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Going to the Parks during COVID: A Pandemic Guide to Universal Orlando Resort

The closing of the theme parks around Orlando due to the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 was an unprecedented and anxious time, but with safety at the forefront, the parks, restaurants, and hotels have since reopened and continue to welcome guests back to Universal Orlando Resort. If you’re ready for a visit filled with fun and adventure, there are a few things you’ll want to take note of before you pack your bags, and Orlando Informer is here with your pandemic guide – everything you need to know about the ins-and-outs of having fun and staying safe during your visit.

Skip to: Before you travel | Safety first | Theme parks | Volcano Bay | CityWalk Orlando | Transportation | Dining | Hotels | Events

Face masks are optional for photos at Universal Orlando Resort

Traveling during the pandemic

Before you book that plane ticket or hop in the car, make sure you consult any travel advisories both going to and returning from your vacation destination. There are no travel restrictions in place when arriving in Florida from other US destinations, but some states and countries have mandatory quarantines upon returning from travel. For the most up-to-date information, check out the site, along with your local travel advisories.

How does Universal Orlando Resort operate under COVID protocols/restrictions?

New safety guidelines at Universal Orlando
Universal’s previous safety guidelines, which stopped being applied in June 2021

Across Universal Orlando, you’ll find a number of precautions in place to keep guests safe and healthy. Face coverings are no longer required for fully vaccinated guests. A socially distanced space of three feet is suggested, but not mandated. And all around the resort, you’ll find hand-sanitizing stations and helpful signage, encouraging visitors to sanitize frequently. Finally, all theme and water parks are operating at reduced capacity, so you’ll have more ability to spread out in the ride queues and throughout the parks.

(Please note that, also as of May 6, temperature screenings are no longer required for either day guests arriving through CityWalk or hotel guests staying on property.)

What’s it like to visit Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure during the pandemic?

Universal Studios Florida evening lagoon view
Universal Studios Florida evening lagoon view

When deciding when to visit, it’s important to take into consideration that the parks are operating under reduced capacity limits and may close to day guests during busy periods. Their hours are also somewhat shorter than in past years, so check the calendar for up-to-date information during your trip. While you don’t need a reservation for entry, those capacity limits may come into effect depending upon when you visit, so consider arriving earlier in the morning (or, alternatively, later at night) if you are planning to come on a popular date. (For updates on capacity, keep an eye on our Twitter handle or call Universal at 407-817-8317.)

Please note that hotel guests can still make use of Early Park Admission, which still remains a great way to get a jump on the crowds, even during the era of COVID.

Rides and attractions

Almost all rides and shows are now operating under more-or-less normal conditions, with travel parties being seated alongside other groups. Even single-rider lines have (largely) been reinstated! (It’s still recommended, however, that everyone takes advantage of the sanitizing stations available at most ride and show exits).

Express Passes are, of course, available for purchase, or for guests staying at any of the premier Universal Orlando hotels. Universal has also expanded its use of the Virtual Line system, making it occassionally available (and sometimes required) for attractions including Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, or Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. Download the free Universal app to familiarize yourself with this system before you go, and check for any updates while at the park.

While almost everything is back to business as usual, there are still the following adjustments in effect:

Character meet-and-greets

Characters can still be found throughout the parks, but the typical meet-and-greets are organized a little bit differently: guests will be positioned at a spot approximately six feet away from the characters to pose for snaps. You might even catch Hashtag the Panda waving from an open window at 30 Rock next to Race Through New York with Jimmy Fallon, or see Beetlejuice haunting the stage outside of the Horror Make-Up Show theater.

What about visiting the Volcano Bay water theme park during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Volcano Bay has reopened!

Water park fans can rejoice – Volcano Bay has reopened for the 2021 spring and summer season! (It had closed for some four months during the winter.) For safety reasons, masks are not allowed while in the pools or on the water rides, and the park continues to use the virtual queue for most rides.

What changes are in effect at Universal CityWalk Orlando during the COVID-19 pandemic?

All day guests arriving at Universal Orlando Resort must enter through the parking complex and head through the normal security checkpoint to CityWalk. (Frequent visitors will notice that parking is no longer staggered – that is, having spaces be put in between cars – as it was when the resort first reopened last June.) Valet parking is now available, but guests with furry family members will want to note that the kennels remain closed.

Once in CityWalk, most of the shops and experiences are open, including the Universal Cinemark movie theater and both mini-golf courses.

While most restaurants (such as Pat O’Brien’s and Bob Marley – A Tribute to Freedom) are open daily, nightclubs (the groove and Red Coconut Club) remain closed.

How have transportation options changed with COVID-19?

The free shuttle-bus and water-taxi services from the Universal Orlando hotels to the theme parks (via CityWalk) and to Volcano Bay are almost entirely back to standard operations.

Dining options, tips, and tricks during the pandemic

The challenges of the pandemic have lead many restaurants around the resort to pare down their menus, shorten operating hours, or close altogether – but don’t despair! Despite the setbacks, the dining teams across the parks, CityWalk, and the hotels have worked tirelessly to ensure delicious moments, fresh victuals, and beloved theme-park snacks are available everywhere you turn. For example, many of the buffet restaurants, such as The Kitchen at Hard Rock Hotel, now offer a fun family-style option, where a variety of your favorite foods is delivered directly to your table to share and enjoy with your pandemic pod. Capacity is limited due to well-spaced tables, which may make for longer waits at some venues, but it also provides a nice buffer so that you can dine in safety.

To make the most of your dining experiences, we offer the following tips:

  • Check out the current menus, as many have changed in the past year – browse our OI Universal Center for your favorites or peruse the menus to discover something new!
  • Visit OpenTable to see which restaurants take online reservations to help cut down on your wait for a seat.
  • Consider staying at a resort that offers priority seating to guests. Review the list of eateries with this perk to narrow down your selections.
  • Investigate outdoor dining options or plan to snack at the many kiosks and outdoor stands found throughout the resort – some of our top picks include outdoor seating at Thunder Falls Terrace in Jurassic Park or Central Park Crepes in Hollywood.
  • And, finally, mobile ordering is your friend! Download the Universal app and see which of your preferred locations offer the ability (and convenience) of ordering right from your phone. Once your food’s ready, you just head right over to pick it up.

Dinner shows and character dining

The Marvel Character Dinner, the Despicable Me Character Breakfast, and other dinner shows, such as the Wantilan Luau, are currently closed.

What safety precautions are in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at the hotels?

Universal Orlando hotels reopening after COVID closures
Even your room’s TV is in on the safety action

Many changes have been implemented at the hotels to put your mind at ease and let you enjoy your vacation:

  • Dining venues may have limited menus or shortened hours – or be closed entirely.
  • Although all guests must check in at the front desk, there is contactless check-out available.
  • Rooms are given a thorough scrubbing between guest stays, but daily room cleaning is mostly suspended. However, you can certainly call the front desk for more towels or toiletries as needed.
  • If your hotel offers room service, your food will be delivered outside of your door instead of being brought into the room.

Which hotels are open?

Currently, all Universal Orlando Resort hotels are open for business and welcoming guests.

Are Universal’s special events going ahead during COVID-19?

The wild and colorful performers at Mardi Gras 2021
The wild and colorful performers at Mardi Gras 2021

Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras will party on in Universal Studios Florida from February 5 to April 24, 2022 and has kept the form introduced in 2021 of an international food festival. This year, the parades are back, the concerts are back, the Tribute Store is back, and the food and beverage selections are as strong as ever.

For more on Mardi Gras 2022, visit our complete guide.

Halloween Horror Nights

Halloween Horror Nights returned in 2021 for a record-breaking 42 nights from September 3rd through October 31st. For the 30th official year of the event, a few safety measures were in place. Depending on their role in the maze, some scare actors were required to wear face masks or perform from behind “plexiglass” screens in the houses. Scare zones used stages and platforms to distance their scare actors from the crowds, which returned in droves after the cancelation of full-scale HHN in 2020.

Be sure to check out our complete guide to Horror Nights for all the updates as they arrive for 2022.

Do you have a question about the information on this page, would like to provide feedback, or did you spot an inaccuracy? Please let us know by posting in our Orlando Informer Community on Facebook.


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