Universal Orlando Socially Distant - June 4 AP Preview Day

Thursday, June 4, 2020 6:05 PM

I just got home from what was the second day of Annual Passholder reopening previews at Universal Orlando. The reports from yesterday seemed to be a mixed bag but I had an overall positive experience today .

There's no doubt the world has dramatically changed in the last three months and the feel in the park was definitely different than anyone is used to in an amusement or theme park. That said, there was very much a feeling of "this sucks, but it's not going to change and this is what we have to do in order to have a sense of normalcy" among the guests today. I only encountered one Karen type - everyone else was very self aware and self policing of distancing, masks, etc, in queues, midways, shops, etc.

I had the 8:45am entry for Islands of Adventure and was parked in the garage by 8am. They are staggering and parking every other space, which is nice distancing theater and all, but then everyone sort of bunches up walking from their row to the walkways. I don't see any need for it.

The temperature check took a few seconds, was contactless, and didn't cause any delays. Yesterday it seemed that was the major bottleneck so I'm not sure if anything changed or if I was early enough to get through before the rush.

They opened extra park entry stations and I was inside IoA by 8:50. As soon as they opened the gates around 8:45 you could start getting Virtual Line reservations and I snagged a Hagrids for 9:40. The rides that have the Virtual Line are Hagrids and Forbidden Journey at IoA and then Mummy at Studios, plus Fast & Furious and Jimmy Fallon which had it already. It seems like they are doing "Virtual Line Only"by demand -which was all day at Hagrids. If there isn't enough demand they'll open it up as a regular queue.

First up was Hulk which was running every other row and only two trains. No combining parties in rows, and a Thursday AP preview had a lot of folks like me there alone, so plenty of trains went out with only 4-5 riders. It reminded me of riding Dominator at Geauga Lake in 2004. Hulk must have gotten some TLC during the closure because both rides I had on it today felt like the coaster was showroom new. Not that Hulk 2.0 was in bad shape or anything, but the last time I rode (maybe six months ago) it definitely wasn't riding as well as it did when it first reopened after the rebuild.

Fortunately they weren't stopping to sanitize the seats and harnesses after each ride, which was a common theme everywhere. Instead they would squirt hand sanitizer on your palms as you were ready to board, and I guess it's just a back sweat be damned attitude. I appreciated it though, as it really slowed things down at Fun Spot last week and I do feel like there isn't nearly enough benefit from taking the time to do it as the time it takes. Please - Cedar Fair, Six Flags, Busch/SeaWorld, Disney, Holiday World, etc - take note! Give us sanitizer at the last moment so we haven't touched anything. It will save so much time taken by the constant wipe downs and spray downs that likely are all for show anyway.

Hulk quickly was sporting a 70 minute wait, although had it been running three trains at full capacity in the before times, I'm sure the number of people in line would have been cleared out in a few minutes.

I walked onto Spiderman which was also every other row and not combining groups (this was all rides all day). They hand you the 3D glasses instead of grabbing them out of the basket yourself. A change I'd gladly take permanently.

Next it was time for my Hagrids ride. With Virtual Line I waited about a half hour. Virtual Line basically just stops the ability to get in line at random. Without the time to come back there is no option to ride. Return times seem to be released at random throughout the day, so there's no strategy like at Disney where they all drop at a certain time. My guess is this is so they can evaluate throughout the day if they even need to use it, but a ride like Hagrids should just assume they will. I was on in 30 minutes, and even though walking through the queue still makes my heart sad for the ultimate fate of the Dragons, it really is a great ride. When I was done though the line of people who had Virtual Line return times was all the way out to the entrance of Poseidon's Fury. Again - keep in mind this was with six foot spacing. But still .

At the Studios side I rode Mummy with a VL time and was on in less than 10 minutes. I walked onto Fast & Furious and Simpsons - and on Simpsons it's one group per vehicle so I rode next to five empty seats. I also took a spin on ET and saw Shrek 4-D. Preshows are suspended for now, which was fine with me for both of those. Fortunately since you are sequestered with your group they still do the Simpsons preshow, which I love. I also did the Jimmy Fallon ride, which I enjoy more for the ability to see the memorabilia in the lobby and watch the quite long and good Conan video loop than the ride itself.

The rain picked up around 11:30 and stayed until around 3. Apparently UO has the same rain policy as Cedar Point these days. A few drops and the outdoor stuff closes for weather. Ok, well Rip Ride Rockit is a piece of junk and Hagrids is #intamin, but I was bummed to see they had Hulk down for a decent chunk of the afternoon for very light rain and no lightning in sight. Hulk reopened at 3 and I went back to IoA for a second lap before calling it a day. Total wait time was about 30 minutes, plus an extra 10 to get my locker.

The preview was by registration only and they had a cap for the number they were letting in. Once you were in though you were free to hop between both parks at will =. Unlike the other parks, UO doesn't have any plans to do registering ahead of time to pick your park date, so I do wonder what will happen if a lot of people show up. The less than half capacity will be absolutely horrible (and this will be at all parks this season) if they don't really limit the number of guests that come in each day. In terms of overall guest count the place was deserted, but queue times were naturally higher because of the limited capacity. I can't imagine even a moderate sized crowd showing up once they open to everyone tomorrow. It will be a clusterf**k.

That said, the staff was absolutely incredible. Everyone was very friendly, serious about the new protocol, happy to help and answer questions, etc. It was the best guest service I've ever had at UO. Maybe everyone is happy to be employed and have a job, maybe it's just a positive effect of the current world climate. But hats off to the UO team for sure.

All in all I had a fun day despite the weather and the minor frustration at how capacity and efficiency have been completely destroyed. I got to be outside all day and got to ride roller coasters. It was a good day.

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Friday, June 5, 2020 6:03 PM

Thanks for the report. I was very curious about the implementation as we are planning a short trip at the end of July. It sounds like a manageable experience provided the place isn't over crowded.

According to their website they are limiting capacity largely by limiting the number of parking spaces they open up for the day. Perhaps they are also limiting the capacity of their hotel properties.

I did a quick check of ride times on the app today and they look very manageable, most under 30 minutes.

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Friday, June 5, 2020 6:38 PM

I can't say I'd recommend spending money on airfare and a hotel to come take a Universal vacation just yet. A few photos from today looked like the place was quieter than it was yesterday.

I still think the biggest concern for me would be that the crowds start to pick up to a level that's still under capacity for the park, but wait times would become unbearable with attractions essentially operating at 1/4 to 1/3 capacity. That is what is keeping me from committing to any travel to the seasonal parks up north I go to every year. A two hour wait for Millennium Force or Diamondback is bad enough when the rides are running at max capacity. But the idea of a two hour wait (virtual or in the queue) because they're only sending six or eight people on a train when I'm just not convinced that does *anything* at all in terms of keeping anyone safer from the virus just doesn't appeal to me.

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Friday, June 5, 2020 6:54 PM

We had a vacation planned for Hawaii in March, that got postponed until July, which got postponed until next year. We had reservations at Aluani through DVC. We rolled those points that were going bye-bye into this vacation. We were also able to score $90 round trip airfare on Southwest that we used credits for.

So we haven't paid anything out of pocket yet but we are booked. In my view it's still tentative. A lot can change in a month and a half.

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Friday, June 5, 2020 7:23 PM
Jeff's avatar

I'm wondering if they will refund passes on a prorated basis. What they're offering right now is not what we purchased, obviously. It's not their fault, certainly, but Disney had no issue with doing a prorated refund. I'm sure we'll be back in as soon as it makes sense. This, to me, just doesn't make sense at the moment.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Music: The Modern Gen-X - Video

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Friday, June 5, 2020 7:24 PM

Perhaps I take it back then. With a $90 round trip, if you're good to deal with the Orlando end of July swamp-a$$ weather and afternoon thunderstorms, it'll probably be a great way to have some sort of modified version of a summer vacation.

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Friday, June 5, 2020 7:31 PM

Jeff said:

I'm wondering if they will refund passes on a prorated basis. What they're offering right now is not what we purchased, obviously. It's not their fault, certainly, but Disney had no issue with doing a prorated refund. I'm sure we'll be back in as soon as it makes sense. This, to me, just doesn't make sense at the moment.

The best thing I saw was Shanghai Disneyland giving AP holders that are already paid for the year the option to essentially keep their pass "on hold" until the parks are operating at a level at or close to pre-COVID operations. Essentially the "we'll add on however many days we were closed" calendar just keeps going until you scan in. Say you had six months to go, as long as you don't go right now, the six months will resume the next time you do decide to go back (or eventually at a to be determined date in the future when park ops are at a closer resemblance of normal). Sort of like a year round park version of "your 2020 pass is now a 2021 pass".

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Friday, June 5, 2020 7:45 PM
Jeff's avatar

Yeah, that would be fine too. Disney just did the prorated refund. We've got about a $3k credit with DCL too, for whenever we can go back and cruise again. Still bummed we couldn't do Alaska this year. It was going to be the biggest vacation Diana and I had in the ten years of being parents. Canada is not having cruise ships until at least October now.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Music: The Modern Gen-X - Video

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Friday, June 5, 2020 9:37 PM

BrettV said:

Perhaps I take it back then. With a $90 round trip, if you're good to deal with the Orlando end of July swamp-a$$ weather and afternoon thunderstorms, it'll probably be a great way to have some sort of modified version of a summer vacation.

Totally. We went to Orlando in July about 5 years ago and by the end I got used to the heat. We are rope droppers and know to expect the sky to open up around 3pm.

Our family of four has been in our home going on three months except for the occasional trip to the grocery store. We're chomping at the bit to go somewhere. My sister and brother in law are stressed out too. None of us are in a high risk group and we can safely quarantine when returning home. We're going to take our chances but be careful while doing so.

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Friday, June 5, 2020 9:42 PM

For what it's worth, in terms of exposure to a possible COVID carrier, I felt safer spending seven hours bouncing between the two Universal parks yesterday than I do in a 20 minute trip to a grocery store. I'm touching way more stuff that has been handled by many other people picking up the essentials at Publix than I am by pulling harnesses and lap bars down when I know everyone else that touched them had their hands doused with Purell 10 seconds prior to boarding.

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Friday, June 5, 2020 9:59 PM

Here is the Sentinel with their take on today. For the most part it sounds like my experience yesterday on AP preview day

https://www.orlandosentinel.com/travel/attractions/universal-orland...story.html

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Friday, June 5, 2020 10:27 PM
Jeff's avatar

If the volume of people is kept that low, then I think I can reasonably assume it's low risk. But what's the threshold for operating in a way that's at least break-even?


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Music: The Modern Gen-X - Video

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Saturday, June 6, 2020 6:35 AM

That I don't know. Is the primary goal to turn a profit right now? Or to reopen so you can show people you have adapted to the times and are a safe place to go and to provide a sense of normalcy to your most loyal guests/customers?

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Sunday, June 7, 2020 11:46 PM

I'm curious if you saw people with backpacks on your trip to Universal. I usually pack a small backpack with sunscreen and water bottles for the family. Universal's website is discouraging them due to limited locker capacity. I'm not sure of the logistics of bringing a backpack in to Universal. The last time I was there was 10 years ago. We visited with a stroller so there was no need.

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Monday, June 8, 2020 9:12 AM

I honestly don't remember seeing any more or less than I did in the "before times." The locker availability looked to be the same as before. I had no issue getting one for Hulk for the empty pockets policy

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Monday, June 8, 2020 3:49 PM
99er's avatar

Jeff said:

If the volume of people is kept that low, then I think I can reasonably assume it's low risk. But what's the threshold for operating in a way that's at least break-even?

So I stopped over to Universal today to grab a couple things and there couldn't have been more than 5,000 in the park and I think I am being generous. It was dead, like the least amount of people I have ever seen in that park. I didn't wait in a single line from my temperature check all the way to the park. I think my longest wait was for my Butterbeer and that was one person ahead of me. The one Team Member I talked to made it sound like its primarily APs at the parks right now. I can't imagine they are breaking even on days like today.


-Chris
Remember, if you're arguing on the internet, you've already lost.

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Monday, June 8, 2020 4:00 PM
Jeff's avatar

Yeah, there's gotta be a ramp problem. I don't see how there's any significant demand yet, or people in hotel rooms. I'll be honest, I'd check it out if I could see some study around the theme park scenario, but it doesn't exist, and would require long-term contact tracing with every visitor to understand the outcomes. Orange County is starting to spike again, so even if it's primarily local traffic, that's not ideal.


Jeff - Editor - CoasterBuzz.com - My Blog - Music: The Modern Gen-X - Video

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Monday, June 8, 2020 4:02 PM
ApolloAndy's avatar

I wonder how much of the calculus is to avoid refunding AP's. I have no idea what their policy has been up to this point, but that's definitely the question I've been asking regarding my Six Flags and Cedar Fair passes (which, if I understand correctly are already valid through Dec. 2021). If they have "a way to come to the park" maybe they can avoid having customers demanding refunds or rollovers?


Hobbes: "What's the point of attaching a number to everything you do?"
Calvin: "If your numbers go up, it means you're having more fun."

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Monday, June 8, 2020 4:15 PM

Do you have a Six Flags season pass or a membership?

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Monday, June 8, 2020 4:46 PM
ApolloAndy's avatar

Season pass with dining. I'm too old to learn what a "membership" is. Back in my day, we had season passes and we liked them.
Really, I just don't like the idea of it autorenewing without my active choice, even though there's basically a 0% chance I will not renew.


Hobbes: "What's the point of attaching a number to everything you do?"
Calvin: "If your numbers go up, it means you're having more fun."

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