. There are U-Rest areas throughout the parks for mask breaks. They are plentiful and clearly marked.
Touch-free Temperature Screenings
Resort guests will have their temperature taken daily, and issued an armband color coded for the day. This enables them to skip this step at the park. Park guests will have their temperature taken at the park entrance. If you test 100.4 F or higher, you’ll be given a few minutes to cool down and retest. Guests with a sustained temperature of 100.4 degrees or greater will not be admitted.
Universal Orlando Resort App
You will use the Universal App more than ever before, specifically to mobile order food, and get into a virtual queue for Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, which does not utilize Unlimited Express Passes. More on that later. In my experience, the virtual queues aren’t offered every day. Only if Universal anticipates a crowd. You have four chances throughout the day: 8am, 11am, 2pm, 4pm. We secured a virtual queue every time we tried. It is important to note that occasionally the ride goes down. This happened at least twice during our visit. In this case, the virtual queue reservation becomes a general Express Pass. That said, the ride is SOOOOOOO worth it!!
Enforcing Social Distancing Protocols
Ok, I am going to be 100 with you. The framework is there. There are ground markers, signage, overhead announcements reminding guests to correctly wear their masks and social distance, plexiglass dividers, and row skipping when that’s not possible. But there is room for improvement. Some Team Members are quick to remind guests to pull up their masks, while others are clearly intimidated to do so. For the most part, people follow the rules they agreed to when booking, but there were quite a few who didn’t.
Enhanced Cleaning Protocols
Team Members are doing a phenomenal job making sure every available surface is constantly sanitized for guest safety.
In addition, all guests are required to sanitize their hands before every ride. This is non-negotiable. And I did not observe a single person complain. It was quite the efficient assembly line process.
Modified Character Meets
So many characters were out and about for socially distanced selfies. The tweens weren’t overly interested in the characters, but the DH and I loved them! Most of them move around, but ride specific ones tend to hang out near their attractions. For example, you’ll see the Mummies near The Mummy, Hashtag the Panda near Jimmy Fallon Race through New York, etc.
Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Ollivanders is open and does not take advance reservations. Only one family is allowed at a time, so the wait can be significantly longer than before. If you don’t need to see the show, there are wand carts where you can purchase wands, or you can order your interactive wand online before your trip, and be ready to test your magic as soon as you enter Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade village.
All of the stores are open, including Money Exchange and Globus Mundi, but limit the number of people at a time. On Hogwarts Express, only one family is allowed per train car. This makes the wait a little longer than usual, but again, it wasn’t unbearable.
Performances are still going on. We saw the Frog Choir, and Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees multiple times.
The AMEX Lounge in Universal Studios Florida is also open. This is a perk for AMEX card holders who pay for their entire trip (room and tickets) with their American Express card. It is a seating area to cool down with snacks and bottled water. Hours are reduced – currently noon – 5pm – and availability is limited on a first come, first serve basis.
Unlimited Express Passes
Here’s one thing that has not changed. Universal is still offering Unlimited Express Passes! This skip the line feature meant we never waited long in line for attractions. Between Unlimited Express Passes and Early Park Admission, we rode everything we wanted to multiple times and didn’t have to close the parks to consider it a full day.
I always, always recommend Express Passes to my clients so that their experience is that much better. And guests of premiere resorts receive Unlimited Express Passes complimentary!
Again, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure does not accept the Express Pass, as is typical with new rides. Nor does Pteranodon Flyers. However to my knowledge, everything else does.
There will be a dedicated post about Mardis Gras at Universal Studios Florida. But here’s a teaser…
So is Universal Orlando Resort worth a visit? For sure! For attraction junkies like the tweens, Universal has all the thrill rides they could ever want. It does not matter much for them that the fireworks and parades are unavailable. For the DH and me who enjoy the fireworks and parades, we knew what to expect going in, so our experience was not diminished in any way.
Understanding what’s different is key, and I hope this series provides that.
When you’re ready for your next visit, I would be honored to be your travel advisor!
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