Universal Orlando reopened to visitors on Friday, but the park experience looks quite different than it did just three months ago.
The resort made the call to shut down in mid-March and later extended the closure indefinitely alongside Walt Disney World and other tourist attractions across the country amid the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). Now, Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure and Universal’s Volcano Bay have begun to welcome visitors with strict new safety and social distancing measures in place.
"As we enjoy our parks together again, everyone will need to follow CDC guidelines and the recommendations of health officials, and Universal Orlando’s policies," the company wrote in a message on its website last month.
Some of those policies are already familiar to many Americans, including the use of face masks and social distancing. Others may take some getting used to.
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For example, all guests and employees of the park must wear a facial covering throughout their visit. If a guest arrives without a mask, a disposable one will be provided to them.
Lines for rides and attractions are now virtual, meaning guests get in a digital queue and show up to the designated spot in person only when it's their turn. The rides themselves are also spaced out with seats or entire rows left empty.
Where lines are necessary, there are floor markings indicating where to stand to keep 6 feet apart.
Even the parking process is affected. Staggering parking times in numerous lots keeps visitors apart as they arrive and allows for easy social distancing.
Blue signs placed throughout the park will remind guests of these rules.
Photos from inside the park on opening day show guests for the most part following the guidelines.
A family donning masks posed in front of the iconic Universal globe at the entrance (top) and coaster riders got their thrills with vacant rows between parties (above).
Park employees were also seen wiping down high-touch surfaces, like escalator handrails as part of an intensified sanitation regimen that had already begun before the March closure.
Other new measures, like touchless temperature checks at entrances, may feel a little more unusual to U.S. parkgoers, but are already in practice in places like Shanghai Disneyland, which reopened last month.
If a visitor does not pass a temperature test, they are given time in a cool area to see if their temperature drops below the required level. If not, they're turned away. Guests are also being asked to take their own temperatures at home before arrival in order to avoid this.
Some other features will be absent for the foreseeable future: Water and mist elements in the park and on rides will either be turned off or reduced, interactive play areas will be closed, character meet-and-greets have been suspended, and single-rider lines have been eliminated.
Univeral's plan to reopen was first made public on May 19 in a meeting of the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force, and had to be approved by Orange County Mayor Jerry Demmings and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis before being put into action. It had already begun a phased reopening of City Walk, its shopping and dining destination, with select businesses on May 14.
Other Florida resorts also shared their proposed reopening plans, including Disney World, which will begin a phased reopening July 11 with its own set of safety measures.