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

by Leap on February 21, 2024 5692 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 Islands of Adventure and Universal 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!

Express Pass Universal - Pass Front

What Is Universal Express Pass?

Express Pass Universal - Infographic

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

Express Pass Universal - Gringotts

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 Islands of Adventure.

For a quick and easy visual breakdown of Universal's Express pass, download our infographic, which is filled with need-to-know info and a list of attractions included with Express for easy referencing on the go.

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 Illumination's Villain-Con Minion Blast. 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 - The 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.

Express Pass Universal - Spider-Man

Single Rider Lines at Universal 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 can 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 Express and didn't hold onto your one-time ride on an indoor attraction, you'll have to wait in the longer 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!

On the flip side, we'd recommend Standard Passes if you:

  • Want to hit all of the attractions
  • Are limited on the time you can spend at the park(s) — for instance, if you are arriving later in the day or need to leave early
  • Want to save some money and are not staying at a premier hotel

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 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?

Express Pass Universal - 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 Cabana Bay Beach ResortLoews Sapphire Falls Resort, Universal Aventura Resort and Universal 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 Volcano Bay water park and Universal 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 don't need to purchase separately. 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 - Transformers

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

Universal Express - Twirl and Hurl Simpsons

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 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 Tips to Maximize Your Time at Universal Orlando Resort

Keep hopping!

Keep hopping, Leap!
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Jan 7, 2024 at 10:52 p.m. Norm Says...

Bonjour

Voyage en avril 2024

On veut pas la pass express est ce obligatoire

3 fois a universel Orlando

Merci normand

Reply
Jan 8, 2024 at 9:56 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Bonjour Norm!

Cela dépend de la date de votre visite en avril. Nous recommandons le Pass Express si votre voyage a lieu pendant les deux premières semaines d'avril, car il y aura plus de monde en raison des vacances de printemps et de la semaine de Pâques. Mais si vous visitez pendant la seconde moitié du mois d’avril, la foule devrait être moindre et le Pass Express n’est pas aussi nécessaire.

Keep hopping!

Leap

(Google Translate)

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Jan 3, 2024 at 12:11 a.m. Rod White Quills Says...

All the rides were down and it seemed like the staff didn’t even try to resolve the problems we pay lots of money to come here and to have everything broken down is not cool

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Dec 11, 2023 at 4:47 a.m. Julie B Says...

Great tips! Express pass can be pricy but worth it especially if you only have a day or 2 explore the parks. Buy it early though!

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Dec 11, 2023 at 4:31 a.m. kathy boyd Says...

good to know info on pass

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Dec 11, 2023 at 3:46 a.m. Christopher Alworth Says...

would be great to skip lines

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Dec 11, 2023 at 3:31 a.m. Jennifer Ward Says...

would definitely like to get thru lines faster

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Dec 11, 2023 at 3:18 a.m. Virginia Alworth Says...

I would love not to wait too long on lines

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Dec 11, 2023 at 2:40 a.m. Christina Cohen Says...

It's good to learn the pros and cons of the Express Pass!

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Dec 11, 2023 at 2:17 a.m. SB in IL Says...

I miss the free fastpass

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Dec 11, 2023 at 1:13 a.m. Audrey Says...

Express pass is so worth it

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Dec 11, 2023 at 1:07 a.m. Anita Says...

I would definitely purchase the express pass. Thank you for the tips!

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Dec 11, 2023 at 12:24 a.m. Duane D Says...

Great article. Express is a must for us. It makes sense to stay at a Premier hotel to get Express. Hard Rock is our favorite.

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Dec 11, 2023 at 12:22 a.m. Kelly E. Says...

Very informative

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Dec 10, 2023 at 11:32 p.m. Buddy Garrett Says...

It sounds great. It would make the trip more enjoyable.

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Dec 10, 2023 at 11:19 p.m. Katrina J Says...

This is a great way to get the most out of your day!

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Dec 10, 2023 at 11:18 p.m. Barb Says...

Amazing tips and tricks! Lots of good discounts, thank you!

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Dec 10, 2023 at 11:11 p.m. Aimy Gagnon Says...

Please Express pass me to win this

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Dec 10, 2023 at 11:03 p.m. Renae C. Says...

Thank you for this valuable information! It sounds like with my 2 crazy kiddos this is a must!!

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Dec 10, 2023 at 10:54 p.m. Kassie Says...

Universal is the best - express passes sweeten the deal for sure!

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Dec 10, 2023 at 10:36 p.m. Alessandro Pampolino Says...

thanks for the info. its very helpful

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Dec 10, 2023 at 10:30 p.m. Nina Parets Says...

No wait time? WOW!

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Dec 10, 2023 at 10:18 p.m. Amy Says...

I remember I waited for four hours on the Forbidden Journey ride when the park first opened. Definitely going to do the express pass next time.

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Dec 10, 2023 at 10:17 p.m. Jesseca Says...

So helpful! I didn't know you could get an express pass for free for staying at one of the hotels.

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Dec 10, 2023 at 9:45 p.m. Heather Curtis Says...

Thanks for the informative blog on the Express Pass. It's definitely something we'd consider when planning a trip to the parks.

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Dec 10, 2023 at 9:23 p.m. Jackie W Says...

Great tips

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Dec 10, 2023 at 9:20 p.m. Meri Says...

Great tips

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Dec 10, 2023 at 9:19 p.m. Emma Hamilton Says...

Very informative!

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Dec 10, 2023 at 8:46 p.m. Natalie Stover Says...

This was really helpful! I have utilized single rider in the past but with two boys now I don't do that anymore, express passes would be a dream especially the unlimited where you can ride as many times as you'd like! Even with express, I still think you would need multiple days in the park to really be able to soak it all in and truly enjoy the magic that is Universal.

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Dec 10, 2023 at 8:14 p.m. Jeannette Ly Steers Says...

Express passes are very nice to have!

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Dec 10, 2023 at 8:10 p.m. G Barber Says...

Great info!

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Dec 10, 2023 at 7:54 p.m. Elena Franqui Says...

Express Passes are great even when the parks have low crowds !!

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Dec 10, 2023 at 7:44 p.m. sandra Says...

sounds like it would be worth it because my family hates to wait

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Dec 10, 2023 at 7:02 p.m. Regina Dickson Says...

Express is where it's at

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Dec 10, 2023 at 6:15 p.m. Wendy H. Says...

I will need to look into this!

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Dec 10, 2023 at 5:22 p.m. Brian Sumereau Says...

The ability to get free express pass unlimited just by staying on-site at certain resorts is unbeatable! Always a must-do for us.

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Dec 10, 2023 at 5:18 p.m. MicKay Says...

Seems like you have covered everything, lots of info. Thanks

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Dec 10, 2023 at 5:02 p.m. Tamara Shannon Says...

Thank you for the info!

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Dec 10, 2023 at 4:12 p.m. Bernard Says...

I didn't know that you can get the express pass when you stay at some premier hotels, thanks for the tip!

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Dec 10, 2023 at 3:21 p.m. Brooke P Says...

Never been to universal Orlando thanks for all the tips!

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Dec 10, 2023 at 2:50 p.m. Raul R. Says...

Good info, thanks!

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Dec 10, 2023 at 11:47 a.m. Jessica Says...

Very helpful. Taking our 6 year old for the first time at Christmas and a taying at a premier hotel. Hope it makes it tolerable.

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Dec 10, 2023 at 6:55 a.m. Ligaya Avila Says...

Wow, such invaluable tips and tricks to save time and money, thanks for doing all the legwork for us!

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Dec 10, 2023 at 6:35 a.m. JackR Says...

This sounds fantastic. Thank you for the information!

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Dec 10, 2023 at 5:24 a.m. Tony M Says...

Loving these different insights! Planning on my dream trip now!

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Dec 10, 2023 at 4:13 a.m. jennkmac Says...

thanks for the info!

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Dec 10, 2023 at 3:40 a.m. Shannon Says...

I may need the express pass! Thanks!

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Dec 10, 2023 at 3:30 a.m. Jinnlo Says...

The Express Pass looks like it would be worth having, especially when you can only take time off to visit during the busy season.

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Dec 10, 2023 at 3:09 a.m. meganmegan Says...

great advice!

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Dec 10, 2023 at 3:02 a.m. Alexis Yoakum Says...

thanks for the info!

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Dec 10, 2023 at 2:36 a.m. Kelly Ann H Says...

Great!

Reply
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