Is Universal Orlando Resort worth it for first-timers in 2021?


Universal's Hogwarts Castle under a bright sky. Photo by James Lee on Unsplash.

With COVID-19 vaccinations on the horizon, 2021 is becoming a promising year to travel. This is especially true for destinations that have already implemented coronavirus precautions, which have methods to protect guests even as some sense of normalcy returns.


Universal Orlando Resort is one of those destinations, but if you're traveling there for either the first time or the first time in several years, is it worth the vacation in 2021?


Attraction Availability

Limited capacity in theme parks has led to renovation projects becoming more of a hinderance than usual, as the ability to get through attractions faster with lower crowds and shorter lines means every unavailable attraction makes itself known.


Fortunately, almost every attraction is running as of the beginning of 2021. Revenge of the Mummy saw brief refurbishments, but is already running again. Hogwarts Express and Jurassic Park River Adventure are facing the same short refurbishments this month, but will be open by the end of the month. Popeye & Bluto's Blige-Rat Barges will be down from Feb. 22-Feb. 19, 2021 and Dudley Do-Right's Ripsaw Falls will be down from Feb. 22-March 19, 2021.


No other attractions have announced refurbishment dates, and three of the ones going down temporarily are water rides, meaning 2 of 3 aquatic attractions will still be running while the other is being refurbished.


Character meet-and-greets, parades and stage shows have already been running in limited capacity with social distancing measures. Characters stand a safe distance behind blocked-off areas from guests, but still interact just as if they were close. Entertainment options are so abundant in the park that it feels difficult for veterans to notice if any received cuts due to the virus. In a time where cutting content can be seen as a justifiable business move, Universal Orlando Resort has trended in the opposite direction. As a result, the park feels vibrant and alive, a welcome escape when normalcy and comfort has become a commodity.


Make no mistake, as even in Universal's abundance of content, social distancing and sanitization efforts are still in full-effect. Universal strikes as good a balance as can be expected between maintaining safety and giving guests a full experience.


Special Events

Mardi Gras festivities will not be taking place in Louisiana this year, but Universal is still set to celebrate the holiday from Feb. 6-March 28. This event, included in the admission cost of every ticket, includes special food booths and entertainment offerings not usually offered. The tribute store also returns with Mardi Gras merchandise for a limited time. The usual concerts will not be a part of this year's Mardi Gras celebrations, but there is still enough new content to extend a vacation day where there is already much to do.


The fan-favorite Halloween Horror Nights has yet to be confirmed for 2021, but Mardi Gras getting on the schedule at least lends to hope that the haunting event could return in some form this year. Although it was cancelled in 2020, a couple of the haunted houses and a few of the event-exclusive food items made their way to the parks' regular operating hours, so at the very least it stands to reason that guests will be able to experience some portion of the event regardless of what its full occurrence looks like.


New Attractions

Not counting the water park, Universal Orlando Resort has seen six new attractions in the last five years. If you have not been recently, there is an abundance of new attractions to enjoy. If you have never been, a lot of Universal's attractions are still so new that they consist of some of the most cutting-edge technologies for theme park attractions.


On top of that, Universal's newest roller coaster, the Jurassic World VelociCoaster, is set to open summer 2021. With a top speed of 70mph and an 80-degree drop, it promises to be one of the most extreme theme park attractions in all of the Orlando area.


The Verdict

With all of its attractions—including its newest one—set to be open for a majority of 2021, including shows and special events, this year might be especially friendly for new or lapsed Universal Orlando Resort travelers. Safety measures only aid the experience, and limited capacity could help more inexperienced guests get to experience every attraction that interests them.

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