I just recently got back from a fun-filled week at the Universal Orlando Resort and I wanted to share some tips and information with you guys. As you have probably heard, Universal Orlando Resort has implemented some new health and safety measures to help keep all guests and employees safe. They are nothing major but they do require some extra planning on your part, as you will see these changes in everything, from the airport to your hotel, to the tour itself. With this information ahead of time you can make sure your trip goes smoothly and efficiently. In this post, I will talk about some of the new health and safety protocols and give you some advice on how to make the most of your Universal Orlando vacation during Covid.
First and foremost, let’s talk about the basics. What’s what and where are they? There are currently three parks that make up the Universal Orlando Resort – Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay. The first two are traditional theme parks connected to each other via the Universal City Walk; whereas, Volcano Bay is a water park located “off-site.” Parking for all three parks is centrally located in the main parking garage, which is connected to the Universal City Walk via a walkway.
All visitors to the three parks will park in the main parking garage. Guests arriving by Uber, Lyft or taxi will also be dropped off (and picked-up) in the main parking garage. This makes it very convenient for visiting the Universal Orlando Resort (unlike Disney World’s various theme parks), as you don’t have to drive from one place to another to visit any and all of the different parks. You just park in the main parking garage and walk right into Universals City Walk and the theme park entrances. Guests visiting Volcano Bay should follow the signs and park on the first level of the main parking garage. From there, just follow the signs to the complimentary Volcano Bay shuttle to the park’s entrance located a few minutes away. Parking at the Universal Orlando Resort’s main parking garage will cost you $26/day. Valet parking is also available for $55/day.
Covid Restrictions and Health and Safety Protocols:
So unlike Disney World and SeaWorld Orlando, you do not need to make a reservation to visit any of the Universal Orlando theme parks. However, both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure are operating at reduced capacity, which means only a certain number of people can enter each day. We don’t know exactly what that number is but it’s on a first-come, first-served basis so the sooner you get there, the better your chances of being admitted. Obviously, you won’t have to worry about the parks reaching capacity during random weekdays but on weekends, school breaks and holidays, I would recommend getting there sooner than later to avoid being denied.
Here’s the one positive aspect of getting there early. If you enter either Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure before they reach capacity, you’re good to stay for the whole day and travel between the two parks (if you have a valid park-hopper ticket). You’re even allowed to leave the parks and come back later on in the day. As long as you enter one of the two parks before they reach capacity, you can come and go as you please for the remainder of the day. This is great if you get there early but want to take off for a few hours during the mid-afternoon and then come back later at night.
Once they reach capacity, no one else will be allowed in other than official Universal Orland hotel guests. They do regularly monitor attendance numbers and once enough people leave the parks, they will open the parks for new entrants. And to clarify, both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure will reach capacity simultaneously. You won’t have a situation where Universal Studios Florida is open but not Islands of Adventure, or vice versa. They count capacity as a collective of both parks.
As a data point, I was there during winter break and the parks reached capacity four of the five days I was there. They reached capacity around 10 AM and then reopened again around 4 or 5 PM. There was one day that they did not reopen. I would expect the same for Spring Break.
The best way to find out if/when capacity is reached is to follow Universal Studios Orlando on Twitter (@UniversalORL). They do a pretty good job of tweeting when the parks are closed and if they anticipate on reopening. Or you can call the capacity hotline at 407-817-8317.
Here are some other things to consider:
- Face coverings are required in all areas of Universal City Walk, Universal Studios Florida, and Islands of Adventure. Your face mask must cover your mouth AND nose at all times unless you are actively eating or drinking. However, there are designated “U-rest” areas where you can remove your mask for a breather. Gaitors and cloth masks are acceptable.
- Temperature screenings are also required every time you enter Universal City Walk. As this is the central entry point for both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, you won’t be able to get to the two parks without entering Universal City Walk first. However, once your temperature is screened here, you won’t need to do it again unless you leave Universal City Walk and come back. Universal Studios Resort Hotels will have their own procedures on when/where guests will be screened.
- Floor markings are provided for social distancing almost everywhere a line would possibly form. This includes at restaurants, rides, shops, bathrooms, etc.
- Hand sanitizer use is mandatory. Complimentary hand sanitizer stations are located throughout the park for you to use and you will be required to disinfect your hands before getting on every ride. They will have hand sanitizer there for you before boarding every ride but it’s not the best quality so bring your own if you are sensitive to that sort of stuff.
- Some rides require the use of a virtual line, which means you have to download the official Universal Orlando Resort app to ride attractions such as Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike ride, Revenge of the Mummy and the other Harry Potter rides. I’ll talk more about virtual lines below.
- There are no parades or nighttime attractions that encourage large groups of people to congregate in a small area. This includes the fireworks and nighttime lights show at Hogwarts Castle. However, some small shows and street performances are still available. Character meet and greets have also been modified to allow for social distancing
- And sadly, my least favorite one of all, no more single-rider lines. This is because they are trying to limit the exposure you have to other people not in your party. By having single riders sit next to strangers, this kind of defeats the purpose. Boo but understandable.
- The kennels are currently closed. There is no scheduled opening date at this time.
- In addition to the park reaching capacity, each ride will reach capacity also if there are too many people waiting in line for it. The staff members will close off the line for an undefined period of time. However, I find that it’s kind of helpful to wait around the area for a bit because sometime’s they’ll open it back up pretty soon and the line won’t be as long.
Universal Studios Mobile App
If you want to have a more pleasant experience and be able to ride all the rides, you need to download the mobile app. The mobile app allows you to see which rides are operating, view wait times, join virtual lines and place food and drink orders. If a ride has been designated as a virtual line attraction, you must get a virtual wait time reservation in order to ride the attraction.
Here’s my #1 tip on how to maximize your mobile app experience. Unlike at Disney, you do not need to link your park ticket to a specific smartphone in order to use it. Meaning, anyone with a smartphone can use the app to join virtual lines, order food, etc.; not just the ticket holder. So if you have four people in your party with four different smartphones, each person can reserve a virtual line wait time for all four people; potentially giving your group four different ride times. Obviously, this is a hack and prolly not what Universal intended so don’t abuse it. If they catch on, they will prolly disable it.
Additionally, reservations for the virtual wait times do get snagged up pretty quickly so it’s best to check often throughout the day. The official release times are 15 minutes prior to park open, 11:00 AM, 2:00 PM and 4:00 PM but realistically, I have found ride reservations during random times of the day and just before the stated release times. Heck, just check and check back often and keep refreshing your screen. You may get lucky and snag up a time before it gets grabbed by someone else. And if you don’t have reception, connect to the free Universal Studios WiFi for faster internet service.
So those are my tips for you. Feel free to add any of your own tips in the comments section below. Thanks for reading!
The other posts in this series include:
- Flying Delta Basic Economy During Covid-19, Los Angeles to Orlando
- DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel at the Entrance to Universal Orlando
- Tips for Visiting Universal Studios Orlando During Covid-19
- The Club MCO Orlando Airport