Fans Return to the Universal Orlando Resort

June 3, 2020, 11:13 PM · 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.

Hagrid's

Universal is using virtual queues on several attractions, where visitors can use the official Universal Orlando app to book their space in line.

Virtual Line sign

Don't have a mobile phone? Then you'll need to burn time to go to Guest Relations and get a paper pass.

Paper pass

Universal is spacing guests on all attractions, with seating most often in every other row on rides.

Jurassic Park River Adventure

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.

Transformers queue cleaning

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.

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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For discounted tickets to the Universal Orlando theme parks, please visit our travel partner's Universal Orlando tickets page.

Replies (19)

June 3, 2020 at 11:43 PM

One thing to note is that reservations were required for entry yesterday and today and they quickly filled all slots, even with the reservations being open only to AP holders.

With all theme parks and many other tourist attractions still closed all over the country, and the entire southeast USA that is within driving distance of UO is itching to get out of their neighborhood, as someone who is a seasoned Orlando veteran/resident I think Universal is absolutely crazy to not require reservations. There is no down-side and not doing it creates so much potential for disaster. Where are all of these people supposed to go when the parks close their gates for capacity? Fun Spot?

Of course I could be wrong and Universal could be right. If the parks don't reach capacity I will be happy to come back on and eat my words :D

June 4, 2020 at 12:17 AM

I agree big time with the above poster. A reservation system seems like it is going to be a must. Disney is doing it but guess what I just checked Sea World and even they are doing it too. It just seems like it can remedy a lot of potential heartaches of people who plan to go and get rejected because of capacity. You will also end up with a long line of people creating a bottleneck/lot of people in an area situation as they arrive super early to get a spot in the parks. People are itching to get out there. Universal is fantastic. Plus no Disney World competition for a month. You better believe some people are going to show up.

June 4, 2020 at 12:30 AM

Looks good, we'll see how it unfolds as the crowds grow more, that'll be the real trick.

June 4, 2020 at 5:49 AM

Yesterday's AP only opening wasn't anything even resembling reality. When the public returns starting 6/5, everything will be magnified 50-100 times. These parks were never designed with social distancing in mind. Quite the opposite. How do you get around that? How do you manage tens of thousands of tourists each day under these conditions?

AP's were reporting yesterday that holding a drink was the "Get out of wearing a mask" card. So beyond the front gates and a few choke points at attractions, mask wearing (as expected) will be hit or miss at best. I caught some slack here when suggesting that wearing a mask in the Florida heat and humidity was anything short of pure misery (and potentially dangerous for some.) And you can argue for or against the effectiveness of masks, as there really isn't any good reliable scientific data yet. Some of the measures taken by the parks make a lot of sense and are definitely a step in the right direction. But there is no getting around the fact that these parks were not designed with germ warfare in mind. And that things like mandatory masks at the parks are more "safety theater" than safety.

Social distancing, limiting the number of guests, etc. is all very important. But nobody is talking about how ventilation is being handled in commercial buildings. I can tell you first hand working with it here in Florida that it is a HUGE issue. Buildings are woefully unventilated. Is that the case at theme parks? Hard to say.

Our approach here in FloriDUH has been Phase 1, Phase 2, Phase 3 ... nah, screw that. Let's go directly to "Unphased." Will it work? Maybe. Maybe not. Do you feel lucky, punk?

June 4, 2020 at 6:33 AM

Did anyone report if the self serve Coke FreeStyle machines were available or not? It's a small thing, but I always thought that all-day drink cups were a great value.

June 4, 2020 at 9:03 AM

We're still on the fence about our annual trip to Orlando for HHN. I've got my hotels booked but really not sure if we are going to go. The USA's handling of the pandemic is highly concerning to us and the fact that Universal is not requiring reservations is most likely a nail in the coffin for us. Coming from Canada we simply can't risk going and not being able to enter the park.

I'm thinking that Universal did this on purpose though knowing international visitors would avoid if they can't be guaranteed entry. I really think that for the rest of the year they will focus on locals. I just really hope that they extend the anniversary year to next year as well cause I was really looking forward to the 30th anniversary celebrations.

June 4, 2020 at 9:44 AM

@Francis 24 - I'm not sure if you're planning to visit during the daytime, but HHN tickets are date-specific and the nighttime hard-ticket event is not accessible to season pass holders (though you can purchase an HHN-specific pass allowing access for virtually any night), so in essence UO already has a reservation system in place for HHN. The only question would be if the capacity requirements change between now and then, and if the number of tickets already pre-sold has exceeded the current 35% capacity requirement.

My other concern would be UO's statement that they would limit or eliminate thematic elements that involve water and fog. Theatrical fog is a HUGE part of HHN (and most other Halloween events around the country), and an event without it would feel really strange. There are also many other design elements associated with HHN and other haunted attractions that run counter to current CDC recommendations (plastic sheeting to separate rooms, fishing line hung from above, hung obstacles to offer visual obstacles and steer guests, and other props that guests are expected to come into physical contact with). There's also the tough choice of designers regarding any maze/attraction that involves bio-hazards (zombies, virus, etc...) that may touch a little too close to home to many guests that may not appreciate or enjoy a fictional dramatization of what is happening in the real world. Would non-fans be willing to queue up for a Walking Dead maze given the state of the world today?

If I had a trip planned this fall explicitly for HHN, I'd probably keep those reservations in place (assuming I can still get a refund up until 30-60 days prior), but have the expectation that the event may be cancelled and be prepared to cancel or delay the trip.

June 4, 2020 at 12:03 PM

JavaDuke -- I read somewhere yesterday that the Coke Freestyle machines are available, but the team member will give you a paper cup to fill -- which you can then pour into your all-day cup yourself.

June 4, 2020 at 1:23 PM

The liberal state gov's and mayor's (and the media for that matter, too) have completely and utterly intentionally destroyed their credibility on mask wearing and social distancing by encouraging people to get out there and protest loud and often. Just 2 weeks after saying protests were #grandmakillers and would definately result in many deaths. Plus, the whole thing about giving massive fines to small businesses and arresting some small business owners because having a barber shop or a small retail store open would definately result in massive deaths. But. come out and protest in every single city in the nation loud, massive and often. No deaths could possibly result from that.
I fully support justice for George Floyd and David Dorn who was murdered in st louis (very small numbers of people are demanding justice for him or know his name for some really odd reason), and all of the other black and brown and white and asian people who have been beaten up or killed by both cops or rioters. For the record. I have been wearing a mask and will prob continue to as heat and amount of time in it allows.

So yeah. Given all of the above, Mask and social distancing compliance will prob be short lived at the theme parks unless the politicians and the media succeed in scaring the hell out of all of us again. That is going to be really difficult for them to do, given their public statements and actions in the last 7 days however.
Peace and justice to everyone from someone who works in the justice system

June 4, 2020 at 2:02 PM

@davedisney: I must have missed the news, exactly which governors and mayors are openly telling folks "go out and protest?" In Illinois, Pritzker has been wary about reopening despite the state meeting all the criteria and still warning on the dangers while upset about rioting.

June 4, 2020 at 2:18 PM

It certainly is an interesting time. On the same day the governor announced a bunch more re-openings, Florida reported the biggest spike in cases of any day throughout the whole pandemic
https://www.orlandosentinel.com/coronavirus/os-ne-coronavirus-thursday-june-4-20200604-rtulphcgwzawvat3zniyh2ru3m-story.html

I think at this point everyone has just mentally moved on from "lockdown mode" and into "go out but take precautions mode" as the new normal.

June 4, 2020 at 2:29 PM

@the_man .... it's a worrying 2 day trend for us, but it is only 2 days. Orange county is steady right now, but with mainly locals visiting the parks, that might also take a turn for the worse. Other daily spikes have occurred over the past few weeks, but there was a doubling of cases from Monday to Tuesday, and an increase from that spike on Wednesday, so anyone who thinks this is something that will not effect the way things are beginning to open up in Orlando, could be very wrong.

Hey, I truly hope I'm very wrong, but if this trend continues to rise at the same pace, or gets worse even, I wouldn't get too excited about Disney opening on July 11th, because it may never happen.

Buckle up for a wild ride over the next few months.

June 4, 2020 at 2:36 PM

Sadly, even if cases rise again, I can see most states resisting shelter orders with idea of "clearly, they didn't work before so no reason to try again" ignoring how they weren't given enough time. Pritzker gets flack for keeping Illinois under shelter for over two months yet the state is practically the only one to meet all the criteria for reopening (even with current messes).

And yes, sadly, a push on "well, folks will die anyway so might as well adjust, economy more important." While a lot of businesses are still smart (like movies/TV productions), others are going to just accept this despite the dangers.

June 4, 2020 at 3:31 PM

Don’t stress about 1-day spikes. Every week there is a spike in the national numbers sometime between Tuesday and Friday. Does that mean the virus isn’t being transmitted as easily on the weekends? Of course not. It is likely a matter of when positive cases are reported. A better measure of virus transmission numbers would be to look at weekly or 7-day moving averages. Those numbers have been trending down since the end of April, and more importantly, the number of deaths have declined sharply the past 6 weeks.

Look at the bar graphs in the link below to see weekly spikes nationwide, but click on the 7-day moving average to see the overall declines.

https://www.worldometers.info/coronavirus/country/us/

June 4, 2020 at 4:55 PM

MikeW--my comment would include the gov of calif, the mayor of LA, Santa monica and mayors of most of the bay area, Speaker Pelosi, Minority leader of the Senate. I have heard all of those saying the large protests are beautiful things. I saw the DA of San fran on an interview today saying she is sorry she cannot be out among the protestors. Dr Fauci and Dr Birks have either not received many invites to go on shows the last 7 days or have been quiet about the protests on their own decision. Could just be CNN/MSNBC and the major newspapers ignoring them suddenly because what they have to say does not fit their desired political narrative/activism. I haven't heard the gov of Illinois either way, so I will trust you on that. Usually, the gov's of the deeply blue states act in unison and repeat similar sound bites on most national things, so sorry if the gov of Illinois did not here. Good for him, if he is being a bit more consistent that the others.
Specifically, the gov of Calif was very anti protest for the let's gets back to work and is now suddenly very pro protest for the much larger current protests. So that has very direct relevance for the many many theme parks in calif.

June 4, 2020 at 9:36 PM

Don't feed the troll. I've tried to engage in good faith, but it's like talking to a brick wall.
It's not worth it.

On the subject of Universal -- my trip is booked for mid-June. Pretty excited to experience this myself.

June 5, 2020 at 6:02 PM

If anyone would like to see our official state data you can visit Florida's COVID-19 Data and Surveillance Dashboard here:

https://experience.arcgis.com/experience/96dd742462124fa0b38ddedb9b25e429

This is a really great tool from the FL Dept. of Health and shows daily FL Resident cases and deaths state-wide, but also by county and even zip code. It's currently showing 80 positive cases in Universal's zip code of 32819 / 2,126 cases in Orange County.

I am happy that the parks are reopening and are (trying) to do so safely. Unfortunately, for me the risk of visiting a park right now is still too high (I know, I know and I've been waiting so long for Iron Gwazi!), but that is a personal decision. I'll be first in line the minute we all start getting tested daily like an NBA player at Disney!

June 6, 2020 at 9:40 AM

weird that atlblaze is going to universal in mid june when (i believe) he has very recently been super worried about covid numbers going out of control. I don't get it. Would like to discuss it with him or her over a beer or cola.

June 6, 2020 at 1:04 PM

@Russell That's a good point I didn't think of it that way. We do normally go during the day too but I'd gladly give that up to go to HHN again this year which would be reserved tickets your right. We're still hoping and waiting to see what will happen but if all of the changes you mentioned or implemented I doubt will go. It just won't be the same and just not worth the expense for us to fly down.

Fingers crossed they'll come up with a vaccine but most likely will have to wait until next year!

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