It’s a whole new world at the Florida theme parks, which are finally reopening after being closed due to COVID-19 for the past few months. While we were toadally excited to hop back, even we weren't quite sure what to expect or how to prepare. How do you pack for the theme parks post-COVID closures? Would my mask fly off on Manta? How could I best set expectations for Tad and Lily? Suffice to say, we had a lot of questions (and we're sure you do too). Now that we've had the opportunity to hop around the Florida theme parks, we've also got some answers, and we're hoppy to share what we've learned! If you're ready to hop back to the Florida theme parks, here are our best tips and tricks to know before you go.
How to Prepare to Hop Back to the Florida Theme Parks
Of course, your family's safety and well-being come first. If you aren't quite ready to jump back into action, that's toadally OK! All families are different and should take things at their own pace, taking your needs and comfort level into consideration. If you're curious about what measures are currently in place to keep both guests and employees safe at the Florida theme parks, we've got you covered. All of the theme parks have social distancing measures in place, as well as temperature checks and increased cleaning and sanitation practices. Note that each park has its own procedures as well, so be sure to check out our reopening guides for Walt Disney World Resort, Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando and LEGOLAND Florida for a comprehensive guide.
Before Your Trip
Buy Tickets in Advance
We’ve always recommended buying your park tickets in advance to save money and time, but now it’s super important — and may be required — to purchase before you go. Some parks will require a date-specific reservation (more on that below), and you will need the ticket (or annual pass) number in order to book one. LEGOLAND Florida and Universal Orlando currently do not require reservations, but we still highly encourage you to get your tickets online to minimize contact at the front gates and hop right in. Plus, when you purchase in advance from us, you can save money!
Make a Reservation, If Needed
Walt Disney World Resort and the Florida SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment locations require an advance reservation in addition to regular park admission, including those with annual or seasonal passes. Disney has yet to release information about its new reservation system for Disney World, but we’ll update our guide as soon as we learn more. You can now make reservations for SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica Orlando, Discovery Cove, Busch Gardens Tampa and Adventure Island on each of the respective parks' websites.
Get Face Coverings for the Family
LEGOLAND Florida encourages families to wear masks, but Disney, Universal and SeaWorld all have mandatory face covering policies in place for their reopenings. Research the different face coverings and figure out what is most comfortable for you. So far, we have seen medical disposable masks, reusable cotton ear loop masks, masks that tie around the head and neck gaiters. Generally, as long as the material is completely covering your nose and mouth securely, the style is up to you. However, double check the park’s mask policy, as it can vary from park to park.
Practice Wearing Face Coverings
Wearing masks to the grocery store is one thing, but wearing them outside all day is a toadally different experience. It’s certainly not the most comfortable situation, but to prepare for it, we encourage you to practice at home! Before you head out on your trip, wear your masks on long walks outside so you can get used to them and have an idea of what to expect. That’s just the beginning — we’ve got even more tips on wearing masks at theme parks to make things as easy as possible during your trip.
Talk to Your Tadpoles
When gearing up for our trip back to the theme parks, we included Tad and Lily in the conversation, asking questions about how they felt about going and talking through the policies and procedures in place. As you practice wearing masks, talk to your tadpoles about what they can expect out of their day. Much like you're preparing for a new experience, keep them in the loop to minimize surprises. While they may have worn a mask before on an outing with you, it's hopful to reiterate that masks are to keep everyone safe and that they should remain securely on except while eating or on a water ride ... and remind them that it's OK to let you know that they need a break! Share with them that you or an employee may help remind them of the appropriate place to stand while waiting in line or watching a show, and that the experience overall may be a little different than usual. We focused on the positives with Tad and Lily. We let them pick out their own themed masks and chatted about how we thought capacity would impact wait times (what if we only have to wait 20 minutes for Hagrid's?!). Tad was eager to hop back to document a piece of history for our YouTube channel, and we practiced different ways to interact with our favorite characters from a safe distance with Lily.
If you're interested in seeing these health and safety policies in action, or would like to show your tadpoles what the parks look like right now, jump over to our reopening videos from SeaWorld Orlando, Disney Springs and Universal Orlando on our YouTube channel for a closer look.
Add These Items to Your Packing List
Of course, the most important new packing list item is your face covering. Consider bringing multiple masks for each frog in the family. If using a reusable mask, you’ll want to be sure to wash it every day or pack enough to cycle through them during your trip. We even recommend bringing at least two masks for each day at the parks, just in case one flies off on a ride (we’ve already seen it hoppen!) or it gets wet from a surprise thunderstorm. But there are face masks available for purchase at the parks too (just look at how adorable this dolphin mask is!).
Also, have a plastic bag ready for each mask if you plan to go on any water rides. At Universal and SeaWorld, you do not have to wear them on the water ride itself, but you still must wear them in the queue so you’ll need something to protect them from getting wet. While there are plenty of hand sanitizer dispensers throughout the park, you may want to bring your own bottle and/or disinfecting wipes.
During Your Trip
Bring as Little as Possible
When you hit the parks for the day, try to limit how much you bring by only packing the essentials in a single bag. If possible, we’d encourage no bags at all, specifically at SeaWorld Orlando or Universal Orlando, which require you to store belongings in a locker for some rides. Due to social distancing, team members are directing traffic into the locker areas and you must wait in line for access both before and after riding. Having no bags will save some extra time.
Drink Lots of Water!
Staying hydrated at the theme parks, especially during summer, has always been important. But now that we’re wearing face coverings, it’s essential to keep drinking lots of water throughout the day. I’ve found that my mask makes me extra thirsty. The drinking fountains at Universal are still operating and have social distancing signs on them to use one side, but LEGOLAND turned them off. Instead, you can ask for a free cup of water at any of the restaurants.
Take Advantage of Relaxation Areas
You may need to take more breaks than you normally would, and that’s toadally OK. Universal, SeaWorld and Disney (upon reopening) all have relaxation areas in the parks where you can safely take off your masks. From our experience at Universal and SeaWorld, these areas are well spread out and have plenty of seating available.
Be Flexible and Patient
Allocate a little extra time to park and get through screening areas. Because some areas now require queues to enter due to capacity limits, such as shops or lands, you may spend some time waiting in line for an experience or area that you hadn't before. We hopped into the Florida theme parks with the mindset that we'd take things at our own pace and go with the flow, and it really helped.
We’re all adjusting to the new procedures and rules, so it’s important to keep things in perspective. Be patient with team members and flexible when making plans. Maybe you don’t get a virtual pass for the ride you wanted, or a certain experience isn’t available. If it’s your very first trip to one of these Florida theme parks and you want the full experience, then now may not be the right time to hop to the parks. But if you decide to go now, that doesn’t mean you won’t have a fun time! For instance, now you can have the Ollivanders wand pairing experience all to yourself. (Check out our VIW, that's Very-Important-Wizard, experience above!) It all depends on your outlook!
We hope our tips help you to prepare for a Florida theme park trip during this time. Do you have any additional questions about the new reopening procedures at any of the parks? Ask away in the comments below!
Related: Planning a Vacation in a Uncertain Time