Four Days at the Orlando Theme Parks: A Snapshot
One of The Travel Institute’s own family members—Lisa Owers, CTIE—recently visited Walt Disney World Resort and Universal Orlando Resort. She wanted to share her experiences with those of you who may be curious about the current state of the parks. This is what she said:
For the past 14 years, my two sisters and I have spent a week together in Orlando, and we weren’t going to let the pandemic stop us this year! We modified our expectations a little and decided to spend two days at Walt Disney World Resort (WDW) and two at Universal Orlando Resort (UOR).
It’s important to note that policies, procedures, and—okay, let’s be honest—just about EVERYTHING can change at a moment’s notice. The following observations were accurate as of the week of October 12, so, it’s critical to do your own research before sending clients.
The typical theme park advice still applies. For example,
- Before clients leave home, confirm all the essentials, particularly reservations for hotels and dining. For WDW, your clients must have both a park reservation and a valid admission for the same park on the same day (guests ages 3 and up). (This is mandatory at WDW, and there was no park hopping allowed during our visit).
- To preserve strength and energy, plan to alternate busy park days with restful pool days.
- Time and money disappear twice as fast in theme parks than anywhere else, so expect to double them!
Here are some additional observations and practical tips:
- Facial coverings—Wear them or stay home. They are enforced at all parks. Noncompliant guests will be called out or possibly asked to leave. They must be worn even while on rides or attractions. Be forewarned…the parks are NOT playing around.
- Permitted mask removal—Guests can remove coverings while actively eating and drinking AND remaining stationary (no strolling and drinking). Both parks also provide mask-free zones: U-rests at UOR and relaxation stations at WDW. Our favorite was WDW’s Tomorrowland Terrace (shade + fans + castle view = bliss).
- Cleanliness—WDW and UOR are hitting this, ahem, out of the park. There are sanitizer stations located at entrances and exits of every attraction and spaced throughout the properties. Employees—called team members (TMs) at UOR and cast members (CMs) at WDW—were constantly cleaning handrails, seats, etc. all day. We spotted a pre-dawn wipedown of pool chairs at our hotel, Disney’s Beach Club Resort.
- Social distancing—This is enforced in all queues, even in the ubiquitous serpentine lines. As long as patrons stand on the designated floor markings—which everyone seemed willing to do—no one is within six feet in any direction of anyone else (theme park magic at work!). And transportation vehicles were considerably emptier than previously. For example, we were the sole occupants on our bus from Disney’s Beach Club to Magic Kingdom at 9:20 am on a Thursday—normally WDW’s rush hour! On the monorail, we were either alone or, at most, seated with only one other party.
- Crowds—On October 15, Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek said WDW was operating at 25% park capacity and would remain so until CDC guidelines change. Both WDW and UOR were much more spacious than pre-pandemic, with the most congestion in the typical areas like Fantasyland at WDW’s Magic Kingdom and UOR’s The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
- Bag and thermometer check—This was a pleasant surprise because it took less time than pre-Covid. There were many TMs and CMs to keep the forehead-temperature checks moving. And the bag check no longer involves security inspecting thousands of zippered backpack pockets. Instead, guests quickly pass through airport-style metal detectors. (Fingers crossed that this process remains post-Covid!)
- Park apps—I strongly urge guests to download and familiarize themselves with park apps before traveling. This will save time and frustration when using virtual queues and mobile food ordering. For the latter, it’s prudent to attach a credit card while at home so time is not wasted setting this up at the parks. Speaking of mobile ordering, guests can save time by ordering food before boarding a ride; it should be ready for pickup afterward.
- Shortened hours—The parks are on an abbreviated schedule, so review this carefully.
- Closures—Certain shops and eateries at both parks remain closed, so warn your clients they may not be able to visit some family favorites.
- Transportation—Research this ahead of time because it has been pared down. For example, guests staying at hotels served by Disney Skyliner (Disney’s Riviera Resort, etc.) MUST use the Skyliner to visit EPCOT. There currently are no buses or boats serving that route. Therefore, the Skyliner’s EPCOT station lines can be extremely long at park closing. This means your clients must cut short their already-abbreviated day at EPCOT or pack tons of patience for the long wait home.
- Bonus tip for Harry Potter fans—If your clients intend to use the Hogwarts Express train to see both sides of The Wizarding World, note that the boarding area in the Diagon Alley/Universal Studios train station is air-conditioned, but the Hogsmeade/Islands of Adventure station is not. This can be critical on a hot Florida day when every degree matters, so plan accordingly.
Finally, we were impressed by the attitudes of all the TMs and CMs; they are just happy to be back doing the job they love. That said, they’ve been dealing with many challenges—not to mention grouchy guests—due to the pandemic. Therefore, tell your clients that a little appreciation, civility, patience, and all-around good cheer will go a long way.
For Universal Parks & Resorts
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