Universal Orlando’s theme parks will reopen to the public on Friday, and it will be a very different experience since the last time muggles visited the world of Harry Potter or strapped themselves into the Incredible Hulk roller coaster.
Before Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and the Volcano Bay water park closed on March 16 because of the coronavirus pandemic, the streets of Universal Studios were filled with Mardi Gras revelers and there was an hours-long wait to ride a new Hagrid-themed coaster.
Almost three months later, the world has changed.
The next time you go to Universal’s theme parks, here’s what you can expect.
Masks will be required, for one, and there will be temperature checks at the turnstiles. Characters will still be stationed around the parks to greet you, like Beetlejuice, the Scooby-Doo gang and Marvel heroes, but they will just be waving from a distance. Some of them will wear masks, too.
Unlike some attractions, Universal is not requiring guests to make a reservation in advance to visit their parks. But, Universal Orlando said in a recent announcement, “since we’re limiting attendance, there may be times when the parks reach capacity and additional guests will not be admitted."
The park is expanding its use of “virtual lines” like the one that has been used for the ride Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon. Now there are virtual queues available for a number of other attractions. Guests can log into the Universal app or at kiosks set up in the park and get a designated return time. The idea is to minimize the amount of time guests are waiting in actual lines. Beware that the virtual spots can go quickly — many have been unavailable after 10 a.m., according to social media accounts during passholder previews.
Universal hasn’t officially listed the rides that will have virtual lines, but during the passholder preview this week they included:
- Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
- Fast & Furious- Supercharged
- Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
- Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon
- Revenge of the Mummy
You can only make reservations for a ride if you are in the park, and you can book ride times for eight to 10 people. There were some glitches reported in the previews where people had to open and close the app several times to make it work, but Universal said it is smoothing things over.
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It’s best to download the app at home before venturing to the park, where WiFi can be spotty. In addition to being used to get into virtual lines, the app can be used for mobile food ordering. It also has a map of the parks and wait times.
Social distancing markers have been placed in ride loading areas to help crowds space themselves out accordingly. Interactive play areas are closed, as are water and mist elements on attractions, valet operations and single-rider lines.
The preview-goers found extra spaces between guests on rides, and they also found a respite from masks at “U-Rest Areas” around the park. Hand sanitizer will be plentiful.
The only other exception for masks will be when dining at the parks’ restaurants, where tables will be widely spaced apart, and for attractions that include signiﬁcant amounts of water as part of the experience.
At Volcano Bay, which Universal calls a water theme park, guests do not have to wear face masks in pools or on water rides. They are still encouraged to keep to six-feet social distancing measures, and to wear a mask when not on the rides.
If you’re not planning to head back to the theme parks soon and are looking for refunds for previously purchased tickets, Universal has said that unexpired single-day tickets that have already been purchased will be valid on any day for 365 days from the purchase date. Unexpired multi-day tickets that have already been purchased will also be valid for ﬁrst use on any day for 365 days from purchase — but, as always, the multiple days must be used within seven days of ﬁrst use. Florida Resident discounted ticket usage windows and block-out dates remain unchanged, unless otherwise communicated.
Blue Man Group shows will remain closed through June 30, and guests who have purchased tickets for a show during this time frame will be automatically refunded. Call (407) BLUE-MAN (258-3626) for assistance.
Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure will be open 9 a.m.-6 p.m. daily and Volcano Bay 10 a.m.-5 p.m. CityWalk, the shopping and restaurant district adjacent to the theme parks, is open 8 a.m.-10 p.m. daily — temperature checks and masks are required.
Disney World will begin reopening to the public on July 11, and SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Adventure Island in Tampa will reopen on June 11.