MMV Agent Elizabeth Sumner Gordon recently visited Universal Orlando and is sharing
what she experienced now that the resort has reopened.
She stayed at the Hard Rock Hotel, and visited all 3 theme parks--
Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay.
She used various types of transportation, used the Mobile App, dined in restaurants and
poolside and experienced all the health & safety measures now in place.
Her trip report is filled with great information for planning plus tips for staying safe
and making the most of your trip.
Spoiler alert: She had a great time and found Universal Orlando Resort’s
safety measures to be excellent!
From Elizabeth Sumner Gordon, Magical Moments Vacations agent:
I recently had the pleasure to visit Universal Orlando Resort after they reopened following the closure resulting from COVID -19. I traveled with my daughter, niece and a couple of friends.
We were all very excited to finally be able to hit the theme parks and stay at a nice resort after several months of being home.
There are lots of new procedures and policies for both the resort hotels and the parks. I am happy to say that all the new procedures worked well.
My traveling group had a fantastic week, and the most fun we’ve had in months.
Here’s what we learned and experienced during our stay.
What’s New Since Universal Orlando Resort Has Reopened
We stayed at Universal Orlando’s Hard Rock Hotel, which is a premier Universal Orlando Resort Property. We chose this resort because it is one of 2 currently open hotels that include Universal’s Unlimited Express Pass for everyone staying in the room for the length of your stay. The Unlimited Express Pass makes it a breeze to experience the park attractions, and yes, it is still super useful even with lower park capacity.
Pulling up to the resort is when you will encounter your first change in procedure.
As soon as we arrived in our car, we were greeted by a team member who went over some of the new rules before we ever stepped out of the car.
Masks required for all guests before entering the hotel
Temperature checked at the entrance to the hotel
No bell services, but there are team members with bell carts available. Each cart is sanitized between uses, and you are asked to return the carts to a team member for cleaning instead of handing off to another guest or leaving them in hallways.
No valet parking
No need to swipe the room key for the parking area. Parking arm in self-parking area opens automatically upon approach
We entered the hotel and each person was given a temperature scan on their forehead.
We were then given a colored wrist band to wear for that day which indicated we had been screened. This band is good for the resort hotels, City Walk and the theme parks.
They ask that only 1 person go to the check in counter. There is hand sanitizer everywhere for your use including on the check in counter. Team members and guests are all required to wear masks while inside the hotel. At check in, the team member went over some of the services that are limited right now. These include:
No daily maid service -- however, you can call and request maid service. We were staying for 7 nights, so we called for maid service twice during our stay. If you require maid service, you need to call in the morning and be out of the room for several hours so that the timing can be arranged while you are not in the room. You can also call and request extra blankets, towels, toiletries, paper products, etc. Those will be left in a bag outside of your room. If you just need trash service, you can also call for that. You can either leave the trash outside of your door and they will leave new liners for you or you can call and ask for trash service for the room as long as you will be out of the room for a few hours.
Room Service is currently not offered
We made it to our room after loading our bell carts and unloaded all of our items. Our group stayed in the fabulous Future Rock Star Suite and really enjoyed the fun amenities, special touches, and extra space.
Not much is changed in the room other than they left us a small bottle of hand sanitizer by the bed.
They also left more towels than normal.
I suspect they did this since maid service is not coming automatically each day.
The pool was open and chairs had been placed in groups of 4 with more spacing between each set of chairs. You are requested not to move chairs around so that they can maintain the proper distance between groups.
Towel service along with chair-side food and beverage service is offered by the pool.
You are required to wear a mask coming and going from the pool, but you are not required to wear a mask while sitting at the pool or while in the pool. The pool was open until 10 pm Sunday-Thursday and until 11 pm on Friday and Saturday.
Daily Temperature Checks
Each guest will need to get a daily temperature check before heading to the parks. If you are staying off site, this will happen after you exit the parking garage. If you are staying at a Universal Hotel, you will need to get your temperature checked in the lobby or near the exit to the hotels where you catch park transportation. This was quick and easy each day and we never encountered a wait for temperature checks. You will get a different color band each day that indicates you have had your temperature checked. This allows you to come and go from the hotel and the theme parks without the need of getting your temperature checked multiple times per day.
Park Transportation--walking and taking the boats and buses
We took advantage of the short walk from the Hard Rock Hotel to City Walk, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure for most of our outings, but we did use the boats a few times to City Walk and we took the bus to Volcano Bay. The Hard Rock really has a great location right in the heart of Universal Orlando Resort.
The boats are operating on a normal schedule. There aren’t as many guests so they are utilizing fewer boats. I didn’t notice any longer waits for a boat from our hotel or from City Walk.
When boarding the boats, there are signs on every other row asking that you not use those seats in order to maintain proper social distancing guidelines. Everyone seemed to abide by these rules with no issues and the boats were never over crowded.
For our Volcano Bay day, we decided to take advantage of the early entry offered to onsite guests. We took the bus from our resort. Volcano Bay opens 30 minutes early for guests staying at a Universal Orlando Resort hotel. Volcano Bay opens at 9 am. We were up early and caught the first bus which arrived around 7:50 am.
Once again, the buses had some seats marked as not in service in order to maintain social distancing guidelines.
The first difference you’ll notice upon your arrival at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure is the way you enter.
Instead of guests wandering towards the park through different avenues, everyone is filtered through 1 winding queue with markers on the ground to keep parties 6 feet apart. This line moved quickly and smoothly and then once you are at the entrance stalls, you are filtered out to the different stalls for entrance.
NOTEWORTHY CHANGES FOR ENTERING & TOURING THE UNIVERSAL PARKS
No more finger scans.
You now will scan your ticket, but not your finger to enter the park.
If you are entering with a multi day ticket or an annual pass, guests 16 and older will need to present a photo ID to confirm your ID matches the name on your ticket.
Several rides now use virtual lines which you can access through the Universal Orlando App.
It is now important to link your ticket in the Universal App so that you can access the
Virtual Lines. You will use the app frequently in the parks, to check wait times for the rides,
book dining and much more.
Learn more about the Universal Orlando App here
Tips for accessing the Virtual Lines:
If you have Universal Express Pass, the only ride that will require a Virtual Line is Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. The virtual line generally opens between 10-15 minutes prior to park opening.
You can make reservations for the virtual line from anywhere in City Walk or even at your resort hotel. I made virtual line reservations for Hagrid's several times while still at Hard Rock Resort.
In order to make a reservation, select the ride, then select your party size. Don’t wait too long thinking about which time slot you want because they will go quickly.
Additional ride times do tend to open up throughout the day. If you try to get a return time and get a message that no times are available, keep trying every few minutes. It appears additional times are released about every 30 minutes until all time slots are filled for the day.
TOP TIP: Particularly for Hagrids, take the early time slots. The ride is more likely to go down for weather or a technical issue the later in the day you select. If the ride is closed for a short period during your return time, your return time will be extended. If the ride is offline for too long, your virtual pass may be removed. If this happens, you will get a notification in the app that the virtual line is no longer available due to prolonged closure.
Quick Service Dining
All ordering for quick service dining is done through the Universal Orlando App.
Once you decide on your location, you can place your order in the app.
TIP: Do NOT choose “prepare my order” until you are at the restaurant and are seated by a team member.
Team members seat each party and make sure that the table and chairs are cleaned between each use.
Tables are spaced 6 ft apart and not all tables in the restaurant are used.
I recommend going to lunch early or late as there are lines for getting seated between about 11:45 am - 1:30 pm.
If you select “Prepare My Order” before arriving, your food may be prepared, but you are unable to be seated at the restaurant for 20-30 minutes. Meanwhile, people are seated and are waiting for food only making your wait to get a table longer.
3D Glasses for rides.
You no longer pick up your 3D glasses for rides that use them. A team member will hand each guest a set of glasses so that multiple people aren’t touching the glasses.
Ride Lines - each ride line has markers on the ground showing where to stand.
You may notice that as the line snakes around that it is more than 6 ft between the lines as the line snakes around. This is so that you are not standing shoulder to shoulder with another family as the line snakes. Be cognizant of where the markers are on the ground.
Masks - Masks are required while riding most rides.
The exception is when riding a wet ride including Jurassic Park, Dudley Do Right’s RipSaw Falls, and Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barge. For these rides, you will wear your mask until you board the ride, then you can take off your mask to store it somewhere that you can keep dry.
You also do not need to wear a mask while eating or drinking. We did not have any trouble keeping masks on while on the rides, other than 1 person’s fell down below her nose while on The Hulk.
TIP: If you need a break from wearing your mask, there are U-REST Areas you can visit to take off your mask and relax.
Universal asks that only 1 person enters the locker area for each locker needed. You will see that there is generally a line for those that need to get a locker and a separate line for those coming to retrieve items from lockers. A team member will direct you to which locker area to go to when getting a locker in an effort to keep multiple people from being in one area at a time.
A team member squirts hand sanitizer into each guest’s hand before each ride. It only takes a second and did not appear to delay the lines at all.
Ride capacity - You will notice that not every seat on rides is in use.
On many rides, that means every other row is used. Guests from different parties are not asked to share ride vehicles on any rides where they cannot keep 6 ft apart.
For Example: It will be only your party on Hogwart’s Express or Dudley Do Right’s Ripsaw Falls.
There is no longer a “front row” wait line. Due to only using every other row on roller coasters and the need to keep people from congregating while waiting, Universal is currently not offering a line to wait from “front row” seats.
Character greets are handled a little differently now.
Characters are generally on a raised platform and you will find a marker in front on the ground where you can stand to take photos.
You can take selfies or have someone else from your party take photos.
Team Members are not allowed to take photos for you with your phone.
Entry into Volcano Bay is still the same as usual except that you will find markers on the ground as you approach the turnstiles to keep parties 6 ft apart.
Masks at Volcano Bay
You do need to wear a mask as you enter the park and you need to wear a mask while in any shops or as you enter any restaurants.
Otherwise, you do not need to wear a mask while riding any rides, sitting by the wave pool, or walking between rides in Volcano Bay.
TIP: It will be helpful to have a waterproof phone case or other type of waterproof bag that is easy to wear around your neck or tucked somewhere while riding if you plan to order snacks, drinks or food while you are walking around the park. We planned our lunch for close to where we had chairs so we went back to get our masks before lunch.
However, if you find yourself on the opposite side of the park from your belongings and need a drink or snack, keep in mind you will not be able to order from any of the restaurants or snack kiosks if you’re not wearing a mask.
Overall Impression - Crowds were low and most guests were happy to comply with the new rules. We had a fabulous time during our week at Universal. It is clear that the team members are well trained on the new guidelines and safety measures.
Bring more than 1 mask per person. The masks do get a little sweaty, and it is nice to have a fresh one in the afternoon or a backup in case you drop one.
Plan quick service meals early or late to avoid longer lines.
Take a waterproof phone case or other small waterproof bag that is easy to carry to keep masks dry on water rides or in the waterpark.
Make sure to have your ID ready when entering the park to confirm your park ticket and name on your ID matches.
Download the Universal App and link your tickets to the app after you pick them up so that you can make Virtual line reservations.
Elizabeth Gordon is an agent with Magical Moments Vacations. Elizabeth bio on her Facebook page says "Enjoy concierge-level travel agent service at no extra cost. I specialize in Walt Disney World and Universal Theme parks, Disney, Royal Caribbean and Carnival Cruises, along with Caribbean and Mexican all inclusive resorts. Not only are my services offered at no extra cost, I am personally invested in making certain my clients have a great vacation. No website or online travel agency will offer you the personalized attention, care and expertise that I will. My services are truly personalized to each client. I make personalized recommendations for location, resort and vacation options based on my clients' individual needs and preferences."
Photos from Universal Parks & Resorts, personal photos by MMV Agent, Elizabeth S. Gordon
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