Mattopia Jones and the Black Spire Outpost
At the time of this video, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure were only minutes away from reaching capacity even as traffic continued to pour into the lots.
Video shot on the iPhone 12 Pro Max

Managing COVID-19 at Orlando Theme Parks
Orlando, Florida, USA

“Given the pandemic, it was a challenging time to visit the parks. Fortunately, in this case, the rewards won out over the risks.”
Mattopia Jones

Physical Distancing in a Mob

As Matty understands is, overall capacity at the parks was reduced by 50%, but there was a trickle down effect that also impacted individual rides. Most notably, it was no longer acceptable for different parties to share a ride’s car, at least depending on the configuration. Most definitely, mixing parties within a row was not allowed.

The park hours were also truncated.

Hollywood Studios opened at 9:00 and closed at 20:00. The Magic Kingdom stayed open until 22:00. (All of Walt Disney World and even Disney Springs properties were closing at 23:00 on New Year’s Eve. That didn’t impact Matty since he was already back home by then, but it was a decision that raised some eyebrows. One theory posited the goal was to get guests back to their resorts before midnight. But, given the volume of people at any given property and assuming most would be unaware of the unusual closing time, I wondered how many would instead be stuck in a traffic jam as they ushered in the new year.)

Thankfully, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure opened at 8:00 and closed at 22:00; the extra time in the evening was greatly appreciated. While Universal was offering free days in multi-day ticket packages, Disney was offering no discounts in appreciation of the reduced capacity and hours. As a sort of compensation, there seemed to be a mass exodus around 18:00 at all of the parks, with the littlest ones being carted out by their parental units.

Kennedy Space Center was similarly impacted. On Saturday, 26 December, the hours were simply stupid. 10:00-16:00. Yes. They closed at 4:00 on a Saturday afternoon. IMAX was limited in capacity, so missed that. The Hall of Fame got backlogged with visitors, and with the 16:00 closure, missed that. Plus, they weren’t offering bus rides to the launch pad because of COVID. That one proved to be a surprise to many visitors who were heard asking about it.


Matty brought a great mask, from O2 Canada, on the trip. It has an electrostatic filter and is form fitting around the nose and mouth, making it easy to breathe without fogging up the sunglasses. But the vents caused a concern on the plane — only after flying all the way to Orlando and getting ready to deplane. It wasn’t allowed at Disney Springs, where COVID-19 temperature check tents also mandated masks. That forced the purchase of one of the standard blue masks from a vending machine for $2.00. A nice Mickey Mouse mask was then procured for $10.00 within Disney Springs. After 10 days of use, it was ready for a wash, to put it politely.

As it turns out, O2 has added a new vent plug option and clear shell that might well have come in handy during the trip.

The Price of Waiting

As Bruce Springsteen would say, you have to pay if you want to play.

Turns out the week between Christmas and New Year’s is traditionally peak park time. That means surge pricing is in effect, regardless of the coronavirus.

A Universal Studios Express Pass that costs $90 during low tide rises all the way up to $290 during the holidays peak.

Matty took advantage of a Universal Studios buy two days, get two days free offer and it came in handy, especially in the face of the ridiculous ride wait times.

Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure reached capacity on the first visit, Sunday, 27 December, with Matty being casual about getting to the park around 10:00. Things had to ramp up on the subsequent visits. On the second visit, Tuesday, 29 December, Matty arrived shortly after 8:00 and the parks hit capacity at 8:30. Push it further on Wednesday, an 8:00 arrival and parks at capacity at 8:10. Express Passes were a hot buy and sold out daily.

Given resort guests already had an hour of park time before the general public, ride wait times quickly surged to the absurd as more guests entered. Yeah. In the below screenshots, that’s 160 minutes for the Fast & Furious – Supercharged ride (it was as high as 180 minutes — a full 3 hours!).

Thankfully, Matty scored a sweet deal and, instead of paying $290 for a one park, one day Express Pass, he snagged a two park, one day pass for $275. (That’s some sort of theme park math at work there.) It was almost pointless to not have an Express Pass; it was the only way to make the parks worth the effort. Most certainly, the Fast & Furious ride was not worth the 3-hour regular line wait.

Some rides were altered in order to alleviate the space/crowd crush. For example, at the Haunted Mansion in the Magic Kingdom, the original tone-setting introduction, with portraits stretching out in front of a group standing in the mansion’s entry, doesn’t happen. The portraits are already stretched; there’s no introduction. Just keep walking.

Haunted Mansion
Pre-stretched portraits at the Haunted Mansion
Photo taken with the Sony A7R4

To Universal’s credit, there are more offerings in the form of live entertainment scattered throughout the parks. There are the Blues Brothers, Marilyn Monroe, a Stomp-style music group, plus a few different performances in the Harry Potter areas (all of the Potter performances were well done; a couple musical, one pure storytelling).

As part of the news coverage of the parks hitting capacity during the holidays (along with coverage of the financial strains caused by the closures and reduced capacities, including thousands of furloughed workers), Fox 35 in Orlando noted Islands of Adventure is the world’s most popular theme park. That prompted a moment of thought. Why? Maybe it’s because of the water rides?

There is a glaring question to be asked. Certain premium rides — such as Rise of the Resistance at Hollywood Studios and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure at Islands of Adventure — were available exclusively via virtual booking in the respective park’s app. Why the heck not do all of the rides that way? Not just now, during COVID, but at all times going forward. It’s a much more humane way of handling crowds and guests’ park time. The wait times of 50 minutes, 140 minutes, 180 minutes — they are all ridiculous and unnecessary in 2020 (and now in 2021).

Florida COVID-19 Stats

For the record, here are Florida’s COVID-19 statistics surrounding the period of the trip, including a 14-day quarantine buffer post-trip, as provided by Florida Health.

New Cases by Day
New Cases by Day

Deaths by Date of Death
Deaths by Date of Death

New Case Positivity Rate
New Case Positivity Rate

Next Chapters Coming Soon

  • Cameras
  • Savi's Lightsabers
  • Dok-Ondar's Den of Antiquities
  • Rise of the Resistance
  • The Magic Kingdom
  • The Hogwarts Express
  • Ollivanders Magic Wands
  • Hogwarts
  • Kennedy Space Center
  • Westworld Ho!

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