Welcome to the world’s most comprehensive, accurate, and up-to-date guide to Universal Orlando Express Passes.
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What are Universal Express Passes?
Universal Express Passes are somewhat similar to the better known Disney FastPasses in that they allow you to skip the regular standby line — and use a special Express Pass line — at most of Universal Orlando’s attractions.
For example, let’s say the regular standby line for The Incredible Hulk is a 45 minute wait. Then the Express Pass line will likely get you on the ride in about five to 10 minutes. This brings to light our first important point: Express Passes are not “front of the line” passes. When Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure are busy, there will be a wait when using Express Passes. However, the wait will be significantly shorter than the standby line, and you will practically never wait longer than 15 minutes.
If the attraction is a ride, the Express Pass line is generally a separate, shorter queue than the standby line. If the attraction is a show, guests with Express Passes are allowed in before guests without them, allowing Express Pass guests to get better seats. However, to take advantage of this, you must be in the Express Pass line before the audience is admitted into the theater (usually 10 minutes before the show). Once both the Express Pass line and standby line have been admitted, your Express Pass benefit is forfeited for that performance.
How are Express Passes different from Disney’s FastPasses?
Express Passes are different from Disney’s FastPasses in three critical ways. First, Express Passes are good at every attraction that has Express Pass access. Currently that is about 30 attractions between the two Universal Orlando theme parks. Here is the full list:
Universal Studios Florida – attractions & shows with Express Pass access
- Production Central
- New York
- San Francisco
- World Expo
- Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone
Islands of Adventure – attractions & shows with Express Pass access
- Marvel Super Hero Island
- Toon Lagoon
- Jurassic Park
- Wizarding World of Harry Potter
- Lost Continent
- Seuss Landing
WARNING: Right now the three notable attractions without Express Pass access are Pteranodon Flyers at IOA’s Jurassic Park, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Ollivander’s at IOA’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter. Muggles, please note that the other two attractions inside the IOA’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Dragon Challenge and Flight of the Hippogriff, do have Express Pass access.
Universal Orlando’s Express Passes are also different from Disney’s FastPasses in that they must be purchased (with a few exceptions). We will talk pricing later on. For the moment what you need to know is that you have to pay for them one way or another, and that an Express Pass is separate from an admission ticket. So, yes, if you want to go into the park and enjoy Express Pass access, you will need to purchase two separate tickets (again, with a few exceptions that I will address later on).
The third difference between Express Passes and Disney’s FastPasses is time restrictions: there are no “return times” for Express Passes. You get to use your Express Pass access at whatever time you want to.
Are there different types of Express Passes?
There are indeed several different types of Express Passes — some of which include unlimited Express Pass access — and there are a variety of ways to get them.
Basic Express Passes (Please note that I use the word “basic”. This is not Universal’s language.)
The basic Express Pass is the one sold online here. It is also the one you will be buying if you just called Universal and asked for Express Passes (407-224-7840). It allows one guest Express Pass access one time at each participating attraction. This means you can use it at each participating attraction, but only one time — like a Disney FastPass. If you want to ride anything again, you will need to use the standby line.
In addition, basic Express Passes are good for one day, and each member of your party needs his or her own ticket, even kids. So if you are going to the Universal Orlando theme parks for multiple days and you want Express Pass access for each of those days, you will need to purchase multiple Express Passes. Likewise, if you have multiple guests in your party and if you want all those guests to have Express Pass access, you need to purchase one for each person.
There are two varieties of the basic Express Passes: 1-Park or 2-Park. This is exactly what is sounds like. The 1-Park Express Pass is only good for the theme park you select, either Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure. It will save you a little bit of money should you only plan on going to one theme park for the day. The 2-Park Express Pass is good at both theme parks for the day, and as a result it costs a bit more.
Please note that all basic Express Passes are date-specific. When you purchase the pass you also need to select the date of your visit. Furthermore, the 1-Park Express Passes are park-specific, meaning that you have to select the date of your visit and which one of the two theme parks you will be entering.
You can also purchase basic Express Passes online here, over the phone (407-224-7840), at the theme park gates, and throughout both parks. Express Passes are not available from third-party vendors, such as Undercover Tourist.
Unlimited Express Passes available for purchase
Universal Orlando also sells Express Passes that offer unlimited Express Pass access to all participating attractions. If you purchase one of these, you get to ride and re-ride the participating attractions, and visit the shows, as many times as you would like throughout the day using the Express Pass lines.
Unfortunately, unlimited Express Passes as a stand-alone ticket are only sold at the theme parks. You cannot purchase them online or over the phone, again, as a stand-alone ticket. But if you are interested in unlimited Express Pass access, keep reading…
Unlimited Express bundled with Park-to-Park admission
Universal Orlando sells what they now refer to as a PARK-TO-PARK TICKET + UNLIMITED EXPRESS. Guests who have been traveling to Universal for a while will remember these as “VIP Tickets” — not to be confused with Universal Orlando’s VIP Tours. As pretty clearly indicated from the new name, a PARK-TO-PARK TICKET + UNLIMITED EXPRESS is admission and unlimited Express Passes combined into one ticket. What is important to note here is that, to get access to the online unlimited Express Pass, you need to bundle it up front with an admission ticket. In many cases this doesn’t work — for example, if you are an Annual Passholder and therefore already have admission.
But if you are interested, the PARK-TO-PARK TICKET + UNLIMITED EXPRESS is available as a one-day ticket or a multi-day ticket. Admission and unlimited Express Pass access is included for however many days you choose. Please note that a PARK-TO-PARK TICKET + UNLIMITED EXPRESS is date-specific in the sense that you must select non-peak, standard, peak, or holiday based on your travel dates. PARK-TO-PARK TICKET + UNLIMITED EXPRESS must be purchased through Universal, either online here or over the phone (407-224-7840).
Unlimited Express Pass access included with on-site hotel accommodations
It is true: if you stay at one of Universal’s three luxury on-site hotels — Royal Pacific Resort, Hard Rock Hotel, or Portofino Bay Hotel — you will receive complimentary unlimited Express Pass access each day of your visit, including your check-in and check-out dates. As of July 2012 Universal has implemented a new PHOTO Express Pass procedure for on-site guests. So, whereas in the past you used your room key as your unlimited Express Pass, you now need to step up to one of the new kiosks and get a separate PHOTO Express Pass. It is a very quick process:
Here is the final product:And here is a photo gallery with a shot of each step of the process:
There are multiple kiosks at each of the three luxury on-site hotels. In addition, there are kiosk locations at the parks. You DO need your room key to be issued a PHOTO Express Pass, but you DO NOT need your room key for Express Pass access once you have your pass.
Only one pass is issued per guest for the entire duration of that guest’s stay (a VALID THROUGH date is printed on the pass, which is your check-out date — see the photo above). If you lose your pass, you will need to speak with a member of the hotel staff or Guest Services to get it replaced.
Every guest registered to a room is given a room key, even kids. Therefore you can and should get an Express Pass for everyone too, even if you are thinking that a younger guest may not use it. Remember, each person needs his or her own Express Pass. If you don’t end up using it, at least you got a free souvenir!
HUGE REMINDER: The Express Pass access included with a stay at Royal Pacific, Hard Rock, or Portofino Bay does NOT cover separately ticketed events, such as Halloween Horror Nights or Rock The Universe. Those events have their own Express Passes, and even if you are staying on-site you will need to purchase them if you want Express Pass access during the event.
HUGEST REMINDER EVER: In 2014 Universal will open its fourth on-site hotel, Cabana Bay Beach Resort. It is extremely important to remember that, as a “value” property, it does offer the lowest rates of Universal’s on-site hotels, but it does NOT offer unlimited Express Pass access as a benefit — which is part of the reason why it is able to offer the lowest on-site rates.
How much do Express Passes cost?
Just like hotels adjust room rates and airlines adjust plane tickets based on demand and availability, Universal Orlando also adjusts the price of its Express Passes based on anticipated theme park attendance. As a result the prices for Express Passes fluctuate throughout the year from $19 to as much as $119 per person, per day.
Express Pass pricing is also not set in stone. If you look today the price for a particular day may be $49. Tomorrow, it is possible that the price will go up (if Universal sees that they are selling more than they expected), or the price may go down (if Universal sees that they are not selling enough at the current price point). As a general rule of thumb, you can expect Express Pass pricing to GO UP for busy dates like the last week in December as those dates approach. So, if you have decided that you are for sure going to buy them, do so as soon as possible.
Check out the pricing for your travel dates by clicking here and then selecting CHOOSE DATES in the Express Pass section.
Please note that Express Passes are the same price for everyone, regardless of age. There are no child discounts for Express Passes like there are for regular admission tickets. In fact, Express Passes are essentially never discounted in any way. Sometimes you will be able to find discount admission tickets (for example, through AAA), but you will never find discount Express Passes. And as I mentioned above, Express Passes are only available for purchase directly from Universal Orlando.
Price difference between Express Passes, unlimited Express and Express + P2P bundle
You can find the prices for basic Express Passes anytime online by clicking here. Once you know the price for the basic version, you can anticipate that the unlimited version sold at the park will be about $20 more per person…
By the way, did you see the yellow section in that image that talks about Universal’s Ride Reservation System? We have a whole page covering that.
Since a PARK-TO-PARK TICKET + UNLIMITED EXPRESS includes admission and unlimited Express access, its pricing is quite a bit higher than just the basic Express Passes. Luckily, Universal has all the pricing information online here. The date you select for your pricing should be the first day you are visiting, even if the second or third day falls in a higher or lower price category.
Do Express Passes sell out?
Although rare, Express Passes can potentially sell out during Universal Orlando’s busiest times, like the last week in December. That’s why, if you are going in a peak busy season, you should buy your Express Passes now.
OI tip Basic Express Passes (one ride per attraction, the option sold on Universal Orlando’s website) can be purchased by themselves — you do not need to purchase an admission ticket to purchase a basic Express Pass or vice versa. So if you are still not quite sure where you are going to buy your admission tickets, but you know right now that you want basic Express Passes, you can go ahead and buy the Express Passes.
What’s the deal with Express Pass Plus?
This is a bit of a history lesson. When Universal Orlando first opened it did not offer Express Passes. The idea of paid Express Pass access was a concept added later on.
When Universal eventually introduced the Express Passes, each one only included quick access to a small group of attractions in a certain area, say the New York backlot of Universal Studios. If you also wanted quick access to attractions in a different area, you had to purchase a different Express Pass.
As the program became more popular, Universal introduced the Express Pass Plus. This enhanced ticket allowed guests Express Pass access to all the attractions throughout the entire theme park.
Nowadays there are no more “Express Passes” that are limited to only a certain area within one of the theme parks. In this sense every Express Pass that is sold today is an Express Pass Plus. That is why you see the word “Plus” everywhere but no option to buy a non-plus version.
Is it worth it to get Express Passes?
We finally arrive at the big question: Is an Express Pass a good value? Ultimately, this is something only you can answer for yourself, but I will try to guide you to a decision.
Express Passes are all about cutting down your wait time in lines or getting better seats at the shows. They do not open up any part of the theme parks that is not available to everyone else. So the real questions are, (1) how much time do you have and (2) how much patience do you have for waiting in lines?
When Universal Orlando is busy
During Universal’s busier times, the average wait time at the most popular attractions can climb to 45 minutes, to 60 minutes, or even longer. The average wait time at the less popular attractions can be 25 minutes or more. See our Ride wait times based on crowd levels page for more detailed information. In this case an Express Pass can help tremendously. Even though you do not need Express Passes, think how much more enjoyable your day at the theme park will be when you can spend your time exploring, having fun, and not waiting in lines.
Furthermore, if you are trying to see both Universal Orlando theme parks in one day during busy times, you simply will not be able to see and do everything — without great discomfort to yourself and others in your party — without Express Passes.
However, there are two more points to consider. First, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey does not have Express Pass access. Second, the longest wait times usually occur during the middle of the day, from 11:00am to 3:00pm. If you are able to visit before 11:00am or stay later than 3:00pm, you will experience shorter wait times. In this case you may want to hold off on purchasing Express Passes.
When Universal Orlando is moderate or slow
When Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure are slow, Express Passes become much more of a convenience and not at all a necessity. Other than inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, it is unlikely to find wait times longer than 30 minutes. What’s more, Express Passes never sell out when it is slow. That means, if you decide you want them after all, you will have no problem buying them inside the theme parks. What I tell people is wait until you get there, see what the lines are like, and then decide.
Getting Express Passes just for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter
If you are just planning on visiting the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal’s Islands of Adventure, then an Express Pass will be of little use to you. First, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey does not have Express Pass access. Second, Ollivander’s Wand Shop does not have Express Pass access. So we are left with Flight of the Hippogriff and Dragon Challenge. These two attractions do not often have wait times longer than 30 minutes. So if you have spent money on an Express Pass just for the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, you will likely just be frustrated as you wait in the 90 minute queue for Forbidden Journey and the 60 minute queue for Ollivander’s anyway.
Additional Express Pass questions & answers
If I use an Express Pass, will I be able to sit in the front row on the rides?
Theme park veterans know that many thrill rides already have two queues: one for guests who want to sit in the front row and one for guests who want to get on the ride as fast as possible and are happy to sit anywhere. The “front row” queue usually splits off from the regular queue about 20 feet before the main loading area.
The question here is: If you are already in a separate queue because you’re using Express access, will you be able to also get in the front row queue?
First off, only three of Universal Orlando’s rides have separate front row queues: Incredible Hulk and Dragon Challenge in Islands of Adventure, and Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit in Universal Studios Florida. (Technically you could call this four since Dragon Challenge has two coasters.)
For all three rides, the Express queue and the regular queue merge before you get to the main loading area. Therefore you would be able to choose the front row line. However, be aware that you’re really not going to be taking advantage of your “Express” ticket, because the front row line moves very slow.
Can I jump from the regular queue over to the Express queue after I get past the guy with the scanner?
Obviously this is against park policy, so I wouldn’t advise trying it in the first place. But if you are thinking about it, be aware that Universal generally sets up two scan points for Express: one scan point at the very front of the attraction where you first enter, and a second scan point midway through the Express queue. The second scan point is chosen strategically, and it is usually placed at a location where guests can no longer physically get from one queue to the other, or after the two lines merge.
If I use the Express Pass queue, will I miss out on the storyline and theming?
Since in most instances the Express Pass queue is a separate queue from standby, the answer is yes. However, not every attraction has a not-to-be-missed queue experience. If you really want to see the best of the best, I would try to go through the regular queue at MEN IN BLACK Alien Attack (USF), Revenge of the Mummy (USF), The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man (IOA), Dragon Challenge (IOA), and Dr. Doom’s Fearfall (IOA). Of course you want to try to do this when lines are as short as possible, either at the very beginning or very end of the day.
How do Express Passes work for shows?
All the big shows at Universal Orlando have a separate queue for folks with Express Pass access, quite similar to the rides. When the doors open for show seating, the Express Pass line gets first shot at the seats, and then everyone else is let in.
The key to successfully using Express Passes for shows is to keep in mind that an Express Pass won’t help once the standby queue has been let into the theater. So if you get there only 5 minutes before show time and they have already let in the Express Pass line and the standby line, you will get whatever seats you get — regardless of whether you have an Express Pass.
If you visit on a crowded day, I’d recommend that you get to the shows about 20 to 30 minutes before they are scheduled to begin. If you visit when it is slower, cut that down to 10 or 20 minutes.