Universal Orlando: Feels Safe, Great Value

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With the reopening of Universal Orlando, the two big questions we’ve been getting are “Is it safe?” and “Is it still a value?” Following a recent visit, both of those are a yes for me.

Full disclaimer: It is not the right time for everyone to visit theme parks, and there’s no one-size-fits-all answer about when the right time is for people to take their next theme park vacation. Common sense should always come first. Erin Foster recently wrote a post about questions you should ask yourself before planning a 2020 Walt Disney World vacation. The same types of questions apply for Universal Orlando Resort.

For those who are going to visit:

  • There are new rules and restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus.
  • Those rules and restrictions are enforced in the parks.
  • If you don’t like, agree with, or want to follow those rules and restrictions, your best bet is to stay home.

Now, on with the show.

Safety

I felt very safe visiting Universal Orlando.  The new screening procedures were simple and fast.  In terms of wearing masks, I saw virtually 100% compliance throughout the day. And Universal seems to be going beyond the 6-foot distancing guidelines in many indoor queues.  Below is some of what you can expect to address safety concerns.

Health and safety requirements: These include requirements for masks, temperature screening when you enter the parks, frequent reminders of social distancing, and reminders for hand washing.  My temperature screening took less than 10 seconds.

Social distancing: Speaking of social distancing, there are graphics on the ground both to remind you to keep a 6-foot distance between parties and to show you where to stand to give appropriate distancing. What we found in reality is that the “stand here” markers were often located more than 6 feet apart in both indoor and outdoor queues.

For example, the “stand here” markers in Gringott’s seemed to be around 10 feet apart.  Here are other sample measurements we took:

An advantage of having fewer people in the queue is that the air conditioning was fantastic inside all the rides.

In addition, places where you’d be likely to stand next to another person, such as the Coke Freestyle machines, arcade games, and restroom sinks, had alternating units switched off.

 

Stores also used markers for social distancing as you waited to check out.

Social distancing recommendations even apply to the parking garage elevators.

Sanitizing: At places where there might be contact with items, like the Coke Freestyle machines, sanitizing wipes were available. You’re also required to sanitize your hands before getting on interactive rides like Men in Black.

One item to note–props that people can interact with for photo ops were not sanitized after each guest, and sanitizing wipes were not available.

At quick-service restaurants, you are requested to leave your trash on the table, so that it can be cleared and the area sanitized before someone else sits down.  We verified that Universal actually sanitized the tables and chairs, too.

Value

There’s never a solid answer to “Is this a good value?”, because every person has a different notion of what provides value. At Universal Orlando, parades and nighttime shows have been cancelled at this point. Play areas are also closed.

 

Truth told, are those deal-breaker activities for most Universal guests? A sizable amount of the people at the parks likely won’t notice their absence.

There are also some things that have been adjusted, such as character meet and greets now being done at a distance and reduced capacity on attractions.

 

That still leaves many of the headliner attractions operating, and between virtual queue and reduced in-park capacity, wait times may never have been lower for a weekend in summer.

With the exception of the Harry Potter area of the park, where its very design is created to emphasize feeling crowded, the remainder of Universal Orlando had plenty of room to spread out as you walked between attractions.

 

There’s still plenty to do. In fact, just counting open attractions, there’s more to do at Universal Orlando than total number of attractions operating at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and EPCOT last fall. The larger question of value may come in based on personal comfort level. Although Universal has U-Rest locations where you can remove your mask for a breather, these areas aren’t all that shaded, and there’s nothing to actually do there, meaning you won’t stay there for long.

Aside from that, you’re wearing a mask out in the heat. Each person will be different, but some may find that a “day in the parks” may be shorter than in the past. Taking that midday break might be more of an essential than on other trips. Although this impacts total value, if you’re able to do more because of reduced crowds, it all balances out–and reduced crowds makes for a more pleasant experience overall.

Are you considering a trip to Universal Orlando in 2020? Let us know why or why not in the comments.

 

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Len Testa

Len Testa is the co-author of the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, and has contributed to the Disneyland and Las Vegas Unofficial Guides. Most of his time is spent trying to keep up with the team. Len's email address is len@touringplans.com. You can also follow him on Twitter: @lentesta.

17 thoughts on “Universal Orlando: Feels Safe, Great Value

  • June 15, 2020 at 11:13 pm
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    Good point about mid day breaks already had those planned on my planner. Might be going to universal but being a disney pro it will be fully planned. Potter 008

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  • June 15, 2020 at 11:20 pm
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    This is good to know. I plan to bring my two great nieces in July before I return home to Hawaii. This will be my only chance to do something like this with them. All our other travel plans had to be cancelled. I was hoping it wouldn’t be too disappointing!

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  • June 16, 2020 at 2:07 pm
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    We are Out Of State Disney AP’s and only go to Disney. It’s been over 2 decades since we’ve been to Universal. However we’ve been wanting to check out Universal, this October depending on our access to Disney we may hit Universal.
    Question is can you go between IOA and Universal, as it would be our ideal plan to hit both in the day? We may be disappointed missing the Hogwarts night time show but I don’t know what I’m missing.

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  • June 16, 2020 at 3:09 pm
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    Hi Jennifer – yes, you can go between the two parks. One way is to walk. The way I prefer, though, is to take the Hogwarts Express Train. It’s both a ride and transportation. And the effects are neat.

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  • June 16, 2020 at 3:10 pm
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    You know, Christine, when I was on Gringotts, and the ride had just started, and all of the immersive effects were working, there was a moment where I was just … on a theme park ride, being entertained. Like, I didn’t have to think about anything else for just a couple of minutes. It was great. One of the best experiences I’ve had in a theme park. And I think we all need something like that.

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  • June 16, 2020 at 4:06 pm
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    Len, thank you for the detail, this is very helpful. Do you think that the experience will change when the park hits capacity? I heard that Volcano Bay hit capacity today and that Islands of Adventure came close.

    P.S. You are truly living up to your reputation as a data scientist. I have not seen any other blogger actually take measurements. Many have commented that the markers seem further apart than 6 ft, but you are the only one to actually take it to the next level to measure it, and not just once. Kudos!

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    • June 17, 2020 at 9:10 am
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      Thanks Alex! I think that the experience can be about the same until park capacity hits ride capacity – around 33% of the pre-COVID numbers. At that point, there’ll be more guests than ride capacity, and lines will be longer.

      I think the parks are running at slightly under 10% capacity right now. There seems to be room to grow attendance without increasing wait times significantly.

      Reply
  • June 16, 2020 at 4:14 pm
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    Local/near locals. We all wear masks and use distancing on the rare occasions we leave our homes. My sons went last Thursday then one went with me for a short trip Sunday morning. We all tend to avoid all the parks in summer because of the heat. Because all but a handful of people wear masks and most don’t seem to ‘get’ distancing, I felt safer at Universal than in my local Walmart– which feels safer than Publix and Home Depot (only check-out employees wear masks @ HD). Honestly, we haven’t seen Universal so invested in giving guests such a great experience in years.

    Reply
  • June 16, 2020 at 4:56 pm
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    We were gonna go to WDW this year until they canceled my dining reservations and started talking about the new system and having to reserve a park reservation. We hadn’t bought our tickets yet before they shut it down and are staying offsite so didn’t wanna take the chance of not being able to get in without a reservation. We’ll be going to Universal instead and save WDW until next year. Glad we’re 4 adults with no kids too as I’d hate to see what that’s gonna be like.

    Reply
  • June 18, 2020 at 10:21 am
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    We went to Universal June 15 and 16 and had a similar experience. We were VERY impressed with how safe we felt and how much fun we had. I hope Disney takes note, as we are scheduled to be there next month. Keep up the great work! We use a Touring Plans all the time and absolutely love it!

    Reply
  • June 18, 2020 at 3:34 pm
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    Thanks for this article! My husband has a work trip to Orlando mid July and I’m very tempted to tag along and do a day at Universal solo. Do you think Universal will start hitting capacity for the parks within the next few weeks? I like that you don’t have to make reservations like at WDW, but I do worry about getting into the park. I wouldn’t be able to rope drop, but I could still be there fairly early (within an hour of opening). I just don’t have flexibility to go another day since I’d only be in town for a day and a half.

    Thanks!

    Reply
  • June 18, 2020 at 4:40 pm
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    Hi Amanda! I think Uni was close to capacity last weekend. I got there at 7:30 for an 8 a.m. opening, though, and was car #2 in the parking garage. So the same rules apply as before: get there early and get through the popular rides as soon as possible. (We’re testing touring plans this weekend, too.)

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  • June 23, 2020 at 8:40 am
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    Any updates after another weekend of testing? We had planned a split stay between Cabana Bay (July 7-9th) and portofino bay (10th-13th), with the thought that we would want the express passes for the weekend. Though now given the disney opening dates being that weekend I have doubts will will need the express and considered changing to cabana bay for the full trip to save some money. Just wondering how accurate you feel the current predictions are because as of this update the entire planned stay is under a 5 crowd level and the weekend is lower than the end of the holiday week (presumably because of disney).

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    • June 23, 2020 at 1:42 pm
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      I’m feeling pretty good about the crowd levels. We’re testing touring plans in the park this week, and they’re even running a bit ahead of schedule.

      Reply
  • June 23, 2020 at 7:29 pm
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    Len Testa, you mentioned being car #2…do you wait in your car or at the gate for opening? I have to go to guest services to pick up annual passes purchased back in Feb before closure and wasn’t sure how that was going to work with the new safety procedures. Thanks!

    Reply
    • June 24, 2020 at 10:58 am
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      Hey Rachel! They let me drive through all the way to the parking garage. From there I was able to walk directly through the temperature and security screenings, then through CityWalk, all the way to pick up my AP.

      When you get to a park, ask a Team Member where to go to pick up your AP. The signage at Universal hasn’t been updated, and it’s confusing. I waited in the wrong line for 10 minutes. 🙂

      Reply
  • June 24, 2020 at 11:06 am
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    We are on the fence about going this weekend. We are from out of state and wonder if the state could force the park to close. What do you think? We are of course willing to play by the rules, but a bit concerned given the state trends in cases.

    Reply

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