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

by Leap on May 22, 2023 4533 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?

Express Pass Universal - Jurassic World VelociCoaster

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 Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and Pteranodon Flyers at Universal's Islands of Adventure. Jurassic World VelociCoaster is now available with Universal Express!

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-transferable. 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 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 coasters 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 the 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 Passes, 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. If traveling during a peak time, there is also the possibility that Express Passes could sell out.

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?

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 the 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 3922 comments
May 26, 2023 at 6:13 p.m. Chelsea Says...

So what would the procedure be for express pass doing a child pass off with only 2 adults…I.e. a single rider at a time?

Jun 2, 2023 at 8:27 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Chelsea!

Child Swap works the same for standby and Express lines. At the ride entrance, notify a team member that you'd like to utilize Child Swap. While each ride may have its own way of doing Child Swap, generally, the entire party will go through the line together (if you have Express, you'd go through the Express line; if you don't have Express, you'd go through the standby line). Child Swap rooms are typically near the loading station, so once you get near the front of the line, you may need to inform a ride attendant again that you want to utilize Child Swap. With two adults, one would stay with the child while the other rides, and once the first rider comes back, they can switch and the second adult can go straight to the loading station and ride.

Keep hopping!


May 7, 2023 at 9:43 p.m. Peter Says...

To be honest it was not worth buying Express for our family. The only ride we only saved some serious time was the mummy. Gringotts was almost as long as the regular one. But the big disadvantage is Universals strange decision to not include Hagrids in Express - really the one ride we most wanted to do again but 2 hours is way too long wait time for us. Some really great rides and we had a good time but Express for 6 persons was unneccessary a waste of money.

Mar 13, 2023 at 5:58 a.m. Rosario Klein Says...

Good to know re single rider lines.

Mar 13, 2023 at 5:20 a.m. Mike Mendez Says...

Great info!

Mar 13, 2023 at 4:23 a.m. Kriss K Says...

You definitely sold me on the Express Pass.

Mar 13, 2023 at 4:21 a.m. Rachael DeBates Says...

I'd use it for the Harry Potter ride!

Mar 13, 2023 at 4 a.m. Boymom2 Says...

If it’s in the budget express passes are definitely the way to go.

Mar 13, 2023 at 3:50 a.m. Kaleb M. Says...

This will be the best park experience in the world!!!

Mar 13, 2023 at 3:49 a.m. Heather M Says...

Great information about Express Pass options!!! Looking forward to our family vacation here in June 2023!!!

Mar 13, 2023 at 3:41 a.m. Nancy D Says...

I would only recommend an express pass if you go during a really busy season. Other than that, it's not worth the money.

Mar 13, 2023 at 2:59 a.m. Meredith Says...

DYING to go back to universal kid-free!

Mar 13, 2023 at 2:59 a.m. Meredith Ca Says...

DYING to go back to Universal kid-free!!

Mar 13, 2023 at 2:57 a.m. Marissa65 Says...

Awesome info!

Mar 13, 2023 at 2:56 a.m. Matt C Says...

Undercover Tourist always comes through!

Mar 13, 2023 at 2:43 a.m. Erin Chewning Says...

We were so glad we bought express passes on our trip in 2021, and we will definitely do it again next time we go!!

Mar 13, 2023 at 2:20 a.m. Jamie Martin Says...

This is WAY too expensive for me.

Mar 13, 2023 at 2 a.m. Jessica Alkema Says...

Love the insider info for the park… especially the single rider line tip!

Mar 13, 2023 at 1:59 a.m. Krystal Says...

Well I'm glad I read this blog because now I know to get express when I finally make it there!

Mar 13, 2023 at 1:53 a.m. Allison Kim Says...

So ready to bring my newest Hufflepuff to the park! My daughter will be 1 during her first Trip!

Mar 13, 2023 at 1:45 a.m. Zairys R Says...

I hate waiting in line. Express pass is worth every penny

Mar 13, 2023 at 1:37 a.m. Raya Says...

Worth it!

Mar 13, 2023 at 1:25 a.m. Randy Russell Says...

Very helpful info

Mar 13, 2023 at 1:24 a.m. Shreena Says...

Can't wait to go when the kids are a little older

Mar 13, 2023 at 1:11 a.m. Nil Says...

Express pass is worth ever penny especially during perk times.

Mar 13, 2023 at 1:02 a.m. Robin Says...

I would love to visit with an express pass!

Mar 13, 2023 at 1 a.m. Renee m Says...

Great advice ty

Mar 13, 2023 at 1 a.m. Alison Says...

Thank you for this I learned a lot - hope to get back to Universal and see all the attractions - it is such a fun place and have a lot of memories there! Appreciate the info

Mar 13, 2023 at 12:53 a.m. Tee Says...

I know it'll cost extra but time is precious when you want to fit in all the rides. It's always worth it to me!

Mar 13, 2023 at 12:52 a.m. Janice Matthews Says...

I’m the same Ava as Disneyland and it has been 30 years since I’ve been able to visit. It is a wish of mine to visit once more and experience all of the wonderful changes and also to visit my favorites like Minnie Mouse and Mickey

Thank you for this opportunity

Mar 13, 2023 at 12:49 a.m. Jennifer Says...

I didn't realize how many rides how the Express Pass. Will definitely help in making a decision.

Mar 13, 2023 at 12:30 a.m. Teilor Says...

We LOVE express passes!! Makes things so much easier with a little one. Cuts the wait down over half !

Mar 13, 2023 at 12:22 a.m. Sheila Brooks Says...

I love this blog. It’s so informative.

Mar 13, 2023 at 12:17 a.m. Bree Says...

If I try it out I might not be able to wait standby again

Mar 13, 2023 at 12:03 a.m. Jamie Says...

Big fan of Express Pass! I am súper averse to overpaying for something unless I’m sure I’ll get high value out of it. We’ve only ever been to Universal Orlando once when our kids were younger. They are teens now, and we are headed back for one more trip as a family. With it being the end of spring break (all 8 level days), express passes are a priority for us. I ran some serious numbers using forecasted wait times and with our plans, they will save us about 15 hours of waiting in line. That is 15 hours freed up to wander WWOHP, take breaks in the pool, down another Butterbeer, and ride our favorite rides. THAT is high value. Plus, unlike Disney lightning lanes on Genie+, express pass is available for pretty much every high ticket/high wait time ride.

Mar 12, 2023 at 11:34 p.m. Michelle Says...

Tons of helpful stuff!

Mar 12, 2023 at 11:19 p.m. Says...

express pass is the only way to go

Mar 12, 2023 at 11:13 p.m. Melissa Allen Says...

It's definitely worth staying onsite

Mar 12, 2023 at 10:23 p.m. S U Says...

Looks like so much fun!

Mar 12, 2023 at 10:06 p.m. Jose Antonio Guimaraes Ferreira Says...

Thank you for such a good advice!

Mar 12, 2023 at 10:05 p.m. Jennifer Jewel Says...

Thank you for all the great info! We are new to Disney trips and most definitely will getting a pass!

Mar 12, 2023 at 9:59 p.m. Radio Gal Says...

I've never taken the plunge and purchased before. I'd like to try one day, but it seems pricey.

Mar 12, 2023 at 9:46 p.m. Catherine Says...

Can’t wait to be there for the first time.

Mar 12, 2023 at 9:41 p.m. Kristi Says...

Seems like a good idea

Mar 12, 2023 at 9:25 p.m. Andriea Schotter Says...

Using for the first time next week. Very excited!

Mar 12, 2023 at 9:21 p.m. Ana Paula de Carvalho Gomes Ferreira Says...

Thank you ! I wish I could enjoy universal with you!!

Mar 12, 2023 at 9:17 p.m. Denise Says...

Thanks for Express Pass info

Mar 12, 2023 at 9:16 p.m. Ana Paula de Carvalho Gomes Ferreira Says...

Great stuff! Congratulations!

Mar 12, 2023 at 9:13 p.m. Adriana d'Alcântara Says...

Express pass seems to be a valid purchase, thanks for sharing!

Mar 12, 2023 at 9:06 p.m. Shannon Taylor Snow Says...

Great tips

Mar 12, 2023 at 9:05 p.m. Danyale Says...

Awesome way to avoid the longer lines and maximize the time at the park.

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Undercover Tourist is the leading supplier of online discount tickets to Orlando, Florida-area attractions, including Walt Disney World® Resort, Universal Orlando Resort™, SeaWorld® Orlando, LEGOLAND® Florida Resort and more.

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