5 Things to Know about Visiting Universal Orlando Now
I was thrilled to finally revisit one of my favorite destinations - Universal Orlando Resort - a couple of weeks ago, and check in on everything that's new. Here's what you need to know about visiting Universal Orlando now!
First of all, one of the first questions visitors often have lately is what kind of health & safety requirements are in place. Universal's guidelines include the following:
We encourage all guests – regardless of vaccination status – to wear face coverings while indoors
We do not require proof of vaccinations
We encourage all guests to keep a safe distance between travel parties
We remain focused on maintaining the highest cleanliness and sanitization standards
In short, face coverings and social distancing are encouraged by Universal Orlando, but not enforced as a hard rule. All Team Members wear face coverings, and I saw many guests wearing face coverings, but it's not required. Universal Orlando's full guidelines can be seen here.
The next question that most guests ask is how much is open at Universal - after all, it's not fun to head to a theme park only to find that a bunch of stuff is closed. Thankfully, much of Universal is operating pretty normally. All major attractions are open, including most stage shows and street entertainment, plus the majority of table-service and quick-service restaurants. There are a few smaller attractions that sometimes have shorter operating hours, and a few smaller dining or snack locations that haven't reopened or have limited hours, but these are few and far between, and unlikely to be noticed by most guests.
Universal has even restarted their nighttime entertainment, including the water and pyrotechnic show Cinematic Celebration at Universal Studios Florida, and the Nighttime Lights on Hogwarts Castle at Islands of Adventure.
Guests who have visited Universal Orlando before are already familiar with the concept of ride lockers. Some attractions in the parks do not allow loose items, such as bags and purses, to be brought on the ride, so there are complimentary lockers available for you to store your stuff. This isn't anything new, but it can be confusing to new visitors, and takes extra time for all guests. Thankfully, Universal has made some improvements to their ride lockers. This started before the pandemic, with Universal changing most lockers to scan guests' tickets, rather than guests' fingerprints. This new system is faster, and also requires less contact.
Universal also has improved one of the most frustrating ride locker locations. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey's old locker location frequently caused backlogs since it was right in the entrance to the ride, causing a lot of confusion and crowding. The location has been moved and expanded, so there's more space and no crowding at the ride entrance.
Universal has also made changes to how the lockers work for new attractions. The new VelociCoaster, for example, has their ride lockers located right before guests get on the ride, rather than outside the queue - this way guests can keep their stuff with them while waiting in line. Ride lockers always take a little extra time, and there are still a couple of attractions whose lockers can be a pain to get to (I'm looking at you, Escape from Gringotts), but hopefully Universal will keep making improvements so this system is more convenient to guests.
Universal started operating a Virtual Line with a couple of their attractions well before the pandemic, but the main one that guests need to know about is the Virtual Line for Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, which remains one of Universal's most popular rides more than 2 years after it opened. Hagrid's operates a Virtual Line on busier days, and when it does, there is no standby line - you have to have a Virtual Line pass in order to ride. These can be reserved the day of your visit once the park has opened. If the park isn't busy enough, though, Hagrid's will operate a regular standby line instead.
The Virtual Line does run occasionally for other attractions, especially Race through New York with Jimmy Fallon since this attraction's queue was designed specifically for a Virtual Line. But, Hagrid's is the important one to know about - sometimes the only way you can ride it is with a Virtual Line pass, which isn't true of most other attractions.
Dining at Universal
As mentioned, most dining venues at Universal are open and operating fairly normally. While Universal does have a Mobile Pick-Up feature on their mobile app to order and pick-up food via the app, they've scaled it back and tend to only offer it at a couple of venues. Universal also stopped offering their dining plan to purchase last month, so there are less options to pre-pay for food during your trip - but for fans of refillable mugs, those are available both in the park and at the resort hotels.
For Harry Potter fans, there is still an option available to pre-pay for some dining experiences - you can add a voucher for breakfast at the Leaky Cauldron or Three Broomsticks with some vacation packages. On busier days, breakfast at these restaurants is often reserved only for voucher holders.
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