It’s finally here. We’ve all been waiting for the day we could jump in the car and head back to Universal Orlando Resort. The parks, hotels, and CityWalk are open and starting to welcome guests back. I recently went with a friend to experience it all first-hand, and after a few sappy moments about being back home, we set out to see how much may have changed in the parks.
Now, things will be a little different when you arrive with new operational guidelines that put both your safety, and the safety of our Team Members, first. But let me tell you, it’s still the Universal you know and love. The rides are just as thrilling, if not more so, the pools just as relaxing, the characters just as entertaining, and the food just as good. I found fun, new ways to experience the parks and even how to make your visit easier and more convenient with a few insider tips.
The Universal Orlando Resort App is Your New Best Friend
Take a minute if you haven’t already to download the Universal Orlando Resort app. More than ever, I found this to be the most useful thing during my recent visit. It helped me navigate around the crowds, trim down my time waiting in queues, minimize physical interactions, and so much more! Here are the top features I found most beneficial, and I’ll deep dive into a few of them below.
- Virtual Line experience for attractions
- Mobile food and drink ordering for select restaurants
- Interactive park map
- Virtual wallet where you can purchase and house your park tickets, Express passes, and also set up your TapuTapu for your visit to Volcano Bay
- Wait time alerts that you can set for when the times drop
Dodge Crowds with the Virtual Line Experience
Want to avoid crowds AND get a place in line faster on your favorite rides? The Virtual Line experience is the answer and it’s now available for even more attractions than before. You can access it via the app under “Virtual Line Experience” in the menu or per attraction on the interactive map. You then select your “Return Time”, show up, and ride. It’s that easy! The Virtual Line experience for attractions open throughout the day, so make sure to check the app often to see what is available. And while you’re waiting, you have free time to experience other rides, shows, or grab a bite to eat. Heads up, you have to be in-park to access the Virtual Line experience feature on the app.
My friend and I tried this for the first time with Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. I recommend trying to reserve your Virtual Line return time for this ride as soon as you’re in the parks as it does get busy! It not only guaranteed us a place in line to get on the ride, but also made for a smooth process accessing the lockers and walking the queue with minimal interaction with other guests. We didn’t feel rushed to head straight there since we had our reserved time to get in line, and we even got to explore Diagon Alley in Universal Studios and ride the Hogwarts Express over to Hogsmeade first.
Order Your Food Ahead of Time with Mobile Order
If you haven’t tried mobile order, prepare to have your theme park life changed. When your stomach is rumbling, jump on the app and select “Order Food and Drinks” from the menu. Then you select the venue and order your food. You can either do this for a quick pick-up and go, or for a quick-service restaurant where you will be seated in a special section for mobile orders.
One of my new favorite things to do is mobile order Voodoo Doughnut or Red Oven Pizza and grab a seat by the CityWalk lagoon. It makes for a great hangout with a friend or a date night with your significant other.
Make a Game Plan Beforehand
This is always one of my top recommendations for coming to the parks. Do your research and create a must-do list with all of the attractions, shops, shows, etc. you definitely want to do. When I came, I knew I wanted a Butterbeer, to ride a couple of my favorite rides, and get a Voodoo Doughnut. Planning out where to start and using the app to navigate wait times and the Virtual Line experience allowed me to do everything I was looking to do during my visit. And I highly recommend carving out a few days for your trip! I mean, we all need a staycation right about now, right
Get a More Personalized Experience With Social Distancing
One of the things I was most curious to see was how social distancing was going to be maintained for the attractions, and I have to say, I think this is one of the greatest things ever. Yes, it may slow down the queue for wait times temporarily, but I think it made the rides and show elements even more special. Let me explain.
Not having people right next to me in the queue actually allowed me to hear and have better conversations with my friend as we waited. The spaced seating on the ride vehicle made it feel like we had the ride to ourselves. Smaller groups and spaced standing through Poseidon’s Fury allowed for a more intimate show. And having more space around character meet and greets allowed for no unexpected-guest photobombs in the background. I. AM. HERE. FOR. IT.
Take a Break in the U-Rest Areas
In addition to planning out what you want to do, make sure to slot in time to take breaks. There are new U-Rest areas sprinkled throughout our destination, where you can recharge with a drink or snack with your face covering off. You can find them in the following locations:
- Universal CityWalk
- Down by the waterfront in front of Hard Rock
- Universal Studios Florida
- Fear Factor Live Theater
- Central Park by the Lagoon
- Universal’s Islands of Adventure
- Port of Entry Landing by the waterfront
- The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad Stunt Show Theater in Lost Continent (the show is no longer available)
Take All the Photos!
If there was one thing I found myself doing more than usual at the parks, it was taking an exponentially large amount of photos. I missed the parks so much, and I wanted to capture it all and share it with my friends and family. Plus, I found it really fun to take pictures in this new social distancing world.
Finding new ways to express your excitement while taking a selfie in front of the globe with a face covering left me cracking up, and I’m pretty sure all my photos with the new character meet-and-greet setups have me looking like I’m about to drop the next multi-platinum album with my favorite characters. With more time saved with the Virtual Line experience and plenty of people-free space around you, you can capture some really great memories!
Early Park Admission = More Time and Fewer Crowds
So, I didn’t stay at one of our hotels when I visited since I’m local and work at the parks, but I will say I was struck with envy when I saw our first guests checking in. First and foremost, I would just love to be on vacation, but also because of Early Park Admission. This magical experience holds even more meaning and value today. Here’s what it is: if you stay at one of Universal’s hotels, you get exclusive access to the parks one hour before normal guest park hours with little to no crowds. Um, sign me up. Plus, when staying at the hotels, you don’t have to go through the check-in process at the entrance of CityWalk. You get a special wristband that shows you already had your temperature check and can go directly to the parks.
Your Bae This Summer is Volcano Bay
I don’t know about you but I’m craving a relaxing day at the beach, but preferably with minimal crowds of people right next to me. Look no further than Universal’s Volcano Bay. We have the same new and helpful operational guidelines in place at our water theme park.
Now, you may be asking yourself, “How do they expect us to wear face masks at Volcano Bay?” Good question, because I had the same one. I discovered you don’t have to wear a mask while you’re in the pools, slides, or eating/drinking. However, they should be worn when not doing these activities. Catch me poolside this summer with a Waturi Fusion ice cream and working on that stylish new trend of face-covering tan lines.
New Guidelines Aren’t the Only Things That Are New
The parks may have been closed for a couple of months, but select Team Members have been hard at work creating new experiences for you to come back to. There are new “Love is Universal” and anniversary merchandise to snatch up (have you seen the themed face masks!?); new food and beverage offerings that will be rolled out soon (there’s a new anniversary Voodoo Doughnut!?); and even new entertainment attractions with The Bourne Stuntacular and the new Raptor Encounter (the baby raptor Sierra is the cutest, am I right!?).
Here’s What to Bring
With my many years of going to theme parks, I’ve tried to perfect the essentials on what to bring. Now, with our current situation and operational guidelines, I found myself faced with a new challenge: what all to bring along to minimize physical contact but still have everything I need for a comfortable visit.
Here are my recommendations:
- A face covering with a light and breathable fabric. This isn’t just my recommendation, it’s a requirement when visiting the parks, CityWalk, and hotels. Major kudos to those with fun themes and designs. You’ll look awesome as you’re rocking out on Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit (yes, they’re required to be worn on rides, too). The good news is if you forgot your face covering, you can ask a Team Member for a replacement.
- Your own personal hand sanitizer on a key chain. There are hand sanitizer stations when you first enter through CityWalk, when you’re about to board a ride, and at restaurant entrances. However, I found having my own personal one for easy access when needed brought peace of mind. We also sell them in-park in case you need to stop and grab one.
- This has always remained true, but bring water to stay hydrated! I find myself being especially thirsty when wearing my face covering, so make sure to bring a water bottle with you.
- Bring a small bag or carry a lanyard for your belongings. You’re still going to need to put items in lockers for certain attractions that require them. Team Members pulse the locker queues for social distancing and regularly clean them, but try to only bring the essentials if you want to minimize using them and save time.