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Photo TR: A Visit for Universal Orlando's 30th Anniversary


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Last week the Universal Orlando Resort reopened for guests for the first time since March 15th, just ahead of the resort's 30th anniversary. It was a surreal experience for me to visit after having not been to the parks for a few months, particularly because these two were the last two I visited right before all of the Orlando parks had shut down due to COVID. I hadn't planned it this way, but when I decided I was going to venture out for a visit, it turned out to be the park's actual 30th anniversary to the day. My goal for the visit was really just to make a lap of each park, get some photos, grab merchandise and if there was time and it was convenient, get a ride or two in while there.

 

Along the way, I was able to observe the changes found throughout the parks that have come in response to reopening restrictions including reduced capacity, temperature checks, required masks, U-Rest areas and virtual lines. I'll share these thoughts on my experience...

 

The temperature check process was ridiculously simple. I arrived at 10:30 am, an hour and a half after park opening and there was only one person ahead of me in the temperature check queue. My check took approximately 3 seconds before I could proceed through security, which due to the low crowds was an equally quick transaction. It impacted my experience in absolutely no way.

 

Most guests (85-90%) that I witnessed during my four hours at the resort observed and respected the park's new policies when it came to masks and social distancing in queues. Masks are required in all areas (other than designated U-Rest spaces) unless you are in the process of eating or drinking. The vast majority of people I saw kept their masks on, but every once in a while you'd see someone on the phone with a mask hanging off of one ear, or another sitting down in a more crowded area with their mask resting under their chin. No employees were walking up to guests to tell them that they needed to abide by the policies, though team members at the entrances of the shops and attractions were quick to remind guests that face coverings were mandatory. I felt safe enough since I wasn't physically anywhere near close to anyone that wasn't participating in the required policies. It was honestly better than I imagined, but not flawless either--about as good as I could expect, knowing that there are plenty of people that are only wearing masks because it is the park policy, not because they believe they need to.

 

And no, wearing a mask during your entire visit is not bad or experience-ruining. I visited a few of the U-Rest locations to check them out but the only time I took down my mask was when I'd grab a drink at a water fountain. I didn't get overheated or anything. I was used to the experience a few minutes in because I focused on everything else and that seemed to work out fine for me.

 

Regarding social distancing, I was impressed with how methodical the placement of the social distancing markers were in queues. With the reduced capacity and virtual lines in combination, moving through the lines and stopping on each six foot marker felt natural. I experienced this for Reign of Kong: Skull Island and Hagrid's Magical Motorbike Adventure. My only critique would be that the winding and sometimes dark nature of each of these queues, sometimes made it difficult to know if the next line marker was clear because it was around a corner or hallway... This would result in me stepping forward too soon and the people at the marker behind me following, for me to have to pause and step back a little. The fine line between thematic integrity in the queue and bringing up the lighting a little, but a minor observation--I share only because I felt like it was difficult to avoid a mistake as a result, not because anyone in the line was intentionally choosing to do something wrong by moving forward.

 

Hand sanitizer is given to every rider as a requirement before their board the vehicle. And riders from different parties are placed with empty rows in between them... This resulted in me having my own row on Kong, along with the row in front of me being empty. For Hagrid's, I was seated with no one to my side but one rider in the row ahead of me, which I didn't think would happen as we were in different parties.

 

The Virtual Line experience was solid though not always easy to win with if there's one attraction you're trying to get into... It is based on the same system that has been in use for Race through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, along with Fast and Furious Supercharged, for quite some time. I tried my hand at a virtual line reservation for Hagrid's as soon as I entered the park (the system requires your GPS to be enabled on the app) and was immediately met with a message that no times were available. This message would show consistently with my attempts for the next half hour. Once at the entrance of the attraction, I overheard others around me saying that they were just able to snag a time, and sure enough when I tried I successfully got a reservation for an hour later. The system lets you have two reservations for two attractions at a time, so I grabbed my reservation for Kong to help kill time without going too far. Kong's reservation was for five minutes after I booked it, and from the time I entered the queue with my app scanned to the time I exited the ride, it was 20 minutes. From the entrance of Hagrid's queue (which extends with barricades past the Hogsmeade entrance) to my leaving the ride totaled 27 minutes.

 

Overall, my four hour visit was an enjoyable one. People's fears about the new social distancing and safety policies really should be calmed by the reports coming out of these first few weeks of operation. Things all worked fairly smoothly. The vast majority of guests in the park obeyed the rules and were civil about the changes in procedure. The U-Rest spots offer an added safe space for those that feel they really need to pause from mask wearing along the way. And virtual queuing eliminates the fear of packed queues putting guests within a concerning distance. This is the new normal, but not the forever normal. To those that find these measures an inconvenience, it is a small price to pay for being able to have these parks in operation, these jobs restored and the businesses up and running to support and feed other businesses around them. I'm grateful the parks are moving in this direction... The alternative is far less enjoyable for everyone.

 

The Universal Orlando Resort has changed pretty dramatically over the last 30 years. And at some point in the next decade, a new park and even more resorts will open. It'll be quite the ride knowing what is coming next (Super Nintendo World and Universal's Epic Universe at some point) and wondering what else may surprise us...

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I felt very comfortable on my way into CityWalk for obvious reasons.

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The first of many sets of signage throughout CityWalk from beyond the moving walkways...

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Right before COVID, Fossil, PiQ and Quiet Flight closed. Based on the scope of the construction and how much of the collective building has been gutted, it looks this will become one large venue as opposed to several smaller stores.

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Universal Orlando is cashing in on nostalgia with a new line of 30th anniversary merchandise...

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This will make fans of the classic attractions like King Kong, Back to the Future: The Ride and Jaws very happy.

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At the entrance of each park, team members are on a loudspeaker announcing social distancing and mask policies as well as sharing information about the Virtual Line and “U-Rest” options in the parks.

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It feels good to be back in a theme park...

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A nice sight to see.

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The first U-Rest area I spotted in the park...

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Basically, it is an area in the park where you can take off your mask while maintaining a social distance from others.

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This view looks very different than it did when I was last here a few months ago.

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An Intamin coaster has sprung up in Jurassic Park!

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The coaster’s expected top hat maneuver has its support structure ready to go.

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A barrel roll over water... Very nice.

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I’ve always loved the look of this Intamin track spine.

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Pathways have barriers set up to help drive the flow of traffic, though they aren’t enforced.

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Surprisingly open!

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Tots do sound good, but not today...

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The last remaining guardian of The Lost Continent received a fresh paint job right before the parks reopened.

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Another U-Rest area in Islands of Adventure is the Sinbad theater. Despite having lived in Orlando my entire life, having visited this park since before its grand opening and having had an annual pass since the age of 13, I was never compelled to see the show... And it closed before I ever got around to giving it a try.

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The Enchanted Fountain is still entertaining guests, but markings on the ground indicate where they can stand for an appropriate social distance.

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The entrance for the Hagrid's queue extends outside of the gates of Hogsmeade.

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Feels good to be back.

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Even The Wizarding World of Harry Potter received social distancing markers throughout the land. They may not be themed, but it is a small price to pay to be able to have the place open again.

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Standing spaces are defined for the outdoor show venues in the parks.

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I didn't ride during my visit but Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey was operating under the Virtual Line reservation system.

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Flight of the Hippogriff operated with the normal standby queue, albeit with social distancing markers on the ground.

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This coaster is going to be quite the sight to see!

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Such a good looking mess of steel!

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Looks like an inversion in the works!

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I do think it is kind of humorous that Dueling Dragons was supposedly despised by JK Rowling due to the exposed nature of the coaster's steel and yet, a new coaster that is equally exposed will be roaring within view of Hogsmeade. These photos were taken from the balcony seating area behind the Hogs Head Tavern.

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I seriously can't wait to ride this.

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Time to keep moving onward...

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A new locker area for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey is being set on the side of the attraction nearest Jurassic Park. It looks like it will actually help to obstruct the "box" show building for the ride when it is complete.

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At 11:10 I was able to snag a Virtual Line reservation for Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure for only an hour away.

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With an hour to kill, I continued to roam Jurassic Park to get more photos of the construction of the new coaster.

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The project's scope can be best understood when standing in front of the Jurassic Park Discovery Center.

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This coaster will really change the feel of the land when it is complete.

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Despite the park's closure, Universal was able to complete the construction of the new Raptor Encounter space with a themed queue and meet & greet paddock. It wasn't open for me to check out due to the rain, but I'm sure I'll get around to seeing the interior at some point.

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More track going up!

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My first (of only two) ride of the day.

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Notice the distance between those in the queue, as defined by the social distancing markers six feet apart.

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A fun detail I never noticed before in the queue...

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I'm more used to seeing this room full, but with the pulsing of the queue and the social distancing measures in place, I was only in this room for a few minutes while waiting.

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Individual parties are loaded into their own rows, with empty rows between them. In this case, that meant a number of rows with only one to two people in them at a time.

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I love the look of this coaster!

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It is a crime that these chicharrones are not called "Jurassic Pork."

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Can't. Wait.

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Time for a different Intamin coaster.

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A subtle tribute to Dueling Dragons in the queue for Hagrid's...

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Also used to seeing this room full...

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Dudley Doo-Right's Ripsaw Falls was up and running...

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It is a rare thing to see Wimpy's open in Toon Lagoon...

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Paper menus are available for interested guests to see what can be ordered at Wimpy's.

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Toon Lagoon is one of my favorite lands from a detail standpoint, as there is so much to take in!

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Social distance meet & greets are offered throughout the parks.

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Spidey pose!

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Spider-Man only had a twenty minute wait during my visit.

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Just nice to see coasters back in operation in Orlando.

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Yes, I absolutely bought one of each of these retro masks...

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Universal is playing to Dueling Dragons nostalgia for merchandise and I'm easily hooked.

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I can't wait to come back when this coaster is fully assembled and ready for riders!

 

Next up, a lap at Universal Studios Florida...

Edited by jedimaster1227
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great update, and how wonderful to see pics of the new distancing requirements.

 

not bad at all, and nice that most are following the directions.

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Really encouraging to see such a good response overall from the guests. Seems like Universal really thought out how to properly implement social distancing procedures throughout the park. Great report and photos, thanks Jedi!

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The idea of a virtual queue for Hagrid's that you don't have to get there at opening for is actually quite attractive for me to think about renewing my pass! I like the 30th merchandise but the dueling dragons merch seems a bit too soon! Thanks for the report.

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I really do like that coaster. If you forget the insane marketing and the coaster that used to be there and just expect an unreliable Verbolten on crack it's hard not to have a great time.

 

I look forward to riding it again if we're ever allowed back in the state.

Edited by coasterbill
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Same I enjoyed the hell out of Hagrids, I'm looking forward to going back and getting a night ride eventually.

 

That new Jurassic Park ride looks like a ton of fun. Nice report!

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^&^^ I have such low expectations for this new coaster after Taron and this being at Universal that I'm sure it will exceed them and hopefully be quite good! Keep in mind, I'm like a super Intamin Fan Girl so that opinion should actually mean something!

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This TR is super interesting and informative. Thank you.

 

I guess it's been a while since I was at IOA, because I had no idea that Sinbad was closed or that Green Eggs & Ham was all tater tots now.

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Very interesting TR. It was nice to see how Universal is handling this. Looks like they are doing a great job, and from the photos it looked like most people were obeying the social distancing. - Thanks for this report! Now others of us know kind of what to expect as we plan future park visits for this summer.

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Very interesting TR. It was nice to see how Universal is handling this. Looks like they are doing a great job, and from the photos it looked like most people were obeying the social distancing. - Thanks for this report! Now others of us know kind of what to expect as we plan future park visits for this summer.

 

Someone has to be the guinea pig and Universal seems to be doing a good job of being it, from what I have seen (I've seen TRs and the video Molly from AllEars.net put up on YouTube)

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