More character interactions, a squirt of hand sanitizer before you enter each ride or attraction and no reservations required are a few of the differences that guests visiting Universal Studios in Orlando will experience in comparison with the pandemic version of Walt Disney World.
What the two destinations have in common, though, is a feeling of due diligence and safety in enforcing the highest standards of face mask wearing and reminders for guests to remain socially distant and mindful that the world is still battling a virus.
The parks continue to serve as a place for people to find some normalcy and escape the serious and often unavoidable headlines about happenings in the real world.
For Florida residents looking into an annual pass, a Preferred two-park pass, which includes year-round access to both Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, will cost a Florida resident $191.70 down and $17.43 per month for 12 months or a full payment of $394.99. Through September 30th, these passes will include an extra three months making it 15 months for the same price. The flex-pay program is at zero percent interest. The pass also entitles users to discounts at some restaurants (including in the City Walk area at the entrance of the parks) and stores plus free parking (usually $26) after the first visit.
For non-Florida residents that same deal is $210.34 down and $19.13 per month or $359.99 in full.
Here’s what we learned on a visit to both Universal parks on Aug. 28th. Universal Islands of Adventure operates from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily with no early admission hour and Universal Studios Florida operates from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. with an early park admission at 8 a.m.
These parks are empty. As in 5 to 10 minute wait times even for the attractions such as Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, which was so fun that we walked right back on. By the exit of our second time, though, there was a 20 minute wait.
This may just be a weekday fluke and weekends are busier, but we took advantage of the situation and most entries to rides meant a brisk walk though air conditioned walkways and then right onto the ride where, pre-pandemic, people would wait for hours.
Before you climb onto or enter into any experience, there is a friendly cast member with a bottle of hand sanitizer, so hold out a hand to be ready. This means every ride you enter and touch handle bars, or rails, etc. will be offset by the effort, in theory.
Interaction with the characters that make up the Universal brand are frequent and modified to allow for interaction but at a safe distance. Scooby Doo and the gang arrive and stand on steps to pose behind you for photos, Barney and Friends are on a stage and there is a marker to stand on. Bumblebee the Autobot is hamming it up to his favorite tunes and looms so high above his fans that he stands right behind them for photo ops.
The show experiences such as The Bourne Stuntactular involves a row by row entry and at least three seats are sectioned off for no access to leave a gap between parties. Just as you arrive and are seated you are dismissed row by row as well.
Similar to Disney, any highly interactive playground areas remained closed such as the Curious George Goes to town aqua play area.
And there are modifications to experiences, so don’t expect it to be exactly how you remember it or have heard from other visitors before the March shutdown.
For example, you won’t give out your name at the beginning of the E.T. ride and hear him say goodbye to you personally as you leave the experience.
Some basics to remember if you visit: Universal allows gaiters where Disney only allows masks. “We recommend that face coverings be at least two-ply (consist of at least two layers). Also, a gaiter is considered an appropriate face covering as long as it covers your nose and mouth,” according to the guidelines on the website.
This applies to everyone except children under the age of three, guests when actively eating or drinking or when at a designated U-Rest face covering removal area.
Before entering the parks you will have your temperature taken by upbeat and welcoming greeters. Also, be ready to show your photo ID at the ticket entrance which applies to annual passholders and day park pass holders.