Written by Tanya Balcerski
Written by David "Indy" Graham
So Universal decided to let the Team Members bring a plus 1 to the preview on reopening and I was able to get off work to go with my girlfriend to spend the day in the parks again after 3 months. The biggest questions that myself and most people had is what was it going to be like. Hopefully I'm able to share a little light on that for you and also keep in mind things can change when the general guest opening comes based on what works and doesn't work with the previews.
Before I get to how it's like actually in the parks let's start out in the parking garage. They are parking cars every other spot when you pull into the garage. This should tell you just how much Universal is putting into this social distancing from the start. Once you head from the garage towards the security area they have a place where you must pass a temperature check otherwise you won't be able to get to the hub to go through security into CityWalk area. There was a couple who had got to security without masks and were quickly sent to the rotunda gift shop to purchase a mask to enter CityWalk for the evening (Even though it was stated that people would be given mask to enter the park, remember they have yet to officially open yet, so that could have changed).
When you walk into CityWalk there are Team Members with mics welcoming everyone back and reminding everyone of safety requirements. As you go through CityWalk at the different shops, kiosks and stores you will see markings on the ground for social distancing to enter them.
So let's head into the parks now. We started out at Islands of Adventures for the morning. Heading to the turnstiles they had queues set up for us to wind through to get to them. There was no finger scan that most of us came to know and it was there I was given my paper ticket for the Team Member preview for the day to go park to park. Once in the park, other than for the stores, there weren't any markings on the ground to show entering and exiting as I had expected.
With so few people there it was a no-brainer we headed straight to Hagrid's to start the day. If you don't have the Universal App, you will need to install it as every ride we went to required us to use it. I was able to get a return time within the hour which was the longest time I had to wait to ride. Once it was my turn to ride it I was able to walk right onto the ride. Before you load on the ride, and all other rides, there is someone there with hand sanitizer which you are required to use before loading. The rides were staggering people every other row as previously stated would happen. With so few people in the park today for the Team Member preview most rides were close to walk on after setting up the virtual queue or within 30 minutes.
After a lap around the different lands (plenty of pictures and short videos of the day already loaded to the UDN Facebook page if you haven't seen them), we headed back to the Hogwarts Express to head to the Studios park to finish the day out. For the Hogwarts load they had people staggered at the load areas with some closer to the gate and others further back and each party gets their own cabin; that's right no sharing with another party. I think when exiting and heading down the stairs was really the only time I didn't see the 6 ft social distancing fully being done. Once in Studios and Diagon Alley it was surprising to see it so empty. We opted to eat at Leaky Cauldon, and even though this is a quick order they seat you at one of the tables now spread out and you will have to use the mobile ordering app to place your order. We had someone assigned to our table like a server who brought out our food. Unless they change the process you will have to pay full price through the app and then after you finish if you have a discount like an Universal Orlando Annual Pass or Team Member discount, then they will take the person to the register to have the discount applied and you will get that back as a refund, currently. Additionally, when you purchase things right now in the stores you will not have to enter you pin info on the key pad and everything is ran as credit.
As for characters in the park, there were definitely plenty of them out however as I stated on some of the photos/videos I posted, most were behind a railing or up on a little stage and they had the 6-foot markings on the ground to keep you away from them. They also had additional markings on the ground for those waiting their turn in line for a photo opportunity. As for the Superstar Parade, they had a float coming out with different characters to entertain the people. I have to say I saw more characters today out at the Team Member preview than I probably saw on a normal day from when I had worked for Universal.
I hope this gives you a little understanding on what to except if you plan to visit the parks soon. If I didn't cover something in this please let us know in the comments and I'll do my best to answer the question for you. As for Universal, I'm able to say I feel confident in the precautions in place and I will hopefully be back soon to see how things are going once open to the general public, as well as what changes- if any they have made.
From all of us at UDN, thank you for being a part of our family and group.