If your tadpoles are on summer vacation and you're planning for an upcoming trip to Universal Orlando Resort, you're in the right place! The summer months are especially one of the busiest times of the year in the parks — sometimes even hitting capacity or selling out of Universal Express — and our Crowd Calendar predicts the same for 2019. While Universal Express isn't a required purchase, the Frog Family finds it super helpful this time of year. There's no better time to figure out if Universal Express is worth the splurge for your family!
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-lines 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. (And by the way, we offer discounts on rooms at all Universal hotels.) Understanding how and when to use the Universal Express pass is your key to a great visit. This post explains everything you need to know!
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. (It is a separate purchase to include Universal's Volcano Bay.)
In a change from the past, Universal now 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 it in either park are Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and Pteranodon Flyers at Universal's Islands of Adventure.
- Universal Studios Florida ride details, when to visit + height requirements
- Universal's Islands of Adventure ride details, when to visit + height requirements
You can see the Universal Express rides, along with wait times and park plans, on our handy dandy FREE Orlando Planning App for iPhone.
How Universal Express Pass Works
When you approach a ride with Universal Express, show your pass to the attendant, who will scan it and let you enter the Express Pass queue. Closer to the ride loading area (this distance varies by ride), the Universal Express Pass queue will merge with the regular line. At this point, your pass will be scanned again. You will still likely wait at this point, but it is usually five to 10 minutes long.
Know that Universal Express Pass is not a group pass. Everyone in your party will need his or her own Universal Express Pass. Also, the passes are non-transferrable.
Universal Orlando Single Rider Lines
Single Rider lines are often even faster than Universal Express Pass lines. If you don't mind splitting up your party on the ride, you can experience the most popular rides much quicker. The Single Rider lines actually go straight to the loading area. You and your party will be together in the queue, but you will split up on the ride as you fill an empty seat.
Single Rider Lines at Universal Studios Florida:
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
- Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
- MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack
- Revenge of the Mummy
- TRANSFORMERS: The Ride 3-D
Single Rider Lines at Universal's Islands of Adventure:
- The Amazing Adventure of Spider-Man
- Doctor Doom's Fearfall
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
- Skull Island: Reign of Kong
- Incredible Hulk Coaster
Keep in mind that both Universal Express and 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 storyline. For example, if it's your first time on any of the Harry Potter rides, we recommend experiencing the regular queue. If you've been there, done that, take the route that's best for you.
Universal Express Pass Options
There are two types of Universal Express passes:
- Universal Express Unlimited
- Universal Express Pass
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 Pass one time per ride each day that your pass is valid.
Universal Express is available for one park per day or both parks per day. It can be purchased online ahead of time through Universal or at the parks themselves. We like this flexibility. Sometimes you don't know you want 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 to skip the virtual lines at all rides and attractions inside the water park.
How Much Is Universal Express?
It depends. If you are staying on-site at one of Universal's premier resort hotels, Universal Express Unlimited is free 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. If you are considering purchasing Express Pass, you should do the math and see if it makes sense to stay on-site. It is often still cheaper to stay on-site with Unlimited Express versus stay off-site and purchase Unlimited Express separately. You get the added benefit of being so close to the parks when you stay on-site, access to all of the fabulous pools, plush rooms and other on-site amenities.
Universal Orlando Hotels That Offer Universal Express Unlimited:
Universal Premier Hotels
- Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando (as low as $381 a night)
- Universal's Hard Rock Hotel (as low as $353 a night)
- Loews Royal Pacific Resort (as low as $320 a night)
Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Loews Sapphire Falls Resort, Universal's Aventura Resort and Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn and Suites (opening June 27, 2019) & Dockside Inn and Suites (opening March 2020) do not offer Universal Express Unlimited, but they do offer Early Park Admission to select rides inside Universal's Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Volcano Bay water park.
It used to be that you had to visit a kiosk at the hotels to get your Universal Express Unlimited Pass, but now your hotel room key works as your pass. Keep in mind that you do 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. You can purchase these online in advance or while you are in the parks. 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. (While we sell authentic, discount Universal tickets, we do not currently offer Universal Express Pass.) If you aren't sure you will need or want the passes, we recommend you hold off purchasing until you arrive.
Unlike most tickets, Universal Express is date-specific, so you will need to know what days you plan to be in the parks. You can then book directly with Universal or wait until you are in the parks.
When to Use Universal Express Passes
Finally, we get to the most important part of the post — when to use Universal Express. Our recommendations are fairly simple.
1. Anytime it's free.
OK, it's never really FREE, free, but if you are staying on-site, 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!
2. 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.
3. 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, they are a must.
Is Universal Express Worth It?
No matter when you visit, having Universal Express will be a time-saver. The 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!
Is There Any Other Way 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.
1. Buy your tickets in advance.
You do not want to waste any of your precious touring time standing in line to buy tickets. Plus, you will save more money if you buy in advance.
2. Arrive at the parks ahead of official opening.
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. If you are staying on-site at one of Universal's hotels, take advantage of Early Park Admission to the parks, especially Volcano Bay.
3. Follow a park plan.
4. Use the Single Rider lines.
As mentioned above, the Single Rider line is often even faster than Universal Express.
Whew! We've covered a lot of ground here. Have questions about Universal Express Pass that we haven't answered? Share them in comments below!