On March 15, 2020, with the sweet sounds of Mardi Gras playing me and my friends out, I exited Universal Orlando Resort’s parking garage not knowing when the next time I’d be able to return would be.
These past few months of closure, while some of us have been hard at work perfecting Irish Soda Bread, a team at Universal has been hard at work preparing us for our phased reopening that began on June 1st.
Over the last few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to meet with four of our executives about the reopening process and what it’s looked like in four key areas — operations, food and beverage, entertainment, and hotels.
I spoke with the executive vice president of resort operations, Rich Costales all about the operational updates. Here’s what I learned.
KATIE: What has the process been like for you and your team to prepare for reopening?
RICH: We started thinking about reopening the day after we closed. And we really have gone through many iterations while trying to keep abreast of how things were evolving and trying to figure out what we needed to do to reopen as the world was changing. We needed to get smart very quickly with the CDC guidelines, and the enhanced operational protocols to address the coronavirus. I’ve been involved in representing the company with Orange County Mayor Demmings’ reopening task force and have worked extensively with that group. We’ve also collaborated with our partners in Hollywood, Japan, Singapore, and Beijing to not only be informed of protocols and procedures worldwide, but how we all intend to reopen our businesses. We wanted to create a representation to our Guests coming back that we have a unified, safe, yet different way to experience a theme park.
KATIE: What types of conversations, both internally and externally, have prepared you and your team for reopening?
RICH: In the process of formulating our plans, we have not only consulted with our corporate medical experts, but we have worked very closely with Orange County and Dr. Pino who represents the county for the Health Department. We had him here on the property a few times to walk through how we intended to operate all aspects of the parks and CityWalk, prior to us finalizing those plans. That’s the kind of collaboration we’ve had with not only local and state government, but also the health agencies associated with the state and the county. We have a very unique situation here — not everybody operates roller coasters or entertains as many people as we do. We needed to evaluate the best and most efficient ways to address not only the CDC guidelines, but also to understand we’ve got a lot more people than normal businesses and we need to process them safely.
KATIE: What are the top things guests need to know about the operational changes in your area of Universal?
RICH: From the moment you drive up to the toll plaza to the moment you get back into your car at the end of your visit you will encounter many changes that fit under the heading of what we call the three Ss — Screening, Sanitizing, and Spacing. Our guests and our Team Members are required to have their temperature checked before they come into our parks, CityWalk, or our resort hotels. We’ve made changes to our very high standards of sanitizing; you’ll see a myriad of Team Members walking around wiping down frequently-touched surfaces and providing hand-sanitizer as guests get on attractions. We will close our restrooms about once an hour and do a deeper cleaning for about 15-20 minutes. Spacing is probably the most visual change throughout the parks because we have markings on the ground asking people to maintain appropriate social distancing between parties and are spacing guests out at our shows. We also strongly recommend downloading the app and setting up an account before arrival to the parks in order to take advantage of virtual lines and mobile food ordering.
KATIE: What can guests look forward to now that parks are open again?
RICH: To be able to experience the great attractions we have here and to provide the opportunity to just take your mind off things. People are really chomping at the bit with the desire to get out and have that opportunity. Being able to go back to their favorite theme park is a multiple-day experience that we’re putting back on the table again.