County task force approves Universal’s reopening

The Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force unanimously voted in favor of the phased reopening plan.

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Universal Orlando presented its plan last week for reopening the theme park, and the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force gave its unanimous approval. The next step is for the plans to be submitted to the state with a letter of recommendation from Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings to send the plans and a recommendation letter to the state.

The task force met virtually Thursday, May 21, and heard the details of the theme park’s reopening plan. Field inspections conducted by Orange County officials took place prior to the meeting. They reviewed the theme park’s readiness to implement the plan based on employee health screening and best practices, guest arrival and ticketing, restaurant operations, attraction queue management, signage and communications, and sanitization protocols.

Rich Costales, executive vice president of resort operations for Universal, said his team has been working over the last several weeks toward a safe opening. Dr. Raul Pino of the Florida Department of Health-Orange County provided direction and expressed approval after looking at the procedures Universal had in place.

Universal officials have asked to open Monday, June 1, and Tuesday, June 2, to team members to test the procedures and make sure they work; Wednesday, June 3, and Thursday, June 4, to invited guests and possibly passholders, to further test the system; and Friday, June 5, to the public.

John Sprouls, chief administrative officer, at Universal, said theme park officials outlined three processes: screening, sanitization and spacing. They mapped out every one of the guests’ point of contact, starting with prearrival communication, signage and guest messages.

“Signage starts at the tollbooth to the parking garage,” Sprouls said. “It will be frequent, will be clear, will be demonstrable and will be enforced.”

Team members will have new protocols, as well.

“From the time when we schedule folks when they’re coming in, they’re doing self temperature checks, we’re staggering our parking and in the guests’ parking lots,” Sprouls said.

Temperatures will be taken for all employees and all guests every day, and the wardrobe procedure has been readdressed.

All guests and employees must wear face masks.

At the attractions, Sproul said, capacity has been readjusted at each ride and food outlet. All interactive play areas are closed because social distancing is difficult to manage, he said, and they have eliminated most of the water interactions. A virtual line has been implemented for attractions, and single-rider lines are being eliminated. Preshow meet-and-greets are canceled.

Restaurants will use single-use menus, and mobile food ordering will be available.

Hand sanitizer will be available at the entrance and exit of all restaurants, attractions and vendors. Six-foot demarcations have been added throughout the park.



The Bringing Back Tourism Working Group reviewed the reopening plans presented by 13 smaller attractions: Aloma Bowling, Andretti Indoor Karting and Games, Board Walk Bowl, Face Amusement, Fun Spot, Gatorland, Icon Park, K1 Speed, Magical Midway, Nona Adventure Park, Slingshot, Starflyer and Wonder Works.

Each had to submit its modified operational policies, which included temperature screenings, safety standards, social distancing guidelines and cleaning protocols. Onsite inspections were conducted prior to the task force meeting.

All the guidelines meet both the state mandate and county guidelines, said co-chair Dr. Youcheng Wang, dean of the UCF Rosen College of Hospitality Management.

“I feel pretty good about where we are as a county, as far as having controlled the spread of the virus to the extent that we could,” Demings said. “If we put sanitary measures in place as we continue to reopen, it will continue to be a positive outcome for us in the long-term.”

Demings also discussed the county’s budgeting for the next fiscal year.

“We are looking within our budget for reductions and expenses, looking to streamline our budget process (for Fiscal Year 2020-21),” he said.

“The loss of revenues will be felt of many years,” Demings said. “This recovery period of time is likely going to take several years for us to recover. If we can open effectively, we can hopefully reduce the recovery period of time.”



Amy Quesinberry

Community Editor Amy Quesinberry was born at the old West Orange Memorial Hospital and raised in Winter Garden. Aside from earning her journalism degree from the University of Georgia, she hasn’t strayed too far from her hometown and her three-mile bubble. She grew up reading The Winter Garden Times and knew in the eighth grade she wanted to write for her community newspaper. She has been part of the writing and editing team since 1990.

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