ORLANDO, Fla. - On Friday, Universal Orlando Resort became the first major Central Florida theme park to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic. All three of its parks are now open to the general public.
The parks have already started to welcome back employees, resort hotel guests, and annual passholders over the last few days.
FOX 35 News spoke with theme park expert Seth Kubersky of TheUnofficialGuides.com about what it's like inside the park.
"It's good to be back among other human beings, to be out in public, to be walking around and seeing sites like the Hogwarts Castle," Kubersky said. "The mood of the crowd today has been really patient, really friendly, really upbeat."
He added that "the number one thing you are going to notice here is a lot of the standard standby cues have now turned into virtual queues where guests are asked to scan a QR code on their smartphone and are then given a time to come back later."
Universal Orlando Resort is implementing several new safety measures across all three parks and CityWalk.
AT THE ENTRANCE AND THROUGHOUT THE PARKS
- Mandatory face coverings for all guests and team members. Those without a mask will be offered one for free. Stores will also sell face coverings.
- Social distancing guidelines must be observed. Audio messages and signage will remind guests to follow social distancing and other safety protocols.
- Temperature checks are required for all park guests and team members before coming on-site. Those with temperatures of 100.4 or greater will be denied entry.
- Staggered parking will be in place, leaving one to two spaces between vehicles. Valet options are closed.
- Managed and reduced daily park attendance.
- Increased cleaning disinfection of restrooms and other frequently touched locations that go beyond Universal's existing cleaning procedures.
- Social distancing practices throughout the parks.
- Managed and reduced attraction ridership.
- Increased cleaning disinfection of ride vehicles and other frequently touched spots that go beyond Universal's existing cleaning procedures.
- Social distancing practices within attractions and queues.
- Virtual lines will be used at select attractions.
- Single rider lines will be eliminated.
- Water elements on attractions are reduced or closed entirely.
- Interactive play areas will be closed.
- Post-show meet-and-greets will be closed but performers can remain on stage for photos.
- Every other locker will be disabled and guests will be pulled into locker areas by team members.
RESTAURANTS AND STORES
- Managed and reduced show attendance and restaurant seating.
- Increased cleaning disinfection of food locations and other frequently touched locations that go beyond Universal's existing cleaning procedures.
- Social distancing practices at restaurants and stores.
- Cashless payment options and "no-touch" policies when possible. Mobile food ordering will also be available.
- Menus at restaurants will be single-use only. There will be no buffet or self-serving options and only individually packaged condiments will be offered.
- Mandatory face coverings for all team members.
- Temperature checks are required for all team members before coming on-site. Those with temperatures of 100.4 or greater will be denied entry.
- Team members who are 65 or older are encouraged to stay home.
- Desk spacing and continued work from home options are in place.
- Staggered parking in employee parking garages.
- Team members are encouraged to avoid crowds during their time off without the proper distancing.
Universal Orlando Resort advises that guests evaluate their own risk before they visit the parks. They do not currently recommend that older adults or individuals who are high-risk or have serious underlying medical conditions visit the destination, especially as people with no symptoms can still spread coronavirus if they are infected.
"Any interaction with the general public poses an elevated risk of being exposed to COVID-19 and Universal cannot guarantee guests will not be exposed during their visit," the resort said.
Park guests Friday said the new protocols give them a sense of safety.
“They’re doing what is necessary, what they need to do, keeping us safe as we come down here, so I have no problem with it,” said Chris Nonnenmann, a park guest.
As far as weather, FOX 35 meteorologist Jayme King says you may want to take a rain poncho with you to the parks with rain chances at 50%.
Universal will be open from 9 a.m. - 6 p.m. according to the website. SeaWorld Orlando announced its parks will reopen on June 11. Walt Disney World will be the last of the major theme parks to reopen as they wait until July.