Reopening plan focuses on the “3S: Screening, Sanitizing and Spacing”
by Lisa A. Beach
If you miss your Butterbeer fix at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal Orlando’s theme parks, there’s good news on the horizon. Universal’s theme parks — along with neighboring Walt Disney World and SeaWorld — have been closed due to COVID-19 since mid-March. However, Universal just unveiled plans to reopen to the public on June 5, 2020.
John Sprouls, Universal Orlando chief executive officer, and Rich Costales, Universal Orlando executive vice president of resort operations, gave a virtual presentation on the parks’ reopening plan to the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force on Thursday, May 21, 2020. Sprouls asked for approval for a phased reopening of its theme parks, starting with a soft opening on June 1, 2020, for employees, June 3-4, for invited guests such as season pass holders, and finally on June 5 for the general public.
“Our plans have been weeks in the making and build upon our recent experience reopening portions of Universal Orlando CityWalk,” said Sprouls. “You will see we have created a new level of best practice for our already aggressive health, safety, and hygiene procedures. We have followed CDC guidelines, the advice of health officials, and recommendations from our own experts.”
The task force unanimously passed the adoption of the reopening of Universal Orlando. The next step? Getting the plan evaluated by Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and final approval from Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis. The county staff will also make visits to the property as part the evaluation process.
With roughly 131.4 million visitors traveling to Florida in 2019, according to Visit Florida, the state relies heavily on tourism, especially in Central Florida—the theme park capitol of the world. With Disney Springs and Universal Orlando’s CityWalk shopping/dining complexes recently reopened (albeit with new coronavirus measures in place), locals and tourists alike have been wondering when the Orlando tourism giants will follow suit in opening their theme park gates.
According to Orlando’s WKMG News 6, Florida theme park executives revealed hints of their reopening plans on May 20 in a roundtable discussion with Vice President Mike Pence. As part of Florida’s full phase one plan, according to the Orlando Sentinel, Gov. Ron DeSantis asked theme parks to submit formal requests to reopen. These plans should include the target reopen date and protocols on how theme park officials will enforce state and CDC health and safety guidelines regarding the coronavirus. “Obviously, I want to get to yes, so I think if you work with your local [officials], you’ll be in pretty good shape,” Gov. DeSantis said at the roundtable regarding theme park reopening proposals.
Plan in Place
Sprouls and Costales presented comprehensive details of Universal’s reopening plan, focusing on the “3S: Screening, Sanitizing and Spacing.”
Universal’s plan includes safety measures for both team members and park guests and includes the following:
- Employees and guests must wear face masks. If guests don’t bring their own face mask, they’ll receive a free disposable mask to wear during their visit.
- Employees and guests must have their temperature checked to enter the parks. Anyone with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or greater will either not be admitted into the park (guests) or not be permitted to work (employees).
- In certain areas of the park (such as queue lines), guests must stand on the floor markings until the group in front of them moves forward.
- To help enforce social distancing, Universal is limiting capacity at venues.
- There will be signage throughout CityWalk and theme parks to help guests follow social distancing guidelines.
- Guests will find handwashing stations and hand sanitizer throughout the park.
- Park employees will provide continuous, thorough cleaning and disinfecting of all tables, chairs, and high-touch surfaces.
Elements Temporarily Suspended
For dining, Universal will offer single-use, disposable paper menus and implement mobile food ordering and touchless payment options. While restaurants will still accept cash, employees will be taking additional precautions when handling money.
Some elements of the theme parks will be put on hold, at least for now, to help with safety, hygiene, and social distancing. For example, Universal will be closing valet parking and the children’s play area. Plus, the park will be eliminating misting sprayers in the queue lines, single rider lines (to promote social distancing and not co-mingle parties), and post-show meet-and-greets (although entertainers will remain on stage for photo opportunities).
“Our goal is that we don’t want to see a resurgence of the coronavirus in our community,” said Mayor Demings in a May 20 news conference, talking about the preliminary plans that have been submitted to date. He said all the parks have focused on communication, signage, cleanliness, providing handwashing stations and hand sanitizer throughout the parks, encouraging six feet of social distance from others, and requiring masks of both park guests and cast members. “I believe, with that, they’ll be successful in reopening.”
During the roundtable with Pence, Disney executive George Kalogridis said the company is considering reopening parks with 20% to 30% capacity, according to WKMG News 6, noting the guideline follow’s on the heels of Disneyland Shanghai’s success in reopening.
Disney and SeaWorld will be presenting their reopening plans to the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force at a later date.
If you’re planning to visit Universal Orlando soon, it pays to “know before you go.” Check out the latest updates of what’s expected from theme park visitors on Universal’s website.