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The Ultimate Guide on When to Use Universal Express

by Leap on May 25, 2021 1810 Orlando

Universal Express Pass - PinterestThrills! 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. 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! And in some hopping good news ... we frogs are selling Universal Express passes at a discount!

Universal Express Overview | How It Works | Pass Options | Cost | When to Use Express Passes | Other Ways to Save Time

What Is Universal Express Pass?

Universal Express Pass - Front of the 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.

Currently, in Universal's initial reopening phases after its temporary closure due to COVID-19, some rides have been using a Virtual Line. 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 Universal Express Pass Works

Universal Express Pass - 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 be sure to 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 pass 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, which uses a virtual queue. 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. Once inside the building, both Express and standby guests will receive a color-coded card on the first floor before heading upstairs to another waiting area. Once the lights turn the same color as the card, you get in a short queue before entering the flying theater.

Know that 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 like The Incredible Hulk Coaster and Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, 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.

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 quicker. 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

Universal Express Pass - 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 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?

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 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, 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.

Universal Express Pass Hotels:

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 Islands of Adventure or Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Volcano Bay water park. 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 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. Unlike most tickets, 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 Universal Express Passes

Universal Express Pass - 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, they are 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 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 like the brand new 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 comments below! 

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

Keep hopping!

Keep hopping, Leap!
View Comments
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1251–1266 of 1266 comments
Nov 26, 2015 at 4:32 a.m. Deb Says...

Hi... 2 questions

Can the Universal Express and Express Unlimited pass be used at all the same rides or are there more on the Unlimited? Is the only difference that the unlimited gets you on the rides as many times as you'd like?

#2 We are really just going for Harry Potter... is an express pass worth it ... are enough rides in that area included?

Nov 30, 2015 at 7:07 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Deb,

The unlimited means you can ride the same attractions unlimited times. If you really only care about Harry Potter, then the Express Pass isn't worth it since it does not include Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts or Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey.

Keep hopping!


Nov 18, 2015 at 7:49 p.m. Maria Says...

Hello We will be there Dec 24 and 25 so we will buy the express pass. Is it worthy to buy the unlimited one? thx

Nov 20, 2015 at 10:26 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Maria,

If you want to do repeat rides, then yes. Otherwise, then I would not.

Keep hopping!


Nov 18, 2015 at 6:33 p.m. Britney Says...

We'll be doing a 1 day park-to-park on Sunday, 11/22. The overall crowd level is 8, but both Universal parks are green. Trying to decide if we need the express passes. How often do they sell out in advance? Would prefer to wait until we get there to decide, but is that a big risk? Thanks!

Nov 20, 2015 at 10:27 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Britney,

I think you would be safe to wait until you arrive. It will be crowded but not as crowded as later in the week.

Keep hopping!


Nov 12, 2015 at 11:38 p.m. Norma Says...

Hi there!

We (myself, husband and a 6 years old boy) will be visiting Universal on 19th, 20th January, 2016. For this time, would it be recommended to buy fast passes? but since we only have two days I'm worried about time. This will be our first visit to Universal. As well we are trying to decide between the Cabana Bay and Loews Royal Pacific Resort. considering fast passes. What would you recommend? Thanks!


Nov 17, 2015 at 4:13 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Norma,

If you are staying at Royal Pacific, you don't need to purchase Express Passes as they will be included with your hotel. It's not critical to have them during your dates, but they are always nice to have.

Keep hopping!


Nov 7, 2015 at 2:38 p.m. Katie Says...

We are going to be staying at Cabana Bay for 2 nights. Definitely going to take advantage of early entry! We'll be at the parks Saturday February 27th and Sunday February 28th. Wondering if we should buy the express passes in advance? We have 4 adults and 2 children ages 4 and 7. Thanks!!!!

Nov 16, 2015 at 1:24 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Katie,

I don't think you need to.

Keep hopping!


Nov 6, 2015 at 7:04 a.m. Lisa Says...


We will be traveling to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure on February 19th and 20th. Can you tell me if we should pay the extra for express pass? What would you recommend? Thanks!

Nov 16, 2015 at 12:54 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Lisa,

I would recommend it for the 20th. You might want it for the 19th too.

Keep hopping!


Nov 4, 2015 at 7:52 p.m. Jillian Says...

We are going the week of April 11-18th and wondered if you recommend an Express Pass? We are thinking of a 2-day park-to-park or possibly a 3-day park-to-park. We have never been and want to see it all! We are staying at Cabana Bay.

Nov 16, 2015 at 12:48 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Jillian,

I don't think you will need Express Passes at this time, but you could always add them on in the parks.

Keep hopping!


Oct 29, 2015 at 3:01 p.m. Jennifer Says...

We are visiting Universal first week of March 2016 2 days park to park should we buy express passes before or could we wait til in the park.. Would we need them? I have used your crowd calendar every year and its always accurate

Nov 2, 2015 at 8:20 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Jennifer,

I don't think you really need them at this time, but you can always buy when you get there. Thanks for your praise about the Crowd Calendar! Please tell your friends about it.

Keep hopping!


Oct 5, 2015 at 11:24 p.m. Denise Says...


I will be traveling to Universal Studios January 25th and 26th with my husband and two children (10 & 11). Crowd calendar says low crowds - but since we only have two days I'm worried about lines anyway. This will be our first visit to Universal. We plan to stay onsite and are trying to decide between the less expensive Cabana Bay and Hard Rock which would provide us the express passes. What would you recommend? Thanks!

Oct 14, 2015 at 9:55 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Denise,

The crowds are expected to be low during this time, so I think you will have a great time even with Cabana Bay. Definitely take advantage of the Early Park Admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Both resorts are fab!

Keep hopping!


Oct 3, 2015 at 1:50 p.m. Travis Says...

Hello, my wife and I will be going to Universal on 11/30/15 for one day and are debating on getting the 1 day 2 park ticket option, however, a friend of hers told her it is not possible to do both parks in 1 day. This is our first time going and we are more interested in the rides, not the shows. Do you think we could manage most of the rides in both parks in one day? I'd hate to spend on the 2 park pass and not be able to utilize it, but I also see many rides at both parks that I'd love to experience. Thanks for your advice!

Oct 5, 2015 at 6:40 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Travis,

You cannot do all of the rides in both parks in one day, but you could hit many of them. If you pick and choose and plan carefully, you should be fine! Check out our brand-new 1 Day Park-to-Park touring plan.

Keep hopping!


Oct 2, 2015 at 7:55 a.m. Stefania Says...

Hello, nice your website ! thanks ;-)

I will come to Orlando on the 6th of Jan 2016, I checked your crowd calendar and I dont think I need the express pass, however it is very tempting the Orlando Hard Rock Hotel which offers it. Could you please confirm me that the express pass they offer it will be both for Universal Studios and for Island of Adventure?

Thanks a lot

Feb 22, 2016 at 2:14 a.m. Sylvia Says...

I am visiting with a party of 10 from 18th August to 1st September and like your opinion on whether we will need Express Passes for visiting the Universal parks on these dates as during our 2015 visit the queues in July/ August were massive. Can you also advise us if we decided to stay at an onsite hotel whether we can obtain our complimentary Express Passes before the 4pm check in time.

Advise would be appreciated, thanks

Feb 24, 2016 at 6:13 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Sylvia,

You can definitely get the Unlimited Express passes before 4 p.m., but you would need to check in first (the hotel can store your bags). As far as Express Passes go, you should not have to purchase them for these dates, although they are always nice to have.

Keep hopping!


Oct 2, 2015 at 2:34 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Stefania,

We love the Hard Rock Hotel. It's the perfect location and includes Unlimited Express in both parks — a real treat!

Keep hopping!


Sep 5, 2015 at 2:35 p.m. Charlotte Says...

We are visiting Orlando may 2-13 2016. I haven't been at this time of year before, have always gone during Easter. Will be find the parks much quieter? Thanks

Sep 8, 2015 at 8:01 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Charlotte,

You can check out predicted crowd levels on our Crowd Calendar.

Keep hopping!


Aug 21, 2015 at 12:47 a.m. CC Says...

Hi, can you tell me if buying the express pass for Universal parks is worth it for the second week in November going on a Wednesday, Thanks

Aug 26, 2015 at 8:31 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi CC,

I don't think it is worth it during this time, but you ultimately have to decide what is right for you.

Keep hopping!


Aug 20, 2015 at 6:32 p.m. Jon Says...

Hi- I love your site! Doing a 1-day 2-park visit to Universal on 11/13. IOA is green and US is yellow on that day. We are return visitors, and no little ones, so we don't need to see everything, we just want to hit the new stuff (Potter, Simpsons) first, then whatever we can fit in. What's your opinion on express-pass for that day?

Aug 25, 2015 at 2:41 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Jon,

I don't think you need Express Passes since the overall crowd level is neutral, but that is ultimately you're call ;)

Keep hopping!


Aug 12, 2015 at 3:26 p.m. Sarah Says...

Hi there!

We (myself and boyfriend) will be visiting Universal next month, the 11th and 12th of September. For this time, would it be recommended to buy fast passes?


Aug 18, 2015 at 2:35 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Sarah,

No, with lower crowds, I don't think you will need them.

Keep hopping!


Jul 25, 2015 at 4:56 p.m. Laureen Says...

Does anyone know what room location would be the best in the Cabana Bay. I have the family suite in the tower but there are 2 towers. Would like to have quick access to pool and don't like waiting for elevators. Any suggestions?

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