Universal Studios Hollywood has returned after a yearlong coronavirus closure with a new Secret Life of Pets dark ride designed to delight families and a revamped Jurassic World water ride determined to terrify the tourists.

Universal Studios Hollywood reopened on Thursday, April 15 for annual and season passholders after a 13-month closure due to the COVID-19 pandemic that began in March 2020. The Hollywood theme park reopens to the general public on Friday, April 16.

Fans anxious to fly alongside Harry Potter, face off with an I-Rex super dino or get adopted on Secret Life of Pets had their wish granted when Universal swung open the gates a bit early at 9:20 a.m. Friday.

SEE ALSO: What to expect when Universal Studios Hollywood reopens this week

Universal visitors were greeted by a new arrival procedure. Temperature screenings took place inside the Jurassic parking structure before guests reached the security checkpoint.  Inside the park, COVID-19 health and safety reminders were visible everywhere.

Crowds were light prior to park opening. There were no lines for security near the front entrance. Socially distanced lines that formed at a dozen front gate turnstiles stretched halfway back to the spinning Universal globe. At 9:20 a.m., passholders gave a cheer after counting down from 10 before streaming into the reopened park. By 9:30 a.m., there were no lines at the front gate and passholders could easily enter without any wait.

Sisters Ellen Kang and Joanne Kang-Kim from Rowland Heights waited outside the gates in matching Gryffindor robes.

“We’ve been waiting for them to open,” said Kang, 24.“We stayed up all night trying to get opening day tickets,” added Kang-Kim, 26.

The Harry Potter fans weren’t heading to ride the Forbidden Journey attraction first. They planned to head straight for the new Secret Life of Pets dark ride. That was a good choice. The attraction only had a 10-minute wait around 9:30 a.m. before the park officially opened at 10 a.m.

Newly engaged couple Cindy Anaya and Phillip Gutierrez of Montebello arrived at Universal at 8:30 a.m. to be first in line.

“You have no idea how excited we are,” Gutierrez said.“It’s been too long,” said Anaya.

By 10:30 a.m., wait times were short for the most popular rides with Secret Life of Pets and Revenge of the Mummy only 10 minutes, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at 20 minutes and the queue for the Studio Tour at 15 minutes.

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All indoor attractions are required to only use outdoor queues under COVID-19 health and safety guidelines. Riders move continuously through indoor queues without stopping and immediately board rides to keep indoor activities under 15 minutes under state guidelines.

The Secret Life of Pets attraction required riders to get in a virtual queue before getting in line — to help manage crowding on the new ride during reduced capacity restrictions due to COVID-19 health and safety mandates. Universal has tested virtual queues before, but Pets is the first official attraction to offer the time-saving service.

The best way to get in the virtual queue is through the Universal Studios Hollywood mobile phone app. Virtual queue tickets are also dispensed at two kiosks near the ride entrance.

Passholders by their nature are seasoned veterans at theme park navigation. But the virtual queue had its issues on opening day — as is common with any new tech and particularly at launch. The hard-ticket kiosk broke down at times — forcing employees to help passholders in the line figure out how to navigate the app. The hiccups were all part of the opening day jitters and the learning curve for seasoned pros.

SEE ALSO: The Secret Life of Pets ride finally debuts at Universal Studios Hollywood and it’s worth the wait

In many ways, California theme parks are going through the growing pains often experienced by brand new parks. After being closed for a year the issues are similar.

There are new protocols for veteran employees, new procedures for new hires and new traffic patterns and rules for longtime passholders. It’s going to take some time for everyone to get the hang of things again and shake the rust off.

Passholders and daily visitors will have to pack their understanding, consideration and generosity along with their sunglasses, masks and hand sanitizer. Remember: The parks aren’t going anywhere — despite extended pandemic closures. Even if Transformers 3-D and Jurassic World go down at the same time — as they did at one point Thursday morning — you can ride them next time or later in the day.

The dual downtime of Transformers and Jurassic on the lower lot temporarily produced the longest wait time of the day — 50 minutes — for the Mummy coaster. The Mummy line looked longer than it really was because of social distancing requirements and the outdoor-only requirement for queues.

Passholders were good about wearing their masks — with very few nose pokers or chin strappers on the midways.

Frequent cleaning of ride vehicles is regular protocol now. Removing your mask on the Revenge of the Mummy coaster — yes, ride operators can see you even in the dark — requires a full cleaning of your ride vehicle once you return to the station. Be courteous to others: Keep your mask on. Otherwise you’ll make the day longer for everyone else — including yourself.

The Raptor Encounter on the lower lot was back and just as terrifying as ever for those seeking a selfie with the dino predators. Raelyn Moreno kept looking over her shoulder as her friend Stephanie Ramirez snapped her photo with the costumed velociraptor. The pair were thrilled to return to Universal Studios Hollywood at reduced capacity after the yearlong closure.

“It’s fun to finally be back,” said Moreno, 35, of West Covina.“It’s nice to not have long lines,” said Ramirez, 31, of Pasadena Heights.

Most attractions have been changed in some way or another by the coronavirus protocols — some big and some small.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey riders enter the outdoor queue near the Weasley car, drop off their belongings at bag check, wait outdoors again in the herbivore garden before passing through the massive indoor queue without stopping inside Hogwarts Castle.

Ride operators were only loading every fourth or fifth ride vehicle on the constantly moving Forbidden Journey in the morning when crowds were light. But every ride vehicle can be loaded when it gets busy. Only one family or group will be allowed per ride vehicle. Party blending is prohibited due to COVID-19 guidelines.

Wait times were essentially non-existent for the Flight of the Hippogriff. Ride operators squirted hand sanitizer on every rider’s hands before boarding — a practice repeated at every ride. Like most rides, the Hippogriff coaster was loaded every other row to maintain social distancing. With a top speed just under 30 mph, the family coaster doesn’t cause face masks to move at all.

A new on-ride photo kiosk opened Thursday for the Hippogriff coaster with collectible photos starting at $23.

Wizarding World shops had separate entrances and exits to control flow and reduce unnecessary mixing.

The Honeydukes candy shop has tight confines during “normal” times. The store will limit capacity to around 30 shoppers to reduce crowding. The Three Broomsticks restaurant had both outdoor and indoor socially distanced seating — something permitted in the Orange tier. The Hog’s Head Pub was closed. Additional outdoor seating was added at the Triwizard stage and the Owlery — something the park tested during the Taste of Universal event.

The Olivanders shopping experience is closed, but wizard and witch apprentices can still shop in the store. Wizards in training could still bring the shop windows to life with their interactive wands, but now they have to wait their turn in socially distanced queues.

Little was changed on the 45- to 60-minute Studio Tour — except for the spacing in the seating areas. The back lot is busy with new movie and television projects returning to work after coronavirus delays.

Universal has decided to keep the Simpsons ride closed for now, but the game booths out front are open. A few booths closed off seats to promote physical distancing.

The escalators down to the lower lot offered panoramic views of Universal’s worst kept secret — Super Nintendo World — which has not yet been announced.

Universal began soft opening “technical rehearsals” with rides and attractions during the Taste of Universal food festival that concluded on Sunday, April 11.

The new Secret Life of Pets attraction and updated Jurassic World ride are joined by returning favorites like the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Transformers 3-D dark rides, Revenge of the Mummy and Flight of the Hippogriff roller coasters, Silly Swirly Fun spinning ride, “Universal’s Animal Actors” show and the Fast & Furious — Supercharged and King Kong 360 3-D attractions on the Studio Tour.

State mandates require Universal to limit admissions to California residents. Passholders and single-day ticket holders have to make advance reservations due to limited capacity protocols instituted by state officials.



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