The Universal Orlando theme parks soft-opened to annual passholders and hotel guests today. The two-day soft opening allows Universal to begin implementing its new safety and sanitation procedures in advance of the parks' official return on Friday, June 5.
Theme Park Insider readers were in the park today, and I would like to share the photos and reports that they sent to me. (And huge thanks to them!)
Universal is using the same arrival procedures that they introduced when CityWall reopened last mo nth: staggered parking and six-foot distancing in queues for a temperature and bag check. NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell said yesterday that the Orlando parks will open with no more than 35 percent capacity, but fans today estimated that the park was no more than one-quarter full.
Inside the park, team members are dispensing hand sanitizer as you enter each attraction and restaurant. The longest physical waits of the day readers reported were 40 minutes for the Hogwarts Express and The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man. But waits were more than an hour in the virtual queue for Hagrid's - which was notorious for multi-hour physical waits before the parks closed.
Universal is using virtual queues on several attractions, where visitors can use the official Universal Orlando app to book their space in line.
Don't have a mobile phone? Then you'll need to burn time to go to Guest Relations and get a paper pass.
Universal is spacing guests on all attractions, with seating most often in every other row on rides.
In the Race Through New York with Jimmy Fallon theater show, readers reported Universal loading every other row and also leaving three empty seats between parties. On Despicable Me, a reader got a car to himself.
On Transformers, Universal team members were shifting the queue route so they could clean sections of that queue throughout the day. Everyone seemed to be respecting social distancing rules within queues, maintaining six feet of separation between themselves and surrounding parties.
There was no sign today of the restroom capacity restrictions that Shell mentioned during his call with Los Angeles County supervisors yesterday. Perhaps that's just coming to Universal Studios Hollywood, or perhaps that's a late request from the C-suite and not yet implemented in Orlando.
One location that saw a substantial change to its operations was Mel's Drive-In.
This counter service burger restaurant has become a "sort of" table service facility due to Covid-19. Team members are now seating guests in booths, where they can use the mobile order feature on the Universal app to select their food, which team members will bring to the table. If you don't have the app, they will escort you to a register to order and pay with a credit card.
In general, the crowd today seemed cooperative and very happy to be back in the parks, though some people seem to have found the loophole in the mask requirement by carrying a beverage with them at all times that they are "drinking." But so long as people keep moving and keep their distance, it's all good.
If you are visiting Universal during its reopening week, we'd love to hear from you in the comments. And stay tuned for some additional construction photos from the new Jurassic Park roller coaster, coming to the front page later tonight.
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