Since Universal Orlando Resort reopened its parks June 5, we frogs have hopped to the parks a few times — including a visit to Volcano Bay! Initially, crowds were super light and we were able to ride more with less wait times (in our Hogwarts House masks, naturally)! Now that the theme parks been open for a couple of months, we have seen an increase in crowds and wait times, but mainly on the weekends due to more locals visiting. We're hoppy to share our experiences and help you prepare for your upcoming visit! We know you want to know what it's like to visit the parks now and more importantly whether it's worth it. While we can't make that decision for you, we have created a list of upsides to visiting any theme park during this time for you to consider.
Keep in mind that no matter what area of Universal Orlando Resort you visit, there will be additional health and safety procedures in place. Face coverings and temperature checks will be required for all employees and guests, including at hotels. Universal will also limit capacity at each park to ensure social distancing. There will be additional health, safety and operational changes (that may be subject to change at any time) for team members and guests, which we'll get into in below. Let's hop to it!
Universal Orlando Health and Safety Procedures
Before we get to the fun stuff, let's talk about the health and safety measures. During this reopening time, there are procedures in place to limit capacity and to appropriately space guests. Universal Orlando, in accordance with the state of Florida and local governing bodies, has put into practice the following general safety procedures to make things as safe as possible for guests.
Universal Orlando Resort Health Measures
- Prepare for temperature checks upon arrival. Security officers will wave a contactless forehead thermometer in front of you. Hats or anything blocking your forehead should be removed. Guests with temperatures above 100.4 will not be admitted. The rest of the party will not be affected, as long as they stay under the 100.4-degree temperature limit.
- Maintain social distancing of at least six feet (or two meters).
- Where present, guests should stand on floor markings until the group in front of you moves forward.
- Avoid contact with people who are sick.
- Parking will be staggered in garages to maintain distance. Valet parking is not currently allowed.
Universal Orlando Resort Face Covering Policies
Face coverings are required at Universal Orlando Resort. Universal has masks available for purchase. If you have a disability that prevents you from wearing a face covering, you must visit Guest Services upon arrival about alternate accommodation, which is to wear a face shield during your visit. They will give you a wristband and approve of the alternate accommodation. Know that face shields may not be permitted on certain attractions, and guests will have to switch to a face covering for those experiences.
An appropriate face covering must fit the following criteria:
- Must cover your nose and mouth and be secured under your chin
- Must fit snugly against the sides of your face and be secured with ear loops or secured around your head
It is recommended that face coverings be at least two-ply (consist of at least two layers). A gaiter is considered an appropriate face covering as long as it covers your nose and mouth.
The following are not permitted at Universal Orlando:
- Face coverings with exhalation valves
- Face coverings that are not secured with ear loops or secured around your head
- Face coverings that include mesh material or holes of any kind
- Face coverings that are unable to be secured under your chin (such as bandanas)
- Costume masks or veils, per usual costume guidelines
Universal Orlando Resort Safety Measures
- All team members are also undergoing temperature checks and are required to wear masks.
- Capacity is limited to maintain social distancing.
- Tables, chairs and all high-touch areas are being continuously cleaned and disinfected.
- Cashless payments are available at all areas (guests can use mobile ordering at select locations).
- Hand sanitizer locations are available throughout Universal and individual bottles are also available for purchase.
During our visit, passholders did not need to use the finger scan when entering the theme parks or traveling between parks on the Hogwarts Express (you'll need to show your ID). We saw team members frequently cleaning high-touch areas, and there was plenty of signage to show where restrooms are available for hand washing, along with hand sanitizer dispensers.
What happens if a park reaches capacity ?
If a park reaches capacity, arriving guests will not be able to enter until the capacity is lowered. There is no guarantee, but the park can reopen after it has reached capacity due to guests leaving. If you are a guest at a Universal Resort hotel or have purchased a date-specific ticket, you have been accounted for and will be allowed in if the park has reached capacity.
What to Expect When You Visit the Universal Orlando Theme Parks
So what should you expect on your visit to the Universal Orlando theme parks? Well, fun of course! Yes, even in this crazy time, there is still so much fun to be had. That is why we're going, right??? We've had a hoppin' good time on each of our visits, even with the new social distancing and safety measures. And speaking of, one of the biggest changes to the parks is the expanded use of the virtual lines. It hasn't been in full use on all of our visits, perhaps because of overall lower crowds, but it helps to know a little bit more about it in case you go!
Virtual Line Experience & Wait Times
Some rides, such as Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, already had existing virtual queues, but this virtual queue system has expanded to include some of the most hoppin' rides. To get the low down on Universal Orlando's Virtual Line Experience, check out our separate post about how to reserve a Virtual Line pass, plus a few tips and tricks!
As far as wait times go, we've experienced lower crowds during weekdays! During our initial June visits, we rode the Incredible Hulk Coaster within 15 minutes, the Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man and Revenge of the Mummy within 5 minutes. Race to New York Starring Jimmy Fallon was walk-on.
Since time has gone on and there have been discounted ticket specials (including the Buy Two, Get Two Days Free ticket and the Florida Resident ticket that allows unlimited visits until Dec. 24, 2020 for the price of one day), crowds and wait times have increased, especially over the weekends. We're not sure what the capacity limit is, but during our last visit over a weekend, it definitely felt busier than before. However, the pathways still had lots of room to properly social distance, even in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley) where the pathways are narrower.
Wait times may be high and appear to be very long, but keep in mind that the queues need to maintain social distancing measures. Even though the wait time for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey said 60 minutes, it actually only took us 20 minutes until we reached the loading station. That said, there may be delays for cleaning, which likely contributes to the higher wait times.
However, we were left frustrated with the Virtual Line Experience this time. A good portion of the rides at Universal Studios Florida were Virtual Line only, including Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, Revenge of the Mummy and Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. We checked a few times in the afternoon, but there weren't any passes available whenever we looked. When the afternoon thunderstorm rolled in, other rides such as Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, Transformers: The Ride 3D and The Simpsons Ride had weather delays, leaving our options extremely limited. If we were able to do things differently, we would've checked and obtained Virtual Line passes when we arrived earlier in the morning.
We'll keep you updated on how the Virtual Line Experience works, as park capacity increases and crowd levels change.
New Ride Changes
On Aug. 9, 2020, Universal Orlando shut down the following rides and attractions temporarily:
- A Day in the Park with Barney
- Fast & Furious: Supercharged
- Kang & Kudos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl
- Fear Factor Live (used as a U-Rest area upon reopening)
- Poseidon's Fury
- Storm Force Accelatron
Ride queues had physical distancing floor markers, and ride vehicles had empty spaces between parties. As for lockers, ride attendants would direct you to specific locker stations and only allowed one member of each party to put everyone's belongings in a locker.
The floor markings were at least six feet apart — and sometimes even further apart, so you wouldn't be close to other frogs on the other side of the queue's switchbacks. Pay close attention when you're in line. It can be hard to see where the next floor marker is, especially in the dark lighting of some queues, such as Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, or around corners. Sometimes, a team member will be stationed at those tricky spots to help guide you.
The pre-show and elevator simulator in Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts were suspended. A team member handed the 3-D glasses to you instead of picking a pair up yourself. (Tip: Place the glasses over the top of your mask to limit as much fogging as possible! For more mask tips, read our separate post.) Universal was very good about spacing on rides too. Each party had its own row or ride vehicle, depending on the ride. (On the Hogwarts Express, we had our own cabin!) Rows or seats were left empty in between parties. Before the loading platform on each ride, a team member gave you a mandatory pump of hand sanitizer.
For water rides (notably Jurassic River Adventure, Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls and Popeye & Bluto's Bilge-Rat Barges), guests must wear masks while waiting in line. However, you can remove them while on the ride itself!
U-Rest Relaxation Zones
Walking around the parks on a hot day while wearing a face covering can be challenging and uncomfortable at times. For this reason, Universal has set up U-Rest areas where guests can safely remove their masks. A team member keeps track of the capacity inside a U-Rest area so it doesn't overflow, but there is no time limit for how long you can stay. Parties can stick together, and there is seating available at each area.
Each park has multiple U-Rest areas. At Universal's Islands of Adventure, you can find them at Port of Entry, Seuss Landing and the former Sinbad Theater (we suggest this location because it's covered and the entire stadium is available so you can easily spread out). At Universal Studios Florida, the U-Rest areas are located at the Fear Factor Live stadium (the show is not available) and Central Park, across from the Animal Actors show.
As far as tips for wearing masks go, we highly suggest taking periodic breaks at these U-Rest areas. They gave us some relief throughout the day, and we felt toadally safe because the areas were large enough for parties to spread out. Here are more tips for wearing masks in the theme parks.
Shows and Play Areas
While the majority of rides are open, some shows are not running, and most play areas are closed. In addition to Fear Factor Live, Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration and The Nighttime Lights at Hogwarts Castle are not available. In theaters or stadiums, rows are blocked off entirely so guests are seated every other row. The team members guide you to your seats, and leave three empty seats between parties. At the conclusion of a show, guests are asked to remain seated and are directed to leave the theater row by row to avoid a mass exodus. If the show is outdoors, pay attention to the social distancing markers on the ground. The following play areas are also closed:
- Camp Jurassic
- Jurassic Park Discovery Center
- If I Ran the Zoo
- Fievel's Playground
- Me Ship the Olive
- Curious George Goes to Town
Characters are still available for meet and greets ... from six feet apart or atop raised platforms. They are also sporting masks to maintain health and safety measures. (Psst ... he was hard to find, but the Knight Bus conductor can be found at the back of the bus!) Some show performers, such as the Frog Choir, wore masks as well. The Universal Superstar Parade is not running. However, we did see Spongebob and friends come out to say hi on their float at the Superstar Character Party zone by Mel's Drive-In. Secret Life of Pets, Despicable Me and Dora and Diego alternate at the party zone throughout the day. Team members kept everyone at a safe distance.
Restaurants and Mobile Ordering
Universal's mobile ordering system has expanded to include more restaurants inside the parks! You can use the app to see which restaurants have the system in place. During our visit, we tried using mobile ordering for Three Broomsticks, which is new for the restaurant. Because it's dine-in only, you still had to wait in line for a table inside the restaurant (or the outdoor patio). We ordered using the app and hit Prepare My Order before getting in line. When we were told that we still had to wait in line, we were afraid that we hit Prepare My Order prematurely and our food would be ready before our table! However, that wasn't the case. Once we were eventually seated, a team member came over and we told her our order number. She notified the kitchen to prepare the food at that moment.
Inside, the tables were greatly spaced out and marked as "reserved" to block out tables. Utensils came in packaging, and condiments came in packets. While we noticed that a good majority of the restaurants were open and offered regular menu items, there were some locations that remained closed (Captain America Diner) or only offered outdoor seating (Lombard's).
For table-service restaurants, such as Mythos Restaurant, you'll find a team member at the entrance who is taking reservations. They will take your name, number of people in your party and your phone number (you'll get a text when your table is ready). They ask that you return within 10 to 15 minutes, but you can text the same number if you're running behind to let the staff know. Once seated, your hostess will give you a paper menu. A waiter will bring you the plates and silverware on a tray for you to pick up yourself.
What to Expect at Universal's Volcano Bay
Note: Universal's Volcano Bay will be closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays, starting Sept. 8, 2020. Additionally, the park will close for the winter, beginning Nov. 2, 2020, reopening on or before March 1, 2021.
Things work a little differently at Universal's Volcano Bay, compared to the theme parks. Because it's a water park, you do not have to (and shouldn't) wear masks in the pools, lazy rivers and water slides. However, face coverings are still required at the temperature screening and security checkpoint, restaurants and retail shops. You'll also need to wear it while riding the shuttle to and from the parking lot, as well as entering and leaving the park. It's encouraged to wear one while you hop around the park, but know that most frogs opt for staying mask-free. If you do wear one around the park, we suggest having a plastic bag on hand. When you go on rides, you can leave it with your shoes at the cubbies provided.
Team members in "dry" roles (at restaurants, gift shops, Guest Services, etc.) wear face coverings, and lifeguards wear balaclavas when they cannot socially distance. We saw team members cleaning and sanitizing life vests, rafts and inner tubes after each use. For rides with multi-person rafts, only one party is allowed in each raft. Standard height and weight requirements are still applicable. (Leap and Tad couldn't ride the Maku Puihi Round Raft Rides together because their combined weight wasn't 300 pounds.) Slides had social distancing markers on the ground to keep you at least six feet apart from other guests.
Mobile ordering is available at Kohola Reef Restaurant & Social Club and Whakawaiwai Eats, as well as regular ordering with paper menus. Once you've ordered your food, a team member will hand you the drinks and direct you to the dining tables. Someone else will then seat you and ask for your order number. Voila, another team member will bring the food to your table! Utensils and condiments come separately packaged.
The majority of the rides are up and running. Some shops and restaurants remained closed, including Bambu, Kunuku Boat Bar and the Feasting Frog.
What to Expect at Universal Orlando Hotels
The phased reopening of hotels include Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort, Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort, and Universal's Endless Summer Resort - Surfside Inn and Suites. Universal's Aventura Hotel and Loews Sapphire Falls Resort opened initially, but both will be temporarily closing Aug. 21, 2020.
Because of increased demand, Universal is offering extended hours and Early Park Admission for hotel guests on select weekends in October ... at both Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure! If you'll be visiting on a weekend, and are a hotel guest, be sure to take advantage of this extra time in the parks. Because you have the flexibility to leave the parks and still be counted in the day's capacity, take the opportunity to hit CityWalk, take a mid-day nap or enjoy a dip in the pool during the day's busiest (and warmest) hours before hopping back to the parks in the evening.
We noticed that the Universal water taxis and buses are operating from the CityWalk docks and bus lanes respectively. Just like the queues in the theme parks, there were markers on the ground to indicate where to stand. Safety first!
What to Expect at Universal CityWalk
Universal CityWalk is currently open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, with a limited number of stores and restaurants in operation. Standard parking fees now apply (with free parking after 6 p.m.). However, valet parking is still not available at this time. The parking garages open at 7:30 a.m. daily. Cars are spaced out by leaving an empty parking space in between.
As you make your way toward the security hub before you enter CityWalk, you'll see signs about the health and safety information for all guests. Then, you'll have your temperature checked via an infrared thermometer. The temperature screening is a breeze! After you pass through, you can head to the regular bag check screening stations. There were floor markings on the ground to enforce social distancing.
The following Universal CityWalk restaurants, shops and entertainment are now open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily:
- Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food
- Auntie Anne's Pretzels
- Bob Marley - A Tribute to Freedom
- Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Restaurant and Market
- Burger King Whopper Bar
- Cinnabon (mobile ordering available)
- Cold Stone Creamery
- Fat Tuesday
- Fusion Bistro Sushi & Sake Bar
- Hard Rock Cafe (requires a separate temperature screening)
- Hot Dog Hall of Fame (mobile ordering available)
- Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville (outside & Lone Palm)
- Moe's Southwest Grill
- NBC Sports Grill & Brew
- Panda Express
- Pat O'Brien's
- Red Oven Pizza Bakery (mobile ordering available)
- The Cowfish Sushi Burger Bar
- Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen
- VIVO Italian Kitchen
- Voodoo Doughnut (mobile ordering available)
- Hair Wraps
- Hart & Huntington Tattoo Company (retail only)
- Quiet Flight Surf Shop
- Universal Studios Store and select merchandise carts
- Hollywood Drive-In Golf
- Universal Cinemark
Each restaurant will have a limited menu and limited seating available. Dining reservations are not currently available. Other locations, such as the Blue Man Group and some nightclubs, remain temporarily closed. More locations may be added over time. Mobile ordering stations were located outside of the restaurants, so you don't even have to go inside to get your food!
We were craving a sweet treat from Toothsome Chocolate Emporium, so we split a Cookie Jar milkshake. Penelope Toothsome and Jaques welcomed us back right outside! The process was easy peasy. To avoid any direct contact, the cashier placed the receipt in a bin so we could grab it, and when we got our milkshake, it was placed on a table. Then, another team member used a tong to hand out the straw and spoon, which were wrapped together in a napkin. Another team member directed us to the outdoor patio. Tables were separated, and only four guests can sit at a table, so larger parties will be split up.
We hope this gives you an idea of what to expect during the Universal Orlando reopening so you can best prepare your next trip. Keep in mind that health and safety procedures may differ from park to park (here are guides to visiting Walt Disney World, SeaWorld Orlando and LEGOLAND Florida) and are subject to change. While we frogs cannot wait to hop back to the parks, we understand it’s important to be safe in doing so — and that the comfort level is different for every family. Be sure to check back later, as we will update this post as new information becomes available.