Over Labor Day weekend, Universal Orlando’s parks are hitting their capacity each day, and Walt Disney World parks have run out of reservations. Does that mean it’s business as usual again? Far from it.
Since opening back up after being closed for multiple months, the Orlando theme parks have been operating under “limited capacity.” This is part of their re-opening plans, which had to be presented and approved by the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force. Limited capacity is one of the ways the parks are attempting to create a safer atmosphere for guests, and better allows for new practices like social distancing.
While all of the theme parks that have re-opened in Central Florida have included “limited capacity” for their parks, dining, and attractions, as part of their proposals to the local and state governments for approval, the exact numbers have not been disclosed.
When asked by reporters during a recent meeting with local theme park representatives, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis did admit that the state supports the Central Florida theme parks adding capacity, if they so wish to. However, despite the apparent preemptive approval, there has not yet been any clear indication that the parks have actually done so.
If you speak to theme park experts online, guesses on the current limited capacity for theme parks at Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando range from 25% to 50% of their usual park capacities. However, if you were to ask regular park guests facing two+ hour waits for attractions over Labor Day weekend, they may tell you it feels like the parks are running at full capacity. So, which is it?
In the last few days, Universal Orlando’s two main theme parks saw attraction waits of two or more hours. To those that were visiting, it felt as busy as a regular Labor Day weekend, especially when you take into account how long you’d have to wait to ride Revenge of the Mummy or The Incredible Hulk Coaster. How could that be if they’re supposedly running at only half, or less, capacity.
Many factors are at play here. In some cases the physical lines look longer than they ever have, with temporary extended queues stretching beyond the ride’s immediate area and running into a whole different land of the park. For example, Peter Pan’s Flight’s queue was extended into Liberty Square. Since queues are implementing a 6-foot rule, they’re of course taking up far more space than usual to accommodate social distancing.
The social distancing may explain the appearance of long lines, but that still doesn’t explain the long waits. How could the lines be so long with a limited capacity at the parks, many are wondering? The truth is, it’s not just the parks that are running at a limited capacity. So are the attractions themselves.
Most ride vehicles are only seating guests in every other row. Each row is only receiving one party per row. That means each ride could be running at less than half capacity. (Parties of two get a whole row usually seating 4 after all, so, that’s a lot of empty seats in addition to empty rows). Theater shows are not only only skipping every other row, but they’re also leaving several seats empty between parties. That could leave a theater only a third of its usual capacity.
And lower capacity for the attractions isn’t the only reason for longer waits during this unprecedented time. Social distancing doesn’t allow for guests to keep up with the party in front of them. Loading takes longer as each guest uses hand sanitizer. And enhanced cleaning procedures cause hold ups periodically so employees can disinfect ride vehicles—or in the case of theater shows, wipe down every single seat between showtimes.
These enhanced safety measures take additional time. Even on slow days that don’t fall on a holiday like this Labor Day weekend, wait times that would normally be a “walk-on” can sometimes take 20-30 minutes due to social distancing and enhanced cleaning procedures. Taking all of this into account, it’s no surprise that wait times ballooned up to two hours when the parks are at their absolute busiest allowable amounts.
So, yes, the parks this weekend have been the most crowded they have been since they re-opened this summer. But, I assure you, they are not running at their usual capacities. In fact, the theme parks of Universal Orlando rarely, if ever reach their normal capacity on even the busiest of days.
Outside of the pandemic, Magic Kingdom will sometimes get so full it has to turn away guests on holidays throughout the year, but that’s the most visited theme park in the world. A park like Universal Studios Florida, on the other hand, has rarely ever. So, for it to reach “capacity” multiple days in a row, you can be assured, that must mean the current capacity is lower than normal.
If you do choose to visit the theme parks during this unusual time, even on a non-holiday weekend, you should be prepared for additional waits and be aware of the extra safety precautions. They are there to help keep you, other guests, and the park employees safe. They’re not there to help save you time waiting in lines, unfortunately.
See our recent guide to getting the most out of your day at the parks, including tips for avoiding crowds. And stay tuned for more theme park news coverage!
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Alicia is a lifelong Floridian and has been visiting the Orlando theme parks since the age of 3. Her years of experience, both working at and exploring theme parks, allows her a unique perspective for helping others plan and get the most out of their own visits to the Orlando parks.