This week’s SATURDAY SIX cautiously celebrates the re-opening of Universal CityWalk! With both Walt Disney World and the Universal Orlando Resort closed since the middle of March, this past week brought the first good news in a while for theme park fans. When Disney announced a week ago that it would begin a phased opening of Disney Springs on May 20th, many in the theme park fan community were looking forward to getting a piece of their “happy place” back into their lives in the near future. However, on Tuesday, Universal put out the news that it would start its road to recovery even sooner, with CityWalk starting its phased opening on Thursday, May 14th at 4PM.
Both Disney and Universal received pushback on their plans, as a significant segment of society believes it is too soon to re-open anything that involves the type of crowds that theme park resorts are built upon. In fact, TouringPlans held a poll asking readers if they wanted us in Disney Springs on the 20th to cover the re-opening of the shopping and entertainment district. With over 2,000 votes tallied, the cautious “wait until a later date” option received more than 75% of the votes. That said, Disney and Universal are moving forward with their plans, with more stores and restaurants announcing their re-opening plans every day.
# 6 – Coverage
When anything related to Disney or Universal opens in Florida, it’s generally regarded as “news.” With the resorts re-opening from being shuttered for two months, we can file that under the category of “big news.” Television stations and various other forms of media were in Orlando to cover the re-opening of Universal CityWalk.
No less than three news helicopters were seen overhead at CityWalk on the day of the re-opening, circling the area for several hours.
These copters were bringing those of us at home “BREAKING NEWS” of the re-opening.
# 5 – Parking Garages
For guests traveling to CityWalk, it was a whole new world. Normally, Universal Orlando charges a parking fee for vehicles parking inside the garages. With the theme parks still closed, the parking fee has been waived.
Once inside the garages, cones have been placed strategically in places so that two vehicles can not park directly next to each other at first. This is so that when the guests get out of their vehicle, there isn’t someone immediately next to you. Once the row has been “parked,” the cones are removed and a second wave of vehicles are then parked into the empty spots.
There is temporary signage informing guests of where to go.
The closer guests get to the main hub at CityWalk, the more safety signage they begin to see.
Before bag check, each guest is stopped for a temperature reading. Those with a temperature of over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit will not be allowed to enter.
Once cleared, guests are able to enter Universal CityWalk.
# 4 – New Procedures
Once arriving in CityWalk, guests are again informed of the new guidelines in place. These include helpful reminders of social distancing and hand washing, but also strict rules such as required face coverings.
Throughout CityWalk there are markers on the ground showing guests the 6 feet social distance rule.
One of our favorite parts of CityWalk is the various photo-ops in the area, including the large donut throne outside Voodoo Doughnut. Guests can still get their picture taken on the throne, and it is disinfected by a Team Member after each person.
There has been live music in the main area of CityWalk to entertain guests.
Markers on the ground to remind guests not to get too close to each other.
The bathrooms in CityWalk have new signage alerting guests to the enhanced cleaning procedures.
The sink in the middle has a sign above it alerting guests not to use it, so that social distance measures can be maintained.
How did these new safety measures make everyone feel?
As a person who lives and works in Florida, I can completely agree with the above two statements. In any given trip to Publix/Target/Wherever you will see many customers not wearing face masks, none get their temperature taken by the store, and many ignore the safety signage inside the store.
What does all this mean? It means guests can feel much better about having fun again…
# 3 – What’s Open
While not everything is open in CityWalk, many of the dining venues are, including the SATURDAY SIX’s beloved Voodoo Doughnut.
Outside the Voodoo Doughnut store, there are social distance markers in the queue.
There are markers inside Voodoo Doughnut as well. I’m torn on this one. On one hand, I love the option to mobile order my donuts and just pick up the box (or two) without waiting in line. On the other hand, there is nothing like being inside the Voodoo store, immersed in sugar and seeing all these donut options.
Like Voodoo Doughnut, one of the nice surprises upon the re-opening of CityWalk was venues offering mobile ordering that did not have that option before. Cinnabon was one of the venues which did not open on Thursday, May 14th, but instead re-opened on Friday, May 15th (along with Toothsome Chocolate Emporium and Cold Stone Creamery).
The next two photos show that Universal is making incremental changes each day. Red Oven Pizza Bakery re-opened with social distancing measures on Thursday. In the picture below you can see an area taped in front of the Red Oven host area. Guests stop here and are directed to when they can proceed to go inside and order.
By Friday, tape had also been placed around the photo-op outside Red Oven, letting guests know this is one object they can not sit on to get a picture.
While Toothsome Chocolate Emporium did re-open, only the Dessert Foundry and Candy Smith areas were available to guests. This means you can order one of the E-Ticket milkshakes, but the actual restaurant area is still closed to guests.
How great is this?! The walk-around characters of the restaurant – Penelope Toothsome and her robot companion Jacques – are still meeting guests outside and are wearing themed face masks! Reason #6,743 of why I love Toothsome.
Inside Toothsome, there are social distance markers on the floor.
Milkshakes are constantly being made so that guests don’t have to wait a long time after ordering one.
On the Candy Smith side of Toothsome there are a lot of tasty baked goods available.
Previously guests could fill up their own bags of candy here, but now a Team Member will fill the bag for you.
Margaritaville and the Lone Palm Airport are open for business.
Margaritaville had seating on the outdoor deck, and also had live music playing.
Bubba Gump Shrimp Co. was seating guests inside the restaurant.
The open-air seating area in CityWalk was available to all, with a reminder to practice social distancing.
The Universal Studios Store was open, with limited capacity. When the store filled up, Team Members would have guests wait outside until they could go in.
Face coverings and Universal branded hand sanitizer were available to purchase.
There was a lot of signage throughout the store reminding guests of social distancing.
There was also a new promotion.
Many of the kiosks at CityWalk were open.
The face painting/braids kiosk had a slightly different marker on the ground.
Like the Universal Studios Store, the gift shop for Margaritaville also had Team Members at the door to make sure there was a limited capacity inside.
The Hart & Huntington Tattoo Company was open. While you couldn’t get a tattoo, you could see various designs and make an appointment for a later date.
Hart & Huntington’s retail store.
The water playground area in the middle of CityWalk was available to guests.
As a connoisseur of mini-golf, I have been on the record many times saying Hollywood Drive-in Mini-Golf at CityWalk is the BEST place to play in Orlando (and we have a lot of great options down here). Guests are pulsed through the course so that they are not too close to each other.
Taylor earned the nickname “Crazy Legs” from all the exercise he gets walking outside the course to retrieve his golf ball.
The putters and golf balls are throughly cleaned after each use.
The Hollywood Drive-In golf cart is available for a photo-op
And is cleaned after each guest.
What’s not open
The newly revamped Universal Cinemark movie theaters sit empty.
Not ALL the outdoor kiosks are open yet.
Several stores in CityWalk – including P!Q – were closed shortly before the COVID-19 shutdown. Universal has not announced what will be replacing them, but “rumors and innuendo” suggest that a more family-friendly shopping experience featuring brands like Nintendo will take over this space.
As of right now, construction walls stand in front of the closed shops.
As of this writing, Hot Dog Hall of Fame hasn’t re-opened, but they are definitely getting things in order. Social distance markers have been placed in the queue.
A mobile ordering sign is also now on the Hot Dog Hall of Fame window.
BreadBox also looks to re-open with mobile ordering.
Social distance markings on the ground leading up to NBC Sports Grill & Brew.
I would expect news on the re-opening of Hard Rock Cafe Orlando any day now, hopefully for Vivo and Antojitos as well.
Before Thursday, the word going around was that the bridges leading from Universal CityWalk to Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida would be roped off. In a nice surprise, this did not happen and guests were allowed to walk around the area. While just being in the atmosphere was nice, it also allowed for some great photos without a ton of extra guests in your shot.
With Disney stopping so many construction projects, it’s interesting to see that Universal went the other way and started a whole new project outside the front entrance to USF during the shutdown.
A peek into the closed park.
How about this great shot at sunset?
Guests could get even closer to the front of Islands of Adventure.
Several people took advantage of this time to get pictures in front of an empty Port of Entry.
# 2 – Team Members
Shout out to the real heroes of this re-opening, all the Universal Team Members working hard to bring a little bit of normalcy back into our lives.
A staple of any Universal Orlando Resort vacation experience is seeing the various Team Members taking surveys at the parks and CityWalk. The survey takers are still out and about, and even they have a new procedure.
Maybe the only Team Members more ubiquitous than survey takers are the stilt walkers, and they were also back!
# 1 – The Globe Spins Again (Pssst, it’s a metaphor)
During the coronavirus shutdown, the Universal globe was stopped. We’re happy to report it is now spinning again as we take our first step back into the Universal Orlando Resort.
Whether day or night, there’s not a more beautiful sight.
This may be a little too on the nose…
Good news, even the cherished Universal Mardi Gras Bead Tree is still here to welcome us back!
Honorable Mention – ONE MORE TIME….
So there you have it: The SATURDAY SIX Cautiously Celebrates the Re-Opening of Universal CityWalk! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles covering the latest from the Disney Outlet Stores. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).
If you enjoyed this article, you will surely like the following:
Special Thanks to The Elite Brandon Glover, the bio-est of all reconstructs @bioreconstruct, Founding Member of the Universal Four @Nitro320, Photo Maven @UBetJurassic, Captain Cruiseline Scott Sanders of the world famous Disney Cruise Line Blog, my personal protege Hunter “Elvey” Underwood, the SAT SIX Fun Squad of Parkscope Joe and Nick, hot shot Michael Carelli, and Hermione Granger’s tutor Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. The SAT SIX is inspired each week by goofballs Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde and you Potterheads will enjoy Meg’s other blog work over at the Central Florida Slug Club.