Uni­ver­sal Orlando seeks June 5 re­turn

Com­pany awaits ap­proval from county, De­San­tis

Orlando Sentinel - - Front Page - By Stephen Hu­dak

Uni­ver­sal Orlando is tar­get­ing June 5 — just two weeks away — as the day it will re­open to the pub­lic if the theme park gets ap­proval from Or­ange County and Gov. Ron De­San­tis.

It would be the first of the theme parks to re­open in Cen­tral Florida af­ter it shut down, along with Dis­ney and SeaWorld, on March 16. SeaWorld told Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence and De­San­tis on Wed­nes­day that it would like to open some­time in June. Dis­ney has not in­di­cated when it might re­open and a spokes­woman said Thurs­day the com­pany did not have any in­for­ma­tion it could share on dates.

Uni­ver­sal ex­ec­u­tive John Sprouls pre­sented the out­line of a re­open­ing plan on Thurs­day to Or­ange County Mayor Jerry Dem­ings’ task force on re­viv­ing the lo­cal econ­omy.

“Our plans have been weeks in the mak­ing and build upon our re­cent ex­pe­ri­ence re­open­ing por­tions of Uni­ver­sal Orlando Ci­tyWalk,” read a let­ter from Sprouls to Dem­ings. “You will see we have cre­ated a new level of best­prac­tice for our al­ready ag­gres­sive health, safety and hy­giene pro­ce­dures. We have fol­lowed CDC guide­lines, the ad­vice of health of­fi­cials and rec­om­menda

tions from our own ex­perts.”

Sprouls said the park would open June 3 and 4 for some in­vited guests and an­nual passh­old­ers to “stress the sys­tem.”

Uni­ver­sal’s pro­posal won unan­i­mous ap­proval from the task force with five mem­bers ab­stain­ing be­cause of a con­flict of in­ter­est. No task mem­bers asked any ques­tions of Sprouls about the specifics of the plan. Nearly 1,700 peo­ple were tuned into the live-stream pre­sen­ta­tion.

Mask rule con­cerns

The next step is for Dem­ings to sign off on the plan and for­ward it on to Gov. Ron De­San­tis for ap­proval be­fore the parks can open.

“I need some time to di­gest what has been pre­sented to­day,” Dem­ings said adding that he would likely talk with the gov­er­nor’s of­fice Fri­day morn­ing.

Masks and tem­per­a­ture checks will be re­quired for all em­ploy­ees and guests. Uni­ver­sal will also man­age at­ten­dance at each park to en­sure so­cial dis­tanc­ing. Sprouls did not say, nor did doc­u­ments sub­mit­ted to the county, how much at­ten­dance would be lim­ited or at what per­cent of max­i­mum ca­pac­ity the the parks would al­low.

He also out­lined a se­ries of changes the park is mak­ing to en­sure safety such as not al­low­ing em­ploy­ees to share wardrobes and clos­ing play ar­eas for chil­dren.

Post-show meet-and-greets with per­form­ers, sin­gle-rider lines and valet park­ing would also be sus­pended as part of the en­hanced safety mea­sures to limit con­tact be­tween peo­ple.

Sprouls said the park will rely on team mem­bers they’re call­ing “am­bas­sadors” to en­force rules.

“Those peo­ple will be ev­ery­where,” he said. “They will be ex­tremely vis­i­ble.”

Sprouls said guests will no­tice changes from the moment they park.

“We are ex­pect­ing them to un­der­stand that some things are go­ing to be dif­fer­ent and there are go­ing to be pro­ce­dures in place that we are go­ing to ask them to co­op­er­ate with as we go through the jour­ney of them be­ing here with us,” he said.

Ed­uardo O’Neal of Orlando, an an­nual passh­older at Uni­ver­sal Orlando, was in the park March 15, the last day the at­trac­tions were open.

He’d like to re­turn dur­ing the days des­ig­nated for passh­old­ers.

He has been re­quired to wear a face mask at work.

“I’m not worried about the face masks,” he said. “I feel like we’re go­ing to even­tu­ally get through that. But for now, the face mask, the tem­per­a­ture checks, all of that is needed. We all want some­thing to do other than just stay­ing at home.”

Dr. Raul Pino, health of­fi­cer for the Florida Health Depart­ment in Or­ange County, was among a four-per­son county in­spec­tion team who vis­ited Uni­ver­sal Orlando’s parks on Thurs­day morn­ing. He was ac­com­pa­nied by Dr. Chris­tian Zu­ver, the county’s EMS Med­i­cal di­rec­tor; Shane Ger­wig, Or­ange County build­ing of­fi­cial; and Jon Weiss, di­rec­tor of the county’s Plan­ning, En­vi­ron­men­tal and Devel­op­ment Ser­vices.

The com­mit­tee also gave its bless­ing to the re­open­ing of 13 other at­trac­tions, in­clud­ing An­dretti In­door Kart­ing & Games, Fun Spot, Ga­tor­land, ICON Park, K1 Speed In­door Kart Rac­ing, Mag­i­cal Mid­way, Nona Ad­ven­ture Park, Orlando Starflyer, Sling­shot, and Won­der Works.

They also ap­proved plans for Aloma Bowl­ing in Win­ter Park and the Board­walk Bowl En­ter­tain­ment Cen­ter.

Dem­ings signed off on the plans pre­sented by the 12 smaller at­trac­tions on Thurs­day evening and sub­mit­ted a let­ter of en­dorse­ment to De­San­tis for the dozen busi­nesses.

Dr. Ge­orge Ralls, chief qual­ity of­fi­cer for the Orlando Health hospi­tal sys­tem, cited the thor­ough ap­proach of the at­trac­tions with many go­ing be­yond CDC guide­lines.

The bowl­ing al­leys, for in­stance, won’t dis­play racks of balls for bowlers any­more but will pro­vide them through a valet who will wipe down each one.

Like the New York City pub­lic tran­sit agency, An­dretti kart rac­ing is us­ing ul­tra­vi­o­let light lamps to kill the virus at its at­trac­tion.

“We all un­der­stand what’s at risk if we don’t get this right,” Ralls said Wed­nes­day.

Uni­ver­sal is the first of three ma­jor theme parks to present a re­open­ing plan.

Dis­ney and SeaWorld Orlando are not yet sched­uled to out­line their plans pub­licly, but both are ex­pected to do so soon. The next task force meet­ing is May 27.

Dis­ney re­port­edly ran out of tick­ets within min­utes for its May 11 re­open­ing of Shanghai Dis­ney­land.

The park in the Chi­nese city of 24 mil­lion peo­ple closed in Jan­uary be­cause of COVID-19, the re­s­pi­ra­tory dis­ease caused by the virus.

Vis­i­tors to the theme park are re­quired to wear face masks at all times un­less they are eat­ing.

Shanghai Dis­ney­land also re­quires phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing and sharply re­duce ca­pac­ity.

Chil­dren’s play ar­eas and theater shows, which tend to draw crowds, re­main shut. Hand san­i­tizer is avail­able through­out the park.

Dis­ney now for­bids self­ies with its char­ac­ters be­cause of the highly con­ta­gious virus, ac­cord­ing to a broad­cast re­port on NPR.

The task force lis­tened to a range of pub­lic com­ment from email­ers, some of whom are fear­ful of a covid-19 resur­gence to oth­ers ready for a re­turn to life as nor­mal.

Aaron Lake of Win­ter Gar­den used a dozen ex­cla­ma­tion points to un­der­score his de­mand, “OPEN UP Or­ange County!”

“There is noth­ing con­sti­tu­tional about ‘or­ders’ which shut down busi­nesses, lock peo­ple in their homes, can­cel school, can­cel church, de­mand­ing masks,” Lake wrote. “The gov­ern­ment’s job...READ THE CON­STI­TU­TION, is to pro­tect my rights not worry about my health. That is my per­sonal re­spon­si­bil­ity.”

Sev­eral oth­ers com­plained about busi­ness re­quire­ments to wear face masks.

“Masks pre­vent us from breath­ing fresh air,” wrote Clau­dia Me­d­ina Moon of Orlando. “This is a free coun­try and we should be able to make our own de­ci­sions.”

STEPHEN M. DOW­ELL/ORLANDO SEN­TINEL

Guests walk along Uni­ver­sal Ci­tyWalk on May 14, where Uni­ver­sal be­gan lim­ited op­er­a­tions of se­lect venues.

STEPHEN M. DOW­ELL/ORLANDO SEN­TINEL

Guests stroll at Uni­ver­sal Ci­tyWalk on May 14. Uni­ver­sal be­gan lim­ited op­er­a­tion at in Ci­tyWalk last week.

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