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Universal Orlando Express Passes – complete insider’s guide

Welcome to the world’s most comprehensive, accurate, and up-to-date guide to Universal Orlando Express Passes. There is a lot of information in this guide, including several FAQs at the very bottom. We highly recommend that you take the time to read through all of our information thoroughly, as we will likely answer every question you have – including whether Express Passes are worth it on any given date.

Let’s get started!

What are Universal Express Passes?

Universal Express Passes allow guests to skip the regular standby line – and use a special Express Pass line – at most of the attractions in Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure.

Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit Express EntranceExpress Pass sign at Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit.

For example, let’s say the regular standby line for Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit is a 45-minute wait. Then the Express Pass line will likely get you on the ride in about five to 10 minutes. This brings to light our first important point: Express Passes are not “front of the line” passes. When Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure are busy, there will be a wait when using Express Passes. However, the wait will be significantly shorter than the standby line, and you will practically never wait longer than 15 minutes.

RIDES VERSUS SHOWS

If the attraction is a ride, the Express Pass line is a separate, shorter queue than the standby line. If the attraction is a show, guests with Express Passes are allowed into the venue before guests without them, granting Express Pass guests better seats. However, to take advantage of this, you must be in the Express Pass line before the audience is admitted into the theater (usually 10-15 minutes before the show). Once both the Express Pass line and the standby line have been admitted, your Express Pass benefit is forfeited for that performance.

Which attractions offer Express access?

There are currently about 30 attractions between the two Universal Orlando theme parks that offer guests Express Pass access. Here is the full list:

Universal Studios Florida – Attractions with Express access

Islands of Adventure – attractions with Express access

*** Despicable Me Minion Mayhem is the only attraction whose Express Pass line routinely has a wait longer than 15 minutes. In fact, because of the ride’s small capacity, Despicable Me’s Express Pass wait time can be as high as half of the posted standby wait time.

WARNING: These are the notable attractions without Express access…

Muggles, please note that the other two attractions inside of Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure – Dragon Challenge and Flight of the Hippogriff – do have Express access.

Do I have to pay for Express Passes?

With a few exceptions, Universal’s Express Passes must be purchased. We’ll discuss pricing in a bit; for the moment, what you need to know is that you will most likely have to pay for them one way or another, and that an Express Pass is separate from an admission ticket. So, yes, if you want to go into the park and enjoy Express access, you will need to purchase two separate tickets (again, with a few exceptions, which we will address very soon).

Do Express Passes have return times?

Unlike Disney’s FastPasses, there are no “return times” for Express Passes. You get to use your Express access at whatever time you want to. Just be aware that Express access is not available for Early Park Admission.

Quick tip: if you have a one-use-per-participating Express Pass, its best to save it for when there is a line longer than 15 minutes at your favorite attraction – if the wait is shorter than 15 minutes, you might as well jump into the standby line.

Are there different types of Express Passes?

There are indeed several various types of Express Passes, some of which include unlimited Express access, and there is a variety of ways to get them.

Universal Express Passes as a standalone ticket

The basic “Universal Express” sold as a standalone ticket allows a guest Express access one time at each participating attraction. This means you can use it at each participating attraction listed at the top of this page, but only one time, similar to how you can only use Disney’s FastPasses once per reservation. If you want to ride anything again, you will need to use the standby line.

“Universal Express Unlimited” is a second standalone ticket option that offers unlimited Express access at each participating attraction. If you purchase one of these, you get to ride and re-ride the participating attractions, and visit the shows, as many times as you would like throughout the day using Express access.

Universal Express Pass options sold onlineUniversal Express Pass options sold online.

Express Passes sold as a standalone ticket are good for one day only, and each member of your party needs his or her own ticket, even kids (three years or older). So if you are going to Universal’s theme parks for multiple days and you want Express access for each of those days, you will need to purchase multiple Express Passes. Likewise, if you have multiple guests in your party and you want all those guests to have Express access, you need to purchase one pass for each person.

Universal Express Passes are sold as 1-Park or Both Parks. This is exactly what it sounds like. The 1-Park Express Pass is only good for the theme park you select, either Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure. It will save you a little bit of money should you only plan on going to one theme park for the day (and it’s the obvious choice if you have a single-park admission ticket). The “Both Parks” Express Pass is good at both theme parks for the day, and as a result it costs a bit more.

Universal Express Passes are date-specific. When you purchase your pass, you will also need to select the date of your visit. Furthermore, the 1-Park Express Passes are park-specific, meaning that you have to select the date of your visit and which one of the two theme parks you will be entering. (If you change your plans after buying your Express Passes, you need to call Universal to update your passes – and you may have to pay more.)

Guests can purchase Universal Express Passes as a standalone ticket online, over the phone (407-224-7840), at the theme park gates, and throughout both parks at dozens of locations. Please be aware that Express Passes are not available from third-party vendors such as Undercover Tourist. Also, there is no such thing as a “discount” Express Passes sold as a standalone ticket; for planning purposes, they’re the same price everywhere for everyone.

Unlimited Express bundled with Park-to-Park admission

In addition to Express Passes as a standalone ticket, Universal also sells what they now refer to as a PARK-TO-PARK TICKET + UNIVERSAL EXPRESS UNLIMITED. Guests who have been traveling to Universal for a while will remember these as “VIP Tickets” (not to be confused with Universal’s VIP Tours). As indicated by its newer name, a PARK-TO-PARK TICKET + UNIVERSAL EXPRESS UNLIMITED is park admission and unlimited Express access bundled into one ticket.

These tickets are available in the one-day or multi-day variety. Admission and unlimited Express access is included for however many days you choose. Please note that a PARK-TO-PARK TICKET + UNIVERSAL EXPRESS UNLIMITED is date-specific in the sense that you must select non-peak, standard, peak, or holiday based on your travel dates. However, you do not have to use your days consecutively. Like standard admission tickets, once your ticket is first used, you have a 14-day window to use any remaining days on the ticket.

PARK-TO-PARK TICKET + UNIVERSAL EXPRESS UNLIMITED must be purchased through Universal, either online or over the phone (407-224-7840).

What if the price of a multi-day option changes over my travel dates? Universal has told us that the date you select when purchasing a PARK-TO-PARK TICKET + UNIVERSAL EXPRESS UNLIMITED should correspond with the very first date you use the ticket at the parks, regardless of whether the price fluctuates on subsequent dates.

Can I save money by bundling? In other words, can a guest save money with a PARK-TO-PARK TICKET + UNIVERSAL EXPRESS UNLIMITED versus buying an admission ticket and then a separate, standalone Universal Express Unlimited ticket? Well, let’s see what happens if we were just visiting one day, on Thanksgiving 2014:

  • PARK-TO-PARK TICKET + UNIVERSAL EXPRESS UNLIMITED for one day, November 27: $229.99
  • Park-to-Park admission ticket for one day: $136.00
  • “Both Parks” Universal Express Unlimited for one day, November 27, 2014: $99.99
  • Total for buying separate, standalone tickets: $235.00

Now let’s see what happens with a four-day visit in early December 2014:

  • PARK-TO-PARK TICKET + UNIVERSAL EXPRESS UNLIMITED for four days, starting December 12: $379.99
  • Park-to-Park admission ticket for four days: $195.99
  • “Both Parks” Universal Express Unlimited for four days, starting December 12: $349.96 **
  • Total for buying separate, standalone tickets: $545.95

As you see in these examples, yes, the saving do add up significantly if you are planning to visit multiple days. Keep in mind that the prices quoted above do not include tax, and as always, are subject to change until the dates past. Be sure to do your own math diligently before making a final purchasing decision.

** For the purposes of this calculation, the Express Pass prices on December 12, 13, 14 & 15 were used. However, remember that you are not required to use the PARK-TO-PARK TICKET + UNIVERSAL EXPRESS UNLIMITED option on consecutive days, as we noted earlier.

Unlimited Express access included with an on-site hotel

It’s true: if you stay at one of Universal’s three on-site hotels that offer express – Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, or Royal Pacific Resort – you will receive complimentary unlimited Express access each day of your visit, including your check-in and check-out days. As of July 2012, Universal has implemented a PHOTO Express Pass procedure for on-site guests. So, whereas in the past you used your room key as your unlimited Express Pass, nowadays you need to step up to one of the new kiosks and get a separate PHOTO Express Pass. It’s a very quick process. Here is the final product:

Universal Orlando’s PHOTO Express PassUniversal Orlando’s PHOTO Express Pass.

There are multiple kiosks at each of the three on-site hotels that offer express. In addition, there are kiosks at the parks’ Guest Services locations, and one located at Jurassic Park in Islands of Adventure. You DO need your room key to be issued a PHOTO Express Pass, but you DO NOT need your room key for Express access once you have your pass.

Only one pass is issued per guest for the entire duration of that guest’s stay (a VALID THROUGH date is printed on the pass, which is your check-out date, see the photo above). If you lose your pass, you will need to speak with a member of the hotel staff or Guest Services to get it replaced.

Every guest registered to a room at Universal’s on-site hotels is given a room key, even kids. Therefore, you can and should get an Express Pass for everyone too, even if you’re thinking that a younger guest may not use it. Remember, each person needs his or her own Express Pass. If you don’t end up using it, at least you got a free souvenir!

HUGE REMINDER: The Express access included with a stay at three of Universal’s on-site hotels does NOT cover separately ticketed events, such as Halloween Horror Nights or Rock the Universe. Those events have their own Express Passes, and even if you are staying on-site, you will need to purchase them if you want Express access during the event.

LARGEST REMINDER EVER: In 2014, Universal opened its fourth on-site hotel, Cabana Bay Beach Resort. It’s extremely important to know that, as a “prime value” property, Cabana Bay does offer the lowest rates of Universal’s on-site hotels, but it does NOT offer unlimited Express access as a benefit – which is part of the reason why Cabana Bay is able to offer rooms as low as $99.00 per night. Don’t let this turn you off from staying at the new hotel! Simply use the cash you’re saving by booking at Cabana Bay instead of Hard Rock Hotel and put that toward the purchase of a PARK-TO-PARK TICKET + UNIVERSAL EXPRESS UNLIMITED, which we explained in detail above. If you do so, the net result will be the same as though you were staying at one of the three properties that do offer express.

Sapphire Falls Resort, opening in summer of 2016, also does not offer complimentary express. Sapphire Falls is a preferred hotel like Royal Pacific, but does enjoy lower rates thanks to the lack of express.

How much do Express Passes cost?

Just like hotels adjust room rates and airlines adjust plane tickets based on demand, Universal also adjusts the price of its standalone Express Passes based on anticipated theme park attendance. As a result, the prices for Express Passes fluctuate throughout the year from $34 to as much as $159 per person, per day.

Express Pass pricing is also not set in stone. If you look today the price for a particular day may be $59. Tomorrow, it’s possible that the price will go up (if Universal sees that they’re selling more than they expected), or the price may go down (if Universal sees that they’re not selling enough at the current price point). As a general rule of thumb, you can expect Express Pass pricing to GO UP for busy dates like the last week in December as those dates approach. So, if you have decided that you are for sure going to buy them, do so as soon as possible.

Pricing for “Both Parks” Universal Express UnlimitedPricing for “Both Parks” Universal Express Unlimited.

Check out the pricing for your travel dates by clicking here, then selecting CHOOSE DATES in the Express Pass section.

Please note again that Express Passes are the same price for everyone, regardless of age. There are no child discounts for Express Passes like there are for regular admission tickets. In fact, Express Passes are essentially never discounted in any way for anyone. Sometimes you will be able to find “discount” admission tickets, but you will never find discount Express Passes. And as we mentioned above, Express Passes are only available for purchase directly from Universal Orlando.

Do Express Passes sell out?

Although rare, Express Passes can potentially sell out during Universal’s busiest times, like the last week in December. That’s why, if you are going in a peak busy season, you should buy your Express Passes now, noting that they are non-refundable.

Tip: standalone Express Passes can be purchased by themselves – you do not need to purchase an admission ticket to purchase an Express Pass or vice versa. So if you are still not quite sure where you are going to buy your admission but you know right now that you want Express Passes, you can go ahead and buy the Express Passes.

What’s the deal with “Express Pass Plus”?

This is a bit of a history lesson. When Universal Orlando first opened, it did not offer Express Passes. The idea of paid Express access was a concept added later on.

When Universal eventually introduced the Express Passes, each one only included quick access to a small group of attractions in a certain area, say the New York backlot of Universal Studios Florida. If you also wanted quick access to attractions in a different area, you had to purchase a different Express Pass.

As the program became more popular, Universal introduced the Express Pass Plus. This enhanced ticket allowed guests Express access to all the attractions throughout the entire theme park.

Nowadays there are no more “non-Plus” Express Passes that are limited to only a certain area within one of the theme parks. In this sense, every Express Pass that is sold today is an Express Pass Plus. That is why you may see the word “Plus” as part of some of Universal’s older advertising but no option to buy a “non-Plus” version.

Are Universal Express Passes worth it?

We finally arrive at the big question: is an Express Pass a good value? We’ll do our best to guide you to a decision.

Express Passes are all about cutting down your wait time in lines or getting better seats at the shows. They do not open up any part of the theme parks that is not available to everyone else. So the real questions to answer are: (1) how much time do you have and (2) how much patience do you have for waiting in lines?

WHEN UNIVERSAL ORLANDO IS BUSY

During Universal’s busiest times, the average wait time at the popular attractions (like The Incredible Hulk Coaster) can climb to 90 minutes, while the headlining attractions (like Despicable Me Minion Mayhem) can have wait times over 120 minutes. Even the wait times for less popular attractions can be 45 minutes or more. See our FREE 12-month Universal crowd calendar and our Ride wait times based on crowd levels page for more detailed information. In this case, an Express Pass can help tremendously. Even though you may not need an Express Pass, think how much more enjoyable your day at the theme park will be when you can spend your time exploring, having fun, and not waiting in lines.

Furthermore, if you are trying to see both Universal theme parks in one day during busy times, you simply will not be able to see and do everything – without great discomfort to yourself and others in your party – without Express Passes.

However, there are three more points to consider. First, the Wizarding World’s Escape from Gringotts (USF), Forbidden Journey (IOA), and the Hogwarts Express (both parks) do not offer Express access. In addition, if a queue system is in use to control crowd flow into Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade, an Express Pass will not allow you to bypass that system. Finally, the longest wait times usually occur during the middle of the day, from 11:00am to 3:00pm. If you can visit before 11:00am or stay later than 3:00pm, you will experience shorter wait times.

WHEN UNIVERSAL ORLANDO IS MODERATE OR SLOW

When Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure are slower, Express Passes become much more of a convenience and not at all a necessity. Other than inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley & Hogsmeade (and possibly Despicable Me Minion Mayham), it’s unlikely to find wait times longer than 30 minutes. What’s more, Express Passes never sell out when the park crowd levels are moderate or slow. That means, if you decide you want Express Passes after all, you will have no problem buying them inside the theme parks. What we tell people is wait until you get there, see what the lines are like, and then decide.

Remember, you can also upgrade your existing admission ticket to the PARK-TO-PARK TICKET + UNIVERSAL EXPRESS UNLIMITED option at Guest Services. So if you’ve made it on-site, observed the crowds, crunched the numbers, and now see that the bundled ticket is a better value than you first anticipated, head to Guest Services.

REMINDER: EXPRESS PASSES JUST FOR THE WIZARDING WORLD OF HARRY POTTER

If you are just planning on visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Diagon Alley & Hogsmeade, then an Express Pass will be of little use to you. The only attractions in the expansive Wizarding World that offer Express Pass access are Dragon Challenge and Flight of the Hippogriff. These two attractions do not often have wait times longer than 30 minutes except at the busiest of times. What’s more, if Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade are using their queued entry system just to enter the area, Express Passes won’t help you.

So if you spend money on an Express Pass just for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you will likely just be frustrated when you can’t use your Express to skip the 90-minute queue for Escape from Gringotts, then go to use your EP on Dragon Challenge only to find it’s a walk-on.

Additional Express Pass questions & answers

If I use an Express Pass, will I be able to sit in the front row on the rides?

Theme park veterans know that many thrill rides already have two queues: one for guests who want to sit in the front row and one for guests who want to get on the ride as fast as possible and are happy to sit anywhere. The “front row” queue usually splits off from the regular queue about 20 feet before the main loading area.

The question here is, if you are already in a separate queue because you’re using Express access, will you be able to also get in the front row queue?

First off, only two of Universal’s rides have separate front row queues: Incredible Hulk and Dragon Challenge in Islands of Adventure. (Technically you could call this three since Dragon Challenge has two coasters.) For all three rides, the Express queue and the regular queue merge before you get to the main loading area. Therefore, you would be able to choose the front row line.

Can I jump from the regular queue over to the Express queue after I get past the guy with the scanner?

Obviously this is against park policy and will get you kicked out of the park, so we wouldn’t advise trying it in the first place. But if you are thinking about it, be aware that Universal generally sets up two scan points for Express: one scan point at the very front of the attraction where you first enter, and a second scan point midway through the Express queue. The second scan point is chosen strategically, and it is usually placed at a location where guests can no longer physically get from one queue to the other, or after the two lines merge.

If I use the Express Pass queue, will I miss out on the storyline or theming?

Since in most instances the Express Pass queue is a separate queue from standby, the answer is yes. However, not every attraction has a not-to-be-missed queue experience. If you really want to see the best of the best, we recommend going through the regular queue at these attractions if the wait time is reasonable:

  • MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack (USF – World Expo)
  • Revenge of the Mummy (USF – New York)
  • The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man (IOA – Marvel Super Hero Island)
  • Dragon Challenge (IOA – Hogsmeade)
  • Dr. Doom’s Fearfall (IOA – Hogsmeade)

If I use the Express Pass queue, will I miss out on the in-queue photo ops?

There is only one attraction that features an in-queue photo op and Express Pass access, and that is The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man (IOA – Marvel Super Hero Island). And yes, if you use the Express Pass line, you will miss the photo op.

So if you like what you see at the Photo Connect desk in the Spider-Man gift shop, you’ll need to make a trip through the regular queue. Keep in mind that the actual Spider-Man character photo op isn’t in the attraction queue, but rather, across the way in a separate building (see the in-park guidemap for the exact location). For more information, visit our Complete guide to Universal Photo Connect.

Can you tell me again how Express Passes work for shows?

All the big shows at Universal Orlando have a separate queue for folks with Express Pass access, quite similar to the rides. When the doors open for show seating, the Express Pass line gets first shot at the seats, and then everyone else is let in.

The key to successfully using Express Passes for shows is to keep in mind that an Express Pass won’t help once the standby queue has been let into the theater. So if you get there only 5 minutes before show time and they have already let in the Express Pass line and the standby line, you will get whatever seats you get — regardless of whether you have an Express Pass.

If you visit on a crowded day, we’d recommend that you get to the shows about 20 to 30 minutes before they are scheduled to begin. If you visit when it is slower, cut that down to 10 or 20 minutes.

Can I share my Express Pass with another guest?

To start back at the beginning, it’s important to understand that all admission tickets, annual passes, and Express Passes sold at Universal Orlando are non-transferable (which is a very common practice for theme parks). This means you cannot legally sell or otherwise give the ownership of your ticket to another person.

This most commonly is a problem when people unwittingly buy partially-used “discount” admission tickets. They bring their used tickets to the turnstiles, and even though the tickets may have days left on them, the guests can’t get in because they’re using someone else’s tickets – and all tickets are non-transferable.

As a lot of folks know, theme parks monitor this by requiring guests to have a biometric scan of their thumb or index finger taken, which is linked to each guest’s ticket in the park’s computer system. But what about Express Passes? Since Universal doesn’t scan fingers when guests enter the Express lines, does that mean it’s okay to share them? Officially, no it is not. Even though Universal doesn’t yet have a robust system to deter sharing of standalone Express Passes, it’s still technically not allowed. Again, all tickets are non-transferable.

But can you get away with it? The answer to this question is, in some cases, yes. The reason why is that the only identifying information on paper Express Passes, if there’s any at all, is a name. So as long as the person using the Express Pass looks like he or she could conceivably have the name on the ticket, then there really is no way for a line attendant to know otherwise (and we’ve never seen a line attendant ask for photo ID as proof).

But remember, this is against policy, so if you want to try to share Express Passes, you do so at your own risk. We’re not encouraging it – indeed, we’re encouraging you not to do it because you might lose your Express Passes or even be banned from the park.

We should also note that, while guests don’t have to scan their fingers when they enter the Express lines, the passes themselves are usually scanned. This means, if you have a one-use-per-participating-attraction Express Pass, plan on only being able to use it one time per participating attraction.

Sharing the Express Pass access granted by a on-site stay

The section above describes the use of standalone Express Passes, like the ones you can buy online. The unlimited Express access you receive as a guest at select Universal on-site hotels is a completely different ballgame. As you saw at the top of this page, those passes have your photo printed on them, so it will be nearly impossible to share them unless its with your twin. In fact, this is exactly why Universal implemented PHOTO Express Passes for on-site guests.

Congratulations – you’re now a “Universal Express Pass” genius! And now that you’ve read this guide, you’ll want to proceed directly to this page:

The secret to getting UNLIMITED Express Passes for less

The Script: TICKETS, PACKAGES & PLANNING