Universal Orlando Updates

Because COVID has led to many more changes at the Universal parks, we are listing updates to The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando 2021 here. The author will submit updates as needed. Please check back often for the latest information, or subscribe to the Unofficial Guides newsletter to stay up to date on all the news for Universal Orlando, as well as Disney parks.

As of August 2, 2021


INTRODUCTION

Page 5 To contact the authors, email Info@theunofficialguides.com.

Page 19 As of March 3, 2021, construction has resumed on Epic Universe; an updated completion date has not been officially announced, but the theme park is anticipated to open in early 2025. NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell has said that the park will be Universal’s largest in the U.S., and will included characters from DreamWorks, Nintendo, and Illumination.

SPECIAL SECTION: COVID-19 AND UNIVERSAL ORLANDO

Page 20 As of May 29, most social distancing restrictions have been rescinded at Universal Orlando.

Page 22 As of May 6, Universal Orlando is no longer conducting temperature checks for arriving guests at the parking garages or hotels.

Page 22 Face masks are now optional for all guests while outdoors, and are optional (but strongly recommended) indoors for fully vaccinated guests. Guests are not required to provide proof of vaccination.

Page 23 Most social distancing markers have been removed around the Universal Orlando Resort, although guests are still encouraged to maintain space between themselves and other parties.

Page 24 Volcano Bay reopened February 27, 2021, and is currently operating daily. 

Page 24 Universal is no longer leaving extra spaces between cars in the parking garages.

Page 24 Valet parking has reopened at Universal Orlando; availability may be limited.

Page 25 After “a date-specific admission ticket does NOT guarantee admission if the maximum occupancy is reached.”, add “On-site hotel guests, those with date-specific tickets, and reentering guests are granted priority admission over multiday ticket holders and annual pass holders when the parks approach their capacity limit.”

Page 26 As of May 6, all ride vehicles at Universal Orlando are being filled to maximum capacity.

Page 26 Preshows are once again operating at most Universal Orlando attractions, including Escape from Gringotts, MEN IN BLACK, and Race through New York starring Jimmy Fallon.

Page 27 More Single Rider queues have reopened, including Reign of Kong and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.

Page 27  Single Rider queues have reopened at almost all attractions that offer them, including Reign of Kong and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure.

Page 28 All theater shows are now being filled to capacity, with no empty seats or rows to separate parties.

Page 29 Camp Jurassic and If I Ran the Zoo have reopened at Islands of Adventure. Fievel’s Playland has reopened at Universal Studios Florida, with some climbing elements still off-limits; Curious George’s playground is the only one that remains closed.

Page 29 Child swap rooms have reopened at Universal Orlando theme park attractions with minimum height restrictions.

Page 29 The extra-cost climbing wall at Islands of Adventure’s Jurassic Park has reopened; the one in New York remains closed.

PART 1 PLANNING BEFORE YOU LEAVE HOME

Page 34 The Universal Food Blog (uogrubhub.com) features dining reviews and handy links to all of the resort’s restaurants.

Page 36 Another recommended podcast is Coaster101.com.

Page 36 Best Universal Social Media Feeds: Please follow @theunofficialguides on Instagram and Pinterest.

Page 45 Annual pass prices have increased by $30–$80, depending on the tier. Visit https://www.universalorlando.com/web/en/us/tickets-packages/annual-passes/promo for details.

Page 50 After “or to the left of Toothsome Chocolate Emporium outside IOA.”, add “Annual passes cannot be retrieved from an automated kiosk but must be picked up at a ticket booth, Guest Services window, or hotel vacation services desk.”

Page 65 During rope drop at Volcano Bay, only guests eligible for Early Park Admission are allowed through the turnstiles when early entry begins; all others are held outside the entrance until the regular opening time. The queues can become chaotic prior to park opening, so ask a team member exactly which turnstiles will be opening.

Page 67 Spider-Man will operate instead of Incredible Hulk during EPA at IOA (seasonally).

Page 67-68 As of May 3, early park admission returned to Universal Studios Florida only. Olivanders in Diagon Alley does operate during EPA.

Page 68-69 2-Park Early Park Admission returned starting June 14, 2021, through the peak summer season. Olivanders is open during Early Park Admission at both parks. VelociCoaster is not officially included in EPA, but may open its queue to early guests and begin running about 30 minutes prior to regular park opening. Guests participating in EPA at Islands of Adventure walk clockwise through Marvel Super Hero Island to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter; day guests may enter early but are held in Seuss Landing until regular opening time.

Page 74 Lanyards at Universal now cost $13-$15, plus $1-$3 for the ticket pouch.

Page 76–77 On peak attendance days, Virtual Line passes are first distributed approximately 20–30 minutes before the park’s scheduled opening time, with the first return windows beginning 5 or 10 minutes before the official opening. On less busy days, Virtual Line passes may not be available until standby wait times build later in the day, if at all. Not all of the day’s allocated Virtual Line passes are available at once; additional batches of return times are released around 11 a.m., 2 p.m., and 4 p.m. Some off-site hotels along Major Boulevard, such as the Best Western Plus Universal Inn, are inside the Virtual Line geofence.

PART 2 ACCOMODATIONS

Page 86 Sapphire Falls Resort reopened on May 18, 2021.

Page 88 Onsite hotel guests can use an online pre-check-in service to shorten their wait upon arrival. Guests purchasing packages directly from Universal Vacations can add travel protection for $44.95 per person (ages 3+), allowing them to cancel for any reason up to 24 hours prior to departure, and receive a full refund and/or air travel credit.

Page 93–94 The Mandara Spa at Portofino Bay reopened December 1, 2020.

Page 103 Aventura Hotel reopened on June 16, 2021

Page 107 Cabana Bay lazy river flotation rafts cost $12-$15 plus tax, and are provided unpackaged and pre-inflated; they can be exchanged for an uninflated packaged tube prior to departure (during pool operating hours).

Page 108 Endless Summer Resort Surfside Inn and Suites reopened on May 26, 2021.

PART 3 ARRIVING & GETTING AROUND

Page 140 Cash is no longer accepted for tolls on Florida’s Turnpike north of Orlando; transponder or pay-by-plate is required.

Page 142 Take Exit 75AB (Kirkman Road/International Drive) from I-4 W and bear left to Kirkman Road southbound; then turn right onto International Drive, and right again onto Universal Boulevard, to reach the Universal Orlando Resort parking garage.

Page 146-148 FlyFlair (flyflair.com) now flies to Sanford International from 5 Canadian airports, including Toronto, Ottawa, and Montreal.

Page 153 The pedestrian bridge over Kirkman Road at Major Boulevard is now officially open.

Page 154 Traffic at the toll booths tends to back up with idling cars as the free parking hour  approaches, so avoid arriving shortly before 6 p.m. 

Page 155 Prime self-parking at Universal Orlando’s garages costs $40 ($50 during peak attendance periods). Preferred Pass holders and guests with prepaid standard self-parking can upgrade to Prime for $14 ($24 during peak periods).

Page 158 When leaving Universal Orlando Resort, if you exit the north garage onto Universal Boulevard, you can reach I-4 E via a new entrance ramp by turning right onto Major Boulevard, and then right onto Kirkman Road.


PART 4 ESSENTIALS

Page 160 Delete “If you don’t have an AmEx card, you can stop by its membership center (next to security in the parking hub) to receive a $150 bonus statement credit, plus cash back on eligible in-park purchases, in exchange for filling out a card application.” (The AmEx kiosk in the parking hub has been removed.)

Page 160 UNIVERSAL PAY is a new feature in the free Universal Orlando smartphone app’s wallet that allows guests to charge purchases around the resort to a credit card simply by scanning a secure QR code. You can set up individual spending limits for each member of your party, and transactions are quicker than using a physical card or even tap-to-pay. The only catch is that it only works at Universal-owned locations, and not third-party vendors. 

Page 163 Wi-Fi coverage inside Volcano Bay has greatly improved, but cell service (especially AT&T) is especially poor inside the park.

Page 167 A two pack of FuelRods can be ordered from Amazon.com for $30.

Page 170 New outdoor lockers at Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey reduce overcrowding.

Page 174 The Spider-Man meet and greet inside the Marvel Alterniverse store has reopened.

PART 5 UNIVERSAL AND KIDS

Page 207 The Barney characters no longer appear in KidZone. A new DreamWorks Destination character party can be found inside the former Barney theater.

Page 207 New interactive explorer characters can be found in Port of Entry at Islands of Adventure.

PART 6 DINING & SHOPPING

Page 212 Most restaurants at the Universal Orlando Resort now accept dining reservations 180 days out. Some restaurant reservations do not appear inside Zomato’s app, but can be found using the links on tinyurl.com/unidinres. Reservations at in-park restaurants are only guaranteed for 7 minutes after you receive notification that your table is ready.  

Page 214-215 Universal Orlando has suspended selling all Quick Service Dining Plans and Table Service Dining Plans. Guests who have already pre-purchased plans will still have them honored. No replacement for the dining plans has been announced yet.

Page 220 Hot butterbeer is now served year-round in the Wizarding Worlds.

Page 222 Souvenir cups and nonactivated Freestyle cups can still be filled with soft drinks at most quick-service dining locations and snack stands for $1.59 per one-time refill. However, this offer is being phased out and may not be available during your visit. Coca-Cola Freestyle machines in Jurassic Park now offer “island nectar refresher,” a combination of strawberry, lemonade, orange and peach.

Page 223 After “Freestyle machines are now found at nearly every quick-service restaurant, with more than a dozen dispensers in each theme park and a handful at Volcano Bay,” add “and CityWalk.”

Page 223 Souvenir Cup drink packages at Endless Summer Resort now cost $9 each for one day, $12 for two days, $15 for three days, $18 for four days, and $3 for each additional day.

Page 229 Mobile Ordering is no longer available in Islands of Adventure or at most Universal Studios Florida venues; it may return in the future. Kids’ meals are available through mobile ordering only at Three Broomsticks and Leaky Cauldron.

Page 231 Ben & Jerry’s next to the Starbucks in New York has closed. Häagen-Dazs ice cream has replaced Ben & Jerry’s at Schwab’s Pharmacy and across the Universal Orlando Resort. 

Page 233 At Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous: Change “Dippin’ Dots sundaes and floats for dessert.” to “Brookie chocolate chip brownies for dessert.” Dippin’ Dots are no longer available at Circus McGurkus Cafe Stoo-pendous or anywhere else at Universal Orlando Resort. Similar Mini Melts frozen desserts can be found at Pier 8 Market at Endless Summer Resort’s Dockside Inn & Suites, and Bayliner Diner at Cabana Bay Beach Resort.

Page 234 Green Eggs and Ham Cafe: Brisket Philly Tots (with onions, peppers, and cheese) have been added to the menu. S’mores are no longer available.

Page 236 Kohola Reef at Volcano Bay no longer serves breakfast.

Page 237 Bread Box sandwiches no longer include fries or potato barrels; sides now cost $2.50 extra.

Page 237-238 Bend the Bao opened in CityWalk on June 15, replacing Fusion Bistro Sushi. It serves small Chinese steamed bun sandwiches stuffed with duck confit, pork belly, crab cakes, and fried chicken.

Page 238 Panda Express’ mobile app may be used to order food at the CityWalk location, allowing you to bypass the cashier queue (availability may vary).

Page 239 The menu at Hot Dog Hall of Fame, which was simplified during the pandemic, has been restored with Vienna, Kayem, Koegel, and Hebrew National sausages available again. A vegan field dog comes topped with roasted corn and chilies. Platters include fries for $1 more. 

Page 242 Most Universal Orlando table-service restaurants, including BigFire, Bob Marley’s, The Cowfish, and VIVO, are again operating daily; exact hours are still subject to change.

Page 242 Aventura Hotel’s Urban Pantry has reopened, and is using robots to deliver dishes to diners.

Page 256-257 At Lombard’s, add PEI Mussels frites to our list of featured dishes. However, the chewy charred octopus appetizer is not recommended.

Page 268 The Hello Kitty and Betty Boop stores also stock a selection of Funko figurines and Loungefly bags representing various Universal-affiliated franchises.

Page 270 A new supersize Universal Studios Store has taken over a large swath of the retail space on the right side of CityWalk heading toward Universal Studios Florida, offering one-stop shopping for all theme park souvenirs, including the best selection of Harry Potter products outside the parks. The previous Studios Store has been rebranded as the Universal Legacy Store, stocked with nostalgic throwback merchandise and museum-style displays of artifacts from extinct attractions.

PART 7 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS FLORIDA

Page 278 The side entrance to Universal Studios Florida is currently closed while the Blue Man Group is being removed from its former theater. On peak attendance days, this gate may be opened during select hours to provide direct pedestrian access to and from Seuss Landing in Islands of Adventure

Page 292 Ollivanders may distribute free return time reservations when the standby wait becomes excessive, which can all be claimed by mid-morning on busy days. Ask an employee at the attraction entrance for details. 

Page 292-293 Interactive wands now cost $59. Standard non-interactive wands cost $55, and limited edition collectible wands cost $75.

Page 298 If you enjoy playing the custom carnival games around The Simpsons Ride, or any of the other skill games found in Islands of Adventure or resort hotel arcades, invest in a Game Play card for $25, which saves you $1 per game on 5 plays; annual passholder get an extra play for free. Larger cards with deeper discounts are also available.

Page 298 Kang & Kodos is no longer seasonal, and now opens daily at 10 a.m.

Page 301 A Day in the Park with Barney has permanently closed. DreamWorks Destination, a dance party and photo opportunity with characters from Shrek, Kung Fu Panda, Trolls, and other DreamWorks films, has temporarily opened inside the former Barney theater.

Page 302 Fievel’s Playland has reopened, including the water slide. Some climbing elements remain off-limits.

Page 303-304 The Bourne Stuntatcular now accepts Universal Express.

Page 306 The Horror Make-Up Show’s lobby exhibits have reopened to guests.

Page 309 Universal Orlando presented a modified version of its Mardi Gras celebration February 6–May 2, 2021. The big-name concerts and nightly parades were canceled. Parade floats became static displays around the park, and stilt walkers and street musicians performed intermittently. International food and drink were sold from booths around the park, and a Mardi Gras Tribute Store was located in the New York area. Visit https://www.universalorlando.com/web/en/us/things-to-do/events/mardi-gras for more details.

Page 311-312 Halloween Horror Nights 30 will take place on select nights September 3–October 31, 2021, with Beetlejuice as the featured headliner.

PART 8 ISLANDS OF ADVENTURE

Page 336 Camp Jurassic has reopened, but some portions of the playground (including the net climbs) are still off limits.

Page 337 The interactive exhibits in the lower level of the Jurassic Park Discovery Center have reopened.

Page 338-339 The Jurassic World VelociCoaster officially opens in Jurassic Park on June 10. Previews for employees and selected annual passholders have completed, and intermittent technical rehearsal for the general public are expected in the weeks leading up to the grand opening. See our VelociCoaster review for more details.

Page 339 Guests visiting the Jurassic World VelociCoaster will be able to bring phones, wallets, and other loose objects into the queue; free small lockers can be accessed immediately before and after riding the attraction. Larger paid lockers are available inside the lower level of the Jurassic Park Discovery Center.

344-345 Universal is currently testing a new Virtual Line system for Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, which is accessed by visiting vltest.universalorland.com in a web browser (instead of through the app). Guests must sign in with an email address and password, before selecting the number of people in their party. If there is room in the virtual queue, an estimated countdown until return will be displayed, which will update depending on the ride’s operation. When your virtual line time arrives, you will be permitted to enter the queue, and should have a short wait before boarding. The system is activated once the standby queue becomes full — which may happen within minutes after opening — with additional return times released periodically throughout the day, and users must still be on Universal Orlando property to claim a spot in the Virtual Line. 

Page 349–350 Ollivanders may distribute free return time reservations when the standby wait becomes excessive, which can all be claimed by mid-morning on busy days. Ask an employee at the attraction entrance for details.

PART 9 VOLCANO BAY

Page 359 Volcano Bay is currently operating daily. However, some food and merchandise locations are closed, and select attractions—including Taniwha Tubes and the Kopiko Wai lazy river—may not open until 1 hour after regular park opening. 

Page 361 Guests renting Cabanas or Premium Seating lounge chairs get the ability to Mobile Order upscale appetizers (such as conch fritters and pork belly pizza) that aren’t offered on the regular menus.

PART 10 CITYWALK

Page 370-371 The former Dippin’ Dots kiosk in CityWalk has become the Riverfront bar, serving craft cocktails and appetizers.

Page 376-377 Blue Man Group has permanently closed at Universal Orlando.