First Look! Our Experience – Universal Orlando Resort Passholder Preview

Universal Orlando Resort
Credit: Universal

Universal Orlando Resort reopens to the public on Friday, June 5. On June 1 and 2, Team Members (Universal employees) were invited to attend with a friend. On June 3 and 4, Universal Passholders could make a reservation to attend. Since my daughter and I both have passes, we made reservations the moment we heard that they were open.

Our reservation time was for 8:45am, and we arrived a few minutes before that. There was a line to park in the garage, and then there was a line for temperature check. Parking was staggered so that you wouldn’t get out of your car right next to someone. People were social distancing in the temperature check line, which made the line look a lot longer than it was. The sad part of this was that there were people who were cutting in line. Those open areas are there for a reason.

We started our day at Islands of Adventure. The pass that we have does not include Volcano Bay Water Park, but we can visit both Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. There were plenty of markers for where to stand, and I never once felt like we were in a situation where people were not being careful.

I’ll start with the one major frustration that we had during our day. Universal has added Virtual Lines for several of the most popular rides. There were no standby lines for these rides, you had a reserve a spot. We downloaded the Universal Orlando Resort App as instructed. We just could never get the Virtual Lines to work. We would try to grab a spot, and then we would get an error message. At first I thought that it was because the times were gone, but I closed the app and opened it again, and the times were still there. The app just wouldn’t let me grab any spots. (When no times are available it clearly says so.) That meant that we couldn’t ride some of Universal’s best rides, since there was no standby. There were signs near rides with Virtual Lines where you could scan a code, but that just would take us to the app. I don’t know if other people had this problem, but it was frustrating for us.

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We still were able to ride plenty. I was impressed by the way that they had arranged the queues. Not only were spots measured off every six feet, they made sure that you wouldn’t stand within six feet of anyone on your right or left either. That meant that sometimes the gaps were fairly long. The rides were all running half empty. It was nice to have an entire car to ourselves on the Hogwarts Express, normally it’s eight people per section.

Before each ride there was a Team Member with a container of hand sanitizer. He or she would make sure each person used it before getting onto the ride. There were also hand sanitizing stations at the ends of some of the rides. I don’t know if each ride had one, but we did notice several.  

One thing that surprised me was the number of characters that were out. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that many characters at Universal before. Most of the characters were on stages, to keep them a safe distance from the public. Some of the characters wore face masks. In some of the character areas there were markers on the ground, to show where people should stand for a picture. No one got too close, and there were no crowds. There was also some live entertainment.

Touchless transactions were encouraged. We bought Passholder face masks, and we paid with a card so we didn’t have to touch anything. I watched as one person paid with cash. The Team Member held out a small tray, and the guest put the money on that. The Team Member put the money away, and then gave the guest back his change on the same tray. They did not touch once. The Team Member then immediately used hand sanitizer.

Mobile Ordering is also being encouraged. We decided to order Frozen Butterbeer, for research, of course. There was a Team Member near where we ordered it to help us through the process. I had never used Mobile Ordering at Universal before, and it was easy. It certainly worked better for us than the Virtual Lines did!

I do need to mention face coverings. They are required, unless you are eating. There is one exception to this rule. Universal has set up what they are calling U-Rest Areas. In these areas you can take off your mask for a little while. You are asked to practice social distancing in these areas. The spaces were large, and people were following the rules. These areas do not prove either side of the face mask debate. People were so far apart that there was no danger of spreading COVID-19.

This was the longest that I’ve worn a face mask since they were first recommended, and honestly I didn’t have a problem with it. I have had serious issues with heat in the past, but I was fine. It was easy enough to go inside an air conditioned building if we were getting hot. We only saw one or two people try to get around the face mask rule, and Team Members would politely remind them that the nose and mouth needed to be covered.

I need to give a special shout out to the Team Members. Everyone seemed to be thrilled to have guests in the parks again. I did not encounter one person who seemed rude or even bored. They were waving to guests as they walked by, and welcoming everyone back all day long.

We had a great time at our Passholder Preview. It was nice to be able to visit a theme park once again! It was not a perfect day, but the good outweighed the bad. Universal Orlando Resort opens to the public on Friday, and there are no reservations. Since the parks will most likely reach their limited capacity early on Friday, I’m glad that we were given a chance to check things out ahead of time.

About PaulaK

I grew up in Western Massachusetts. When I was nine my family went to Disneyland and I was hooked. I grew up, attended New England College in Henniker, NH and eventually moved to Virginia. I worked as a disc jockey, married and became a full time mom when our daughter was born. Fast forward several years. In 2010 we moved to Central Florida and my Disney obsession grew. I now work as a freelance writer and spend my spare time in the parks. Under the name Paula Brown I penned the novels Dream Wanderers and The Coffee Cruiser. I also am a co-author of Dining at Walt Disney World: The Definitive Guide. I'm obsessed with Star Wars, so this is a good time to live in Central Florida. I've been a vegetarian for well over a decade, a choice that my daughter eventually made as well. While my husband still hasn't joined us fully he has given up most meats except for seafood. I was relieved to find that vegetarian dining is not difficult at Walt Disney World.