One of Central Florida’s major resorts is once again welcoming guests for the first time since the COVID-19 coronavirus closed down the country in mid-March, and an Unofficial Guides team member was there on reopening day to show you how social distancing has changed the experience of visiting Universal Orlando’s CityWalk.
Universal Orlando’s CityWalk reopened to the public on Thursday, May 14, with a limited number of shopping, dining, and entertainment options available. CityWalk is currently operating daily from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m., and new safety protocols are being observed. Watch our video highlights from opening day, followed by a complete Unofficial Guides account of visiting CityWalk under social distancing practices, as observed on the first afternoon:
Although a few diehards “rope dropped” the Universal Orlando parking garage by lining up in their cars along the side of the road on the afternoon CityWalk reopened, I arrived on property exactly at 4 p.m. and drove unimpeded through the unmanned parking toll booths. Self-parking is free for all (for now), while valet parking remains closed.
I was happy to see Universal’s garage staff directing drivers into alternating rows, with extra space left between each parked car; they would later go back and park additional cars in the remain spaces. This appeared to be an efficient way to promote distancing among arriving guests.
Next, before crossing from the parking garage into the arrival rotunda, guests must first pass a mandatory temperature screening to ensure they don’t have a fever (above 100.4F). Signage explains the procedure, which uses a touch-free forehead thermometer scan that takes only a few seconds.
I experienced zero wait for my temperature scan, and although a line did build later in the day, it moved swiftly.
Face masks are mandatory for everyone at Universal Orlando, and nearly all the guests I saw were already wearing them before reaching the temperature screening.
Any guests without masks are informed of the policy and directed to a kiosk in the rotunda, where masks are sold for $6 each, or 3 for $15. These durable masks are available in a variety of patterns, although Harry Potter and other character-themed masks are not currently offered. In lieu of purchasing a mask, guests may be offered a complimentary disposable mask.
Masks must be worn by all guests, except while actively eating, and uniformed police officers are on hand to assist Universal’s staff (if needed) with enforcement.
Aside from a handful of children, I saw few if any violations of the mask requirements, and I thankfully witnessed no altercations or other incidents involving masks.
Decals designating 6-foot spacing have sprouted like mushrooms across Universal Orlando.
Guests on opening day were observing proper distancing for the most part, and when they began to bunch up—as they did in front of the Red Oven Pizza restaurant—team members quickly moved to clear the congestion.
Only two sit-down eateries were in operation on CityWalk’s reopening day, and both quickly filled to their sharply limited capacities.
Margaritaville was only seating on its porch and Lone Palm outdoor bar, so the wait time for a table reached 2 hours within minutes of CityWalk’s opening.
A line also formed outside Bubba Gump, which was using a fraction of its usual indoor seating area.
For quick service, Red Oven Pizza Bakery, Aunt Annie’s Pretzels, and Voodoo Doughnuts were all operating.
All three locations now offer mobile ordering through the Universal Orlando smartphone app, which was successfully used by some (although I experienced unexplained errors).
The actual wait time for Voodoo Doughnuts in early evening was under half an hour, and guests remained civil and evenly spaced in the queue.
Shopping at CityWalk on reopening day was restricted to the Universal Studios Store, Margaritaville’s gift shop, and Hart & Huntington Tattoo. All the stores limited their capacity, with queues of shoppers held outside.
At Hart & Huntington, I was asked to use hand sanitizer at the door before entering, and a maximum of 10 guests could browse at a time. Only merchandise is being sold; tattooing will not resume until the Governor gives the go-ahead, likely next month.
Although the Cinemark movie theater remains closed, the nearby Hollywood Drive-In Mini Golf was open, and a number of families were spotted putting on the “haunted” half of the 36-hole course.
The sci-fi half of the golf course appeared empty, except for maintenance employees.
In addition, Universal CityWalk was enlivened by some live entertainers, including a marching percussion ensemble and a pair of masked stilt walkers in the central plaza.
A pair of team members also stood on a balcony, welcoming guests back and informing them about operating venues.
Annual Pass Discounts
As a “thank you” to annual passholders, Universal Orlando has boosted the discounts at operating CityWalk locations that accept them. For a limited time through the end of May, Premier Passholders receive 25% off, Preferred Passholders get 20% off, and Power & Seasonal Passholders get 15% off at select venues; see this page for details.
Theme Parks and Resorts
Both Universal Orlando theme parks remain closed at this time, along with the water park and resort hotels.
Guests are being allowed to walk around the entire CityWalk lagoon, but the gates to Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure are both barricaded.
Most of the guests I saw on opening day were either bloggers and reporters like myself, or families looking to get out of the house and enjoy the picture-perfect weather.
As far as small steps towards normalcy go, the day CityWalk reopened went about as well as Universal could have hoped, and it was obvious the resort’s upper management was closely observing these limited operations in anticipation of expanded reopenings.
Universal’s staff were even conducting surveys to gauge guest reactions on the day CityWalk reopened, using QR codes for smartphones instead of the usual clipboards and tablets. While no official announcements have been made yet, look for additional venues at Universal Orlando to reopen in the coming weeks.
For all there is to see and do at Universal Orlando, check out The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando. If you enjoyed this post, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and sign up for our newsletter here. Be sure to follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.