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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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Sep 11, 2020 at 2:43 p.m. HeidiRene Says...

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Sep 11, 2020 at 2:39 p.m. Barbara A Poynter Says...

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Sep 11, 2020 at 2:35 p.m. Jillian Says...

So helpful!! Thanks!

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:30 p.m. Vanessa Szymanski Says...

Would love to ride Hagrid!!!

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:29 p.m. Melissa Pistole Says...

Never been to universal...we always to Disney when we go to Orlando. Can’t wait to give universal a go!

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:29 p.m. Leigh Says...

We found the Express pass to be worth it even in August. Our first day was on a Sunday and wait times were not short (or it was more crowded than expected). Even during a slower Monday/Tuesday it was nice to have.

I guess we will have to go back and do standby for Mummy though! Haven't seen that queue yet.

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:26 p.m. Redvan Says...

Looking forward to my first visit to Universal. Hope it can be soon!

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:25 p.m. Elaina Cole Says...

I used this sight to plan my last trip to universal and disney! I always recommend yall to others. Thanks!

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Sep 11, 2020 at 2:23 p.m. Janine T. Says...

Love all of your tips and deals!

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:21 p.m. Rachel Derkins Says...

I love undercover tourist, I’ve always used them for universal tickets and after hours party tickets!!

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:20 p.m. Amy Says...

Love it!!

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:20 p.m. Aleia Says...

So informative and we love staying at Universal resorts for the express passes!! There’s no other way!

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:18 p.m. Shelby Garrett Says...

Haven't been in so long! Can't wait to go back!

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:17 p.m. Didi Says...

Great info, thanks!

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:17 p.m. Dana Odonoghue Says...

Love it! Keep up the great work!

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:17 p.m. Ruth Says...

I know that school just started but . . . Is it Spring Break yet?!

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:16 p.m. Jennifer C Says...

I love Universal Studios - this is helpful for my next visit.

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:16 p.m. Amy Z Says...

I had planned to come here for the first time with my boyfriend right before the pandemic hit and never got the chance. Missed out on a great time, but I hope to take the trip soon! This is definitely something to consider for next time.

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:16 p.m. Madeleine V Garcia Says...

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Sep 11, 2020 at 2:16 p.m. Kelly Bragg Says...

I live right here in Central Florida and barely have been to the theme parks in the last decade. This would be incredible to do with the family!

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Sep 11, 2020 at 2:14 p.m. Constance Escalante Says...

We want to go so badly!

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:14 p.m. Laurin Jeffrey Says...

I have always wondered about the express pass. If it were $20 each, we'd get it every time. But with decent planning, you really don't need it. BUT... I have wondered about buying a 1-day 2-park pass, then getting express pass and trying to do both parks in a single day. Maybe when we get to go again... :(

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:13 p.m. Dana Schurman Says...

Really wanted to go for HHN this year for our 20th wedding anniversary. May need to visit for our 21st instead!

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:13 p.m. kw Says...

good to know!

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:11 p.m. Kathleen Hesketh Says...

Thanks for the valuable info on the Universal Express pass. Love saving time in line!

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:11 p.m. Amanda Fish Says...

Thanks for all the info!

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:11 p.m. Megan H. Says...

I have used this blog for saving tips on multiple Disney trips. Absolutely love this blog!

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:11 p.m. Jeremy L Says...

Great tips and ideas as usual!

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:11 p.m. RoxyMat Says...

Thanks for the tips! I love Universal Orlando!

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:10 p.m. Amanda Says...

We hope to go someday, so this is helpful info.

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:09 p.m. Samantha Says...

I love staying at the big 3 hotels to get express!

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:09 p.m. Brittany Miller Says...

Love ALL of the helpful info!!

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:09 p.m. Mistie S Says...

I so want to go to Universal. Have been missing it

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:07 p.m. MeanestMomma Says...

Can't wait to go back to the parks!

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:05 p.m. Kris Persaud Says...

So helpful! I love Undercover Tourist - they make visiting the theme parks an amazing experience.

Sep 11, 2020 at 11:51 a.m. Marty Harris Says...

This would be the perfect trip for me and my son

Sep 11, 2020 at 4 a.m. Kate Morris Says...

Wondering if the best time to visit is during this Covid-19 outbreak, maybe less of a crowd?

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:28 p.m. Jeff B Says...

Unable to edit above post-Universal has a deal going on...not a desk.

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:27 p.m. Jeff B Says...

We were at Universal in early August (they have a desk still going-but 2 days, get 2 days free) and went on Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday of our vacation. Tuesday was the best day, hardly any crowd or wait times-the longest we waited was 15 minutes to ride Escape from Gringots (we rode it 3 times back to back, in fact). Friday and Saturday were busy-it took almost 30 minutes each day to get into the park because of their temperature check/security protocols. Wait times both days were 1 hour plus on many rides (Mummy, Hulk, Gringots, Hagrids and Kong skull island).

Sep 11, 2020 at 3:54 a.m. Delores Harris Says...

This all sounds very complicated!

Sep 11, 2020 at 3:38 a.m. Kelley Says...

Great information! Thanks!

Sep 11, 2020 at 2:35 a.m. Jan H Says...

Love undercover tourist always have lots of great information and great tickets prices.

Sep 11, 2020 at 1:35 a.m. Mary Jo Says...

Can't wait to get down to Universal Orlando!

Sep 11, 2020 at 1:24 a.m. Kristen d Says...

Haven't visited in a long time! Thanks for the tips.

Sep 10, 2020 at 11:34 p.m. TK Says...

Love Undercover tourist! For universal and Disney!

Sep 10, 2020 at 9:36 p.m. tetera Says...

Wow...I had heard of the Express Pass but didn’t know exactly how it worked (or that you could get it for “free” by staying at certain Universal hotels. Thank you for the info!

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