Universal Orlando Resort

We first heard about Universal's plans to add Facial Recognition or should we say Photo Validation to the parks when it was announced for Epic Universe by Universal Destination and Experiences CEO Mark Woodrow back in September. It was also announced that Photo Validation would be introduced to Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure in the future.

In mid-October we heard that Photo Validation was in technical rehearsal at Universal's Islands of Adventure , see further details below. Now, according to Screamscape, photo validation is being used at both Universal's Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida.

Universal Orlando Resort, Universal
Image: Universal

The traditional turnstile entry points have now been removed and Photo Validation terminals have replaced the old biometric finger scanners.

As explained below this new Photo Validation system will recognise guests which can be used for park entry, virtual queuing, and can be linked to a credit card for purchasing food and merchandise.

It aims to make guests experiences better by in theory allowing them to walk straight into the park without the need to stop at the turnstiles. Time should also be saved in virtual queues and for when paying for food and merchandise in retail outlets.

It appears that at the moment, guests will still have the ability to opt out of Photo Validation and will instead have to queue to show their proof of ID and admission to a Team Member. We assume this will be a timely option which we assume Universal will make as difficult as possible to encourage all guests to use the Photo Validation process for future visits.

According to a post by Bioreconstruct, posted on October 16,  Photo Validation began "technical rehearsal" at Universal's Islands of Adventure. On the sign displayed at the entrance to the park it clearly said that it will be used on an unscheduled and limited basis showing that this process is at the earliest stage of testing. This has now changed and is now being used at both Universal's Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida on a normal basis.

Interestingly, it again said that Photo Validation was optional and guests can opt-out. This opt-out choice which is currently available may not be guaranteed as easily in the future, if the park adopted a whole park Facial Recognition policy which we assume will be the case. This poses questions about privacy and personal choice.

We discussed the pros and cons regarding this process in our recent news article, Facial Recognition To Be Used At Epic Universe When It Opens In 2025, What Are The Pros And Cons?

As we understand it, here is a simplified version of how "photo validation" would likely work. It will capture a photo of a guests face at the park entrance which is then linked to their ticket or other credentials, connecting their face to their account. Through the use of scanners, guests can then be given access to the parts of the park and services their ticket allows throughout their visit.  

Before making your mind up about whether you are okay with this new Photo Validation system, the proposed system Universal has patented is that on exiting the park, your facial identification data is removed from the park database meaning it is only stored when you are actively in the theme park.

This also means that accuracy and success of facial recognition which was another con we discussed, should be better because the database is only storing a set amount of faces each day reducing the amount of processing power needed.

Universal's Islands of Adventure
Image: Universal

It is however, for many still another element to process in a world where more and more of our personal data seems to be stored and used in ways we may be fundamentally unhappy with.

Long gone are the days when we simply purchased a ticket and our finger prints and faces were not taken and stored on databases. Technology brings with it advances and convenience in connecting tickets and reservations but for many can cause a lot of added anxiety to what should be a stress-free enjoyable experience.

In a recent poll we asked you, Are you happy that Universal will use facial recognition at Epic Universe? It is interesting that the results of that poll still show that only 39% voted "yes" with a huge majority saying "no". However, it appears that the people voting in our new poll, are you happy that Photo Validation will be used at Universal's Islands of Adventure? We currently have 52% of people saying "yes" with 48% saying "no". That gives a small majority to the "yes" vote but it's certainly worrying the amount of people who appear unhappy about this new Photo Validation being used at Universal's Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida.

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It will be very interesting to see how this new Photo Validation system goes over the coming months. Let us know what you think about Photo Validation by voting in our poll or by leaving us a comment below or on our Facebook page.


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