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 more families arriving for summer break and the recent opening of the toadally epic Jurassic World VelociCoaster, 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 no longer required if you are fully vaccinated (though unvaccinated guests are still required to wear masks indoors). 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 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
- Maintain a safe distance between travel parties.
- Hand sanitizer is available for use prior to boarding ride vehicles, as well as in other areas around the destination.
- Valet parking is not currently available.
Universal Orlando Resort Face Covering Policies
At Universal Orlando Resort, face coverings are no longer required for fully vaccinated guests. All unvaccinated guests ages 3 and up must wear a face covering while indoors. U-Rest areas are no longer available.
Universal Orlando Resort Safety Measures
- All team members, regardless of vaccination status, are required to wear masks in vehicles and spaces where social distancing can not be maintained.
- Tables, chairs and all high-touch areas are being continuously cleaned and disinfected.
- Cashless payments are available in 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.
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.
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.
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 expanded use of virtual lines. 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
Some rides, such as Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, already had existing virtual queues prior to Universal Orlando's reopening, 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. 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.
There have been times that we've been left frustrated with the Virtual Line Experience. During a particularly busy day, many 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 had checked a few times in the afternoon, but there weren't any passes available when we looked. When an 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.
If the parks are busy enough to be utilizing the Virtual Line Experience, get your passes as early as possible. Keep checking around 11 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. for new passes to be released throughout the day if you are unsuccessful first thing in the morning. We've successfully been able to snag a pass when the clock strikes the hour, but passes go quickly (they may only be available for a couple of minutes). We recommend setting an alarm for five minutes before each release time and start checking in case any time slots pop up early.
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, and we expect to see this trend continue through summer.
New Ride Changes
Universal Orlando has shut down the following rides and attractions temporarily:
- Fear Factor Live
- Poseidon's Fury
- Storm Force Accelatron
The rides are now loading every row to increase ride capacity. Single Rider lines have also reopened. As for lockers, ride attendants may direct you to specific locker stations and only allow one member of each party to put everyone's belongings in a locker.
Shows and Play Areas
While the majority of rides are open, some shows are not running, and some play areas remain closed. Fear Factor Live is not available. Universal Orlando’s Cinematic Celebration recently returned but is still only available on select nights. Camp Jurassic, If I Ran the Zoo and Fievel’s Playland play areas have recently reopened, but the following play areas remain closed:
- Jurassic Park Discovery Center (currently home to the VelociCoaster store; The Burger Digs is open inside for dining)
- Me Ship the Olive
- Curious George Goes to Town
Characters are still available for meet and greets ... from a safe distance away or atop raised platforms. Many of the characters are sporting masks to maintain health and safety measures. Some show performers wear masks as well.
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 used mobile ordering for Three Broomsticks, which is new for the restaurant. 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, at some restaurants, you scan a QR code at your table that alerts team members to where you are seated, and they bring your food to you!
Frog tip: If you only want Butterbeer, try Hog's Head or the Butterbeer carts.
Inside, the tables are greatly spaced out and marked as "reserved" to block out tables. Utensils come in packaging, and condiments come 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 (Doc Sugrue's Desert Kebab House).
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, 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, 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.
While 2020 was anything but ordinary, Universal toadally delivered with some modified events upon reopening, including frightful and family fun for Halloween, such as trick-or-treating and HHN-esque houses! And not even the Grinch could steal the holidays. Guests came face-to-face with the gigantic Macy's balloons via a walking path and waved at their favorite characters decked out in their seasonal best. Santa visited too! In 2021, fan-favorite Mardi Gras returned in a modified format, and Halloween Horror Nights will be making a terrifying comeback this fall.
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 only required for unvaccinated guests indoors. It's optional to wear one while you hop around the park, but know that most frogs opt to stay 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.) who are not fully vaccinated wear face coverings, and lifeguards who are not fully vaccinated 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.)
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 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.
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.
We noticed that the 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 8 a.m. to 12 a.m. on weekdays (and until 12:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights), with the majority of stores and restaurants in operation now. Standard parking fees apply (with free parking after 6 p.m.), but valet parking is still not available at this time. The parking garages open at 7:30 a.m. daily, though it may depend on Early Park Admission hours. When Islands of Adventure had Early Park Admission starting at 7 a.m. on a recent weekend, we were able to access the garages around 6:45 a.m.
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
- Bob Marley - A Tribute to Freedom
- Bread Box Handcrafted Sandwiches
- 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 Orlando (requires a separate temperature screening)
- Hot Dog Hall of Fame (mobile ordering available)
- Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville (outside & Lone Palm)
- 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 (retail only)
- Quiet Flight Surf Shop
- The Smuggler's Hold
- Universal Studios Store and select merchandise carts
- CityWalk's Rising Star
- Hard Rock Live
- Hollywood Drive-In Golf
- Universal Cinemark
Each restaurant may have a limited menu and limited seating available. 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.