Update: It’s official. Universal Orlando Resort will be reopening to the public on June 5. Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and Universal’s Volcano Bay water park will all return to operation on that day. Guests will have to follow the CDC’s guidelines, which have influenced Universal’s procedures. Those include wearing a mask, getting a temperature check, remaining at least six feet away from people who aren’t in your party, obeying all floor markings, using hand sanitizer when required, and obeying directions from Universal team members. Team members will also have to get their temperature checked and will be wearing masks, and capacity to the parks will be limited.
Other theme parks in Florida will also be reopening in June, including Legoland, which reopens on June 1. Disney has not publicly discussed the timetable for reopening Disney World, but the company has cancelled all existing reservations through June 13. The earliest date you can currently make a reservation for Disney World is July 1.
Florida’s theme parks might be reopening sooner rather than later. Universal Orlando has proposed to reopen its Florida theme parks on June 5, and the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force has given its approval. Universal’s plans still need to be approved by Florida state officials, and if the parks do reopen on the 5th, they’ll feel very different due to a suite of new regulations and procedures.
Here’s what guests could expect from a day at Universal Orlando, if their proposal is accepted by local and state authorities. All guests would be given temperature checks before being allowed in, and they would have to wear masks. Free ones would be provided, as needed. Attendance would be reduced to a lower capacity than normal to better manage crowd flow and social distancing. Virtual queue technology will be used at more rides, and physical lines will be marked off to maintain a distance of six feet. Distance will also be enforced on rides. Water or mist features in various rides and attractions will be disabled, character meet and greets will be completely scrapped, and play areas will be closed. Restaurants will have mobile ordering and paper menus that will be disposed after a single use. Universal employees would be subject to similar measures and screening.
If approved, Univeral’s plan calls for the parks to reopen privately on June 1 in order to train team members on the new procedures. One June 3 and 4 the parks would welcome invited guests and annual passholders, and then it would reopen to the public on Friday, June 5.
It’s definitely an ambitious plan, and one that feels a little abrupt. Coronavirus cases have been declining, but that was one of the expected results of strict social distancing and shelter-at-home policies; epidemiologists don’t see that drop as a sign that we can end the quarantine, but proof that it worked properly and thus needs to be continued. They caution that cases will rise again if those policies are relaxed. Even with reduced capacity and increased precautions, the very nature of theme parks make them an ideal environment for spreading infections like COVID-19. It’s hard to see how places like Universal Orlando will be able to safely and effectively open during a pandemic, no matter what procedures are put into place. Of course society can’t remain closed forever, and perhaps this possible reopening will go smoothly and show that the pandemic is winding down.
Hopefully whatever happens happens for the best and for the right reasons. Also, hopefully Universal has learned how to spell “whoa” correctly.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.