On March 15, 2020, with the sweet sounds of Mardi Gras playing me and my friends out, I exited Universal Orlando Resort’s parking garage not knowing when the next time I’d be able to return would be.
These past few months of closure, while some of us have been hard at work perfecting Irish Soda Bread, a team at Universal has been hard at work preparing us for our phased reopening that began on June 1st.
Over the last few weeks I’ve had the opportunity to meet with four of our executives about the reopening process and what it’s looked like in four key areas — operations, food and beverage, entertainment, and hotels.
To speak to our entertainment updates in the parks, I chatted with vice president of entertainment, Deborah Buynak. Here’s what I learned.
KATIE: What has the process been like for you and your team to prepare for reopening?
DEBORAH: The resort as a whole has been listening to the guidelines of the CDC, studying those very carefully, and listening to the advice of our local health officials. Getting ready for entertainment, we really went with the three areas that the entire company is focusing on — screening, sanitization, and spacing. Screening is what everybody else is doing with temperature checks. For us, sanitization and cleaning was always pretty aggressive in regards to costumes, set pieces, and props, but we have amped that up considerably to follow the guidelines of the CDC and the recommendations of our local health officials. The thing people notice the most from us is our spacing. We know that everybody has been away from each other for so long, that really when we see each other, we want to go back to that handshake or high five or hug. In entertainment we are really going to help control everybody’s urge to do that with the characters and the casts by doing what we call our Up and Away program. We have all of our characters away from our guests in that social-distancing that’s recommended, but we also have them up so they can still be seen. You can still have that interaction, we’ll all still be able to dance and sing together, it’ll just be up and away.
KATIE: Well I went to the parks this past week and the Team Members are doing great and are so expressive behind the masks!
DEBORAH: Our Team Members get into live entertainment because they want to have that connection with an audience. We don’t want to take that away from them. They’re excited to get back out with guests in the right way. Through the past few months, we’ve been doing a lot of talking with our casts and crews, we developed a training process for the new procedures, we’ve been listening, talking, changing some things. We may have thought over the three months we had come up with some really good ideas, but once you see it and talk to the people who do it every day, we’ve made some tweaks and changes, while also following the guidelines of the CDC.
KATIE: What are the top things guests need to know about the operational changes in your area of Universal?
DEBORAH: The biggest thing that our guests are going to see is the spacing, like I mentioned. You can’t go right up to folks in Entertainment. We don’t do the full parade, but we’re getting parts and pieces out. This is a phased reopening, so we need to make sure that we are doing the right thing right now. So you’ll still see our characters, but in small groups. I really urge everybody to download the app and to set up an account in it. That’s where you’ll be able to find what you’re looking for — a particular character, particular show — that app is going to help get you in the right direction.
KATIE: What can guests look forward to in Entertainment now that parks are open again?
DEBORAH: We are here for you. Entertainment has always put the heart into the parks. Our amazing attractions are always here for your thrills, and entertainment brings those feels and that connection. Being in our houses all these months, we all have missed that contact with other people and that eye contact. We’ve missed just being together and celebrating together. Our Entertainment team is ready to bring that to you again.