When it comes to theme parks in Florida, the 2 biggest names in the game are Disney and Universal.
Back in March 2020, both companies closed their parks to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) with no firm reopening date in sight.
But, after almost 3 months, Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and Universal’s Volcano Bay reopened their gates on June 5, 2020 to eager guests — more than a month before the competition. Those parks, combined with Universal CityWalk, mean a lot of people on the property.
Of course, in order to reopen, new safety measures were put into place to make sure that both guests and staff remain healthy as we all navigate this “new normal.”
Let’s take a look at what changes you will see at the parks, hotels, and restaurants.
What Is Changing at Universal Orlando Resort
Despite Florida seeing big spikes in coronavirus cases, Universal moved forward with its aggressive reopening plans.
Welcoming guests to its 3 theme parks, including a water park, required some major changes. Here is what guests can expect on their next visit:
New Safety Guidelines
Following CDC guidelines, Universal Orlando Resort has created enhanced sanitation procedures and implemented additional measures for social distancing and health screenings.
Currently, fully-vaccinated guests do not need to wear a face-covering while indoors or outdoors at Universal Orlando Resort. Guests who have not been vaccinated will be encouraged to wear face coverings while indoors.
Universal is following the CDC guidelines for face coverings, which means that both the mouth and nose should be covered. Park specific rules state that face coverings must:
- Cover your nose and mouth and be secured under your chin
- Fit snugly against the sides of your face and be secured with ear loops or secured around your head — currently, that means that neck gaiters are allowed, unlike at Walt Disney World
- Be at least 2-ply (consist of at least 2 layers)
- Not have any exhaustion vales
- Not include mesh material or holes of any kind
Hot Tip: Per the Universal Orlando Costume Guidelines, costume masks and veils will not be considered as facial coverings.
As of May 6, 2021, Universal Orlando stopped taking the temperature of guests visiting the parks.
Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and Universal’s Volcano Bay are all operating at full capacity.
Universal has also introduced a seasonal ticket calendar for date-based tickets which will charge a premium for more popular dates and a lower rate when the parks less busy.
On top of Universal’s “already-aggressive cleaning procedures,” there will be increased cleaning and disinfection of food locations, ride vehicles, and other frequent touchpoints.
Hand Washing and Sanitizing
Throughout the Universal parks and CityWalk, guests will find more hand sanitizing stations and will be required to use hand sanitizer before getting on select rides.
Universal is also emphasizing that guests should wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
Universal updated its policy on May 29, 2021, and now requests that guests practice social distancing and keep “a safe distance between your travel party and others.”
One of the first changes Universal guests will notice is staggered parking inside the garages intended to help create space between travel groups.
Expanded Virtual Line Experiences
One of the more popular, but limited, line-reducing systems at Universal is the Virtual Line Experience.
Previously, only the Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon and Fast & Furious Supercharged rides offered this digital queue in the parks.
Now, depending on demand, you can find this system available at the following rides via the Universal Orlando Resort App:
Universal’s Islands of Adventure:
- Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- Pteranodon Flyers
- Skull Island: Reign of Kong
Universal Studios Florida:
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
- Fast & Furious Supercharged
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
- Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon
- Revenge of the Mummy
All rides at Universal’s Volcano Bay will continue to offer a Virtual Line experience using a wearable device called the TapuTapu instead of requiring a smartphone.
Hot Tip: Can’t wait for your next trip? Universal Orlando Resort offers virtual rides of favorites like Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Guests throughout all of the Universal properties will start to see contactless payments and “no-touch” options where possible.
Universal Orlando Theme Parks
Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and Universal’s Volcano Bay all opened with limited capacity restrictions on June 5, 2020.
Universal CityWalk was the first part of the phased reopening for Universal, opened some venues on May 14, 2020.
Unlike other parks, such as Walt Disney World, Universal is not requiring reservations for guests arriving at the parks.
However, since the parks will have limited attendance, there may be times when the parks reach capacity and additional guests will not be admitted.
Additionally, Universal has followed Disney’s lead with date-based ticket pricing, meaning that you can search the ticket calendar to find when the parks are expected to be busier and more expensive than other dates.
Dining reservations were paused while the parks were closed, but most restaurants are now accepting reservations.
You make find out more about dining reservations here.
Universal Express Pass
There has been no change to the Universal Express, Universal Express Unlimited, and Universal’s Volcano Bay Express passes.
They continue to be good options for guests who want to get the most out of their time at the park, even if it costs extra money.
Although parks are operating at reduced capacity, rides are also allowing for social distancing, so lines can still be an issue.
Hot Tip: Guests at select Universal Orlando Resort hotels receive Universal Express Unlimited passes for free as part of their room rate, worth hundreds of dollars in savings. Read more about the variety of properties available in our article covering the best places to stay in Orlando.
Water taxis and shuttles are running as normal. The only noticeable difference is that seats are blocked off to allow for social distancing.
What to Expect at Universal Orlando Resort Hotels
At the Hotel
Everyone arriving at Universal Orlando Resort hotels, including guests, team members, and vendors, will be required to pass a temperature screening. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) or above will not be allowed in the hotel.
Guests with a high temperature (after 3 checks, including 1 with a new thermometer), will be required to get medical permission before returning.
Once inside, guests will see more hand sanitizer stations throughout, plexiglass barriers at check-in, contactless payments, and digital property maps to avoid unnecessary touching.
Bell service is still available, but valet is not.
In the Room
Guest rooms will be part of the new enhanced cleaning process. There will be a focus on extra cleaning of high-touch areas such as door handles, light switches, telephones, TV remotes, and tabletops.
Whenever possible, rooms will be left vacant for 24 to 48 hours after checkout before being thoroughly cleaned and a new guest is checked in.
Hot Tip: If you’re planning a trip to Universal Studios, be sure to check out our recommended credit cards.
What Will Not Be Available at Universal Orlando Resort
Although it feels like Universal Orlando Resort has found a way to keep operations as close to what normal was (all things considered) as possible, there are some things that are not available at the moment.
The nighttime shows, such as Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration, are currently unavailable. Additionally, Universal’s Superstar Parade will not run during this phase of the reopening, but guests will still see characters throughout the park.
What to Pack for Your Next Universal Vacation
Things do change a little bit when you are traveling during a pandemic. Here are some additions that you might want to add to your carry-on:
Hot Tip: Are you planning on bringing your little ones along? Be sure to read our guide on traveling with kids during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
Universal Orlando Resort was the first of the major theme parks to put its toes back in the water after shutting down due to COVID-19. Although there were some understandable challenges to overcome, operations have been running smoothly.
Guests are able to experience the fun and excitement that Universal is known for — it is just suggested to wear a mask while indoors.
Florida is still seeing spikes in cases, but there are no longer any travel restrictions for out-of-state visitors.
If you are going to be visiting the parks soon, have fun and be safe!