This guide to face masks at Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, and CityWalk covers official rules, our recommendation for the best masks, answers to frequently asked questions on wearing masks, and differences between policies and enforcement at Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando.
Essentially, this goes beyond answering the question of “are face masks required at Universal?” (Yes.) It provides details on exceptions, what it’s like to visit Universal with the face mask policy in place, and more. We’re well aware that this is a highly controversial topic. This post exists to inform, not critique. At this point, the policy exists and is not going to change based upon shouting on the internet. If you want to argue, join a local debate club. If you want your voice to be heard about Universal’s rule in a meaningful way, contact them.
You might notice a lot of overlap between the info and advice here and that in our FAQ & Guide to Face Masks at Walt Disney World. Quite simply, that’s because there are tons of parallels. Universal, Disney, SeaWorld, Six Flags, and every other theme park operator likely collaborated on these rules (they’re all part of the same trade groups). With that said, there are some significant ways Universal’s rules are more laid-back and guest-friendly than Disney’s. We’ll highlight those early-on so you don’t waste your time if you’ve already read our WDW mask guide…
Let’s start by taking a comprehensive look at Universal Orlando’s official face covering rules, which is pulled directly from the Universal website. Face coverings are required to visit Universal Orlando Resort at all times, except for:
- Children under the age of three
- When actively eating or drinking while stationary
- When at a designated U-Rest face covering removal area
An appropriate face covering is required to do the following:
- Cover your nose and mouth and be secured under your chin
- Fit snugly against the sides of your face and be secured with ear loops or secured around your head
Universal Orlando Resort recommends that face coverings consist of at least two layers (2-ply masks). Additionally, neck gaiters are considered an appropriate face covering as long as it covers the nose and mouth (gaiters are prohibited by Disney). These are a couple of ways that Universal’s policy is more flexible than Disney’s, with a couple more ways discussed in the FAQ…
The following are not permitted at Universal Orlando Resort:
- Face coverings with exhalation valves
- Face coverings that are not secured with ear loops or secured around your head
- Face coverings that include mesh material or holes of any kind
- Costume masks or veils
- Face coverings that are unable to be secured under your chin, such as bandannas
Face coverings are required for all guests (ages 3 and up) and employees, including those who have been vaccinated. Please bring your own face coverings and wear them at all times, except when actively eating or drinking, but you must be stationary and maintain appropriate social distancing.
Next, let’s address some of the more frequently asked questions about masks…
Can we remove masks for photos?
Yes and no. This is the first big difference from Walt Disney World, where this is an across the board no–and one that’s strictly enforced.
At Universal Orlando, guests may briefly remove their face masks during outdoor character meet & greets if they are socially distanced from other parties and the characters by at least 6 feet. After the photo has taken place, guests are required to put their face mask back on. Guests may not remove their face covering for indoor photos.
The official policy is silent as to whether guests may remove their face masks for outdoor photos that are not with characters. We’ve seen Universal Team Members allow this for quick photo ops so long as guests are socially distanced. Do it out of the way and it likely won’t be an issue–don’t try to get a maskless photo under the dragon in Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Studios Florida. That won’t fly.
Is Universal offering any medical exemptions on the mask policy?
Yes. This is the second big difference from Walt Disney World, which offers no such exceptions (consistent with the ADA/EEOC, which does not require a “reasonable accommodation” for face masks).
At Universal Orlando, if you have a disability that prevents you from wearing a face covering, it’s recommended that you start by visiting Guest Services. They will allow you to use an “alternate accommodation,” which is to wear a face shield during your visit. Face shields must cover your nose and mouth, wrap around the sides of your face, and extend to below your chin. Face shields are not permitted on certain attractions, and guests will have to switch to an appropriate face covering for those experiences.
What is face mask rule at Volcano Bay water park?
At Volcano Bay, face coverings are required in restaurants, shops, and as you enter and exit the park. Officially, guests are also encouraged to wear face coverings while walking around the park. Face coverings are not permitted on slides and in pools.
Unofficially, masks are only required indoors with no enforcement in the open, outdoor areas once you’re inside the park. This is consistent with pool policies at the hotels (both at Walt Disney World and Universal) and comports with public health guidance on the low likelihood of outdoor transmission.
Is Universal’s mask policy stricter than Disney in any ways?
In one specific circumstance, yes.
While interacting with parking attendants (meaning paying for parking), guests are required to wear a face mask. We’d recommend extending this same courtesy at Walt Disney World, but it’s not officially required. Otherwise, in every meaningful way, Universal’s rules the same or more lax than Disney’s.
What’s the best mask for Universal Orlando?
We have bought many masks. Now that health experts are recommending better face masks, we’ve upped our game. The CDC has provided guidance on their use and testing results for over 120 KN95 masks. Based upon that, I’ve switched to using the Powecom KN95 Face Mask in the parks.
After doing some research, I opted for the Powecom masks due to their high performance (over 99% filtration efficacy in testing results) and scratch-off anti-counterfeit label on the package that provides codes to verify authenticity on the company website. They’re comfortable, offer a snug fit, and are relatively inexpensive by KN95 standards.
Any other face mask recommendations?
Prior to switching to the KN95 masks, our favorite breathable option was from Suay LA. These are still great, especially for hot weather when the KN95 mask might be more uncomfortable. These are constructed from medical grade non-woven polypropylene surgical wrap and have a nosepiece that should offer a degree of protection to the wearer.
We also carry disposable 3-ply face masks. These are great as a back-up, or if you opt to double mask to give you a more secure fit or better filtration. Additionally, the Auliné Collection Mask is a good reusable option for adults. If you have other recommendations, we’d love to hear them in the comments.
Is it uncomfortable (or even possible) to wear a face mask all day at a theme park?
There’s no sugarcoating it–masks are not fun. Personally, I cannot wait for the day when they’re no longer required at Universal. With that said, they’re also not the end of the world, and it’s entirely possible to wear them from park opening to closing.
We’ve worn masks extensively at Universal Orlando in the 8+ months since CityWalk and the parks reopened, including several full summer days in 95º heat with feels like temperatures in the triple digits. Oppressive heat and humidity are uncomfortable regardless, and I can’t say it’s appreciably worse due to the masks. It’s definitely easier when the temperature is 70 degrees rather than 90 degrees. But that’s generally true, masks or no masks.
To that point, a lot of people returning from trips have shared in the comments to other posts that wearing masks wasn’t as bad as they expected. That seems to be the general consensus.
Why can’t the mask policy be optional?
The CDC recommends use of masks, specifically non-valved multi-layer cloth masks, to reduce transmission rates. Masks are primarily intended to reduce the emission of droplets (“source control”), which is especially relevant for asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic infected wearers who feel well and may be unaware of their infectiousness to others, but who are estimated to account for over 50% of transmissions.
This source control is the basis for universal face mask rules, and why an optional mask policy is ineffective. (Hence the mantra: “my mask protects you, your mask protects me.”) If I’m worried about transmission, it does me little good to wear a mask; you are the beneficiary of that, not me.
When will Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure loosen the mask policy?
Relaxing the face covering policy would require both Orange County modifying its mandate and Universal following suit. We’re starting to see movement on both, and although Universal hasn’t issued a public statement on mask polices, Disney recently indicated that distancing and face mask rules would be modified on the basis of vaccination rate and availability.
The most obvious way to accomplish this is shifting from rules to recommendations. This is something we discuss at length in When Will Walt Disney World Stop Requiring Face Masks? The analysis is pretty much the same for Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. If anything, Universal will be the first to relax its rules since they’re already looser than Disney’s in some regards. One possible first step is Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure adopting Volcano Bay’s policy of only recommending masks outdoors, while still requiring masks indoors.
How well are guests complying with Universal’s mask rules?
It varies depending on time of day, but we’ve found both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure to have strong compliance. In our anecdotal experience, they’re both below Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios–but about on par with EPCOT’s World Showcase.
We’d put compliance at, on average, around 95% in both USF and IoA. CityWalk is slightly lower, but still in the 90s. It’s worth noting that these numbers are considerably higher than most non-theme park businesses we’ve visited in Central Florida, where mask rules or recommendations are often ignored.
Didn’t Florida fully reopen and end mask enforcement?
Yes and sort of. Hence compliance being far spottier at non-theme park businesses. Florida suspended the collecting fines or fees for mask ordinance violations. This effectively renders local mask ordinances in public spaces, like the one in Orange County, toothless and voluntary.
However, private businesses can still operate with any self-imposed restrictions under Florida’s executive order. That means Publix, Universal Studios Florida, or any other business can deny entry to those not wearing masks, or following any other rules. This is nothing new. Everyone has heard of “no shirt, no shoes, no service” rules, correct? There’s no state-wide law requiring those articles of clothing, either. C’mon, this is Florida, man!
Is the face mask rule actually enforced by Universal?
Yes. There have been a handful of high profile incidents with guests getting kicked out for repeated rule violations, and trespassed from property for refusing to wear face masks.
The latest in-park announcement and signage states “guests not properly wearing an approved face covering will be required to leave.” That’s Universal’s way of letting you know they aren’t playing around. As the kids say, FAAFO.
If I walk around all day with a Butterbeer or Lard Lad Donut, can I keep my mask off?
Just like Disney, there are sandwich board signs in pathways and Universal Team Members walking around with signs and actively enforcing the aforementioned face mask rules. We hear guests being politely “reminded” that they need to be socially distanced and stationary while eating all the time.
Where in the parks can masks be removed?
CityWalk, Universal Studios Florida, and Islands of Adventure all have official ‘U-Rest Areas’ where guests can sit with their masks removed. Note that social distancing is still required in these locations.
Remember, you can remove your mask whenever you’re stationary, socially distanced from other guests, and eating or drinking. Essentially, any table or isolated spot off the main thoroughfares can be a private U-Rest Area if you bring a water bottle. Honestly, we prefer finding our own tucked-away locations because the U-Rest Areas are mostly in direct sunlight with minimal shade.
Are masks required while waiting in line or on rides?
Yes to both. Guests are required to wear masks in line and on rides at Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure.
What are the mask rules outside the parks?
In addition to Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure, CityWalk requires masks for entry. Basically, once you walk from the parking garage to the health screening, masks are required.
Same goes for Universal’s hotels in all common areas, including while entering and exiting restaurants. At the hotels, you are allowed to remove the mask when seated at a table service restaurant, in your hotel room, or while actively swimming at a pool. Masks are required while walking around the hotel grounds, using the elevator, in the hallway, etc.
When wearing a face mask, can I walk really close to strangers?
Although “please fill in all available space” is a favorite catchphrase among theme park employees and walking uncomfortably close to strangers is a common American pastime, neither of these things are encouraged/allowed right now. Thankfully.
The use of face coverings is not a substitute for social distancing. Don’t let masks give you a false sense of security; they are not 100% effective and don’t make you invincible.
Does Universal Orlando sell masks?
Yes. Face coverings are available for purchase at select merchandise locations in CityWalk, Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, and the hotels. They are available in various sizes for kids and adults.
Keep in mind that you’ll need to wear a mask to enter any of the retail locations to purchase these masks, so you will want to bring your own.
Are the masks sold by Universal any good?
The designs are a 10/10, especially for those who love ‘classic’ Universal Studios Florida attractions like Kongfrontation, JAWS, E.T. Adventure, and Earthquake: the Big One.
Comfort-wise, they’re also pretty good, like an 8/10.
How many masks should we pack?
Our recommendation would be to carry at least two reusable masks per person each day. Perhaps 3 if you sweat a lot.
Many reusable masks can be hand-washed and dried overnight in your hotel room. In addition to whichever reusable masks you choose, we’d recommend some disposable ones. Failing that, you can always buy the Universal-branded masks in the parks if you need more in a pinch.
Any other mask-related accessories that are worth carrying?
Essentially anything that will help cool you down. Another absolutely necessary accessory is the Frogg Toggs Chilly Pad. We’ve been praising these things for years, as they’re basically space age magic. Great for keeping cool–but staying dry.
Another must-have accessory is the Life Straw Go Filter Water Bottle. Drinking fountain water in Florida is sourced directly from the swamp, and is actually 3% alligator urine. This bottle filters out the pee, and it’s BPA-free! It also uses a 2-stage activated carbon filter to reduce odor and chlorine, leaving zero aftertaste! (If you’re looking for a cheaper alternative, Brita Filter Water Bottles are great, too.)
Is Universal Orlando still fun despite face masks and all the changes?
We think so, but that’s in the eye of the beholder. Beyond the masks, there’s a far greater sense of normalcy at Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure than at Walt Disney World. Pretty much everything is operating at Universal Orlando, and there’s a full slate of entertainment in the parks. Universal feels alive and full of energy, even while working within the parameters of health safety protocol.
Nevertheless, it’s totally understandable if you don’t want to visit Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure while the face mask policy is in place. You’re certainly not alone, and it’s no secret that Americans are divided on the topic of face masks.
Need trip planning tips and comprehensive advice for your visit to Central Florida? Make sure to read our Universal Orlando Planning Guide for everything about Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. Also check out our Walt Disney World Vacation Planning Guide for everything about those parks, resorts, restaurants, and so much more. For regular updates, news & rumors, a heads up when discounts are released, and much more, sign up for our FREE email newsletter!
Do you have any questions this FAQ failed to answer? If you’ve visited since Universal Orlando reopened, what was your experience wearing masks? What about with enforcement and taking photos? Do you think there’s anything else guests should know before visiting in during this ‘temporary abnormal’ time? Will you be attempting to visit Central Florida this year, or are you waiting until 2022 or beyond? Do you agree or disagree with any of our advice or answers? Please keep the comments civil. This is not the place for arguing about efficacy, politics, and so forth–all such comments will be deleted, irrespective of perspective. Not only are you not going to change anyone’s mind via the comments section on this blog, but you’re not going to change Universal Orlando’s policy.