What it’s like at Universal Studios Hollywood after new COVID-19 protocols
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You need more than your admission ticket to get into Universal Studios Hollywood these days.
Per the Los Angeles County Public Health order that took effect on 7 October, all persons aged 12 and older must show proof of vaccination status (full 14 days after final dose was administered) or a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of visit before being allowed entry to the park.
Eligible vaccines include the two-dose series Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna or single-dose Johnson & Johnson.
Children who are under the age of 12 are exempted from this order.
And regardless of vaccination status, masks are required to be worn at all times both indoors and outdoors while in the park.
I visited Universal Studios Hollywood this past weekend to see what it was like to visit the “Entertainment Capital of the World,” with this new health order that went into effect.
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Entrance and Check-In
Even before stepping through the gates of Universal Studios, you are immediately confronted with signs everywhere on the new health order to show proof of vaccination.
From the parking garage, the trek through Universal City Walk to the theme park gates, there are signs that also remind you that masks are required indoors and outdoors.
If someone wasn’t wearing a mask, park staff gave a friendly verbal reminder to that person.
Once you go through bag check and metal detectors, you are stopped by security and staff to check your vaccine status or negative COVID-19 test results if you not vaccinated.
This checkpoint was set up right before you get to the iconic spinning Universal Studios globe.
I brought my paper CDC vaccine card. Others were showing their proof of vaccination on their phone.
California residents can download their digital vaccination record that would generate a QR code. However, all the checks were visual; there was no scanning or additional verification beyond just showing your card or negative COVID-19 test.
After that verification, you are directed to the front gates of the park. If you get there early, right before the park opens at 9 a.m., you can be there to help countdown with the crowd when park gates open for the day.
Once inside, signs are everywhere about the new health order.
Every few feet, there were hand sanitizer dispensers set up.
There were no signs about social distancing like when I visited Six Flags Magic Mountain when it reopened in April but park-goers kept their distance as best they could.
Wait times, ordering food, character photos
If you get to the park early enough, you can make good time riding all the popular rides before wait times go to an hour or more.
Like other theme parks, Universal Studios Hollywood has an app that gives you a real-time wait time for its attractions. Knowing where the rides are clustered in the park can help you strategise what to do first.
I decided to hit up all the attractions in the lower lot, which was farthest away from the entrance and required a trek across the park and down several series of escalators.
Jurassic World The Ride, Revenge of the Mummy: The Ride and Transformers: The Ride 3D are located in the lower lot.
The longest wait time for any of the rides I went on this past weekend was about 20 minutes.
Later in the day, I saw rides in the Harry Potter section of the park with wait times of 75 minutes and more.
In the upper lot, you will find the following: the Simpsons Ride, Harry and the Forbidden Journey, Flight of the Hippogriff, Kung Fu Panda adventure, The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, Super Silly Fun Land and the world-famous Studio Tour.
Before noon, I was able to ride all the lower lot rides with no more than a 10-minute wait. If you are visiting as a single rider, you can bypass the line to the front.
Most of the rides were not filled to capacity, which was nice to have the extra room.
It was interesting after every ride, at least in the lower lot, once the ride was over, staffers and riders applauded. It was a nice mood setter for the day.
When it was time to get lunch, I was surprised that unlike Disneyland and Six Flags Magic Mountain, where you can order ahead and pick up your food later via an app, there is no such option at Universal Studios.
I’m not sure if an app would have sped things up. All the food restaurants had plastic barriers between the cashier and where you can pick up your food.
In terms of taking photos with your favorite cartoon characters from The Simpsons, Shrek, Trolls and even Hello Kitty, you are able to get up close and personal.
Taking photos with actors playing iconic stars like Marilyn Monroe requires everyone masked up.
Reboots and makeovers
It’s been more than 15 years since I last visited Universal Studios. The last time I was here, Jurassic Park – The Ride just opened and Back to the Future – The Ride always had the longest wait.
Today, Jurassic Park – The Ride is now Jurassic World – The Ride and Back to the Future is now The Simpsons Ride.
But I was happy to see that there are iconic rides still running, including the Earthquake experience and an updated version of King Kong with Jurassic Park as an immersive experience during the Studio Tour.
Old mainstays as the Mexican and Western town and Bates Motel sets still have that movie magic on Universal’s backlot.
It was cool to see newer movie props from films like Jurassic Park 3 and War of the Worlds crash scene that close up.
It’s that kind of access that makes the Universal studio Tour a must-do for any film buff.
The impacts of COVID-19 will be with us for a while and it can be tough to keep up with all the latest mandates on when you need masks or whether to bring your vaccine card, etc.
But despite all that, you could tell there were smiles underneath all those masks as families walked around this signature LA theme park.
While visiting Universal Studios Hollywood has changed significantly during the pandemic, it was still a great way to spend the day to go behind the scenes of Hollywood magic — masked up and all.
Featured photo by Leezel Tanglao/The Points Guy.
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