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SYFY WIRE Theme Park News

Labor Day Weekend brings people (a lot of people) to theme parks despite COVID-19

By Carlye Wisel
Photo of Universal's Big Red Rip Ride Rockit Roller Coaster

Hello and welcome back to this week's dose of theme park news! We've got some updates on the parks as well as some wild surprises, a very cool school, and perhaps even... a way to save Halloween 2020? All of that and more, straight ahead.


Theme parks met their capacity limitations over the holiday weekend, but what exactly does that mean? And what was it like?

Both Walt Disney World Resort and Universal Orlando Resort put attendance limitations in place when they opened over the summer, and while neither has confirmed what percentage of guests are allowed inside, each resort approached the new restraints differently. 

Walt Disney World launched a three-tier Park Pass system for ticket holders, hotel guests, and annual passholders that, despite a rocky launch, seems to have leveled out quite well with wide reservation availability. Universal Orlando, on the other hand, eschewed the stringent booking process to allow guests to freely enter each day until capacity is met. For the most part, their format has also worked well, especially since it allows entry into multiple parks each day — which Disney’s Park Pass system does not  — and capacity limitations were only met at all three parks for the very first time (since reopening) over the weekend. (Again, current park capacity is not publicly known.)

Things were, however, busy across the board on Labor Day weekend as people flocked to the parks and Florida became the most popular destination in the United States

Crowd photographs in theme parks these days don’t often tell the full story, as some areas can be busy one moment and empty the next, while the depth of field can be deceptive as to how dense crowds really are. So, despite the yikes-filled photos floating around social media — and given that I myself wasn’t on the ground this past weekend —  I’m turning to my fellow theme park denizens for their takes on how it felt inside the parks.

According to Vincent up top, who began at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, “it’s pretty darn busy.” He didn’t seem to experience crushing crowds or unsafe scenarios on Saturday, mostly just lo-o-o-o-ong waits for food and attractions, eventually making his way back into Universal Studios Florida, though it publicly appeared to be closed. (Later in the afternoon on Saturday, all three parks would re-open.)

Blog Mickey, on the other hand, published an essay praising Walt Disney World for their continued commitment to safety, even with peak pandemic crowds, where things seemed to be business as usual, just with longer extended queues to accommodate more robust crowds. It goes without saying, but just to reiterate: There continues to be plenty of safety procedures in place at both theme park resorts, and longer lines are often a visual representation of the social distancing in place.

Now, it's worth adding that Governor DeSantis recently gave Florida's theme parks the go-ahead to increase capacity, but don’t forget — he didn’t decide the parks should close down or re-open. Universal and Disney made those decisions themselves and simply submitted their plans for approval, so DeSantis' green light for inviting more folks into the parks doesn’t necessarily mean the resorts will take the bait. Alicia Stella’s post elaborates on that more — that Universal Orlando Resort is indeed operating at its lower capacities, but wait times being surprisingly long over the weekend can be attributed to rides distancing guests onboard as well, leading to a significantly lower ride capacity each hour and thus, due to safety precautions, ballooning wait times.

But then there’s... this video that went kinda viral:

Regardless of what capacity numbers are, it baffles me that no one is monitoring capacity in and out of Wizarding World of Harry Potter, given how absolutely cramped those spaces can become simply based on their marketplace designs. It's necessary and it can be easily put into place, which I hope they do on busier dates and weekends.

Another pinch point we've previously discussed also appeared to be busy this past weekend:

Yipes. Again, photos don’t tell the full story, but with multiple theme park crowds emptying out through CityWalk, that looks like a pretty regular summer evening to me.


I hate reporting on gossip but I absolutely have to add some logs to stoke the fire because apparently Halloween Horror Nights is rumored to be returning to Universal Studios Florida in an amended format?!

If you feel like you woke up from a deep vampiric slumber in a coffin, no, your brain has not morphed into that of the undead — Halloween Horror Nights was indeed canceled for 2020, but the rumor mill is strong. I don’t know who to believe (or if this gossip is even based on anything, considering how the word on the street was so mixed when HHN 30 was first canceled) but rumors are flying all over Twitter and the glimmer of hope, even if it quickly turns to dust, is too appealing to pass up.

This small sense that Halloween may not be ruined for the fans who wait for Florida's celebration all year long — if it can be done safely, obviously —  may be just the thing to project me through a pandemic autumn. Yes, there are socially distanced haunts on deck this fall, but stay tuned for updates from our Universal faves like Alicia Stella because we’re desperate to know if something wicked this way comes. 


Four Seasons Orlando Resort at Walt Disney World Resort has a new vacation offer: school. Yes, the glitzy luxury getaway is now providing supervised school time for virtual learners as one of its add-on amenities starting on Sept. 14.

Sessions are held in the hotel’s large event rooms and physically distanced with no more than six kids per class; rates start at $100 for full-day (9 a.m. to 3 p.m., lunch included) and $50 for a half-day (9 a.m. to noon) for registered hotel guests.

I don’t think the reason many people aren't traveling right now has to do with homework, necessarily, but if you’ve ever pined over living in a luxury hotel, Eloise-style, well this surely makes it way more feasible. (It helps, too, that Orlando's Four Seasons beats The Plaza any day.) The event space hosting September's classes is also 1,500 square feet with 14-foot ceilings and natural light, a far cry from the average classroom.

The press release also touted how good recess would be on their property and man, I agree. If they opened one of these but for coworking, I gotta tell ya, I’d be tempted to crash at the hotel and live an ideal work-life balance for the first time ever. I’ve paid more for a day pass somewhere just because it has free kombucha on tap, but with a stunning lazy river, water slides, golf courses, and outdoor volleyball right outside the door? Maybe that supervisor would come in handy for me too because I'd be trying to sneak away from my inbox constantly.


So much of this year was utterly unexpected, but this? THIS?! Cats frolicking around on Mission Space? Never could have predicted it.


An... unexpected hazard appeared on this Tennessee mountain coaster.

- I feel weirdly comforted that one of my favorite rides is having just as rough of a year as we are.

- Jellyrolls at Disney's BoardWalk announced it will be closed indefinitely due to the COVID-19.

- This Orlando Sentinel op-ed calling for changes to theme park safety reporting is a must-read.

- Every time I see this Godzilla zip line I get scared all over again.

Camping at Walt Disney World looks awesome, but I'm... still not into sleeping on the ground.

- A Daily Beast story suggests there may be more COVID-19 cases at Disneyland than previously reported.