Universal Studios in Orlando is one of the world's most popular theme parks, ranked as the 11th most-visited park in the world as of 2018. The park has been rapidly growing, with new attractions like the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, along with several rides based off a wide variety of pop culture. The park's growth is reflected in its number of tourists, nearly doubling its numbers from around 5.5 million visitors in 2009 to over 10 million in 2018.
In order to keep up with its rapid increase in foot traffic and park attractions, Universal has made many changes to its rules and regulations. Some of these changes were made quietly and peacefully, while others resulted from lawsuits or complaints from guests.
Today, we'll take a look at some of Universal's most noteworthy changes to its rules in the past couple of years, as well as some rules that have been around for a while, but you probably never knew about.
8 NEW: Safety Checks on E.T. Ride
In March of this year, 11-year-old Tiago Perez had his foot crushed while riding E.T. Adventure. While offloading from the ride, Perez's foot and part of his leg got stuck between the ride and the platform, crushing multiple bones that required surgery to repair.
In response to this tragic incident, Tiago's mother Roberta filed a lawsuit against the park, arguing that the E.T. ride is unsafe; while Tiago's feet were not on the pedals of the ride's bike, they were still within the ride. And unlike many other Universal rides, there was no net below the ride to protect him.
A representative from Universal responded by vowing that the park will require additional safety checks from its employees at the end of each ride to ensure this never happens again. If you plan on flying around with E.T. anytime soon, please watch your step.
7 DIDN'T KNOW: The Bounty on Counterfeit Money
In order to promote loss prevention, Universal encourages its employees to keep an eye out for counterfeit currency, and its willing to pay them handsomely for it. In its official handbook, it states the following:
"Cash handlers will receive a $100 reward for the detection of counterfeit currency at the point of sale. You will receive a minimum $100, maximum $5,000 reward for information resulting in the termination or arrest of an individual stealing from this Company."
So think twice the next time you try to buy a butterbeer with Monopoly money. Any cashier who turns you in gets a nice chunk of change!
6 NEW: Lockers
In the fourth quarter of 2018, Universal switched over to a new locker system. This was seen as a welcome change to many, but others not so much.
The first major change Universal made to its lockers was replacing finger scanners with ticket scanners. With the old lockers, many visitors complained that the finger scanners had trouble reading fingerprints, which could lead to a huge amount of time wasted. And anyone who's hustled around Universal trying to hit every attraction knows how precious time is.
The second major change is that, while the small lockers are free, the large lockers cost $2 per use. And while the small lockers can fit purses, small bags, phone, wallet, keys, etc., anyone with a backpack is forced to pay for the large lockers at every single ride. This is definitely something to consider when packing for a trip.
It should be noted that, while the small lockers are free, they are only free for the estimated time it takes to get through the ride and its wait, with some generous leeway. For instance, if the wait time is one hour and the ride takes two minutes, you'll probably get about an hour and 20 minutes for the locker. Afterwards, there is a $3 fee for each additional half hour.
The new lockers are currently at Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, Revenge of the Mummy, Men in Black Alien Attack, Hollywood Rip, Ride, Rockit, Incredible Hulk Coaster, and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.
5 DIDN'T KNOW: Selfie Sticks are Weapons?
While selfie sticks are not banned throughout the park, they must be properly stored away when not in use. Walking around with a selfie stick is considered dangerous, as selfie sticks can theoretically be used as weapons. And the last thing Universal needs is a guest trying to take a selfie on a ride only to injure someone else or themselves.
And these are the rules for the guests. For employees, selfie sticks are banned altogether, since they look unprofessional. The only time employees can even take selfies is when guests request it.
4 NEW: Ticket Names
In the past, visitors of Universal Studios had the option of skipping ride lines with the Front of the Line Pass. This pass was comparable to Fast-Passes from Disney World, except you had to pay for them.
In 2018, Universal Studios re-branded the tickets, calling them Universal Express Passes. The tickets are mostly the same, they just have a much more eloquent-sounding name. Also, you can use them to open Universal's new lockers.
So if you've been to Universal a few times and are used to the old Front of the Line Passes, there's no need for confusion!
3 DIDN'T KNOW: Staff cannot wear Disney logos
It'd obviously be in bad taste for Universal's team members to wear anything that represents one of Universal's competitors. But its employee handbook specifically outlines this rule, which to me is hilarious.
"While working you are presenting the image of Universal Orlando and can take pride in being part of an organization whose vision is to be recognized as the number one entertainment destination in the world. As such clothing, jewelry, accessories, etc should not display competitors’ logos."
Guests of the park can do what they want, although it still seems a little rude. As for staff members, leave your Mickey Mouse ears at home!
2 NEW: Land
Back in 2003, Universal sold off 1,800 acres of land to Georgia Developer Stan Thomas. The land was located to the south of its parks. In an effort to restrict competition, Universal set a restriction on Thomas' deed to the land, prohibiting development of any sort of theme park.
Since then, Thomas has struggled with developing the property. Universal has been buying chunks of the land here and there and is believed to have acquired 1,000 of the 1,800 acres it had originally sold off as of Spring 2018. In response, Thomas was attempting to use the land's deed restriction against Universal, saying that they were not allowed to develop a theme park in this territory. However, Universal fought this in court and overrode this.
This is huge news for Universal Studios, and almost definitely means we'll be seeing a new theme park. With its many IPs, Universal has more than enough material to fill an entirely new park. A likely candidate is Super Nintendo World, a theme park based entirely around Nintendo characters like Mario, Donkey Kong, Zelda, etc. Originally expected to replace Kidzone, Universal announced plans to create a Nintendo-themed park in Orlando a few years ago.
Whether this newly acquired land will become a new home for the Mario Bros. or not, one thing is sure: big new things are coming to Universal Studios in the coming years.
Knowing about Universal's new rules and regulations will hopefully enhance your next visit to the parks. There's nothing worse than being unprepared after spending so much time, effort and money to travel on a once-in-a-lifetime trip, only to get blindsided by an easily avoidable mistake. Here at TheTravel, we take pride in keeping our travelers informed so that you can have the absolute best vacations possible!
1 DIDN'T KNOW: Lost and (Not) Found
When lost items are found by employees at Universal, they go through a 90 day waiting period to be claimed by the owner. If this never happens, the employee can claim the item as his or her own! Imagine finding a Universal staff member walking around with your Harry Potter wand you lost last year!
However, not all items can be claimed. IDs, credit cards, foreign currency and any electronic device that holds personal information (phones, cameras, etc.) cannot be claimed by an employee.