When Universal Orlando Resort reopened June 5, 2020, the Gringotts dragon welcomed us with open wings (OK, OK, and a little bit of fire). We found that the same enchantment, thrills and fun that we knew and loved about Universal pre-closure were still very much present (oh how we missed you, Butterbeer!). Since then, many policies and procedures have evolved, and we're now starting to see some return to "normalcy."
While crowds were low for a bit after Universal Orlando's reopening, more and more guests headed back to the theme parks, especially for the holidays and spring break. The parks even reached full capacity during their busiest times. With the parks now operating at full capacity, it's unlikely that they'll reach full capacity during your trip. However, with winter break currently in full swing, the parks are definitely seeing higher crowds on a daily basis.
Likewise, as more time has gone on, more and more experiences have opened or been modified to make the most of the guest experience at Universal Orlando. We have many more trips under our belts (or should we say, house robes), and it's safe to say that we have our froggy footing. Additionally, Universal Orlando's health and safety policies have changed a bit upon reopening: temperature checks have been phased out and ground markers have disappeared. Face coverings are not required for fully vaccinated guests but are still encouraged for guests who have not been vaccinated. We'll get into all of those important details below.
We're here to share all that we know about Universal Orlando's reopening so that you're ready to hop back into the fun too, once you're ready. We're starting with the need-to-know health and safety information, but if you just want to learn about expected crowds, virtual lines and what's hoppening in the parks, hop straight to that section! And don't froget to hop back to this post, as we update this guide often with fresh "deets!" Ready? Let's hit it!
Universal Orlando Health & Safety Procedures | Universal Orlando Theme Parks | Universal's Volcano Bay | Universal Orlando Hotels | Universal CityWalk | Reopening Status of Major U.S. Theme Parks
Universal Orlando Health and Safety Procedures
Before we get to the fun stuff, let's talk about the health and safety measures. 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
- Face coverings are optional for fully vaccinated guests. For guests who have not been vaccinated, face coverings are encouraged while indoors.
- Each guest must confirm they aren't feeling sick or experiencing flu-like symptoms, haven't been in contact with someone known or suspected COVID-19 symptoms and are not under any self-quarantine orders before visiting.
- Hand sanitizer is available for use prior to boarding ride vehicles, as well as in other areas around the destination.
- Cashless payments are available in all areas (guests can use mobile ordering at select locations).
Team members have recently been directing guests to use the finger scan when entering the theme parks or traveling between parks on the Hogwarts Express, and it's cleaned regularly. We see team members frequently cleaning high-touch areas, and there is plenty of signage to show where restrooms are available for handwashing, along with hand sanitizer dispensers.
Universal Orlando Resort Face Covering Policies
At Universal Orlando Resort, face coverings are optional for fully vaccinated guests. For guests who have not been vaccinated, face coverings are encouraged while indoors - including restaurants, shops and indoor hotel public areas. U-Rest areas are no longer available.
What Happens If a Park Reaches Capacity?
As often happens with the opening of a new ride, the Universal Orlando theme parks can (and have) hit 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. During spring break when the parks were operating at limited capacity, they hit capacity quickly, as early as 11 a.m. The parks are more likely to hit capacity over the weekends. To prepare you in advance, we've got some advice for touring the parks when they're at capacity. That being said, as of February 2022, the parks have not hit capacity since April 2021.
If you are a guest at a Universal Resort hotel or have purchased a date-specific ticket, you are considered a priority guest. Upon nearing capacity, priority guests will continue to be allowed in until the maximum limit has been reached, while other guests may be stopped. There may be a brief delay, but once capacity is lowered, priority guests will be the first to enter.
For live updates, you can call the Universal Orlando capacity hotline at 407-817-8317, or check the park hours on the Universal Orlando app or website. If you call the hotline, you must first indicate which park you're going to (Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure OR Universal's Volcano Bay) via the phone menu, and then you'll be asked if you're a Universal hotel guest (if not, choose the "other" option).
The parks are less busy on weekdays than on weekends, so we highly recommend visiting on weekdays. If you are a hotel guest with the benefit of Early Park Admission, we also recommend taking advantage of it to be some of the first in the parks. If neither of these applies to you, and you'll be visiting during a peak time, our best advice is to purchase your tickets in advance and arrive early!
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 since the parks' reopening.
And speaking of, one of the biggest changes to the parks is the virtual queue process. It hasn't been in full use on all of our visits, but it helps to know a little bit more about it in case you go! It's more likely to be used over the weekends than during the week.
Virtual Line Experience and Wait Times
As of July 2021, Universal Orlando began testing a new type of virtual line system. 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. Initially, when the park reopened in June 2020, popular rides had wait times as low as 15 minutes. Since time has gone on and there have been discounted ticket specials, crowds and wait times have increased, especially over the weekends and around holidays. To set realistic expectations, there are more people on the pathways when there are heavier crowds, but it is still manageable to navigate your way around the parks without getting too close to others. You may want to avoid watching the Frog Choir and Triwizard Spirit Rally shows in Hogsmeade, especially if Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey has a long line, as that narrow area can get easily congested.
If the parks are busy enough to be utilizing the Virtual Line Experience, get your passes as early as possible. Reservations fill up quickly. If a guest cancels their return time, it is made available for other guests so if you weren't able to get one on your first try, we recommend checking back frequently.
During our first visit in 2021, we visited on a weekday, and the crowds were the lowest we had seen since August. Hagrid's didn't even use a virtual queue and had a consistent wait time of 30 to 45 minutes nearly all day long. We saw heavier crowds in March due to spring break season, throughout the summer (especially with the opening of Jurassic World VelociCoaster) and throughout the holiday season.
Ride and Show Updates
Universal Orlando has shut down Caro-Seuss-el in Islands of Adventure and Revenge of the Mummy in Universal Studios temporarily. All open rides are now loading every row to increase ride capacity. Single Rider lines have also reopened.
Characters are available for meet and greets at both indoor and outdoor locations.
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 as the list is constantly changing. We recommend you download the latest version of the Universal Orlando app before you visit because it has some new features. After you’ve ordered and paid for your food with the app, tap "Prepare My Order" once you're at the restaurant and wait at either the designated tables or pickup window to receive your order.
Frog tip: If you only want Butterbeer, try Hog's Head or the Butterbeer carts.
Dining reservations aren't required, but they are strongly recommended. They can be made in person or through the Universal Orlando website. For table-service restaurants, such as Toothsome Chocolate Emporium, you'll find a team member at the entrance who is taking reservations. They will take your name, the 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 of receiving the text, but you can text the same number if you're running behind to let the staff know. Once seated, you can scan the QR code on the table with your phone camera to find the restaurant's menu.
While 2021 was anything but ordinary, Universal toadally delivered when it came to their annual events. Halloween Horror Nights made a creepy comeback in the fall celebrating 30 years of fear with 10 horrifying haunted houses, five spine-chilling scare zones and two terrifying shows. Not even the Grinch could steal the holidays! We were hopping with excitement to experience the return of Universal's Holiday Parade featuring Macy's, the Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular and Mannheim Steamroller. While it was celebrated in a modified format in 2021, fan-favorite Mardi Gras came back in full swing in 2022 with the much anticipated return of both the Mardi Gras Parade and concert series.
What to Expect at Universal's Volcano Bay
Note: Universal's Volcano Bay closed for the winter from Nov. 2, 2020, and reopened Feb. 27, 2021.
Much like the theme parks, wearing a mask is optional for fully vaccinated guests and encouraged while indoors for guests who have not been fully vaccinated. 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.
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 as of March 2021. 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.)
Mobile ordering is available at Kohola Reef Restaurant & Social Club and for VB Premium Seating Dining, 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!
All rides are up and running at Volcano Bay.
What to Expect at Universal Orlando Hotels
The phased reopening of hotels included Hard Rock Hotel, Loews Royal Pacific Resort and Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort. Universal's Aventura Hotel opened initially, but ceased operations on Aug. 21, 2020. It is back to normal operations, as of June 16, 2021.
More hoppy news! Loews Portofino Bay Hotel reopened Dec. 1, 2020. Originally scheduled to open its doors in March 2020, Universal's Endless Summer Resort - Dockside Inn and Suites officially opened Dec. 15, 2020. After closing its doors on Aug. 21, 2020, Loews Sapphire Falls Resort reopened on May 18, 2021. Universal's Endless Summer Resort - Surfside Inn and Suites reopened May 26, 2021.
If you'll be visiting on a weekend (or around a holiday) and are a hotel guest, be sure to take advantage of Early Park Admission. When a park reaches capacity, no guests will be allowed to enter. However, hotel guests have priority access if the park reopens after enough guests leave.
As of January 2021, all hotels are offering contactless experiences, such as hotel texting services, express checkout, contactless room deliveries and housekeeping services. Upon request, the hotel will deliver fresh towels, linens and bathroom amenities to your door. Housekeeping will not enter your room during your stay.
Rhe Universal water taxis and buses are operating from the CityWalk docks and bus lanes, respectively.
What to Expect at Universal CityWalk
Universal CityWalk is currently open from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. everyday (but will switch to 8 a.m. to 12 a.m. on weekdays and 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays in 2022), with the majority of stores and restaurants in operation now. Standard parking fees apply (with free parking after 6 p.m.). The parking garages open at 6 a.m. daily. 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.
The following Universal CityWalk restaurants, shops and entertainment are now open:
- Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food
- Auntie Anne's Pretzels
- Bend the Bao
- Bob Marley - A Tribute to Freedom
- Bread Box Handcrafted Sandwiches (mobile ordering available)
- Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. Restaurant and Market
- Burger King Whopper Bar
- Cinnabon (mobile ordering available)
- Cold Stone Creamery
- Fat Tuesday
- Hard Rock Cafe Orlando (requires a separate temperature screening)
- Hot Dog Hall of Fame (mobile ordering available)
- Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville
- Lone Palm Airport
- Menchie's frozen yogurt
- Moe's Southwest Grill
- NBC Sports Grill & Brew
- Panda Express
- Pat O'Brien's
- Red Oven Pizza Bakery (mobile ordering available)
- Starbucks Coffee
- The Cowfish
- Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen
- Top of the Walk Food Court
- Vivo Italian Kitchen
- Voodoo Doughnut (mobile ordering available)
- Candy Smith
- CityWalk Hub Store
- Hair Wraps
- Hart & Huntington Tattoo Company
- Quiet Flight Surf Shop
- The Smuggler's Hold
- Universal Studios Store and select merchandise carts
- Universal Legacy Store
- CityWalk's Rising Star
- Hard Rock Live
- Hollywood Drive-In Golf
- Universal Cinemark
You can now make advance dining reservations for Bigfire, Antojitos, Bob Marley - A Tribute to Freedom, Cowfish, NBC Sports Grill & Brew, Pat O'Brien's, Toothsome, VIVO Italian Kitchen, Jimmy Buffet's Margaritaville and Hard Rock Cafe Orlando. Some nightclubs remain temporarily closed, and more locations may be added over time.
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.
Related: Heading to Universal Orlando During a Peak Time? Here's What You Should Know