It was again in March that the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic induced a lot of america and the world to close down, as folks sheltered of their properties and restricted publicity to one another as a lot as they might. Virtually every little thing closed, from shops and eating places to film theaters and theme parks.
Now, months later, most US states are in some stage of reopening and which means persons are gathering in teams as soon as once more, even because the variety of COVID-19 instances within the US has topped 2 million. Because the world slowly comes again on-line, although, you would possibly end up questioning what the expertise of going locations goes to be like now. I, myself, puzzled that exact same factor not too long ago after realizing I seemingly won’t feel comfortable in a movie theater or theme park for a while.
And but, when the information got here that Universal Studios Orlando would be opening its doorways to visitors as soon as once more starting in early June, I felt drawn to it. I wished to expertise what visiting a theme park is like in a post- or mid-COVID-19 world. I wished to see firsthand how these leisure actions we took largely with no consideration have modified, probably indefinitely. How completely different is it? Does it dampen the expertise? Extra importantly, does it truly really feel secure? These are the questions I had after I set foot in Common Studios Orlando to go to a theme park for the primary time since a world pandemic launched a brand new regular.
Coming into the park
From the second you arrive, it is obvious how completely different the expertise might be. Parking attendants are masked and gloved, parking areas are blocked off to create social distancing between vehicles, and it has been made clear that masks are required. There are bulletins working on a relentless loop over the general public tackle system, explaining the right technique to put on them and noting that utilizing them is critical to enter the buying complicated and theme park.
Earlier than getting into, it’s a must to move by a safety space and have your temperature taken. It is a straightforward and fast course of, the place a no-contact thermometer is used. For those who’re below 100.four levels Fahrenheit, you are secure to enter the complicated. The strains for the temperature verify appeared lengthy, however they have been orderly and moved at a quick tempo. What’s extra, at this level all visitors had no points being masked. I used to be truly stunned by how straightforward the method was.
Following the check-in, attending to the park was easy. I used to be knowledgeable alongside the best way by a Common worker that it was a busy day within the park, although they have been nonetheless below the decreased capability restrict. Nevertheless, the walkways of the CityWalk buying complicated have been sparsely populated and strolling as much as the entrance gate, I used to be stunned to search out it nearly abandoned. It put the nerves I did have about this complete expertise comfortable, at the very least in the interim.
Strolling across the park
As soon as contained in the park, it wasn’t precisely enterprise as ordinary, nevertheless it was shut. There have been social distancing markers all over the place, virtually everybody was correctly masked, and nothing felt too crowded initially. Whereas the quantity of individuals being allowed into the parks has not been disclosed, this was clearly far lower than a typical summer season crowd.
The odd circumstances didn’t hinder the environment. Whereas that is an unprecedented time, Common Orlando has taken steps to try to distract visitors as a lot as it may possibly. There’s loads of upbeat music being performed all through the park, together with much more costumed characters in numerous locations, greeting guests.
Do not anticipate to get near them, although. The Simpsons are relegated to their RV, taking photographs with visitors from a secure distance. What’s extra, any photographs should both be selfies or taken by somebody in your group, reasonably than park staff. Different characters making distanced appearances embody Scooby-Doo and his gang, the characters of Spongebob Squarepants (who carry out in a present in a single nook of the park), and Doc Brown from Again to the Future.
Doc Brown is the oddest of the character appearances, for a few causes. For one, he is unmasked. Different face characters–those not sporting massive costumes with false heads–are sporting masks that color-coordinate with their costumes, whether or not it is the Marvel superheroes or Popeye and Olive Oyl. Doc, nevertheless, stays perched atop the locomotive from Again to the Future III and would not put on one. He by no means will get near visitors, although.
What’s regarding have been his directions after I stopped for a photograph. I took a selfie with him within the background, when he stated I might take away my masks to take one other. This was the primary time I might heard that you just’re allowed to take away your masks outdoors of the designated space. I hesitated as a result of the entire level of masks being obligatory within the park is that you do not take them off round different folks and I wasn’t the one one within the space. Actually, as I went to drag it off I spotted there was one other park-goer standing proper subsequent to me.
Common has fairly totally outlined its guidelines relating to visiting the park now. Nowhere in these guidelines does it say costumed characters would possibly recommend masks elimination. This deviation units a troubling precedent. Why, on this occasion, just isn’t sporting a masks when others are round allowed?
Fortunately, for people who merely do not wish to put on a masks all day within the Florida warmth, there are alternatives. There are designated mask-free areas. Throughout my go to, I spent greater than an hour in a single subsequent to an enormous lake in the course of the park and it was truly very nice. Common staff monitor the variety of folks within the space to maintain it from overcrowding, resulting in a quiet and sparsely populated space that lets you loosen up. It is a big space and whereas I used to be there, I by no means noticed greater than 10 folks additionally partaking within the mask-free zone.
Simply because attendance has been capped at Common parks, and might be at Disney’s parks once they reopen, doesn’t suggest there are not any strains. Actually, for some sights the strains would possibly look even worse. Fortunately, they’re truly a lot shorter than regular and visitors can transfer by them pretty shortly. Nevertheless, on account of teams being unfold out six toes aside, the strains can look unruly. In some cases, although, they will additionally grow to be unruly.
Whereas a lot of the strains at Common have been managed effectively, there have been others that might have benefitted from having staff there to assist visitors out. Particularly, the road for the Horror Make-Up Present, which reveals visitors how filmmakers create scary film monsters, blood, and gore, was a multitude. Actually, it stretched out far past the queue that was constructed for it, main folks to basically simply stand collectively in a single massive group after I handed by.
It is completely potential this was the uncommon time an worker was not there to maintain issues orderly, nevertheless it positively saved me from lining as much as benefit from the present. Different sights, just like the ET Journey, benefitted from having a prolonged queue already constructed that they might merely alter to make it work with social distancing. Even in conditions like these, although, it is as much as you and people round you to all be sure you maintain your distance. For probably the most half, folks gave the impression to be complying with these guidelines, however I did spy just a few cases the place strangers have been standing too shut to one another.
Common has additionally instituted a digital line for some rides. The digital strains work rather a lot like Disney’s Quick Move system. You verify into the digital line for a given trip on an app and it tells you when to try to enter the attraction. It helps reduce on bodily strains, which is a significant assist. It isn’t an ideal system, although. There have been a number of cases of the app saying trip strains have been full for the day, solely to open up for customers hours later. So if you cannot get a spot in a digital line, simply maintain checking again.
Oddly, the rides are what really feel most secure. You’re required to maintain your masks on a lot of the rides–you’re allowed to take away it on water rides like Jurassic Park River Journey–while it additionally regarded as if staff have been wiping trip autos down after every use. Past that, earlier than you board a trip an worker will apply sanitizer to your palms. Seating on rides is staggered, which means basically each different row of any given trip car is filled–and even then, likelihood is the one folks in your row might be these in your group.
None of those precautions hinder the rides in any manner. Actually, with so few folks within the trip autos, you do not really feel crammed in at any level. It is reasonably refreshing. That is clearly non permanent, as capacities will rise and extra folks will return to the parks. For now, although, that is the very best a part of the method. It is the escape you need once you go to a theme park.
What’s for lunch?
Meals in theme parks are a bit unusual proper now. When you’re allowed to take away your masks to eat and drink, it is an odd factor to do in crowds strolling round, even when that is how most meals is consumed in these institutions. Fortunately, there have been meals carts situated close to the mask-free areas, ought to folks wish to take pleasure in their meals comfortably with out having to fret about being round throngs of individuals.
Nevertheless, sit-down consuming was a bit extra of a difficulty. At the beginning, the Common Studios app was little assist. Upon arriving at one solely to search out it closed, although the app listed it as an possibility, I settled on one the place cell ordering–which was advised as one of the simplest ways to request food–was not working correctly. After a number of failed makes an attempt to order meals from the app, I approached a server who led me to a closed money register to order.
That is one thing that may be chalked as much as the brand new park procedures. Clearly, the cell ordering system wasn’t meant to deal with all the park’s meals requests and adjusting to that’s going to take a while. Nevertheless, it is higher to know entering into that the system could also be buggy and if in case you have the choice to order instantly from a server firstly, you may be higher off.
The top of the day
Leaving the park was a really completely different expertise than getting into it. By the top of the day, what had earlier felt like a managed and secure stroll by the CityWalk buying complicated again to the parking storage turned simply probably the most anxiety-inducing a part of the journey. As an alternative of holding distance, teams of individuals have been crowding most areas, and plenty of of them weren’t sporting masks–even although the masks necessities embody CityWalk.
What’s worse, no person in cost appeared to care. I witnessed numerous staff and safety guards merely stroll by these not sporting masks with no phrase. Common has been very upfront about protecting one’s face being a requirement to achieve entry to the park. On condition that, there ought to completely be extra policing of it.
Sure, it is the top of an extended, scorching, humid day in Florida and the masks aren’t probably the most comfy factor to be sporting in these circumstances. Even I, who haven’t left my home with no masks since March, was uncomfortable. However that is the social settlement you make with everybody else once you go to these locations. It is disrespectful of safety guards and people charged to keep up establishment at Common and CityWalk to not implement these guidelines. No matter how uncomfortable persons are, we’re nonetheless in the course of a world pandemic.
Thus, strolling again to the automobile attempting laborious to keep away from coming near folks took what was left of the calm I had for the day. Fact be instructed, nothing within the park was good. That will be unattainable. Nevertheless it was all ok to at the very least maintain visitors largely placated as they tried to do one thing regular.
That was all out the home windows when you walked out the gates of the park and located your self surrounded by individuals who did not trouble to stick to tips.
Was it secure?
That is the final word query. Is visiting theme parks secure proper now? For probably the most half, it feels secure. When you’re inside the confines of Common Orlando, these in cost have finished rather a lot to create the sensation of security. From hand sanitizing stations all over the place to an abundance of social distancing markers and methods to keep away from bodily contact with folks, you do not really feel such as you’re in peril visiting the park. If the foundations have been enforced as effectively at CityWalk as they’re inside the confines of the parks, it might really feel a lot safer. That stated, the expertise of visiting Common actually felt secure, whereas nonetheless managing to mentally exhaust me from consistently questioning how secure I truly am.
The reality of the matter is we do not know precisely how secure it’s, no matter the way it feels. Presently, the Common Orlando parks have been open somewhat below two weeks. Disney will not start reopening its parks till July. Time will inform simply how secure these precautions are, or in the event that they must be modified to be much more restrictive within the coming months.
It may be a very long time earlier than theme parks return to their earlier enterprise as ordinary. Actually, it stays to be seen if that may ever occur. For now, whereas the phantasm of security is there, there are nonetheless moments the place it feels such as you’re taking part in with fireplace. Hopefully, time will present that is not the case and these precautions truly are holding visitors secure.