It’s been about two months since we last visited a Theme Park. The self-quarantine we have been experiencing has gone as well as can be expected, but we do miss our weekend excursions to the parks. Recently Florida did start Phase 1 of it’s reopening allowing certain restaurants and merchants to open. Then a surprise announcement was made from Universal Studios that they were going to have a limited opening for Citywalk starting on May 14th. I was a bit anxious to go and check it out but decided to wait a few days just for them to try and iron out the process before I ventured over there. This past Saturday I strapped on my mask and headed over to see how they had everything set up and to check on the pressed penny machines.
Currently, Citywalk is only opened from 4pm to 10pm and I headed out around 4 to try and avoid that initial rush of guests entering. This was probably the only time I was able to go north on I-4 without any traffic and made it to Universal in record time. Once I got off the highway and towards the parking plaza I noticed that only a few of the lanes were open but no Team Members were there due to Universal stating that parking would be free during this limited opening.
Once inside the parking garage, Team Members were helping to guide you where to park. Every second parking spot was blocked by a traffic cone to make sure everyone was keeping to the required social distancing guidelines.
There were plenty of signs making sure everyone was aware that the Theme Parks were still closed and only Citywalk was available.
They also had lots of signs around displaying the requirements to enter Citywalk which included having a facial covering on at all times (except when eating or drinking).
Before leaving the parking garage we had to enter a queue for a required temperature screening. Any guests with a temperature of 100.4 degrees F or higher were not allowed to enter. It was a simple process, you just waited on the social distancing markers on the group until your turn to be screened and then a Security Team member had a non-invasive temperature scanner that they aimed at your forehead for a few seconds and then allowed you to pass if your temperature was okay.
After that, we were allowed to head down to the Parking Hub for the security screening. Before I jumped into that line I wanted to visit the pressed penny machines in this area. This first set of two machines were in the same location with no changes.
The second set of machines in the Hub is just outside the restrooms in between the souvenir stand and express food stand. No changes to these machines either.
Security was similar to the process before the initial closure. They have the x-ray machines that will scan your bags and possessions while you walk through a metal detector. The only difference was the number of Team Members around trying to ensure everyone was keeping 6ft between parties. After security, I headed down the last part of the walkway towards Citywalk but opted not to use the moving sidewalks as I was sure my hands would automatically try to touch the handrails which I wanted to avoid.
As I walked up to this main entrance area of Citywalk it was immediately apparent that the crowds were very light. Universal was limiting the overall capacity to Citywalk and later on, during my visit, there were more people around but was still way less than usual.
Just outside the Movie Theater was the next penny machine. No changes were made to the machine itself or the designs.
Across from the Movie Theater is the Bubba Gump Shrimp restaurant and was one of the few places open to eat inside. Due to the restaurants having to keep capacity of around 25% that doesn’t allow for many guests to be eating at once. I had read later on that wait times to get a table exceeded 2 hours.
To visit the pressed penny machine inside the restaurant I was asked to enter through their gift shop which had a separate entrance. There were no changes to this machine.
I continued walking through Citywalk and you can see the sparse crowd above and people were pretty good at keeping themselves distance from each other.
Nearby was the Universal Store and I was interested to see how the distancing would work inside. There was a queue set up outside in anticipation of the crowds that would try to get inside. Since this is a smaller store they did need to pulse people inside.
The pressed penny machine was just inside the doors and was the only machine with a hand sanitizer nearby. Although to be honest I assume this was not solely for the penny machine for all guests exiting the store.
Everyone was doing a good job with following the rules and all seemed to be keeping their masks on. I only witness one guest with their mask dangling from one ear and not covering his face but he was quickly approved by Security and asked to put it back on properly.
It was nice to have plenty of space around you as everyone kept their distance. I headed down towards Margaritaville to see how things were going there.
This restaurant had decided to keep the indoor area closed, and were only seating guests at their outdoor patio or across the walkway at the Lone Palm bar.
I headed inside the gift shop just for a quick visit to check on the 8-design touch screen penny machine and it was still available for use.
Toothsome Chocolate Factory was open for business, but the Hard Rock Cafe was not. Due to this, the crowd levels on that side of the waterway was pretty quiet.
It was nice to see that Universal kept the bridges open towards the theme parks for us gluttons that wanted just a quick glimpse of the parks. Plus I guess it was needed to access the Toothsome restaurant. But I just couldn’t help myself and wanted a closer look at the parks.
You could walk right up to the main entrance areas for the Islands of Adventure. I also noticed that the ground was covered with the social distancing stickers. At least this area of the park looks like it’s ready for business but I’m sure they still have a lot of work to do inside before they will open again.
It was a beautiful day when I visited but it was obvious that our situations had changed and that visiting these places would be very different moving forward.
Down towards Universal Studios, it was a good time to try and get your picture with the Globe. Usually, this is a heavy traffic area, and getting a nice photo can be a bit of a challenge but not on this day.
Here was the main entrance arch for Universal Studios. Again this is another area that is usually crowded with people. But seeing it with no one around and even catching a glimpse inside the park was a little disheartening.
By this time I was getting a little hungry but didn’t want to wait a long time for a table at one of the restaurants. Instead, I was hit with a craving for a Voodoo donut and thought it would help take the edge off until I got back home.
Plenty more distancing markers were in the queue for Voodoo. This line as with most of them I sure, seemed long but moved pretty quickly.
The line did go from the front of the building, pass the NBC Grill, and then back into the hallway near the back exit to the Movie Theater and restrooms. This is where the next two pressed penny machines were found. Previously these machines were on the opposite wall, but now that the Voodoo Donut line was set up along that wall they had to move the machines.
Once inside you waited in another small queue before heading to the cashier to place your donut order and pay. They did prefer you paid with a touchless method like a credit card or ApplePay, but I did see them accepting cash from a few people.
Here was my box of donuts. Unfortunately, they were not all for me, but I did get quite a selection to bring home to my family.
To the right of the Voodoo Donut shop is a series of ramps and stairs that take you up to the second level food court. None of these tables were blocked off to encourage the distancing and I suppose they were just leaving it up to the guests to stay at a safe distance if eating up here.
I did grab a table for just a few minutes so I could eat my donut. In the short period I was up here I don’t believe I saw another person so it’s a pretty deserted area even though a few of the food locations here were open. This is also where the last penny machine was located, hidden in the back near the Sushi stand.
After my donut was finished I walked across the bridge and down past all the clubs and bars. None of these were open, and due to the limited operating hours of Citywalk (4pm – 10pm) they are all not currently open at all but I’m sure that will change with as we work our way through the additional Phase openings in the next few weeks.
My overall impression after my visit was optimistic. I think this was a good starting point, but they do have a ways to go before the parks will open. On a few occasions, I did find myself defaulting back to my Theme Park ways and not realizing I was inadvertently walking too close to someone, or when browsing in the gift shop there was just so little room in there it was hard to keep a proper distance from other guests. The biggest thing I was surprised with was the actual penny machines. I would have assumed that hand sanitizer would have been attached to each machine or located right nearby so you could clean your hands before and after using the machine. But this wasn’t the case. I did ask a Team Member about the penny machines and was told that they were being cleaned on a more frequent schedule. However, I was at Citywalk this day for about 2-3 hours and didn’t see a single machine get cleaned. I have sent an inquiry to Universal about this and am awaiting a response which I’ll post if I hear back from them. Other than that I took this as a nice sign that things are slowly starting to reopen and can’t wait for the day we can visit the parks again, but only if I feel they will be safe enough to enjoy. With Citywalk opening in this limited capacity for a while, I’m hoping that Universal will continue to tweak their process and have no doubt they will do everything they can to keep their guests safe.
Updated 05/21/2020: Below is the response to the inquiry I had sent Universal’s Guest Services about their process of keeping the Pressed Penny Machines safe to use.
Thank you for contacting Universal Orlando Resort. I apologize for the delay in response, as we are working diligently to assist every Guest reaching out to us.
We do indeed still have penny press machines. Currently, there is one (1) located in our hub security check area prior to entering CityWalk. While I cannot confirm this surface is wiped down after every single touch, it is wiped down with increased frequency by our Park Services team stationed in the area. There are also hand sanitizer stations located within the area and a restroom to wash hands a few feet away. I hope this has answered your questions. If you have any additional questions or concerns, feel free to reach back out. We look forward to seeing you and your family.
Universal Orlando Resort