Theme Parks During a Pandemic

In the past month I have gone to Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, Disney Springs, and Hollywood Studios (thank you cast member preview). I am an annual pass member for Universal Studios, but I did not attend the preview days. I was still there within that first week of opening, and my reasoning for going was that the parks were most likely the cleanest they have been for a long while. I will tell you about the experiences I had at both resorts, then I will point out some comparative differences I saw.

I’m going to start with yesterday’s cast member preview at Hollywood Studios. We have been blocked out of this park basically since Galaxy’s Edge opened last year, and I was VERY excited to go back. Hollywood Studios was my home park during my DCP in 2013, and it has been my favorite park since the MGM Studios days. It’s my love of theater that drew me in, but Rockin’ Roller Coaster sealed the deal. Of course, all of the shows are closed right now, but I still love it. Anyway, we were there from opening to about 7 p.m.

In that time we were able to ride everything, including Rise of the Resistance, at lunch at Pizza Rizzo’s, and shopped a bit. Coaster was a walk on, so we rode that twice within ten minutes. We also got to ride Mickey’s Runaway Railroad twice with a rough thirty minute wait each time. Rise was a much longer line- about ninety minutes- and the queue wrapped around to the Muppet’s Studios queue. Portions of the line were even backstage! Cast members stationed at Muppet’s allowed people to get out of line for the bathroom and to get cups of water from Pizza Rizzo’s which was a godsend in the heat. A majority of that line was in the sun, but the ride was worth every minute. Like, I cannot begin to describe how intense and awesome Rise is.

Characters in Galaxy’s Edge were on platforms, and we saw character parades through the park at random times. We were never at the right spot for these parades to get pictures, but I think there were three: Mickey and Friends, Pixar, and Disney Junior. Everyone was social distancing and wearing masks for the most part- most of the crowding happened when people were trying to enter a ride queue from multiple directions at various speeds. I’m not sure how that could be addressed, but just pay attention to your surroundings if you go to a theme park, okay?

Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure were pretty empty. I mean, I got GREAT pictures at Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. We spent one day at each park, and Islands was a little more crowded than Universal, but I believe the walkways in Islands are more narrow. The app to get into virtual lines was a tad glitchy and unpredictable, but we had three people trying to get in, so it ended up being okay. This was a pre-planned family vacation for my cousin’s high school graduation, so we had a group of twelve people which made things interesting. We were always split up at every restaurant we went to except for Hard Rock Cafe where we got to sit together. We had plenty of time to do everything we wanted to do and a lot of things twice. If I remember correctly, Hagrid’s Motorbike was really the only line we had to wait more than ten minutes in.

I’m trying to recall this trip that was over a month ago, so bear with me if it’s not as good as the Hollywood section.

The 3-D glasses were tricky thanks to fogging, and the team members were quick to tell guests to keep masks on over their noses otherwise “the ride will stop.” I did think I was going to lose my mask on the Hulk, but I did not and it was fine. You did not have to wear a mask on the water rides in Islands of Adventure. The freestyle cups were active (something I think Universal has that Disney needs), and a team member wiped down the station after every guest.

Both parks required mobile ordering for quick service meals (we did not eat at a table service within any of the parks). However, Universal’s locations allowed you to be seated inside while waiting for your meal while Pizza Rizzo’s made you wait outside until the My Disney Experience app said your order was ready for pick up. That was a HOT wait out in the sun, and I could see a lot of angry guests in their future. Universal’s system was not perfect, though, as a team member would go around the tables to get order numbers and sometimes they would miss a table in their rotation, causing a longer wait for food.

Hand sanitizing stations were everywhere at both parks. but it was not enforced at Hollywood Studios. At the Universal resort, a team member gave you sanitizer at the head of the line, and you could not board the vehicle until after. There was also a sanitizing station right after you got off the ride, but that one was not required. The difference was most apparent at Toy Story Mania where guests were able bypass the sanitizing station without using it before loading into the ride vehicle.

Overall I will say I felt safer at Universal than at Disney in regards to Covid guidelines. I will also say that my experience does not mean someone else felt differently. It’s all personal opinion. I do recommend bringing multiple masks to whatever park you may go to. I switched mine out after four hours in the fun summer Florida heat. This helped immensely with breathing as the sweat and humidity kind of clung to the fabric of the mask.

Now that everything is opened up and cases are on the ride, I will probably no go back to a theme park for a little while. Between the block out dates, the heat, and increase in out of state travel, I think I will say goodbye to my Saturday cardio of walking around the parks (I know, my privilege is showing. Perk of working corporate for a major tourist industry). I will probably go to Disney Springs before the current increased cast member discount ends, though. I am also going to the beach this weekend where I WILL have a mask with me by the ocean just in case the crowd levels are more than I am comfortable with. I know my level of risk, and I will act accordingly even if it means only one half of my face is tan.

Feel free to ask me questions about the parks, and I will do my best to answer. I will also follow up about that beach trip and whether or not I felt good on the panhandle.

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