Sunday, August 16, 2020

What You Need To Know About Visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter During the Pandemic

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Pandemic
After temporarily closing its turnstiles in March due to the Coronavirus pandemic, Universal Orlando Resort reopened its theme parks earlier this June. Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure started welcoming guests back with new guidelines to ensure the well-being of guests and employees.

Even though my Harry Potter loving heart yearned to revisit the parks since before the general lockdown in February, returning to one of my favorite places in the world wasn’t a decision I took lightly. I was questioning if I felt safe to go and if the new guidelines were enough to navigate the theme park as safely as possible. It took me sometime before I felt comfortable returning to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and see how the park experience has been updated for the time being.

The new safety measures at Universal Orlando Resort

  • Guests must wear a mask at all times excluding eating and drinking
  • Temperature checks are required at the City Walk parking lot for those parking individually. Temperatures are taken at the hotels for those coming by bus or boat. Anyone with a temperature over 100.4 will not be allowed to enter the parks or City Walk.
  • Mobile ordering is encouraged for most dine-in options. Dining areas are extensively sanitized between parties.
  • Express passes and the virtual line are still available. However, the virtual line is limited to capacity.
  • 6 ft social distancing must be maintained throughout the parks
  • Hand sanitizing stations are available throughout

Changes to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

With the new guidelines at Universal Orlando Resort implemented at both of the theme parks, the rules also applied to Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. Where sometimes the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is exempt from certain events like Halloween Horror Nights or muggle-related experiences such as team members acting 'out of character,' the Ministry of Magic wanted wizards and witches to take precautions too.

Following the New Park Guidelines

Entering the park was relatively easy from City Walk. Parking, unlike at Walt Disney World where you need reservations to enter, is scattered. Universal Orlando Resort is operating at approximately 35% capacity, so it's still a guessing game if you will arrive early for 'first come, first served.' Lanes are parked about every other car away from each other, so social distancing starts before you even head into the parks. The temperature check at City Walk was also relatively easy. You simply walk up to a team member who holds their arm out and checks your temperature with a thermometer from your forehead. 

Wearing a mask, on the other hand, could be challenging at times. I had no problems or issues wearing one to keep myself or other guests safe. But, since it's still summertime in Florida, breathing in and out of a mask in 90 degree heat and 70% humidity can feel daunting, especially if you’re not used to wearing one for long periods of time. At times, you’ll be so used to the mask that it doesn’t feel like you’re wearing one. And then, you can suddenly feel jolted by the humidity and get overheated. There’s no real way to combat the latter except to find shade or a cooler place to stand or sit, and drink some cool water.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Pandemic

Mobile Orders at The Leaky Cauldron and The Three Broomsticks

Before the pandemic, most dine-in restaurants and food options throughout the whole theme park included over-the-counter service. You used to walk into The Leaky Cauldron or The Three Broomsticks, simply order over the counter, and be seated to receive your food from a team member or given to it at the counter.

Now with the pandemic, mobile orders are encouraged at most locations. To order, you have to download the Universal Orlando app and go to the menu of the restaurant you’re ordering from. The day that my sister and I went to the theme park, we went to The Leaky Cauldron. Hand sanitizer stations are also available throughout the park. Guests were asked to use them before being seated at The Leaky Cauldron. After waiting in line for about five to ten minutes, we were first seated by a wizarding team member and had a paper menu to look over. 

However, because I have an egg allergy, I always like to inform wait staff or the chef to avoid cross contamination as much as possible. Instead of ordering through the mobile app, a chef came to our table to help me go over options and then my sister (who was treating me to lunch) paid at the traditional quick service counter.

One of the most common challenges I’ve seen with guests is how long it takes for the food to arrive after ordering on the mobile app. I can’t say for sure whether our meal took longer than others given that the head chef prepared my meal. Our wait time before the pandemic was about ten minutes, and it was about fifteen minutes now. The difference was slightly greater, however, this might differ for other guests.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Pandemic

The Hogwarts Express Now Seats Per Cabin

Changes you'll find at the rides including having to wear the mask in the queue and on the ride. 

Lockers for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts Bank, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure are limited to capacity. Individuals are only allowed in the area if they have a bag. Team members often asked families to limit one person to go into the locker room with their gear rather than the whole family together.

Even though the park was far from filling to capacity, certain attraction lines were at most 45 minutes or more - depending on the time of day. The major reason for the increase is due to guests socially distancing at least 6 feet, and rides are also running at half-capacity. Instead of filling every row, the carts are now filling every other seat or every other row.

For The Hogwarts Express, guests are kept a distance. Instead of boarding the train with multiple families in one cabin, they are now being filled with one family each. We were also asked to use the hand sanitation station before boarding.

Upon entering the cabin you're assigned, the Hogwarts Express conductor instructs you to that you are under visible surveillance. Word has it through the owls service that many guests were trying to remove their mask in the cabin while it was in motion, which is against the park's policy. Though I can't debate why some guests would try, one of the reasons might be because the cabins are currently not air conditioned to prevent germs spreading in the air. Therefore, the cabins also become humid, and wearing a mask can feel claustrophobic. Otherwise, the ride is still highly enjoyable as always for me and my sister.

However, when/if mask and distancing measures return to normal in the future, this change to keep families as separate as possible in the Hogwarts Express is one that I truly welcome. Before the pandemic, it always felt cramped with six to eight people trying to fit into two rows of seats. It was refreshing to have the cabin to ourselves and have more freedom with our own personal space.

Wizarding World of Harry Potter Pandemic

Social Distancing Measures Are In Place

Similar to the rest of the park, there are social distancing markers throughout the Wizarding World of Harry Potter - both in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley. Blue lined markers are also used, which request guests to stand in certain areas to use their interactive wands or for photo opportunities.

Live performances were still ongoing - Celestina Warbeck and the Banshees and The Tales of Beedle the Bard in Diagon Alley as well as The Beaubaxton Academy and Durmstrang welcome ceremonies in Hogsmeade. The Hogwarts Express conductor and Knight Bus driver were not available for photo opportunities when I visited.

Other changes at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter

  • Registering for Ollivanders Wand Shop Experience. Similar to The Hogwarts Express, Ollivanders has discontinued wandmasters letting the wand choose the wizard in the company of mixed groups. Instead you can choose an available time slot later in the day at the Globus Mundi store to experience Ollivanders with your own party. To explore the shop on its own, you must wait in a separate queue.
  • Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts temporarily skips the opening part of the "tour." Instead of stopping in Bill Weasley's office, guests move through the elevator to the rest of the queue. Seating consists of guest parties filling every other row.
  • Globus Mundi store is temporarily closed. Most of the boutiques throughout Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade are open such as Quality Quidditch Supplies, Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlor, Sugarplum's Sweet Shop, Weasleys Wizard Wheezes, Magical Menagerie, Wiseacres, Madame Malkins, Borgin and Burkes, and the Owl Post.
  • Cash and card payment are accepted but vary by store. To minimize hand-to-hand contact, payment is available with both options, however, card payment is encouraged at most retailers.
Despite the new situation that we found ourselves in with the pandemic and exploring public spaces outside of the lockdown, Universal Orlando Resort made the visit to the theme park as comfortable as possible. It felt like the parks took the necessary time to prepare guests to maintain social distancing and safety measures to enjoy themselves and the company of others. It certainly helps that the theme parks are open at limited capacity, which makes the worry and stress of crowded areas less daunting. At the end of the day, I was happy to at least experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter again, and hope to be able to do so again in the future.

Do you have questions about visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? Feel free to ask below.

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