PHOTOS, VIDEO: CityWalk Grand Reopening in Universal Orlando Establishes “New Normal” For Theme Parks After Pandemic
Today marked a historic event in theme park history, albeit not the theme park that’s usually in our realm of coverage. Today, we dispatched reporters to Universal Orlando Resort to cover the grand reopening of CityWalk, essentially their version of Disney Springs with shopping, dining… and mini golf. Since we’ll be seeing many of these same protocols––i.e. face masks, temperature checks, social distancing, and more––across Walt Disney World in a week or so with the reopening of Disney Springs on May 20, and eventually with the reopening of the parks, it’s worth taking a look at what’s in store for us. Now, let’s don some Hogwarts robes and head on over.
Arrival and Parking
CityWalk officially opened at 4:00 PM today, but by 3:15 PM, a short line had already formed just outside the gates.
By 3:30 PM, the line of cars had moved up to the parking toll plaza. As of today, self-parking is complimentary, and valet parking is not available. However, this is subject to change as the reopening progresses into further stages. No Team Members are currently manning the toll booths.
As you approach the toll plaza, digital signs say “WELCOME BACK – STAY HEALTHY” and warn of the required face coverings and mandatory temperature checks for all guests.
Once inside the parking garage, spaces are somewhat spaced out to allow social distancing as guests leave their cars.
Remember King Kong! If you’re planning on using the elevators, each lift is limited to one (1) travel party per elevator, so for social distancing sakes, don’t cram into an elevator with random people.
As you approach the moving walkways near the front of the garage, signage is posted detailing important new guidelines. By then, you also start seeing blue 6-feet markers along the ground for guests to line up in an orderly, socially-distanced fashion.
Some moving walkways are closed as you near the temperature check station, but fret not, you can zoom on over to CityWalk on a walkway after you’ve passed the security checkpoint.
All along the escalators and moving walkways, we saw Team Members constantly wiping down handrails to adhere to new health codes. (Bonus points for the Marvel-themed mask.)
Here’s where you line up to have your temperature read. There are three rows with metal Universal-themed barricades separating each, and blue markers along the ground.
Guests, despite adapting to this “new normal”, seemed to be in good spirits. Everyone was wearing face masks and trying to comply with the new guidelines as best possible.
You move up marker to marker with your party until at the front of the line and wait to be called by the Security host. You then stand at that line along the floor while they point the touchless thermometer at your forehead to read your temperature. It all sounds very intimidating, but it’s actually pretty simple. Here’s a video on how it works:
The Security hosts in charge of the temperature readings wear face masks and special plastic face guards for an added level of safety.
Security screening, or bag check, still takes place right after temperature readings. Thankfully, Universal has this TSA-style screening method where you don’t have another human fumbling through your things––they just run your bags through a scanner and you walk through a metal detector––easy!
Signs point guests to the nearest restrooms for hand washing.
The small merchandise kiosk inside the parking garage was open, with social distancing signs throughout.
A bright purple and yellow marker on the ground reminds guests to keep a distance from the check-out table and not hover over the register.
Need some hand sanitizer or face masks? Hand Sanitizer is available for $3.00 and comes in a Universal Orlando-branded bottle with a carabiner clip. Face masks are generic, but come in a variety of designs for $6.00 each or 3 for $15.00. Personally, I’m holding out for Shrek or Halloween Horror Nights-themed masks.
Upon arriving at CityWalk (finally!), a pair of Team Members welcome guests while reciting the new rules––no pre-recorded spiels are available for the new guidelines just yet:
Team members announce safety measures, operating businesses and more to guests as they enter Universal CityWalk. pic.twitter.com/wLU1ShzuRO
Outside of Bigfire American Fare, stilt walkers welcomed guests while also donning face masks.
A band even showed up on the main entrance bridge, welcoming guests with live music.
And for some odd reason, the water play area was open and running.
If you went to Universal Orlando and didn’t take a survey, did you really go? Surveys are now taken via a scannable QR code on your phone.
Universal Studios Store
At the Universal Studios Store, dedicated entrances and exits were enforced, with Team Members manning each door.
Stores had Purell dispensers available throughout, and in many cases, guests were directed straight to the hand sanitizer upon entering stores.
Hart & Huntington Tattoo Company Store
Over at Hart & Huntington Tattoo Company Store, Team Members wore custom face masks with the brand’s logo. For now, they’re just for staff, but they’re gauging interest to see if guests would like to purchase them as well.
To be frank, this whole exercise was really just an excuse to get some Voodoo Doughnuts. Outside, a kiosk is set up for mobile order pick-ups.
If you’d like to get a picture sitting in the doughnut throne, we’re glad to report that you still can! A gracious Team Member is in charge of wiping it down after every guest.
Inside, we were welcomed by the sumptuous smell of fresh-baked doughnuts… and the sight of more blue social distancing markers on the ground.
The tables in the corner have been removed and the bench seating roped off.
The shop was fully stocked with all of your favorite doughnut and fritter flavors. For those of us tracking seasonal flavors, none are currently available.
Outside, the line to enter Voodoo Doughnut winds along the back wall of the NBC Sports Grill & Brew (which remains closed.)
The line was average length, about the same amount of time you’d probably spend on a moderately busy summer night. Managers supervised the area to ensure everyone was abiding by the 6-foot rule.
Margaritaville posted a 2-hour wait time just 40 minutes into the reopening, and that’s with all of the outdoor seating it has.
After two long months of staring at our phones and doing little else, I can’t imagine shaking the habit easily, either.
Lone Palm Airport Tiki Bar
Outside, the Margaritaville tiki bar welcomed patrons of all ages, seated at tables 6 feet apart.
Out of all the eateries, Auntie Anne’s had quite the ordering process. They have a “middle-man” between the kiosk and guests. Each payment gets placed on clean, sanitized dish and the team member passes the food and money between the window and the guest.
Anything for a theme park pretzel.
Red Oven Pizza Bakery
This was the line later in the afternoon for pizza. As you can see, people still need to get used to social distancing markers. Also, once the markers end, people don’t have any visual cues to social distance, so it can get tricky at times. Every other table was open, leading to lower capacity and therefore lines at this fast casual spot, however mobile ordering was also available.
Hollywood Drive-In Golf
Hollywood Drive-In Golf was open, but only the “haunted” side. No reservations were being taken, so it is stand-by only. Golf clubs and balls are being sanitized between use.
As it is a passive activity, face masks must still be worn during your time there. This proved to be a popular spot for families.
In restrooms, additional soap dispensers and air dryers were installed, however guests are encouraged to use every other sink, as marked.
Restrooms will be closed periodically for disinfection and deep-cleaning.
Islands of Adventure Entrance (Closed)
Universal Orlando parks, like Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios, remain closed at this time.
No additional markings were set up here for an imminent reopening.
With the music turned off throughout the area, it seemed surreal, and even downright creepy.
Crossing over to Universal Studios now…
Wide open spaces like these were the best spots to walk around and take in some sunshine. Benches are laid out six feet apart.
Universal Studios (Closed)
The Universal globe and fountain were on, making for a great photo op, as always.
Guests were also spotted taking photos at the park gates.
Closures for Universal Orlando Resort hotels and parks are in effect at least through May 31.
Even as we headed out for the day, more and more groups of guests were walking in to explore what was available at the first major attraction to reopen in Orlando.
Guests exit out to the right of the temperature checkpoint.
Well, what do you think of all the new protocols? Will you be heading over to CityWalk this weekend, or waiting to see what happens at Disney Springs? Let us know in the comments!