Universal Orlando Update: Roaring Back to Normal
Hello wizards, witches, whos, superheroes, Jurassic Park tour guides, and guests! We’re back with another update from Universal Orlando Resort. With big changes in current park operations, a brand new roller coaster, and a soon-to-come Tribute Store, there’s a lot to cover! Let’s get started. *Cue the John Williams Jurassic Park soundtrack!*
I know it’s been a minute since I’ve brought you an Orlando theme park update. Rest assured, I am back, fully vaccinated, and feeling very confident in returning to my normal park-going routine! I hope you’re all doing well and excitedly planning your next trip to your favorite theme park!
Operational Updates: Getting Closer to Normal
Between social distancing and mask mandates, we’ve seen some major changes at Orlando’s biggest theme parks these last few weeks. Since Florida reached the 50% ratio of vaccinated adults, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings lifted the outdoor mask requirement. In turn, Universal Orlando no longer requires face coverings while outdoors. Masks are still required while indoors, through shops, queues, and also on all attractions.
This means we no longer have to eat and drink while stationary outdoors. What a theme-park-going game changer! Do we even know how to walk and eat anymore?
Additionally, social distancing requirements were recently adjusted from six to three feet. Honestly, a lot of guests were already maintaining 2-3 feet distance before this guideline was even updated.
We were at the parks the day this change went into effect, and they already had updated signage ready to go!
Here’s how 3-feet distanced markers look in attraction queues, they are cut down from the full-sized graphics that were previously used.
In the Hogsmeade queue for the Hogwarts Express, you can see what 3-foot distancing looks like between guests. It’s pretty close to normal, with some extra “breathing” room. Can we keep these distance guidelines? No more “fill in all available space”, please.
VelociCoaster Roars to Life
Shortly after Team Member and Annual Passholder previews concluded, VelociCoaster “soft opened” on May 7th – allowing all park guests to ride this amazing new species of roller coaster! During this special unannounced preview, or technical rehearsals, VelociCoaster is consistently running, fine-tuning operations before its grand opening on June 10th.
So far, the coaster has operated every day, with standby waits rarely rising above 90 minutes on the busiest of days. Additionally, Universal has reinstated their single rider lines at select attractions, including this one.
For us thrill-seekers, once was simply not enough during the AP preview. Since its soft opening last week, we were able to tackle VelociCoaster five times in one visit! This is my new all-time favorite coaster. The overall theming, story, and white-knuckle adrenaline rush… I just can’t get enough!
If the standby wait is on the longer side, you’ll most likely walk through the extended outdoor queue area. While it’s not well shaded, there are some amazing views of the beast that is VelociCoaster:
Once inside, it feels like you’ve stepped into Jurassic World, and you really are waiting to board the new InGen-approved coaster which runs through the raptor paddock. What could possibly go wrong?!
COASTER TIP: Once you enter the boarding area, there is a line for the front row. If it’s available, go for it! While the back car offers some crazy airtime… the front row is, by far, the most thrilling! You’ll feel plenty of airtime between the quick jumps, drops, and maneuvers, and it truly feels like you’re riding alone at times, especially when you’re catapulting up to the highest point of the tophat!
VelociCoaster operations are running smoothly. With another 3 weeks of technical rehearsals ahead, we don’t see this coaster experiencing the downtime that Hagrid’s was notoriously known for. It’s a completely different ride system and a wholly different experience at that! Plus, since many APs and day guests are able to ride between now and June 10th, that may account for fewer and fewer people showing up for the grand opening.
For more queue and ride details, along with our thoughts on VelociCoaster, check out our first impressions article!
VelociCoaster Sneak Peek – What could possibly go wrong?!
One last thought within the queue; in the genius double-sided locker area, you’ll see posters for some current and future attractions in Jurassic World. These include River Adventure and Pteranodon Flyers, which are current attractions in the Jurassic Park area of Islands of Adventure. There is another for Jurassic World Gyrospheres (true to the film), and two upcoming attractions:
Some have speculated these posters are Universal Orlando’s way of hinting at what’s to come. Could the Jurassic Park River Adventure be in line for the Hollywood treatment, complete with the terrifying Indominous Rex? And will Camp Jurassic receive a Camp Cretaceous makeover? While these sound wonderful, I’m on the fence… it seems more appropriate that these are meant to be “real” coming attraction posters, set within the first film’s timeframe to go along with VelociCoaster’s backstory. What do you think?
We spotted some of VelociCoaster’s lighting package while leaving the park at twilight. We can’t wait to ride at night!
Jurassic World Tribute Store Opening Soon!
What’s this? Another highly immersive walk-through shopping experience? AND it’s themed to Jurassic Park/World? LET. US. IN!!
Between Halloween Horror Nights, Christmas, Mardi Gras, and now Jurassic World, Universal Studios’ Tribute Store has basically become a year-round one-of-a-kind attraction. We couldn’t be more excited!!
The gates to Jurassic World recently appeared outside the usual Tribute Store location in Universal Studios. One would assume this opens along with VelociCoaster on June 10th over at Islands of Adventure, but I’m hoping for a “soft opening” for this Tribute Store soon!
Just imagine those four immersive rooms Universal has in store for us… fossils, dino DNA, raptors, an Indominous Rex, potential easter eggs… wow, hold onto your butts. In addition to the walk-through experience and fun Jurassic merch, I can’t wait to see what dino-bites and treats they cook up!
New DreamWorks Character Experience Coming Soon
DreamWorks Destination will be an all-new, interactive character experience located in the KidZone area of Universal Studios. Guests can meet, greet, and dance along with their favorite friends from Trolls, Madagascar, Kung Fu Panda, and more, all in one festive location!
Upbeat music from the films will fill the air as you enter a colorful party-themed atmosphere, all set against a nighttime sky inspired by DreamWorks’ opening sequence. This will be a one-of-a-kind interactive character meet and greet AND dance party. Wouldn’t you like to move it, move it?
DreamWorks Destination will open this spring, an exact opening date will be dropping soon.
DreamWorks Destination is a one-of-a-kind interactive meet and greet. 🎉
Get ready to dance and strike a pose. 🕺🏻📸 pic.twitter.com/BEarDgCUNR
— Universal Orlando Resort (@UniversalORL) May 18, 2021
What’s Up at Universal Orlando?
Between our recent VelociCoaster ride marathon, we spent some time around the parks taking in the known and some new offerings!
The crowds are really starting to pick up here, even on a weekday.
Over at Islands of Adventure, I noticed an awful lot of guests purchasing day-of tickets… Hagrid’s and VelociCoaster are the dynamic duo for drawing in the masses.
The Incredible Hulk still gets our blood pumping, while VelociCoaster fits right into the lagoon’s sightline:
Nothing like a mid-morning ride on Dr. Doom’s Fear Fall to wake you up!
Walking through Lost Continent, the newly-built shortcut to VelociCoaster’s entrance is closed off for now.
Heading to Hogsmeade, the foot traffic starts to pick up!
Once inside Hogsmeade, the queue for Three Broomsticks stretches down through the village:
Since VelociCoaster has soft-opened, Hagrid’s has not hosted a Virtual Queue. With limited capacity, the standby wait is typically 60-90 minutes on a weekday. Personally, I prefer waiting out the standby, several times even! The Virtual Queue turns into a lotto system to ride maybe once throughout the day, based on Hagrid’s well-deserved popularity!
The ride area is looking green and lush. Can’t wait for the forest’s trees to grow taller in the years to come!
Passing Hogwarts and heading for Jurassic Park…
There’s a steady flow of traffic splitting off for River Adventure and, now, VelociCoaster!
It’s great to have the Discovery Center back!
Some of the downstairs exhibits are being utilized for Burger Digs’ mobile order seating:
And the “exit through the gift shop” for VelociCoaster:
In Jurassic Outfitters, I caught some newer Jurassic World merchandise. I’m loving the tropical colors and graphics!
And how perfect is this Mr. DNA collection?! The amber! The mosquito! The colors! Still considering which of the three shirts I need for my wardrobe…
A new Jurassic Park face covering is now available, in addition to the camo-printed one.
Over at Universal Studios, the crowds are much more manageable with wide-open spaces throughout most areas… (and perhaps the lack of two new blockbuster attractions?)
After an unprecedented five-week extension of Universal’s Mardi Gras festivities and food, a new Summer Food Festival has landed. Food trucks and kiosks with fresh summer offerings are here until August! While we only found two of the trucks, there a few more spots to discover (Near Battery Park and Springfield to be exact). We’ll be back to taste more yummy dishes soon!
We tried the two Mac ‘n’ Cheese dishes – which wasn’t the best choice for this hot and humid day. Plus, they didn’t have much taste. We plan on giving the grilled cheeses a go next time.
In the meantime, I’m perfectly happy with the soft pretzel bites from Auntie Anne’s. They hit differently when eaten on Universal property, you know?
While at Uni Studios, we caught a bright and shiny shark! Bruce the shark is back from a fresh paint job, looking prime for that quintessential “I Visited Universal And Got Eaten By Jaws” photo op.
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Let’s Hear From You
That’s all for today’s update! What do you think of the latest operational changes? Is VelociCoaster calling your name or are you waiting it out a bit longer? What do you think of the Tribute Store becoming a year-round attraction? Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments!
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