On behalf of Believe Vacations, it’s great to be back. Well, not back like, return to the way it was; Back like, we’re back to planning vacations. And for yours truly, back to providing you with insightful articles of information from the expertise and experience of close to now 50 agents throughout the United States! Hey, just because Disney halted operations doesn’t mean we had to!
One of those amazing agents is Lead Vacation Planner Angela Wehling! A true star on our team, Angela has used the break to fine tune her Facebook and Instagram pages with tips and tidbits about the reopening of all parks. So it was no surprise that the first chance she got, she made sure to get into the parks. It just so happened she visited Universal Orlando Resort in June and we were all anxious to hear the stories about her experience. She was kind enough to be interviewed and answer questions we all have had on our minds lately.
The Trip Basics
What parks did you visit and when were the dates? We visited Universal Orlando Resort June 20-24 which included Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay most days.
What made you decide to risk going back so soon? We had a trip planned for my oldest daughter’s 10th birthday and we wanted to go one last time before our annual passes for this year expired. To reduce exposure risk, we drove our car to Orlando.
The Resort Basics
Did you stay on the Universal grounds? We stayed at Universal’s Cabana Bay Resort. We had never stayed at this resort so I wanted to check it out for myself and potential clients. It is also a Prime (value) hotel so the cost was in the right range for this particular trip. Cabana Bay also has a walking path to Volcano Bay and a Resort Guest Entrance which came in handy since we visited Volcano Bay on 3 different days. Temperature checks were done each day at our resort and then we were given a certain color wristband that cleared us from having any more checks that day.
What modes of transportation did you use to get around? We used all the different available modes of transportation while on this stay. Our first evening, we walked all the way from the parks to Cabana Bay Resort. It is exactly 1 mile, and while I wouldn’t recommend to anyone, you can get all the way from the parks to the resort on a walking path. We mainly took the buses to and from the parks and they were running more frequently and adequately social distancing with limited capacity. One day, we took the ferry from the parks to Sapphire Falls to take advantage of the pool hopping you can typically enjoy while staying on Universal property (Note: Since my trip, they have recently suspended pool hopping for the time being. I would recommend guests inquire at the front desk to see if hopping is an option during their stay). The ferrys were also social distancing with guests, only sitting in every other row and only with the members of their party.
The Park Basics
Was there a certain ticket/package you purchased and what was the process of purchasing (different or the same)? My family purchased annual passes last summer but the process of purchasing both tickets and passes have not changed.How was the crowd size? The crowds were incredible. We never waited longer than 20 minutes for anything. We did not have Express Pass because it is not complimentary when staying at Cabana Bay and once I saw the crowd levels, I determined it wouldn’t be worth the cost for this trip. I got lots of pictures in typically high crowd areas with almost no one in the background. Diagon Alley is one of my favorite places to hang out and there was no one there most of the time! Hogsmeade would still get a little congested at times which is normal for that area.
Were there any attractions/experiences that were closed due to health precautions? I didn’t run into any attractions that were closed. In fact, while we were there, Bourne Stuntacular was in technical rehearsals and we got to go in for a sneak peek! Its an amazing stunt show…one of the best I’ve seen and highly recommend it for entertainment and for cooling off!Did you enjoy the virtual line system? The virtual lines they have put in place worked flawlessly for us. We mainly used this feature to ride Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventures. We were able to secure a virtual line pass each day we tried and rode our favorite ride with no wait each time. In the past when there was no virtual line, we would wait at least an hour. So we were thrilled to walk right on at our scheduled times.
What was the attitude like of the employees? I never encountered a team member who seemed unhappy to be back at the parks. I was impressed with how they handled mask etiquette with guests and other issues that came up due to all the new policies and procedures.What was the attitude like of the guests? All in all, I think the guests were just as thrilled as the team members to be back in the park. There were a few guests that we encountered that didn’t quite understand the social distancing in the lines policies but nothing too bad.
The New Regulations Basics
Now to the big questions many people are anxious to know about – What were the new guidelines you had to follow (masks, cleanliness, prohibited items, etc.)? Masks are required at all times in the parks and at the resort unless you are eating or drinking, in one of the U-Rest areas (where you are allowed to take a mask break while social distancing safely from others) or riding a water attraction.The only place that this is different is at Volcano Bay. Since it is a water park, masks are required upon entering and exiting the parks and while entering eating/drinking establishments and retail shops. They are encouraged while walking from attraction to attraction but not allowed while on any water attractions or any of the pools.Other crowd control safety measures we noticed throughout all the parks were social distancing markers throughout every line queue and limiting capacity for stores and eating establishments. For cleanliness, before every attraction, a team member would give you an adequate amount of hand sanitizer before getting on. Throughout the day, we saw team members everywhere constantly cleaning high touch surfaces and reminding guests to wear their masks and wear them properly. Characters were still out but only on stages. Guests could still see them and take selfies but not touch or hug. This was okay for our family because my children are okay with a quick wave from most of the characters on a regular day. How was wearing a mask in Florida in the summer? First thing to note is that we have visited Florida in the summer multiple times so we know the heat and humidity it has to offer. Second, I am a nurse in my other life so I’m used to wearing a mask for 12 hours straight (albeit in an air-conditioned hospital). That being said, it was HOT and I’m talking hotter than I could imagine. We had disposable masks and neck gaiters. I switched between the two periodically. The neck gaiters were more secure while on the attractions but the disposable masks breathed a little easier while walking. I also had my neck fan on at all times. I will say it did get easier as the days went by and luckily we have a 3-park pass so we were able to visit Volcano Bay multiple times to help us cool off. We lasted usually around 5 hours in the parks before we need to be submerged in water! We got lucky one day as we visited the dry parks and was on the receiving end of one of the famous Florida afternoon showers to help cool us off so we did last all day that day. All that being said, we had an amazing visit and both my children said they would go back in a mask in a heartbeat!
The Final Advice Basics
What advice do you have for post-COVID times at theme parks? The biggest thing we tried to do is set our expectations super low to not be disappointed. We knew this trip would be unlike any other trip we had taken. In reality, our trip went really well and still felt like the Universal vacation we have always loved, just with masks on and a little more space. You’ll actually enjoy social distancing in lines and shows especially in summer when everyone is hot and sweaty!Did you ever feel unsafe? We never felt unsafe. There were only a handful of instances, usually at the resort, when you would encounter a guest on property without a mask. Other than that, everyone complied with all the policies in place. Nobody wore masks when walking around Volcano Bay but with the limited capacity, I never felt unsafe.
Do you think they opened too early or was it fine for what it was worth? I think Universal made the right call for their business and they continue to impress me with how they have handled all of the closure and reopening. They are truly focused on guest safety and FUN!Any final words before I put my mask back on? I think the biggest advice I would tell future guests for any vacation destination is to just be smart, decide what’s best for their family, follow the safety guidelines put in place, have fun and make lots of memories!