Updated: May 22, 2020
I think I can safely say that a lot of us have experienced some degree of going stir-crazy during Quarantine 2020. When we heard that Orlando's numbers were decreasing to the point that it was safe for Universal City Walk to reopen, I was more than excited about the prospects of having much needed family time outside of the house :) To be honest, I was on the fence about bringing Tallulah at first, but when we reviewed the precautions Universal had in place, along with some of our personal precautions we'd be following, we felt it was a safe time to venture out.
In today's post, I'm sharing our five key takeaways from our first trip back to Universal City Walk as well as tips for traveling with kiddos in this world of the new theme park normal.
1. Masks need to be worn at all times... with a few exceptions
Let me say, wearing masks while trucking across a theme park like environment in Florida in the summer is going to take some getting used to. Pairing the humidity with the fact that we're slightly out of theme-park shape with quarantine, it was a challenge. Which made the moments of not having to wear our masks (in compliance with CDC recommendations) all the sweeter. Here's the 411 on mask wearing at City Walk... everyone over the age of two must wear a mask from the time they enter security until the time they leave the parking garage, which of course I'm very thankful about for health and safety reasons. (NOTE: Although Tallulah wasn't required to wear a mask, we brought one and she actually really enjoyed wearing it most of the time and wouldn't let us take it off. I'm guessing she thought it was an accessory, plus she was being pushed in a stroller so it probably didn't impact her air intake nearly as much as it did ours:)
However, if you're at a dining location, you're encouraged to take your mask off while dining. The CDC actually notes that it's more of a risk to keep removing and placing your mask back on while dining. (TIP: Along with disposable menus at restaurants, Universal plastic shopping bags are provided for the number of people in your party when you're seated. We didn't quite understand what the bags were for, but later found out they're to place your mask into to keep it clean during the meal. We clipped ours to T's stroller's mommy hook so it was out of the way, but it's great that they offer these bags if you don't have a way to hang them far from any communal surface.)
Let me tell you, that hour of dining mask-free was so freeing and gave us a chance to catch up on fresh air in the outdoor seating area! Speaking of dining...
2. Seated dining is a lovely experience and reservations are DEFINITELY recommended
We were so excited to have gotten a reservation for Margaritaville a few days prior to the opening via Zomato, but they were gone very quickly. Seating is so limited in this initial phase and table availability is mainly confined to outdoor seating areas, therefore making reservations all the more important to have if you can snag them. We went up to check the wait time and there was a 1hr 45min wait for walk ups. This is super long for the small number of guests who were at City Walk for the evening, and the fact that there isn't much to do while you wait as of yet makes a wait like this seem extra long. If you get there at an off time, you may experience wait times less than this, however until the seating is expanded, wait times will probably not drastically change in length. However, whether you wait in line or arrive for your reservation, once you get into the venue a magical experience is waiting for you. It could be that I, like most people, am really into the idea of not having to deal with another mound of dishes, but having food being served hot and the dirty dishes being taken away to a place where we don't have to clean them, gave me more joy than I had anticipated :) It's the little things.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. When you arrive at the restaurant, you'll notice that the tables are not just marked as to which ones you can sit at (like I was anticipating), but 50-75% of the tables aren't actually there!
It was so lovely to not bump into anyone, or hear the next table's conversation during the meal. One of the best parts about the dining experience was... live music!! We were definitely not expecting this at opening but the musician playing in the background brought such a sense of calm and normalcy, you could tell everyone was enjoying their time, which was a wonderful feeling :)
3. Temperature checks aren't as daunting as expected
I honestly wasn't sure if this part of the new normal would feel invasive or make me feel safer. Honestly it was very much the latter.
Temp checks are done via touch-less thermometers for anyone over the age of two (I was pretty surprised Tallulah didn't have to wear a mask or get temp checked, but then again I can understand that kiddos younger than two, especially while teething can have temp fluctuations different than older kids and adults). If anyone from your party reads at 100.4F or higher, the entire party won't be admitted. When we were there, we didn't see anyone getting turned away, which is a good sign that people are being smart before going out. (TIP: If you forget your mask or yours breaks, you can purchase a mask between the temp check location and security in the central kiosk directly across from security. Masks are $6 a piece and hand sanitizer is $3 for an individual container.)
4. Cleaning has been majorly beefed up, and it's every parent and germophobe's dream :)
The amount of cleaning that was done during the time we were there was glorious! I saw someone spraying and wiping the parking garage handrails, the whole facility looked cleaner than I've ever seen it, and the highchairs and tables were immaculate!
I'm one of those moms who has Wet Ones with me just about everywhere I go, and the theme parks are the top spot on my list. Highchairs in the parks are usually wiped down very quickly, if even, by employees and there tends to always be some remnant of the kiddo's lunch who sat there before Tallulah. I usually am wiping down that bad boy and the table in front of T's spot before she gets into place. Knowing how important cleaning protocols are at Universal right now made me really feel comfortable not needing to do either of those things, after assessing the situation in the moment! They did a better job than I could have ever done with a wet wipe!
(TIP: Although I felt like I had to work way less on the cleaning front during this experience, it's definitely beneficial to bring your own stash of Wet Ones/hand sanitizer for any number of toddlerhood situations where a handwash station isn't within reach.)
5. Enjoy the little things
Locations and offerings are just beginning to open at Universal City Walk and soon Disney Springs. This is an amazing first step towards normalcy in Central Florida, and every little thing is worth celebrating as we all start to see the light at the end of this challenging tunnel. I was very impressed by the little moments of extra joy from the mic'd greeters on the second floor of the entrance to the dance party DJs in the main square.
Having a place to dance together (that follows social distancing guidelines) made us smile and realize that we're all going through this together and are slowly but surely headed to the other side.
What are you most excited to experience again at Universal City Walk?
If you have any questions, please feel free to comment below, and I'd be happy to try my best answering them :)