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Some travel advisors have been eagerly waiting for theme parks to reopen as U.S. states begin easing COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. But even as these parks begin opening with new operating policies — many of which focus on enhanced sanitization and health practices — clients may be wary to re-enter.
Birmingham, Ala.-based Sonya Toole Little, owner of Sandcastle Wishes Travel, visited Universal Studios Florida (one of Universal Orlando Resort’s three theme parks) and Universal’s Endless Summer Resort on June 3, ahead of the June 5 official opening (annual passholders and guests of the hotel were allowed early entry). The park has been closed since March 15.
She tells TravelAge West what she wants potential visitors — and their travel advisors — to know about visiting the reopened Orlando park.
What was your overall experience visiting the newly reopened park?It was an awesome experience, and the team members were so excited to see everybody back. I am glad they’re opening. We saw a lot of kids and families. The characters were out, and you could take selfies with them (with markers on the ground to designate where you had to stand). Most of the restaurants were also open, in addition to the quick-service places including those for churros, popcorn and refillable drinks. There were attendants at each refill station cleaning them after each person.
What other health and safety protocols did you observe?We rode a shuttle bus to get to the park, and the driver only took 20 people at a time so guests could stay the 6 feet apart and remain with their family or group. There was a line before security for temperature checks.
The park has social-distancing requirements. Guests stand 6 feet apart when they’re in line unless they’re in big open areas.
Did guests seem compliant with new policies?It’s a lot better than I thought it was going to be. Everybody was willing to follow whatever procedures Universal wanted us to, just to be able to experience the theme park again.
Everyone had masks on, and guests had to use hand sanitizer before they got on a ride. The first ride we did was the Despicable Me Minion Mayhem ride. When people get off a ride, it’s cleaned. If employees see a guest with a mask off at the end of a ride, they clean the area where that rider sat. There were also people cleaning rails all the time. They’re being very cautious and were reminding everyone to keep their masks on, unless they were eating or drinking.
What about new polices for Endless Summer Resort, specifically?Right when guests walk in the doors, they get their temperature checked. Attendants give out wristbands — a different color each day — so they know if they have already taken the guest’s temperature that day. There is plexiglass in front of the concierge at check-in. Everybody had a mask on, employees were cleaning and there were hand sanitizer stations around. The property is not doing room service, and housekeeping is not coming into rooms until a guest leaves.
At Universal, they’re trying and doing their best, and everybody is happy to be there. A few things have changed, but the overall experience has not gone away.
What made you want to come back to Universal now?My visit (ahead of the official reopening) was more for quality control, and for the benefit of Universal to observe how everything is going with all the new policies in place. It’s our responsibility as travel agents to show clients how it works so we can help get people traveling again. I came down here to try it for myself, in order to see how it was going to be for our clients and if we would recommend them going.
Do you have advice for clients thinking about coming to the park right now?I do not think it felt very different at all from before, aside from having to wear a mask. For most of the big rides, clients need to get in a virtual “line” on the park’s app, which was pretty easy once you download and figure it out — just make sure the app is updated before arriving.
RELATED: Travel Advisors Share Their Thoughts on the New Normal for Disney Parks
Also, it gets hot here, so do not plan a whole day at the parks. Kids are going to get tired easier, quicker.
I would recommend that clients have patience because everybody is trying to figure it out. Practice wearing your mask before you go to figure out the right fit and the right style for your face. If guests go into the experience having the expectation that they have to wear a mask, it’s easier having one on. At Universal, they’re trying and doing their best, and everybody is happy to be there. A few things have changed, but the overall experience has not gone away. Universal has done a really good job about keeping it “Universal.”
The DetailsUniversal Studios Floridawww.universalorlando.com