Travel advisor brings positive attitude to Universal Orlando reopening

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Travel agent Sonya Little taking a photo op with the Hogwarts Express conductor at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

Sonya Little, owner of Sandcastle Wishes Travel in Birmingham, Ala., was in Orlando last week for the reopening of Universal Orlando Resort, which she reported was an exciting affair with visible measures of sanitation in place throughout.

Little plans to use her experiences at Universal to talk to clients about what’s changed at theme parks, ranging from required face masks to social distancing throughout.

“I feel like it’s our responsibility as travel agents and agency owners in general to get people traveling again,” Little said. “They need to see us traveling to be comfortable traveling themselves. If we’re not willing to go, then why would they?”

Initially, Little was hesitant about attending Universal’s reopening, which began for annual passholders on June 3 and 4. The parks opened to the public June 5. Money has been tight because of the coronavirus crisis. But a friend who works for Southwest Airlines gave her a buddy pass, and she was off.

Universal has a number of health safety measures in place, including temperature checks and required face masks. Initially, Little wasn’t a fan of having to wear a mask, but she said she quickly came around. 

Sonya Little says she got used to wearing a face mask in the parks.
Sonya Little says she got used to wearing a face mask in the parks.

“By the time I got in the parks, I was like, ‘OK, this is not too bad,’” she said. “Once you get used to wearing the mask for a few hours, adjust it and get used to it, it’s second nature. You don’t notice it anymore.”

Masks are also required at Universal’s hotels. Little stayed at Universal’s Endless Summer Resort -- Surfside Inn and Suites from June 2 to 6.

She visited the parks on June 3 and 4, annual passholder days, when they were crowded. Passholders, she said, are a tenacious bunch who “will go rain or shine, sleet, snow, coronavirus, whatever.”

Friday was opening day for the public. Little initially planned to fly home on Friday but decided to extend her trip and hit the parks again. The crowd level was low, she said, but the energy level among guests and employees alike was high.

Inside the parks, social distancing reminders were frequent. Employees also frequently, but cheerfully, reminded guests to keep their face coverings on, Little said.

Sanitation was very visible in the hotels and parks, she said. It was a common sight to see employees sanitizing high-touch spots, like handrails, as well as ride vehicles.

Employees also gave everyone a squirt of hand sanitizer before boarding attraction vehicles, Little said.

Many attractions at Universal are using virtual queues. Visitors are able to request a time to return to the attraction via Universal’s app. Little said she liked the system and that she will take time to educate clients on how the app and the overall process works.

Dining venues are taking orders via Universal’s app and are limiting the capacity of customers that can be served at any given time. One evening, Little said, she went to Universal’s shopping and dining district, CityWalk, for dinner. Restaurants are open from 4-7 p.m. At 6 p.m., everything was at capacity, Little said, so she returned to her hotel for dinner. 

Social distancing is also happening on transportation. Little said Universal is limiting bus capacity to 20 guests.

A Universal employee sanitizing a lamp post, a potentially high-touch area.
A Universal employee sanitizing a lamp post, a potentially high-touch area.

This week, she was planning on putting out a newsletter about her experience and posting on her blog. She is also considering hosting a Zoom meeting with clients to talk about her trip and answer questions.

Little enjoyed her trip. She believes it all comes down to perspective.

“If you have this negative perspective like, ‘Oh, it’s going to suck, it’s going to be hot, I’m not going to like it,’ then you’re not going to have a good time,” she said.

Conversely, those with a positive attitude -- “Oh, it’s going to be good, at least they’re open” -- will likely enjoy themselves.

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