The start of 2021 brings hope with promises of healing from the coronavirus, but with herd immunity still some time away, travel restrictions and precautions are still in place for the foreseeable future. Whether you are traveling in the earlier portions of 2021 or closer to the holidays, it is likely some, if not most of parks' current protocols will remain through the year.
Universal Orlando Resort has been operating with its current protocols since its soft reopening date of June 3, 2020, and the state of the parks reflect that of a well-polished plan. While the design of the park itself does not always lend to optimal space, team members do an exemplary job at enforcing rules and creative planning prevents a lot of narrower pathways and queues from clogging.
Safety Safety is of the utmost concern when visiting theme parks. Universal does as competent a job as anywhere else, with social distancing markers placed on the ground in queues, face coverings being required and team members handing out hand sanitizer before guests enter into attraction vehicles.
While they appear in limited form, Universal does run several of its shows—both those in theaters and on open-air stages in various lands—and its usual short-form parades. Social distancing is still enforced and a lot of the open-air show locations are big enough to making avoiding crowds easy, but it is impossible to stop larger groups from congregating altogether in those situations. While it is easy to stay to the back of crowds in most cases, it is important to note they still occasionally form.
Team members are at the heart of maintaining safety, and they deserve all the credit for their work. A special unit donning vests that denote them as being dedicated to safety and cleaning can be found in every location around the park, and it is rare to see them not actively cleaning. Team members were quick to correct guests who did not follow rules, and they seemingly have the authority to remove those who do not comply. It is reassuring to see health treated with such care and gravity, even if (sadly) not every guest can be depended on to comply.
Trending Virtual Many dining locations only accept orders through the Universal smartphone app. While full-service restaurants and small-scale booths still require in-person ordering, a majority of food service locations will only serve guests if food is mobile ordered first. It is a timely and efficient system, and prevents lines from winding through restaurants and bringing crowds near tables. Food has been hot and fresh each time it was mobile ordered, making this system a preferred one even if it was not necessary for safety.
Some attractions also require guests to enter a virtual queue on busier days. Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure (one of the best attractions in all of the Orlando area) is the most prominent example. If the virtual queue is in place, the app will list times where you can click in to try to get a spot in line. Return windows are listed in advance so guests can anticipate when to return to the attraction's physical queue. Though availability differs based on crowd levels, brief testing has shown virtual queue availability lasts for around a minute at a time during each session it is offered. Set an alarm, and you will have more than enough to obtain a spot. Universal's virtual experience is so smooth that it does not feel like a product of COVID-19, but rather an implementation that enhances the overall theme park experience.
Crowds and Wait Times Crowds differ depending on the season, but Universal's theme parks met their limited capacity numerous times during the holidays. On one morning in particular, the parks hit capacity within 10 minutes of the gates opening. This experience has not been the norm beyond the holidays, though, as there has been success entering the parks hours after opening during non-holiday seasons. There are no park pass reservation systems in place at Universal Orlando Resort, meaning you may want to get in line early during busy seasons to guarantee a spot. If unable to arrive early, Universal sends notices of capacity on its social media as soon as the parks fill. You will never have to arrive without knowing if the parks have already filled or not.
Getting to Universal for park opening is a wise decision regardless, as social distancing protocols and pathway designs make arriving in the mornings the most optimal experience for the entire day. It is not unusual to see in-demand attraction queues reach capacity later in the day, meaning even in non-busy seasons it is possible to miss out on riding the bigger rides altogether. Some areas in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter have narrow walkways, meaning they can become congested and eliminate social distancing later in the day. Getting to ride The Incredible Hulk Coaster and experience both of the Harry Potter areas at a pace that is slower and more socially distanced makes the early park arrival worth it alone.
Otherwise, it was common to see wait times listed at high numbers as compared to what was normal pre-coronavirus. As social distancing and cleaning measures can make true wait times impossible to pinpoint, the time waited was almost always shorter than advertised at the attraction entrances. With proper planning, it is possible to accomplish everyone in the party's must-do attractions (even if wait times look long).
Face coverings must be worn by anyone ages three and older, and they must snugly fit over the nose and secure under the chin. This means non-traditional masks like bandanas as well as those with valves or without ear loops are prohibited. Guests with disabilities that prevent mask-wearing must contact guest services to get permission to instead wear a face shield that completely covers the nose and mouth. Those who cannot or do not wish to wear a mask or an excused face shield will not be allowed in the parks, and should consider traveling another time.
Value As is doing anything outside of your own home during the pandemic, there can be no guarantee of health safety while visiting Universal Orlando Resort, nor is the experience quite the same as it was before the coronavirus. First-timers should consider traveling later in the year in hopes that the typical theme park experience begins to return.
That said, Universal does an incredible job at maintaining value for guests who do decide to travel. Nearly every attraction is open, food selection is varied and shows, even when limited, help maintain the sense of wonderment and discovery theme parks such as these have become known for. With so much of the experience still intact and team members remaining dedicated to safety procedures, Universal Orlando Resort maintains one of the best values of any experience in 2021 (a trajectory it appears it will keep throughout the entire year).
If you are interested in learning more about Universal Orlando Resort, you can contact a travel agent for free.