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

by Leap on April 29, 2022 1857 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.

One exception is Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon when its virtual queue is being utilized. During those times, you can pick up a return time or use the Express pass to enter the building immediately. The difference between the standby queue is that there is an outdoor portion of the queue before you enter the building. However, unless it's a busy park day, most standby guests will enter the building rather quickly, not giving much of a time-saving advantage.

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

Universal Express Pass - VelociCoaster

Single Rider lines can 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.

Single Rider Lines at Universal Studios Florida:

Single Rider Lines at Universal's Islands of Adventure:

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 Orlando - Back of the Pass

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.

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. You can purchase these online in advance at a discount from us or Universal directly 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. 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, 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?

Universal Express Pass - Hulk

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 and Express queues. Just come back to the ride later in the day.

One time, we entered the Express line for The Incredible Hulk when standby said it was a 60-minute wait. We waited, rode the coaster and were back at our locker within 15 minutes! The same hoppened at Flight of the Hippogriff — it was a 45-minute standby wait, and we hopped on and off within 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, for Skull Island: Reign of Kong, we waited about 35 minutes in Express, when standby said 55 minutes by the time we got off the ride. With Express, we waited 30 minutes for Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts 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.

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.

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: How to Navigate Single Rider Lines at Universal Orlando to Save Time

Keep hopping!

Keep hopping, Leap!
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551–600 of 1289 comments
Aug 26, 2020 at 1:58 p.m. Rebeca Says...

Love Universal! I can’t wait to go Disneyland with my baby 3 years old!????

Aug 26, 2020 at 1:52 p.m. amy Says...

I normally go Disney, but it's good to have tips for Universal. I need to change things up.

Aug 26, 2020 at 1:46 p.m. TMB Says...

Wow! Can't wait to go!

Aug 26, 2020 at 1:20 p.m. Amy Anthony Says...

Universal is so much fun!

Aug 26, 2020 at noon Chris D Says...

Can't wait to go back and use Express Pass now.

Aug 26, 2020 at 11:32 a.m. Shawn B Says...

Amazing tips to help you get around the park a little faster and enjoy more rides and the views of the park

Aug 26, 2020 at 7:15 a.m. Erah Says...

Can’t wait to see what tips you guys have for Epic Universe!

Aug 26, 2020 at 5:39 a.m. ROSIE BRITTON Says...

Haven't been to Universal for a long time.

Aug 26, 2020 at 5 a.m. mistercmo Says...

Oh man, I so want to take my kids.

Aug 26, 2020 at 3:45 a.m. Jen F Says...

Thanks for the tips! We were planning a vacation to Orlando when the pandemic hit, I'll be sure to keep these in mind for our future trip!

Aug 26, 2020 at 2:57 a.m. Liz Says...

Always great deals..

Aug 26, 2020 at 2:50 a.m. Rosa McCants Says...

I'd love to win!

Aug 26, 2020 at 2:43 a.m. Nancy Krueger Says...

Yes to passes, they make it easy!

Aug 26, 2020 at 2:10 a.m. Halebop Says...

This was helpful information. We have been to Disney but hope to be able to visit Universal in the next couple of years as the kids get older.

Aug 26, 2020 at 2 a.m. scatteredpicture Says...

What a great contest! Such a fun park!

Aug 26, 2020 at 1:33 a.m. Justin Castillo Says...


Aug 26, 2020 at 12:52 a.m. Erin P Says...

Can't wait to get back to the parks!

Aug 26, 2020 at 12:45 a.m. Tony Platz Says...

Thanks this info will be helpful next time we go .

Aug 26, 2020 at 12:34 a.m. Colleen Schilinski Says...

This is an interesting read, especially for us who live down here in SW Florida.

Aug 26, 2020 at 12:34 a.m. chris g. Says...

highly recommend renting a cabana while at Volcano Bay. Pricey but worth it.

Aug 26, 2020 at 12:25 a.m. Michael Kottler Says...

Got to get a fast pass

Aug 26, 2020 at 12:24 a.m. Lucy Knelsen Says...

We are so ready for a Universal escape!! Thank you for posting so much information; I truly enjoyed reading this. I have never been to Universal, but I hope to in the near future!! Thank you!!

Aug 26, 2020 at 12:12 a.m. Patric Krueger Says...

it's really nice of you to do this. tyvm.

Aug 25, 2020 at 11:43 p.m. Nd814 Says...

would love a Universal vacation. Only went once, loved it

Aug 25, 2020 at 11:25 p.m. Nancy Evens Says...

I love the Harry Potter sections of the parks, I can't wait to go back again!

Aug 25, 2020 at 11:09 p.m. Paul engels Says...

This information will help us out for our trip to universal studios next year!

Aug 25, 2020 at 11:04 p.m. Soraya M Says...

I can't wait to visit Universal Orlando again. I will definitely be using the app next time I go.

Aug 25, 2020 at 10:14 p.m. PDW Says...

Ready to go back ASAP

Aug 25, 2020 at 9:26 p.m. Savannah Porter Says...

Love Universal!

Aug 25, 2020 at 9:01 p.m. Melissa Says...

Were thinking about a trip to Universal next year, but not sure if that will happen now.

Aug 25, 2020 at 7:45 p.m. mike groesbeck Says...

would love to see the Harry Potter area.

Aug 25, 2020 at 7:14 p.m. Steven Says...

Love Universal

Aug 25, 2020 at 6:58 p.m. Lori Carson Says...

Sounds like a great idea. Too bad it is so pricey.

Aug 25, 2020 at 6:45 p.m. Delano Says...

Love Universal

Aug 25, 2020 at 6:41 p.m. bryan deege Says...

I will have to try this the next time we go!

Aug 25, 2020 at 6:36 p.m. EBrajdic Says...

I've only been to Universal once years ago and we barely scratched the surface. I'd love to go back and see everything we missed and now all the new things.

Aug 25, 2020 at 6:32 p.m. Jessica Murphy Says...

Universal is so much fun

Aug 25, 2020 at 6:14 p.m. Ashley Matsumura Says...

We love Universal. We want to be able to share that with my niece and this would be a great way to do it!

Aug 25, 2020 at 5:40 p.m. Gregory Anthony Says...

My family has never been to Universal but we’d love to go one day!

Aug 25, 2020 at 5:21 p.m. Julie Says...

So many fun times at Universal in Orlando!

Aug 25, 2020 at 5:19 p.m. melanie Says...

can’t wait to see everything again!

Aug 25, 2020 at 5:10 p.m. Memphis Belle Says...

Staying at a Universal Resort would be the best value for obtaining the Express Pass for our family.

Aug 25, 2020 at 4:55 p.m. Christina Wahrmund Says...

I love Universal!

Aug 25, 2020 at 4:54 p.m. ElleFosc Says...

I need the app.

Aug 25, 2020 at 4:54 p.m. Morgan Says...


Aug 25, 2020 at 4:53 p.m. BryanFBSB Says...


Aug 25, 2020 at 4:46 p.m. Jennifer M Says...

Hoping to visit Orlando next year (as our plans were foiled for this year) - but I'm happy to know of these tips and tricks. Will definitely be using these/coming back to these for reference ahead of our vacation!

Aug 25, 2020 at 4:41 p.m. Kim N Says...

I've never been to Universal Studios before. I love everything Disney. #fun #giveaway

Aug 25, 2020 at 4:36 p.m. Lori Collison Says...

Information I never had my previous trips...thank you.

Aug 25, 2020 at 4:29 p.m. Rachelle Says...

I am planning my first trip to Universal Orlando with my grandkids. I appreciate all of your tips!!

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