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The Ultimate Guide on When to Use Universal Express

by Leap on March 30, 2021 1791 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 Hagrid'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 Storm Force Accelatron 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 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.

Universal Orlando Single Rider Lines

Universal Express Pass - MIB Ride Entrance

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 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 miss out, 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 - In-Park Umbrellas

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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1–50 of 1257 comments
May 7, 2021 at 7:54 p.m. Elmer R Hemingway Says...

Hi..Im planning to visit mid to late Sept 2021.. whats your opinion on this time of year and the Express Passes? Necessary or not?

May 7, 2021 at 5:49 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Elmer!

In September, things start to slow a little as kiddos head back to school. We'd spring for Express on the weekend, if possible, but weekdays should be manageable :)

Keep hopping!


Apr 7, 2021 at 12:20 p.m. Nina Says...


We're going at the end of April. Are single rider lines available now or suspended during COVID?

Apr 7, 2021 at 7:53 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Nina,

The Single Rider Lines are still unavailable.

Keep hopping!


Apr 7, 2021 at 1:37 a.m. Jay Says...

Is it possible/realistic to get through all rides (3D/4D, thrill, and water - no kid rides) at either park in a day without the express pass, especially if I plan on taking advantage of early entry.

I plan on going during the weekday in the beginning of May.

Apr 7, 2021 at 8:26 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Jay,

Historically, weekdays in the first half of May are considered as one of the best times to go to Universal Orlando since it's after the spring break season and before summer vacations start. Especially since you'll be taking advantage of Early Park Admission, you should be fine without an Express pass. As for hitting every ride, it's more realistic for hitting all of them in one park, but it could be more of a stretch if you're wanting to hit every ride in both parks during a single day (as there are about 20 rides — not including the rides for tadpoles — total between the two, so each one would need to average about a 30-minute wait time or less).

Keep hopping!


Apr 1, 2021 at 3:37 a.m. Jack Says...

Haven't been to Universal Studios before, so trying to figure this out before making arrangements. Wondering if you could answer a question re: the Unlimited Express perk offered by the 3 hotels on-site:

If the hotel key/card serves as the Unlimited Express pass, how do the hotels offer you that perk on your CHECK OUT date (ie when you turn in your hotel key/card)? Is there a separate card/ticket that is given that doubles as a Unlimited Express pass?

Apr 1, 2021 at 9:46 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Jack,

The hotel key is personalized with your name & the dates of your stay, so you can keep them as a keepsake after you check out. Hope this helps!

Keep hopping!


Mar 29, 2021 at 5:58 p.m. Paula Says...

We are going to Universal next week and was waiting to buy express passes close to time going. I just checks and now it say they are unavailable next week. Did they sell OUT? Can you still buy at the park?

Mar 30, 2021 at 4:59 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Paula!

Yes, at busy times, the Express Passes can, unfortunately, sell out in advance.

Keep hopping!


Mar 20, 2021 at 8:50 p.m. Kevin Says...

For the express pass ticket can I just use my phone or do I need a paper copy

Mar 23, 2021 at 8:14 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Kevin!

You can use your phone :) The only exceptions are Incredible Hulk or Rip Ride Rockit, where you'd need the paper copy since you can't bring your phone along with you.

Keep hopping!


Mar 17, 2021 at 6:43 a.m. Paddy's Mum Says...

Hi , we're staying at the Hard Rock Hotel for a night and was wondering if there's a limit to how many times you can use your ticket . I'm led to believe that my room key is my express pass?

Mar 17, 2021 at 3:09 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Paddy's Mum!

That's correct - your room key serves as your Express Pass, and it's unlimited for the participating rides :) have a great time!

Keep hopping!


Mar 11, 2021 at 6:06 p.m. Amber Says...

Hello, If I’m staying at a universal resort that offers the express pass and I have tickets to do 2 parks in one day. Will that express pass work for BOTH parks on that ONE day

Mar 11, 2021 at 3:11 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Amber!

If your hotel offers the Express Unlimited perk, it's valid with your ticket type - so if you have park-to-park tickets, it's good at both parks! :)

Keep hopping!


Mar 4, 2021 at 5:32 p.m. Desiree' R Says...

Hello! I am planning to stay off-site but still want to purchase the express pass unlimited for my brother and I, will I need to purchase it for each day we plan to be at the park?

Mar 4, 2021 at 4:04 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Desiree!

That's correct - you'd need to purchase Express for each day.

Keep hopping!


Mar 2, 2021 at 1:20 p.m. Gaston Bagnati Says...


We are 4 adults and 1 six year old. If I get only the night of April 24th in a premier hotel. Can we go to both (buying park to park) universal parks on the 25th with unlimited express passes for all?

Thank you!

Mar 2, 2021 at 9:35 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Gaston!

The Unlimited Express perk at premier hotels are good both the day of check-in and checkout — so if you stayed the 24th and checked out on the 25th, it'd be valid the 25th as well :)

Keep hopping!


Mar 2, 2021 at 7:23 p.m. Gaston Bagnati Says...

Thank you for your answer but I still have doubts.

I want to visit the 2 universal parks on Abril 25th, do you think the room key is activate with express passes for both parks on the same day?

Mar 2, 2021 at 1:39 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Gaston!

That's correct — as long as you have Park-to-Park access and are staying at a premier hotel, your Unlimited Express Pass is valid for the length of your stay, which includes the day of checkout :)

Keep hopping!


Mar 28, 2021 at 6:48 a.m. Liesa Says...

If we are staying just one night but can't check-in to our premier hotel until 4:00 pm, does that mean our express passes aren't available until after 4:00 on our check-in day, then all day on check-out day?

Is it possible to get the express passes any earlier than 4:00 pm. Even as early as the opening time that same morning?

Mar 29, 2021 at 3:12 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Liesa!

You can toadally get the Express Pass earlier! It's valid on both check-in and checkout, as you noted, for the entirety of the day - just head to the front desk when you arrive and they'll get you set up! If your room isn't ready, they'll hold your luggage for you while you head to the park. Have fun!

Keep hopping!


Feb 19, 2021 at 4:38 a.m. M Hardee Says...

Express Pass questions:

We are traveling as family of 4 (kids age 13 & petite 7) and plan to stay at off-site timeshare lodging.

1) Is it possible to purchase 1-2 unlimited Express Passes and take turns with multiple people sharing the pass? (I assume that your description of “non-transferable” means we cannot, but worth the ask!)

2) Could we purchase the Unlimited Express for my husband and tween son but just the Basic Express for myself and our little one? She and I probably won’t be repeat riders and it seems like it could save us $30/person.


Feb 19, 2021 at 9:13 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi there!

1. You're exactly right - since these are non-transferable, guests aren't able to take turns with the Express Pass. However!

2. You can add on Express (either Unlimited or basic) to any ticket - it doesn't need to be for every member of your party, so if you think that your husband and son will get the most use of it, we say go for it! Feel free to give us a call if you run into any questions at 1 (800) 846-1302

Hope this helps - have fun!

Keep hopping!


Sep 13, 2020 at 4:46 a.m. Skylar Walker Says...

Hopefully my family win the sweepstakes and I can discover more about the Express passes.

Sep 13, 2020 at 4:02 a.m. Cassandra D Says...

Definitely interesting information.

Dec 9, 2020 at 7:57 p.m. mom joy rose Says...


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Sep 13, 2020 at 2:57 a.m. Miranda Carico Says...

Can’t wait to cast spells and drink butterbeer

Sep 13, 2020 at 2:54 a.m. Josiah Says...

Would be so fun to win one and use it.

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This would be so cool! I’ve never been there before but I’d love to go sometime! I think this is just perfect for people going during the summer cause how packed they get!!

Sep 13, 2020 at 2:47 a.m. Cherry Says...

This is such helpful information!

Sep 13, 2020 at 2:31 a.m. Stephen Says...

I cannot wait to visit!

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Sep 13, 2020 at 12:49 a.m. Shannon Infinger Says...

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Sep 13, 2020 at 12:39 a.m. Curt Black Says...

I enjoy the express pass every visit, which is only once a year

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We have never used Express Pass before, but these are some good tips!

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This information will be so useful when my family is able to visit Universal Orlando for the first time. Thanks so much.

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Sep 12, 2020 at 5:43 p.m. Aidan Rheingans Says...

Express pass does seem pretty cool and I probably will take advantage of it when I visit

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And pictures. It looks so fun. Thank you also

For your generosity and chance to win .

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Sep 12, 2020 at 5:04 p.m. Sydney Says...

This article and all the others have helped me so much on my Disney trip years ago. I'd love to get to go with my family

Sep 12, 2020 at 5 p.m. Capri Says...

I know staying onsite is a bit pricey, but for a day or two, it might be worth it for the perk of unlimited Express Pass. Especially during busy times. Not to mention, it's vacation...splurge a little.

Sep 12, 2020 at 4:21 p.m. Hjmaes Says...

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Sep 12, 2020 at 2:49 p.m. Ruth Says...

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Sep 12, 2020 at 2:25 p.m. Brett Markham Says...

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Sep 12, 2020 at 1:51 p.m. Kelly Freeman Says...

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