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Here’s what to know if you go to Universal Orlando when it opens Friday

What to wear, download and expect before visiting the theme parks as they reopen.
Universal Studios in Orlando has already opened its resorts and City Walk. It opens its theme parks to the public on Friday.
Universal Studios in Orlando has already opened its resorts and City Walk. It opens its theme parks to the public on Friday. [ AP (2015) ]
Published Jun. 4, 2020|Updated Jun. 4, 2020

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.

Guests make their way toward the entrance of Universal Studios in Orlando in 2016. The park will have some noticeable changes when it reopens to the public on Friday.
Guests make their way toward the entrance of Universal Studios in Orlando in 2016. The park will have some noticeable changes when it reopens to the public on Friday. [ Times (2016) ]

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.

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando opened in 2010. Some of the attractions there will use the "virtual line" option available on the park's app to help with social distancing.
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando opened in 2010. Some of the attractions there will use the "virtual line" option available on the park's app to help with social distancing. [ Tampa Bay Times (2010) ]

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.

The Polynesian-themed Volcano Bay water theme park at Universal Orlando Resort, which includes an impressive 200-foot volcano water slide, will also reopen on Friday. Because of the water elements, masks will not be as prevalent but are requested when guests aren't on the water rides.
The Polynesian-themed Volcano Bay water theme park at Universal Orlando Resort, which includes an impressive 200-foot volcano water slide, will also reopen on Friday. Because of the water elements, masks will not be as prevalent but are requested when guests aren't on the water rides. [ UNIVERSAL ORLANDO RESORT | Universal Studios ]

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.

Related: Disney wants to open its theme parks in July
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