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The Ultimate Guide on When to Use Express Pass at Universal Orlando

by Leap on December 7, 2022 3076 Orlando

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Thrills! Action! Transformers! Butterbeer! We always look forward to hopping down to Universal Orlando Resort. Between Universal Studios Florida, Universal's Islands of Adventure and Universal's Volcano Bay, we have plenty of places to play. One of the ways we experience more and wait in line less is with the Universal Express pass. Universal's skip-the-line access is a big help in the parks, especially on crowded days. But it isn't free — unless you stay on-site at select Universal hotels. Understanding how and when to use the Express pass at Universal Orlando is your key to a great visit. This post explains everything you need to know! And in some hopping good news ... we frogs are selling Universal Express passes at a discount!

Universal Orlando Express - Express Pass

What Is Universal Express Pass?

Universal Express allows you to skip the lines at most Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure attractions and access priority seating at shows. (It is a separate purchase to include Universal's Volcano Bay.)

Universal offers Universal Express passes for most of the popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter rides, including Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts. The only rides that do not have Express access in either park are Jurassic World VelociCoasterHagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and Pteranodon Flyers at Universal's Islands of Adventure.

In the past, some rides have used a Virtual Line, which may open back up during busy periods (the Virtual Line is used on an as-needed basis). If you have a Universal Express Pass, you generally do not have to get a Virtual Line pass for any ride but Hagrid's. However, during the busiest of times, an Express queue may reach capacity and a Virtual Line pass would be the only way to access a ride.

How Express Pass Works at Universal Orlando

Express Pass Universal Orlando - Scanning Express Pass at Ride Entrance

When you approach a ride with Universal Express, show your pass to the attendant. Some rides (mainly those with short, outdoor queues), such as Flight of the Hippogriff, will scan the pass right then and there as you arrive at the ride entrance.

For popular rides with more elaborate and longer queues, a team member will check the pass and let you enter the Express queue. Then, closer to the ride loading area (this distance varies by ride), a second team member will scan your pass, so hold on to your pass and keep it ready. Some Universal Express queues will eventually merge with a ride's standby queue, such as Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit. On the flip side, other Express queues are entirely separated from a ride's standby queue, such as Skull Island: Reign of Kong.

Know that the Universal Express pass is not a group pass. Everyone in your party will need their own Universal Express pass. Also, the passes are non-transferrable. If you're staying at a Universal hotel that offers the free Express pass benefit, your hotel room key will act as the pass. Each person will have a personalized hotel key.

It's also important to note that for rides with metal detectors such as The Incredible Hulk Coaster, Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit and Jurassic World VelociCoaster, all of your belongings must be stowed away in a locker except for your Express Pass (which you'll need to get into the corresponding line). Make sure at least one frog in your party has pockets or a place on their clothing to store your passes. Lanyards with pouches can go through the metal detectors but must be tucked into your shirt prior to boarding the ride vehicle.

Universal Orlando Single Rider Lines

Express Pass Universal - Hulk

Single Rider lines can sometimes be even faster than Universal Express pass lines. If you don't mind splitting up your party on the ride, you can experience some of the most popular rides much more quickly. Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey's Single Rider line, in particular, is the best for saving time and is often faster than the Express queue. (It's also easy to miss. Keep your eyes up as soon as you enter the castle to spot the Single Rider sign. It's going to direct you to a staircase on your left.) The Single Rider lines go straight to the loading area, though the exact speed can depend on the flow of odd-numbered groups. You and your party will be together in the queue, but you will split up on the ride as you fill an empty seat. It is important to note that Single Rider lines may not always be open. They periodically open and close depending on how filled to capacity the queue is.

Single Rider Lines at Universal's Islands of Adventure:

Express Pass Universal - Men in Black

Single Rider Lines at Universal Studios Florida:

Keep in mind that some Universal Express and most Single Rider lines skip major portions of the queue. We get that the point of this whole thing is to spend less time waiting. However, some of the queues are spectacular and help set up the ride's storyline. For example, if it's your first time on Skull Island: Reign of Kong or Revenge of the Mummy, we recommend experiencing the regular queue (the Express lines skip major parts). If you've been there, done that, take the route that's best for you.

If you're a Harry Potter fan, good news. The Express queue for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey misses the outdoor greenhouse and smaller details inside. But the major parts of the castle, such as Dumbledore's Office and the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom, are not toadally out of view. For Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, the Express queue is essentially the same as the standby line, only moving faster. Both Single Rider lines still don't get the full experience as standby, however.

Universal Express Pass Options

Express Pass Universal - Pass Back

There are two types of Universal Express passes:

You can use the Universal Express Unlimited pass an unlimited number of times at participating rides and attractions each day that your pass is valid. You can use the Universal Express Standard pass one time per ride each day that your pass is valid.

While it is slightly more costly, the Unlimited option can be invaluable depending on your needs and priorities. We highly recommend opting for Unlimited if you:

Express Pass Universal - Hogwarts Express

  • Want to ride the Hogwarts Express both ways more than once instead of wasting time and energy walking from park to park
  • Struggle with screen rides and/or have a history of motion sickness so you can get on the rides you better tolerate as many times as you want
  • Are not particularly into roller coaster and want to re-ride attractions you love over and over again
  • Have tadpoles attached to specific Express pass accepting rides to avoid potential future meltdowns
  • Have tadpoles at an awkward height so they have the ability to enjoy the rides they can get on more than once
  • Are visiting with a large group since it gives you flexibility to split up and ride more or less of your favorite rides

Additionally, Florida is notorious for its thunderstorms—especially in the summer. Many outdoor Express pass accepting rides will close if there's thunder or lightning in the area. If you went with Standard and didn't hold onto your one-time ride on an indoor attraction, you'll be forced to wait in the inevitably long Standby queue when the rain hits at rides you already utilized Express on. Opting for Unlimited allows you to re-ride to your heart's content!

Both types of Universal Express passes are available for one park per day or both parks per day. It can be purchased online ahead of time through us or Universal directly, or while you're at the parks. We like this flexibility. Sometimes you don't know you want an Express pass until you're already in the parks!

Universal offers separate passes for Universal's Volcano Bay. These are per day, and you have the option of skipping the virtual lines at select rides and attractions, or you can pay more with an Express Plus pass to skip the virtual lines at all rides and attractions inside the water park.

How Much Is Universal Express Pass?

Universal Express Pass - In-Park Kiosk

Ultimately, it depends.

If you are staying on-site at one of Universal's premier resort hotels, Universal Express Unlimited is included with your stay for every day of your visit. That includes your date of check-in and departure. The value of this cannot be underestimated, especially during busier times. Yes, hotels are priced based on expected crowds, but if you are already considering purchasing Express Pass, you should do the math and see if it makes sense to stay on-site. For larger groups of three or more, it is often still cheaper to stay on-site with Unlimited Express versus staying off-site and purchasing Unlimited Express separately. You get the added benefit of being so close to the parks when you stay on-site, plus access to all of the fabulous pools, plush rooms and other on-site amenities. If you are staying at a premier resort hotel and are planning on hitting the parks on your arrival day, no worries! The front desk can help you get your Express pass so you're ready to roll, while the Bell Desk safely stores your luggage.

Hotels with Universal Express Unlimited:

Universal Premier Hotels

Universal's Cabana Bay Beach ResortLoews Sapphire Falls Resort, Universal's Aventura Resort and Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn and Suites & Dockside Inn and Suites do not offer Universal Express Unlimited, but they do offer Early Park Admission to select rides inside Universal's Volcano Bay water park and Universal's Islands of Adventure and/or Universal Studios Florida. Keep in mind that you still need regular admission to enter the park.

If you are not staying on-site and wish to purchase Universal Express passes, the cost varies by day and expected crowds. So during peak times, prices will be higher. Keep in mind that Universal Express passes could sell out, but this is likely only during the very busiest times. Universal Express is separate from regular admission. It doesn't matter which tickets you have purchased ...  you can add on Universal Express as needed. If you aren't sure you will need or want the passes, we recommend you hold off purchasing until you arrive (though it will cost you more, as the price tends to increase as the date gets closer, leading up to the day of). Note that Universal Express is date-specific, so you will need to know what days you plan to be in the parks if you plan to buy the passes ahead of your visit.

When to Use Express Passes at Universal Orlando

Express Pass Universal Orlando - Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey Express Queue

Finally, we get to the most important part of the post — when to use Universal Express. Our recommendations are fairly simple.

Anytime it's free.

OK, it's never really FREE, free, but if you are staying on-site at a premier hotel, you aren't paying for it directly. Even if the parks aren't super crowded, you will still save time by using Universal Express passes. And there is nothing better than skipping the regular line! If you're a regular, the Premier Passholder level grants you unlimited Universal Express access after 4 p.m.

When the parks are expected to be super busy.

When our Crowd Calendar predicts crowds of 8, 9 or 10, these are prime times to consider Express passes. You might even consider it on 7 if you are particularly crowd-averse. If you're visiting during the peak of summer or around the major holidays (especially the week between Christmas and New Year), you should give this serious consideration.

If you only have a day and want to see as much as possible.

Do you have a short trip (or only a day for Universal) and want to experience one or especially both parks? Then Universal Express passes are a good idea. If you are going during one of those super busy days, the pass is a must to get the most done during your time.

Is the Universal Express Pass Worth It?

Express Pass Universal - Hippogriff

No matter when you visit, having Universal Express will be a time-saver. How much time can depend on the ride and certain situations. If you do purchase an Express pass, avoid using it (especially if you have the standard, one-time-use pass) immediately after a ride reopens if it's been down. Many people will then get in line and inflate the wait time for both standby, Express and even Single Rider queues. Just come back to the ride later in the day.

On a recent visit, Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure was delayed during Early Park Admission, causing the Single Rider line to drastically back up throughout most of the morning. We got in the Single Rider line at 11:45 a.m. and didn't get off the ride until 1 p.m. That being said, the wait was less than the posted standby which read 100 minutes. However, the standby line was significantly shorter later in the day just minutes before park closing as we waited less than an hour. (Don't count on your last ride being at night, though, in case the coaster closes due to weather and doesn't reopen.)

On that same visit, though, we found Express to be incredibly beneficial. We entered the Express line for Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey when standby said it was a 95-minute wait. We ended up getting on and off with Express in just 10 minutes! The same hoppened at Kang & Kodos' Twirl 'n' Hurl — it was a 45-minute standby wait, and we hopped on and off with Express within 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, for the Hogwarts Express in Hogsmeade, we waited about 10 minutes in the Express pass queue, when standby said 15 minutes. Also with the Express pass, we waited 35 minutes for Despicable Me Minion Mayhem when standby said 50 minutes. Even though these ones moved a bit slower, it's still time saved!

The big question is really how much you value the time you save. During less busy times, we think it's nice to have, but not a must-have. You may feel differently. It's all about what you value!

Are There Other Ways to Save Time in the Parks?

Universal Express Pass - Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit at Sunset

If you don't want to spring for Express passes, or they are just out of the budget, do not fret! There are still great ways to save time in the parks. If you follow us frogs often, you probably know these by heart.

Buy your tickets in advance.

You do not want to waste any of your precious time standing in line to buy tickets at the gate to start off your day. Plus you will save more money if you buy in advance.

Arrive at the parks ahead of the official opening time.

Express Pass Universal - VelociCoaster

The gates often open even before their official opening time, so you can get a hop on your day. This is the least busy the parks will be all day, so it is the best time to visit the most popular rides such as Jurassic World VelociCoaster. If you are staying on-site at one of Universal's hotels, take advantage of Early Park Admission to the parks, especially Universal's Volcano Bay. While it may just be an extra hour, we've been able to hop to three different roller coasters before the park officially opens using this epic benefit!

Follow a park plan.

We have several park plans for Universal that were created with families in mind. You can see them here or via our app (you can also tailor one of our preset plans to your own needs using the app).

Use the Single Rider lines. 

As mentioned above, the Single Riders line is often even faster than Universal Express. As long as you're fine with splitting up the group, Single Rider lines can be major time-savers.

Whew! We've covered a lot of ground here. Have questions about Universal Express Pass that we haven't answered? Share them in the comments below! 

Related: Top 20 Tips to Maximize Your Time at Universal Orlando Resort

Keep hopping!

Keep hopping, Leap!
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1–50 of 2478 comments
Jan 3, 2023 at 3:51 p.m. Mike Says...

Just got back from our trip to Universal (12/27-12/29). Obviously, we knew the crowds would be significant the week after Christmas but it was insane how crowded the parks were. People were waiting 45+ to get Butter Beer and food orders. During our stay, Hagrid's Motorbike wait times were 240 minutes by 8 AM even though the park had only been open for an hour.

(parks opened early for onsite hotel guests at 7 AM.) Regardless, the wait times for literally every ride at both parks were over an hour and any Harry Potter ride was easily +120 minute wait times. VelociCoaster wait times were also consistently +120 minutes. In my opinion, there is absolutely no way you could go to either park and have an enjoyable time WITHOUT the express pass. If we didn't have them, I would have left. Honestly, I would just consider the cost of the Express Pass as the cost of a ticket of admission. I felt guilty walking onto many rides watching others wait in exhaustingly long lines.

Dec 12, 2022 at 5:33 a.m. Bryan Hilton Says...

This pass would be great if you want to get more value for your time at Universal!

Dec 12, 2022 at 3:57 a.m. Jessica Birr Says...

I didn’t even know they had these!

Dec 12, 2022 at 3:38 a.m. Becky Says...

Thank you for all the tips on express pass!

Dec 12, 2022 at 3:37 a.m. Cheri66 Says...

Great info, especially for newbies. Your park itineraries are such great time-savers, but I know how long the lines can get for some of the rides,and the Express Passes are the way to travel Universal/IOA!

Dec 12, 2022 at 3:35 a.m. Michelle Hortenberry Says...

Great tips! Can't wait to go!

Dec 12, 2022 at 3:10 a.m. Michele Zils Says...

We’ve never used this since we always seem to visit in the less busy season but great info!

Dec 12, 2022 at 3:06 a.m. ben Says...

I bought the one time unlimited pass in 2016. Too bad it wasn't valid for the Harry Potter rides

Dec 12, 2022 at 2:59 a.m. TheShafferFive Says...

Very beneficial information on what sounds to be quite the time saving add-on! When we finally get the chance to visit Universal, I think it will be with the assistance of Universal's Express Pass.

Dec 12, 2022 at 2:20 a.m. Michelle Loomis Says...

Great information! I hope I get to use it in the next few years!

Dec 12, 2022 at 2:20 a.m. Erica Gray Says...

I love this so much

Dec 12, 2022 at 1:56 a.m. Tasha Wilkerson Says...

The express pass sounds like a great idea!

Dec 12, 2022 at 1:50 a.m. Kayla M Says...

Such good information. I’ve never been but I’m hoping to chance that soon.

Dec 12, 2022 at 1:06 a.m. maryg Says...

The new pass system is so confusing

Dec 12, 2022 at 1:06 a.m. Scott D Says...

If you have to go at a busy time, I think it is worth it. I have been to parks when the line wasn't bad and not worth the cost.

Dec 12, 2022 at 12:48 a.m. Paula Gillespie Says...

I have never been so this has been very informative. Definitely need a pass if I ever get to go

Dec 12, 2022 at 12:37 a.m. J. Muller Says...

The Express Pass would make life a bit simpler, especially if yu have a child who does not love crowded places!

Dec 12, 2022 at 12:04 a.m. Kenia Says...

I like posts like these that have great facts. I always feel lost without them!

Dec 11, 2022 at 11:59 p.m. Jacqui H. Says...

Great information. I was wondering what the difference between Virtual Line and Universal Express.

Dec 11, 2022 at 11:20 p.m. Allison G Says...

awesome tips!

Dec 11, 2022 at 11:07 p.m. Brittany Says...

We’ve never used express passes. We’re local were AP holders & just look at it as another reason to come back. Good tips for someone who is on a limited trip though.

Dec 11, 2022 at 10:53 p.m. Julienne Entinger Says...

I am not a fan of having to pay extra for express pass. I guess we were spoiled by Disney all those years. To each their own though. If someone has the money and wants to pay for it then go for it. But I have never done Express Pass at Universal and we have always been able to do basically everything and most of our favorites twice.

Dec 11, 2022 at 10:45 p.m. Graham Says...

Seems like premier resorts are the way to go for Express Passes

Dec 11, 2022 at 10:11 p.m. sandra Says...

thanks for the tips

Dec 11, 2022 at 9:15 p.m. Kris J Says...

This seems to be a must have!

Dec 11, 2022 at 8:34 p.m. Becky B Says...

Thank you for keeping us up to date!

Dec 11, 2022 at 8:01 p.m. Jamie Hilton Says...

If you really want to experience more upgrade your pass!!!!

Dec 11, 2022 at 8 p.m. Ally Says...

Stayed at Portofino 8 years ago. Cannot stress enough how much one should take advantage of the express passes

Dec 11, 2022 at 7:59 p.m. FatmanOSU Says...

I love Fastpass. Works great.

Dec 11, 2022 at 7:41 p.m. Charlotte Sims Says...

I love to stay at Universal resorts to get unlimited Express pass!

Dec 11, 2022 at 7:20 p.m. Seth Evasco Says...

This post was really helpful, thank you!

Dec 11, 2022 at 7:18 p.m. Corinne Says...

The best time we’ve had at Universal was when we had the express passes! Felt like the Queen of the park!

Dec 11, 2022 at 5:50 p.m. kimberly H Says...

Thanks for the info!

Dec 11, 2022 at 5:46 p.m. Tammy Catterton Says...

I have to say love to go to Universal Studios someday like to be able to get express pass thou. It seems like alot of fun for sure

Dec 11, 2022 at 5:06 p.m. Gal Colleen Says...

Great idea, waiting on those lines is horrible!

Dec 11, 2022 at 4:40 p.m. Meghan Says...

Honestly we used the express pass for one day. So many rides were down or the express pass lane took about as long as the regular line that it was a waste of money.

Dec 11, 2022 at 4:17 p.m. Ami K Says...

Lots of great tips in here

Dec 11, 2022 at 4:05 p.m. Amber B. Says...

Excellent article. Very informative. Thank you!

Dec 11, 2022 at 3:35 p.m. Anita C Says...

Thank you for the breakdown and detailed information. This is very useful

Dec 11, 2022 at 3:21 p.m. Mary K Jansen Says...

Can't wait to use express pass next visit and love I can purchase it thru

Dec 11, 2022 at 3:13 p.m. Robin Y Says...

Haven't been to Universal in 22 years.

Dec 11, 2022 at 2:35 p.m. KKat Says...

I like the single rider tip. I will use that for sure.

Dec 11, 2022 at 1:40 p.m. Martin Hjermitslev Says...

Express pass - yes thank you - better logistics = more fun....:)

Dec 11, 2022 at 1:35 p.m. Erica-Marie Says...

I have always been confused about anything Universal so I like that I can come here and get the info I need.

Dec 11, 2022 at 1:28 p.m. Katie F. Says...

So much wonderful information and tips! Super helpful for an incoming Universal trip.

Dec 11, 2022 at 1:17 p.m. jeannamarieo Says...

Is there a cap for how many express passes they sell each day?

Dec 13, 2022 at 10:28 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Jeanna Marie!

Yes, there is always the possibility that Express Passes can sell out for a day (though this is more likely during busier holiday times, such as Christmas and New Year's).

Keep hopping!


Dec 11, 2022 at 12:46 p.m. Jill N Says...

With the way my daughter loves roller coasters I’m realizing the pass is a must when visiting

Dec 11, 2022 at 12:10 p.m. Billy Says...

Ooh, it is pricy but a time saver

Dec 11, 2022 at 11:33 a.m. Hana B. Says...

We loved staying in Royal Pacigic and getting the Express passes

Dec 11, 2022 at 9:52 a.m. LB Says...

Such helpful info. Thank you.

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