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The Ultimate Guide on When to Use Universal Express

by Leap on August 20, 2020 1764 Orlando

Universal Express Pass - PinterestHoppy day! We frogs are finally selling discount Universal Express Passes along with discount tickets and hotel rooms. So now you can book your entire Universal Orlando vacation with your favorite frogs and save some green. 

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. 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 Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and Pteranodon Flyers at Universal's Islands of Adventure.

Currently, in Universal's initial reopening phases post COVID-19, some rides have been using a Virtual Line. If you have a Universal Express Pass, you do not have to get a Virtual Line pass (the only exception is Hagrid's).

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 Storm Force Acceleration or 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 his or her 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.

Universal Orlando Single Rider Lines

Universal Express Pass - Men In Black Alien Attack Queues

Note: Currently, Single Rider Lines are closed, as parties are being kept together on rides and remain separated from other parties by empty seats, rows or ride vehicles. 

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. The Single Rider lines go straight to the loading area, though the exact speediness 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 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 miss out, however.

Universal Express Pass Options

Universal Express Pass - Back of the Pass

There are two types of Universal Express passes:

  • Universal Express Unlimited
  • Universal Express Standard

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 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 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. You can then book directly with Universal or wait until you are in the parks.

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?

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. 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. (Currently, Single Rider lines are closed.)

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!
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251–300 of 1246 comments
Sep 8, 2020 at 6:13 p.m. sarah Says...

Looking forward to going to Universal again in the future. So much fun every time.

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Sep 8, 2020 at 5:41 p.m. casie svonovec Says...

We always Enjoy your updates, information and

helpful tips, tricks and discounts! thank you!

Reply
Sep 8, 2020 at 5:25 p.m. Teri Hostetler Says...

Wonderful contest. Would love to win!!!

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Sep 8, 2020 at 4:38 p.m. P Hill Says...

Our son is handicapped and we usually get the AAP pass. We also go during slow times so the crowds are lower, which is easier for him to handle. I was told that since we get the AAP, there is really no need for the Express Pass. But, with the AAP you get return times if the wait is over 30 minutes. You can only get one at a time until it is used, then get another. Is it better to get the Express Pass?

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Sep 8, 2020 at 12:16 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi there!

The two can actually be used together, so our best advice would be to continue using the AAP during slow times, and potentially combine it with the Express during busier times (or anytime you find that you'll have several return times and aren't able to hop on/hop off rides as quickly as you need). We've heard it's very helpful to be able to hop to another attraction quickly using Express while you wait for your AAP return time :)

Keep hopping!

Leap

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Sep 8, 2020 at 4:34 p.m. Ashlyn Gary Says...

I’m ready to go back to the parks!!

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Sep 8, 2020 at 4:22 p.m. Elizabeth Miller Says...

My daughter has wanted to go so bad and we were trying to go right when school got out but it was a bust. We promised her we would still get there...someday

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Sep 8, 2020 at 4:13 p.m. Bridget Tatum Says...

Love that you have simplified all of this information for visitors! It is so helpful

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Sep 8, 2020 at 4:10 p.m. Gambit1959 Says...

There’s nothing like a family vacation to Disneyworld!

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Sep 8, 2020 at 4:03 p.m. Christi Martin Says...

I need a Disney Vacay!!!

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Sep 8, 2020 at 3:51 p.m. James L Downes Says...

Looks like fun

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Sep 8, 2020 at 3:37 p.m. Vickie B. Says...

Great info.

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Sep 8, 2020 at 3:23 p.m. Peggy T Says...

Universal is a great time!

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Sep 8, 2020 at 3:22 p.m. Our Life on the Go Says...

We're about to try UO's special resident deal for the rest of this year, so it will be our first visits without Express Pass. We love that pass, but just can't afford it very often!

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Sep 8, 2020 at 3:18 p.m. Shelbs Says...

Thanks for the info on getting the passes for free when staying with premier resorts, I had no clue!

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Sep 8, 2020 at 3:17 p.m. Becky Says...

Great tips. Thanks!

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Sep 8, 2020 at 3:11 p.m. Daniel Mullen Says...

Thank you!

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Sep 8, 2020 at 3:02 p.m. Dani F. Says...

We used express pass and it is a game changer

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Sep 8, 2020 at 2:52 p.m. Tiffany Monroe Says...

I have booked a night at the Royal Pacific just for 2 days of Express Passes and it was so worth it!

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Sep 8, 2020 at 2:41 p.m. Shannon F Says...

I NEED a vacation! Thanks for the info!

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Sep 8, 2020 at 2:26 p.m. Melissa Heiser Says...

My family and I need a getaway might have to try universal.

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Sep 8, 2020 at 2:23 p.m. Marissa Rice Says...

I have never been to universal but this sounds like a great way to enjoy the park! I can't wait to go one day.

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Sep 8, 2020 at 2:23 p.m. Kelly R Says...

Very helpful. Thanks! Our family loves Universal!

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Sep 8, 2020 at 2:21 p.m. Meredith Christina York Says...

Great advice!

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Sep 8, 2020 at 2:18 p.m. Bari Says...

I miss Orlando!

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Sep 8, 2020 at 2:13 p.m. Mjmiller369 Says...

Thanks for doing the heavy hoppin and keeping us up to date during Covid changes!

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Sep 8, 2020 at 2:13 p.m. Jen H. Says...

Can't wait to get back to Universal!

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Sep 8, 2020 at 2:13 p.m. Suzy Bodine Shull Says...

I have always had the most wonderful vacations at Universal Orlando. I will recommend Universal Express Unlimited to friends Everytime as a vacation enhancement. There is a freedom that comes along with knowing you won't waste any precious vacation time as a family by waiting in long lines. This blog is very informative and I will be passing it on because it explains the value of Express pass in detail. Thank you, Undercover Tourist!

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Sep 8, 2020 at 2:10 p.m. Buddy Garrett Says...

A Universal Park Pass makes a vacation to Universal easier and fun.

Reply
Sep 8, 2020 at 2:10 p.m. Tyler Conrad Says...

Thanks for keeping us updated with the recent changes!

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Sep 8, 2020 at 2:07 p.m. Kim Collura Says...

So excited to be staying at the Royal Pacific and getting “FREE” Express passes...TOADALLY worth they extra money for a great hotel + the passes!!

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Sep 8, 2020 at 2:07 p.m. Tammy Sue Bohne Says...

Can’t wait to make it back! Looking at this blog has me in major withdrawals!

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Sep 8, 2020 at 2:04 p.m. LMD Says...

Can't wait to go!

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Sep 8, 2020 at 2:04 p.m. Nzuri Hazina Says...

TY for all the informative posts! Looking forward to a first visit to Univ. Studios Orlando.

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Sep 8, 2020 at 2:02 p.m. Jeff Britton Says...

Good info here!

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Sep 8, 2020 at 1:56 p.m. Baileymouse Says...

This is very helpful, thanks. I'm taking my daughter in November and I'm hoping it'll be a great time.

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Sep 8, 2020 at 1:55 p.m. Cathy C. Says...

I would love to go to Universal during Christmas. I've never been during that time.

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Sep 8, 2020 at 1:21 p.m. Diana Says...

Can’t wait to go!

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Sep 8, 2020 at 12:02 p.m. DeniseDee Says...

Awesome!

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Sep 7, 2020 at 11:41 p.m. Vicki Fischer Says...

This is my dream getaway. Thanks for the info travel tips and giveaway

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Sep 7, 2020 at 10:40 p.m. Sarah Jane Ehrhart Says...

I would love to take my two grandsons to Universal!

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Sep 7, 2020 at 10:26 p.m. Karen L Says...

Is it an actual plastic room key? I can see my 10 year old losing it or mom becomes the keeper of the keys lol

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Sep 8, 2020 at 9:08 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Karen!

Yes, if you're staying at an eligible hotel where you'll receive Unlimited Express with your stay, your room key will serve as your Express Pass (one for each person in the room); if you're purchasing separately, it's a paper ticket. Either way, I tend to be the keeper of the Express Pass for our whole squad, just to be safe ;)

Keep hopping!

Leap

Reply
Sep 7, 2020 at 10:11 p.m. Mashio Says...

Now I know how first time Disney feels

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Sep 7, 2020 at 10:10 p.m. Mashio Says...

Now I know how overwhelmed first time Disney goers feel

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Sep 7, 2020 at 7:57 p.m. Cole Says...

Rad

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Sep 7, 2020 at 2:41 p.m. Tiffany C Says...

I would love to win a trip to Florida.

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Sep 7, 2020 at 2:14 p.m. Jessica Dooley Says...

We were able to visit Universal Studios for our daughter's Make A Wish trip once and our children STILL talk about it on almost a daily basis!! We used your videos, blogs, and posts to navigate our time there and it made the two days we had SO much fun!! We can't wait to get back!! Thank you for all of the super helpful info that you provide for both Universal and Disney!!

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Sep 7, 2020 at 4:03 a.m. MYork Says...

How have I never explored this group before?! Obviously I need a vacation.

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Sep 7, 2020 at 2:43 a.m. Shane M Says...

I’ve used Express Pass many times in the past although not in awhile since now I usually go when the parks are less crowded. Express Pass is definitely worth it when factored into the cost of a stay at the Royal Pacific, Hard Rock, or Portofino Bay.

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Sep 7, 2020 at 2:09 a.m. Marchae J Says...

Can't wait to finally be at the parks again, and to have some self care time!!!

Reply
Sep 7, 2020 at 2:07 a.m. amgoodwin Says...

haven't been to universal yet, but it would be awesome, I think the kids are old enough now, we are disney junkies might as well hit up universal too

Reply
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