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Universal Orlando Express Passes – Complete Insider’s Guide

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Welcome to the world’s most comprehensive, accurate, and up-to-date guide to Universal Orlando Resort's Express Passes. This guide has a lot of information, including several FAQs at the very bottom. We highly recommend that you take the time to thoroughly read through all of our information, as we cover many of the popular questions around this topic – including whether Express Passes are worth it on any given date.

What are Universal Express Passes?

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

For example, let’s say the normal line for Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit is a 45-minute wait, which would more than likely place the Express Pass line at about five to 10 minutes. This brings to light our first important point: Express Passes are not “front of the line” tickets. When Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure are busy, there will be a wait when using Express; however, that wait will be significantly shorter than the standby line, and you will rarely wait longer than 30 minutes.

Using Universal Express at rides vs. 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 everyone else, granting them better seats. However, to take advantage of this, you must be in the Express queue before the audience is admitted into the theater (usually 10 to 15 minutes before showtime). Once the Express Pass and standby lines have been admitted into the venue, your Express benefit is forfeited for that performance.

Beginning in 2017, Universal began to install a brand-new feature called Virtual Line at some of its attractions. In these instances, guests will need to wait virtually in line instead of doing so physically. This is accomplished by checking in with the official Universal Orlando app. On these attractions and experiences, your Express Pass will enable you to walk right onto the ride without having to fuss with the Virtual Line component at all.

Please know that Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and Pteranodon Flyers occasionally utilize the Virtual Line but do not accept Express Passes. When the Virtual Line passes have all been distributed, no additional guests will be able to enter the queue. Please keep in mind that we have not seen this offering recently, but it can still be offered from time to time.

What about Universal Express at Volcano Bay?

Express Passes at Volcano Bay, Universal’s water park, operate similarly as they do for the theme parks’ Virtual Line rides. Express Passes allow guests to walk right onto any water slide without first having to register virtually. There is still some important fine print to read through (including the fact that there are actually two different tiers of Express available at the park), so we suggest you see our complete guide to Volcano Bay’s tickets and study up before making a selection.

Which attractions offer Universal Express access?

Men in Black: Alien Attack entrance.
Men in Black Alien Attack entrance

There are currently about three dozen attractions between the three Universal Orlando parks that offer guests Express access. Here is the full list:

Universal Studios Florida – 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 wait time can be as high as half of the posted standby wait time.

Islands of Adventure – attractions with Express Access

Volcano Bay – attractions with Express access

Note: remember how we said Volcano Bay’s Express Passes were broken up into two different levels? These are basic, which covers only a handful of attractions at the water park, and Plus, which includes all of them.

Guests who purchase Express Passes for Volcano Bay will receive a wristband separate from their TapuTapu. This way, you can decide which attractions you want to use your Express Pass on and which you want to use with your regular TapuTapu virtual reservation system.

WARNING: Attractions Without Express Access

These are the notable attractions without Express access:

Do I have to pay for Express Passes?

Universal Express Lines inside of Universal's Islands of Adventure
Universal Express is available for purchase, even after you’ve entered the parks

Universal’s Express Passes must be purchased in addition to your theme-park admission, with the exception of staying at select Universal Orlando Resort hotels. Universal’s Express Passes can be purchased at a discounted rate through Orlando Informer here.

Please keep in mind that you will still need to purchase your tickets to Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, or Volcano Bay as Universal Express Passes do not include admission. While admission is required to utilize Express Passes, tickets can be purchased separately.

Are there different types of Express Passes?

There are, indeed, several types of Express Passes (beyond those in use at Volcano Bay, that is), and there is a variety of ways to get them.

Universal Express Passes as a standalone ticket

The basic Universal Express Pass is sold as a standalone ticket and allows a guest Express access one time at each participating attraction, similar to how you previously could only use Disney’s FastPass+ 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 ride. If you purchase one of these, you get to ride and re-ride the participating attractions and enjoy shows, as many times as you would like throughout the day using Express access.

Universal 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 their own ticket, even kids (aged three years or older). This means, of course, that 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 individuals to have Express access, you need to purchase one pass for each person.

Express Passes are sold in both one-park and two-park varieties. This is exactly what it sounds like – the one-park option grants you Express access for either Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure (you choose which one), while the two-park variation enables Express access at both theme parks for the day. Needless to say, the former will save you a little bit of money, should you only plan on going to one park for the day.

It’s really important to note that Express Passes are date-specific – when you purchase your pass, you will also need to select the date of your visit. Furthermore, the one-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’ll need to call Universal to update your passes – and you may have to pay more.

Unlimited Express access included with a Universal Orlando hotel

It’s true: if you stay at one of Universal’s three premier hotels – Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, and Royal Pacific Resort – you will receive complimentary unlimited Express access each day of your visit, including your check-in and check-out dates. At these hotels, your room key will not only access your room, but also double as your Express Pass.

HUGE REMINDER: the Express Passes offered at Universal Orlando’s three premier hotels do not cover Volcano Bay or separately ticketed events, such as Halloween Horror Nights. These events have their own dedicated Express Passes, and, even if you are staying on-site, you will need to purchase them separately if you want Express access at the water park or during a particular event.

LARGEST REMINDER EVER: if you’d like to stay at a hotel that offers Express access, make sure you select the right venue! Universal’s newer resorts, Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Sapphire Falls ResortAventura Hotel, and Endless Summer Resort, don’t feature the Express perk – but, then again, that’s precisely the reason why they feature rack rates that can be as much as 50% lower than their top-tier Universal counterparts.

Are Universal Express Passes worth it?

We finally arrive at the biggest question of them all: 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. 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 periods of the year, the average wait time at popular attractions (like The Incredible Hulk Coaster) can climb to 90 minutes, while headlining rides (like Despicable Me Minion Mayhem) can have waits of 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 pages for more detailed information.) In this case, an Express Pass can help tremendously. Even though you may not need Express access, think how much more enjoyable your day at the park will be when you can spend your time exploring and 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 – unless you have Express Passes.

Keep in mind that the longest wait times usually occur during the middle of the day, from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm – if you can visit before or after then, 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; with the possible exception of Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, it’s unlikely to find wait times longer than 30 minutes. What’s more, Express Passes rarely sell out when the park crowd levels are this low.

Consider using single-rider lines

Please know that single-rider queues are subject to availability at certain attractions. When available, we offer the following advice: if you’ve decided not to buy an Express Pass, take a look at which attractions utilize a single-rider line. This queue allows the attraction team members to fill in empty seats with passengers who are willing to ride next to someone they don’t know. Using the single-rider lines can significantly reduce your wait time, but you must remember that your party will be split up (even if you are with a child), and you will probably be seated next to someone you don’t know.

Universal Express Passes FAQ

Alien monster in Men in Black: Alien Attack queue
Alien monster in Men in Black Alien Attack queue

We’ve covered a lot already, but there’s still so much more to discuss! We’ve gathered the biggest questions you may still have about Universal’s Express Passes and collected them together for you below.

Do Express Passes have return times?

Unlike Disney’s Lightning Lane, 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 during Early Park Admission.)

Quick tip: if you have a basic Express Pass, which means you can only use it once per attraction, it’s best to save it for when there is a line longer than 15 minutes – if the wait is shorter than that, you might as well jump into the standby queue.

How much do Express Passes cost?

Just as hotels adjust room rates and airlines modify plane tickets based on demand, Universal also tweaks the price of its standalone Express Passes based on anticipated park attendance. As a result, the prices for the theme parks’ Express Passes fluctuate throughout each day of the year. Prices start at $89.99 for the basic Universal Express, $99.99 for Universal Express Unlimited, and $19.99 for Volcano Bay Express.

Once again, Universal Express Pass pricing is also not set in stone. If you look today, the price for a particular day may be $129.99; tomorrow, it’s possible that the price will increase or decrease. As a general rule of thumb, you can expect Express pricing to go up for busy dates, like the last week in December, as those periods approach – meaning that, if you have decided that you are for sure going to buy them, do so as soon as possible.

Check out the pricing for your travel dates by clicking here, selecting your date, and then the type of Express Pass you want.

Please note again that Express Passes are the same price for everyone, regardless of age; there is no child-age pricing like there is for regular tickets.

If you are looking for discounted admission to Universal Orlando Resort for your entire party, Orlando Informer has got you covered!

Do Express Passes sell out?

Express Passes may sell out, especially 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 in advance (noting, of course, that they are non-refundable).

Pro tip: standalone Express Passes can be purchased by themselves – you do not need to buy general park admission to get Express (or vice versa), but you will still need admission to utilize this offering. If you are still not quite sure where you are going to buy your admission but know right now that you want Express Passes, you can go ahead and purchase them.

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 those who want to get on the ride as fast as possible and are happy to sit anywhere. Since the front-row line usually starts about 20 feet before the main loading area, the question here is, if you are already in a separate queue because you’re using your Express Pass, will you be able to also get in the front-row line?

It turns out that only two of Universal’s rides has a separate front-row queue – Incredible Hulk and Jurassic World VelociCoaster – and since their Express line merges with the standby one before you reach the main loading area, you’ll be able to use your Express Pass and still choose to get in line for the front row.

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 separate from the standby line, 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, that is):

  • Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts (Universal Studios Florida – Diagon Alley)
  • Men in Black Alien Attack (Universal Studios Florida – World Expo)
  • The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man (Islands of Adventure – Marvel Super Hero Island)
  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey (Islands of Adventure – Hogsmeade)
  • Doctor Doom’s Fearfall (Islands of Adventure – Marvel Super Hero Island)
  • Skull Island: Reign of Kong (Islands of Adventure – Skull Island)

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

There only attraction that features an occasional in-queue photo op is Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts.  And, yes, if you use your Express Pass, you’ll be missing out.

Can I share my Express Pass with another guest?

It’s important to understand that all 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 ownership of your admission to another person.

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.

Do you have a question about the information on this page or would you like to provide feedback? Please let us know by posting in our Orlando Informer Community on Facebook.