Universal Orlando Resort

How the Pandemic Changed Universal Orlando

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In March 2020 Universal Orlando Resort closed due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. All the theme parks, hotels, restaurants, and stores shut down for over two months. Once the resort began a phased reopening in May we noticed many operational changes due to health and safety protocols. In this article we are consolidating the health and safety protocols implemented by Universal Orlando Resort in 2020, reopening reports, permanent changes due to the pandemic, and modified operations still in effect.

This article first published January 13, 2023.

Closure & Reopening

During the COVID-19 shutdowns theme park fans became very familiar with these updates.

Universal Orlando announced on March 12, 2020, that the resort would close due to the spreading of SARS-CoV-2 aka COVID-19. The parks, hotels, and CityWalk closed to all guests on March 15, 2020.The resort remained closed for two months with guests returning on May 14, 2020. At first CityWalk’s restaurants and shops only reopened, the theme parks and resorts began reopening on June 5.

Initial Precautions

Universal was the first major property to reopen during the pandemic.

Every operational aspect of the parks changed upon reopening:

  • Face masks are to be worn at all times, indoors and outdoors
  • Six feet of distancing between parties
  • Temperature checks at hotels and before entering CityWalk
  • Hand washing and sanitizer stations installed throughout the parks
  • Hand sanitizer is dispensed to guests before riding all attractions
  • Plexiglass barriers at locations where guests and Team Members interact where possible

  • Socially distanced character meet and greets, such as groups of characters on stages.
  • Parades were discontinued for stage shows featuring the characters in the parade.
  • Shows with audience participation had that segment removed or altered.
  • All play areas closed
  • Virtual Line was used for select attractions with long queues
  • Alternating rows and seating on attractions and shows to maintain distancing
  • Ollivander’s went to a reservations-only system with one party only at a time

  • Hotels reduced seating areas in the lobby, food court, and around the pool
  • One party per elevator policy
  • Hotel arcades and play areas were closed
  • Rooms left empty for 24 hours between parties
  • Reduced room cleaning
  • TV remote covered in plastic and hand sanitizer offered as part of toiletries
  • Mobile ordering replaced counter ordering at counter service restaurants
  • Several restaurants closed or only offered outdoor seating
  • Spas and special events were canceled at the resorts

Touring Plans covered the reopening of Universal Orlando with a reopening report (Blog: Observations from Reopening at Universal Orlando Resort) and feet on the ground trip report (Blog: Universal Orlando: Feels Safe, Great Value)

Universal initially opened all attractions in the resort but several quickly went to seasonal operations, like A Day in the Park with Barney and Fast & Furious: Supercharged.  Supercharged returned, Barney closed for good. Volcano Bay shut its doors two days a week until closing for two months in early 2021. Finally, some hotels seasonally closed in fall 2020 till summer 2021.

Halloween Horror Nights fans got a trick in 2020 when that year’s event was canceled. Many of the houses were mothballed for 2021 but two were opened for daytime guests in a seasonal Halloween offering (Blog: Universal Orlando Resort Halloween 2020 Event Review & Touring Advice). Holidays at Universal Orlando debuted in a modified state without the parade, Grichmas show, and concerts. Instead, Universal got festive with a holiday tree scavenger hunt and indoor walkthrough of the Macy balloons and Christmas parade floats.

Road to a New Normal – Current Precautions

Universal began lifting some precautions  as vaccines rolled out to the general population in spring 2021. By mid-2021 most safeguards were removed including required outdoor masking, distancing in queue lines, and temperature checks. At the time of writing all COVID precautions are lifted with only the following items remaining:

  • Hand sanitation stations inside the park
  • Hotel TV remotes in plastic bags and hand sanitizer as part of toiletries
  • QR codes replacing physical menus at restaurants
  • Audience participation in some shows remains absent

Permanent Changes and Closures

The COVID closure rocked the entertainment industry and caused several permanent changes at Universal. The following changes occurred during the 2020 closures or shortly after reopening.

  • Blue Man Group in CityWalk closed permanently (Blog: Blue Man Group at Universal Orlando Has Closed)
  • Universal Dining Plan sales are suspended
  • The Groove and Red Coconut Club bars closed. The Groove turned into Universal’s Great Movie Escape and Red Coconut Club is now a seasonal-themed bar and lounge.
  • Mobile Dining remains and is now a primary way to order food at counter service locations
  • A Day in the Park with Barney in Universal Studios Florida permanently closed

Do you miss real menus and Blue Man Group (are you Derek Burgan)? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!

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Joseph Matt

Joe covers theme parks through the lens of his quality engineering day job. He has over five years of writing experience at Touring Plans and has gone on dozens of trips to Orlando over his life. When not at amusement parks you can find Joe at breweries, enjoying live theater, playing video games, and cooking.

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