Holiday Crowds Push Universal Orlando Theme Parks to Capacity

September 5, 2020, 2:01 PM · Fans packed the Universal Orlando theme parks today, pushing Universal to hit capacity and temporarily close Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay to new visitors. (Update: The parks hit capacity again on Sunday, as well.)

As is the case throughout the industry, Universal is operating its parks at reduced capacity as it promotes safe physical distancing during this pandemic. But today was the first day that Universal has had to close all three of its gates at once due to high guest demand, although Volcano Bay had hit capacity a few times before since Universal Orlando reopened in June.

Even though travel to Central Florida remains far below traditional levels, Universal Orlando has boosted its attendance with aggressive ticket discounts aimed at locals. The resort is continuing with a two-days free deal for out-of-town visitors, but it is offering a buy-a-day, get-the-year discount for locals that gives Florida residents admission every day through Christmas Eve for the price of a one-day Park-to-Park ticket.

With the parks closing in the early evening each day, that's driven locals to pack the parks on weekends. While Universal Orlando can feel like a ghost town with walk-on queues throughout the parks on weekdays, on weekends, attraction wait times are back to pre-pandemic levels.

Yes, Universal is spacing people in queues and using virtual queuing to maintain safety standards. But attraction capacity is down due to those safety standards, too. Throw in a holiday weekend, and bargain-hunting locals have obliterated those sweet, short wait times that fans who visit on weekdays have enjoyed.

Replies (20)

September 5, 2020 at 2:30 PM

Wow, amazing folks going so much with things, wonder how WDW is right now too.

September 5, 2020 at 3:24 PM

The heavy discounts are starting to bring in crowds on weekends at all of the Orlando parks, especially Sea World with the return of the buy 1 day get the rest of the year free fun card. I saw some pictures from SWO today and it looked packed. Sadly weekdays are totally empty as people still don't want to get on planes.

September 5, 2020 at 3:27 PM

Disney World's app was reporting wait times consistently under an hour at mid-day today, and emails from readers have said that Disney doesn't feel nearly as crowded as Universal on weekends. But Disney's not discounted to locals as much as Universal has.

September 5, 2020 at 3:35 PM

I don’t get why anyone would bother visiting this weekend. It’s not worth it. Guests have clearly shown they don’t give a damn about wearing masks or social distancing, so it’s becoming borderline dangerous to go on weekends now. The photos coming out of Universal today are not a good luck for the resort.

September 5, 2020 at 3:36 PM

But Disney was at capacity today as well even with much less crowding and shorter wait times. I think Disney is much more concerned about spreading the virus and the fallout that comes with that (employee outbreaks, bad PR, etc) then the other companies.

September 5, 2020 at 4:30 PM

JT: "Guests have clearly shown they don’t give a damn about wearing masks ..."

Me: Ya wanna source that claim?

September 5, 2020 at 5:19 PM

One of the reasons Disney’s not as busy is simply theIr rides and attractions are not as good and are more expensive. Disney relies on the magical atmosphere which doesn’t quite work without the parades, big shows and resorts. Just my opinion, but I think most locals agree we are not salivating over riding small world, 7 dwarfs, Pooh, Peter Pan, haunted house or slinky etc.

September 5, 2020 at 6:46 PM

TH, all you need to do is check the Twitter page for "Universal Parks News Today". There are many photos showing people with their masks either below their nose or mouth and many groups ignoring the queue markings and standing close to each other.

September 5, 2020 at 6:52 PM

I would not consider that a source with a good reputation. And individual photos are rarely an honest depiction of crowd behavior - especially for showing distancing, as those pictures often just tell you more about the focal length of the camera. It's just too easy to selectively edit photos that make a crowd look bad.

Every in-person, on-the-ground report I've received has said that crowds at Disney and Universal are doing an excellent job with mask usage. Yes, you can find people misbehaving, but they are very much the exception rather than the rule.

September 5, 2020 at 7:03 PM

I can affirm Robert's analysis. I've been to both Universal and Disney and found that both are doing an excellent job sheriffing social distancing. Any time I have seen someone "misbehaving" they have quickly been corrected.

Case and point, we rode the Hogwarts Express and inside our cabin, one of our family members took their mask off (it was just our family so we weren't sure about the rules). Universal immediately came over the intercom and said masks had to be on. They are monitoring it very closely.

September 5, 2020 at 7:23 PM

@JT: Then I would assert your assessment would be more accurate if it had read "some guests have clearly shown they don’t give a damn about wearing masks."

No evidence that they represent a significant percentage.

September 5, 2020 at 9:25 PM

Make no mistake, I think Universal (and Disney and others) in general is doing a great job enforcing their COVID guidelines as much as they can. I've had great visits during the weekdays and felt very safe then. The problem is, that Universal was clearly overwhelmed today. Enforcing mask usage is a lot easier on a ride where there are operators watching people on camera compared to a walkway where there are barely any employees on guard. And while the outliers indeed aren't a majority of the guests, they still pose a huge risk to others when the parks are as busy as they were and every location is jam packed with people. All it takes is one person strolling while enjoying their food and drink for the virus to spread to a bunch of others. I know I certainly wouldn't have felt very safe visiting on a day like this one.

September 6, 2020 at 1:44 AM

@Jack H — I call BS that you didn’t know the rules. They specifically tell you once you enter the compartment to keep your masks on at all times. And they also tell you that you are under active surveillance. On my multiple rides, this was also announced on the intercom before the ride started In addition to being told in person.

So you ruined the experience for others then? They had to tell your group to mask up DURING the ride? That sucks. Everyone on the train had their experience interrupted due to your group’s bad behavior.

There’s just no way your group didn’t know. Also, on EVERY attraction you’re told to keep your mask on at all times. Only exceptions are on water rides, while actively eating or drinking, or at a u-rest station.

September 6, 2020 at 9:04 AM

The thing is, when you take your mask of during the ride Universal has the policy to clean the complete ride vehicle top to bottom and than cycle it once until they are able to load guests again (making waiting time even longer). It's disappointing that some people just not have the discipline or intelligence to respect the rules and make it their business to learn the rule.
As always it is the minority who ruins it for the rest.

September 6, 2020 at 11:19 AM

It's interesting as Labor Day weekend was always a soft weekend. Kudos to their Marketing team for making this happen!!

September 6, 2020 at 12:49 PM

Sorry, folks. It was when they announced it as you entered the compartment that the mask was put back on not in the middle of the ride (it wasn't directed at us, specifically, and the mask was only off for a second). They never told us in person at that time (they have on a subsequent visit). There is more to the incident than I put in my brief description of it (which was poorly said). All I was trying to say was that Universal is good about enforcing the rules. My family follows the rules to the best of our ability (which can be challenging sometimes having members with mental illness). I wish people would be more gracious in their interactions with people, but I do appreciate y'all's concerns and criticism and I try to be as observant as I can be.

September 6, 2020 at 3:08 PM

- rumor is that central Florida officials will ease mask requirements soon but I would imagine the parks won’t.

September 6, 2020 at 3:10 PM

Why is this a headliner?

This is such a nickel and dime assessment. Here we are evaluating one weekend of wait times during the same week when UO told 1200 hotel employees they are being laid-off.

These VERY SHORT TERM performance assessments are such small change. When it comes to UO, there is still a big fat unanswered question that's floating out there: IS COMCAST GOING TO BUILD EPIC UNIVERSE?

Until that question is answered, everything else is small ball.

September 8, 2020 at 9:39 AM

Been to both parks recently and both are doing excellent jobs at Social Distancing masks etc. Not sure why people who have not been to the parks think otherwise. It's more comfortable at the parks then in the general public.

September 9, 2020 at 4:42 AM

TH weren’t you the one squawking about masks in July and citing yourself as the source but now want others to provide factual proof - oh boy !

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