After many weeks of local government meetings and anxiously awaiting announcements, a major American theme park is finally opening next week amidst the coronavirus pandemic. No more hypothesizing, rumor-mongering, or guessing — we're finally able to report on a re-opening and give you all the details on how it'll go down.
Forget the small-talk: Let's get right down to business and big news, shall we?:
UNIVERSAL ORLANDO RESORT WILL BE OPEN JUST IN TIME FOR SUMMER
As announced on Thursday, Universal Orlando Resort will welcome back guests starting next month. All three Universal parks — Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Florida, and Volcano Bay water park — will open to the public on June 5, following two days of team member operations and two days of invited guests, which will likely include annual passholders.
After a long back-and-forth about which theme parks would present at the Orange County task force meeting last Thursday, Universal stepped up to the plate and became the only one to outline its return plans in detail, which have now been approved. (It's said that Disney will submit its plans this week, while SeaWorld floated a June opening but has not yet presented a reopening plan to the group.)
When Universal opens next week in the era of COVID-19, it won't just be flipping on the lights for Despicable Me Minion Mayhem and pushing the turnstiles forward — there will be numerous safety precautions put into place upon reopening. Entrance rules for CityWalk will remain in place for the two theme parks, as it serves as their main entrance (Volcano Bay has its own); temperature checks will be in place, hand washing is recommended, and face masks are required for everyone over age 2.
Attendance will be limited at all of Universal's parks, and while specific details are still to come, it appears there will not be an advanced reservation system in place. At Universal's Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida, however, there will be a wide range of new safety-focused, socially distanced procedures, including an increased emphasis on cleaning and disinfecting across the park, limited capacity in shops and restaurants, disposable menus implemented and enhanced mobile ordering with cashless payments.
Ride vehicles will separate guests to accommodate social distancing, while the queues themselves will be staggered to provide extra space. (3-D glasses, which are always disinfected after each use, will continue to be used but handed to each guest directly.)
Whether you're on your way down to Orlando soon or have a vacation planned in the distant future, here's the incredible news: Virtual queue is going wide. The same system that operates Volcano Bay's "don't worry, we'll hold your place so you can come back and ride it" virtual lines will be implemented on land, only in lieu of Tapu Tapu waterproof sensors, it'll all be through the Universal Orlando app. (It's here, too, where you can use scan tickets at the turnstile and even sync up your credit card for mobile order payments, reducing contact with team members at points of purchase.)
Yes, UOR regulars know the system is already in use at select attractions like Race Through New York starring Jimmy Fallon and Fast & Furious — Supercharged, but what they'll be thrilled to learn is that it's apparently been extended to Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. You know, the unbelievably popular coaster that debuted just shy of a year to date of the park's reopening and has proven a herculean feat since then to actually get on board.
There will be no nighttime entertainment at reopening — theme park hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily — and details about offerings like parades and character meet-and-greets are still to come, as are those of the rides themselves.
According to Universal, a "majority of the attractions and experiences within the parks are scheduled to open," but no details have yet been confirmed. Whatever you do get on board, note that you'll be required to use hand sanitizer — and you'll need to keep that mask on to ride even the most intense attractions, like The Incredible Hulk Coaster.
There are exceptions: Masks will not be required while dining (at socially distanced tables, natch) or on theme park water rides or Volcano Bay's slide and pool experiences.
Only time will tell how Volcano Bay's procedures will be implemented — how does one keep a mask dry and separated from others' belongings while on the way to a ride that has only shoe cubbies? — but Volcano Bay will also be limiting its capacity within pools and rivers and will not mix parties on raft rides, which could make ride height and weight requirements tricky. (Solo sliders: you've been warned.)
The expansive water theme park already has virtual line technology built into it, as well as a Tapu Tapu wristband that allows for contactless "check-ins." Lounge chairs, which are usually clustered on the beach in front of the behemoth Krakatau volcano, will be separated to meet social distancing requirements.
As for those admission prices? Don't expect a pandemic discount; tickets and full-price and room deals are on par with regular specials. (Note: many of Universal's on-property hotels show availability starting June 5 but are not seemingly guaranteed to be open, possibly leaving opening week primarily to a local audience.)
WHAT DISNEY WORLD IS LIKE RIGHT NOW
When Disney Springs, the downtown district at Walt Disney World reopened last week, it was major news. Now, however, in the wake of Universal Orlando opening up entirely, it doesn't feel as major. That may change tomorrow, however, when some Disney-owned businesses, including mega-shop World of Disney, open to the public for the first time since the resort shut down months ago.
While the parks, hotels, and restaurants throughout the resort remain closed, picking up theme park merchandise may scratch that vacation itch and there are still plenty of Disney meals to be had throughout Disney Springs. From a special Starbucks drink commemorating the reopening to waterfront fries, it's a little slice of normalcy, done with increased safety precautions and procedures. Early word comes with a recommendation to make advanced dining reservations — waits are long, likely due to socially distanced seating and reduced capacity at restaurants — as well as an interesting note regarding grab-and-go food and drinks.
Guests are allowed to remove masks while dining, but it's a bit more ambiguous when eating or drinking while walking around the outdoor mall. According to Disney Food Blog, "we were informed that — if you have food or drink in hand — you may keep your mask lowered while you eat or drink." (It's worth noting that there are many more food kiosks and "walkable" dining options at Disney Springs than at Universal CityWalk.)
I'm unable to check the vibe myself, as I'm quarantining in California, so I'm more than a little curious about how that rule will be enforced when the parks do open, given that I'm usually shoving popcorn in my face whenever I'm on Disney turf. 'Til then, I'll just be watching people dine on fries and frozen wine slushies at my favorite Disney Springs restaurant and dream of when I can get back to Orlando in a safe manner.
DON'T MISS THIS...
Podcast The Ride coined the ultimate theme song for Buena Park — home to Knott's Berry Farm and, as you'll soon learn, the holy waters of Soak City — that's just the thing to get you through the last days of May.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
YES, this pandemic may have robbed us of the entirety of Spring 2020, but in its place, we have RIDES FOR OUR FOODS!
LINKS! LINKS! LINKS!
- It's official: The NBA is officially discussing plans to host official games at Disney World, officially.
- If there's one good thing to have come from a pandemic that shuttered our favorite places, it's this.
- Orange garage? Lime garage? Yes, it's a debate among Disney Springs fans, and there's only one right answer.
- Same. Same, same, same.
- Wanna know just how much theme park news there was last week? Vice President Mike Pence came to town and it's just a blip on the radar.
- More details have emerged about the DVC (Disney Vacation Club) tower at Disneyland Hotel.
- Universal Studios Japan could open soon, too.
- A perfect recipe for when you really, really, really, really want to eat your feelings.
SYFY and Universal Orlando are properties of NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast Corporation.