Universal Express Passes – complete insider’s guide

Fall 2014 update: Universal now sells “Universal Express Unlimited” tickets online and over the phone. Previously, unlimited Express Passes sold as a standalone ticket were only available for purchase on-site at Universal. All our information below has been updated to reflect this change, including how the pricing of this new option compares to bundling Express access with a Park-to-Park ticket.

To start with the most basic information, keep reading from the top. Otherwise, to skip right to our explanation of the different standalone Express Pass options, click here.

 

Welcome to the world’s most comprehensive, accurate, and up-to-date guide to Universal Orlando Express Passes. There is a lot of information in this guide, including several FAQs at the very bottom. We highly recommend that you take the time to read through all of our information thoroughly, as we will likely answer every question you have – including whether Express Passes are worth it on any given date.

Let’s get started!

 

What are Universal Express Passes?

Universal Express Passes allow guests to skip the regular standby line – and use a special Express Pass line – at most of the attractions inside Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure.

Express Pass sign at Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit.

Express Pass sign at Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit.

For example, let’s say the regular standby line for Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit 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.

Rides versus shows

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 into the venue before guests without them, granting Express Pass guests 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.

 

Which attractions offer Express access?

There are currently about 30 attractions between the two Universal Orlando theme parks that offer guests Express Pass access. Here is the full list:

Universal Studios Florida – attractions with Express access

Islands of Adventure – attractions with Express access

*** Despicable Me Minion Mayhem is the only attraction whose Express Pass line routinely has a wait longer than 15 minutes. In fact, because of the ride’s low capacity, Despicable Me’s Express Pass wait time can be as high as half of the posted standby wait time.

WARNING: These are the notable attractions without Express access…

Muggles, please note that the other two attractions inside of Hogsmeade at Islands of Adventure – Dragon Challenge and Flight of the Hippogriff – do have Express access.

 

Do I have to pay for Express Passes?

With a few exceptions, Universal’s Express Passes must be purchased. I’ll discuss pricing in a bit; for the moment, what you need to know is that you will most likely 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 access, you will need to purchase two separate tickets (again, with a few exceptions, which I will address very soon).

 

Do Express Passes have return times?

Unlike Disney’s FastPasses, there are no “return times” for Express Passes. You get to use your Express access at whatever time you want to. Just be aware that Express access is not available during Early Park Admission.

Quick tip: if you have a one-use-per-participating Express Pass, best to save it for when there is a line longer than 15 minutes at your favorite attraction – if the wait is shorter than 15 minutes, you might as well jump into the standby line.

 

Are there different types of Express Passes?

There are indeed several different types of Express Passes, some of which include unlimited Express access, and there are a variety of ways to get them.

 

Universal Express Passes as a standalone ticket

The basic “Universal Express” sold as a standalone ticket allows a guest Express access one time at each participating attraction. This means you can use it at each participating attraction listed at the top of this page, but only one time, similar to how you can only use Disney’s FastPasses once per reservation. If you want to ride anything again, you will need to use the standby line.

“Universal Express Unlimited” is a second standalone ticket option that offers unlimited Express access at each participating attraction. 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 Express access.

Universal Express Pass options.

Universal Express Pass options sold online.

Fall 2014 update: Those who have been studying Universal Orlando for some time are right to be surprised to see “Universal Express Unlimited” sold online. This is a new offering on Universal’s website. Previously, unlimited Express Passes sold as a standalone ticket were only available for purchase on-site at Universal. However, as you see above, guests can now purchase this option online in advance or over the phone (and it’s about time!).

Express Passes sold as a standalone ticket are good for one day only, and each member of your party needs his or her own ticket, even kids (three years or older). So if you are going to Universal’s theme parks for multiple days and you want Express access for each of those days, you will need to purchase multiple Express Passes. Likewise, if you have multiple guests in your party and you want all those guests to have Express access, you need to purchase one pass for each person.

Universal Express Passes are sold as 1-Park or Both Parks. 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 (and it’s the obvious choice if you have a single-park admission ticket). The “Both Parks” Express Pass is good at both theme parks for the day, and as a result it costs a bit more.

Finally, Universal Express Passes are date-specific. When you purchase your pass, you will 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. (If you change your plans after buying your Express Passes, you need to call Universal to update your passes – and you may have to pay more.)

Guests can purchase Universal Express Passes as a standalone ticket online, over the phone (407-224-7840), at the theme park gates, and throughout both parks at dozens of locations. Please be aware that Express Passes are not available from third-party vendors such as Undercover Tourist. Also, there is no such thing as a “discount” Express Passes sold as a standalone ticket; for planning purposes, they’re the same price everywhere for everyone.

 

Unlimited Express bundled with Park-to-Park admission

In addition to Express Passes as a standalone ticket, Universal also sells what they now refer to as a PARK-TO-PARK TICKET + UNIVERSAL EXPRESS UNLIMITED. Guests who have been traveling to Universal for a while will remember these as “VIP Tickets” (not to be confused with Universal’s VIP Tours). As indicated by its newer name, a PARK-TO-PARK TICKET + UNIVERSAL EXPRESS UNLIMITED is park admission and unlimited Express access bundled into one ticket.

These tickets are available in the one-day or multi-day variety. Admission and unlimited Express access is included for however many days you choose. Please note that a PARK-TO-PARK TICKET + UNIVERSAL EXPRESS UNLIMITED is date-specific in the sense that you must select non-peak, standard, peak, or holiday based on your travel dates. However, you do not have to use your days consecutively. Like standard admission tickets, once your ticket is first used, you have a 14-day window to use any remaining days on the ticket.

PARK-TO-PARK TICKET + UNIVERSAL EXPRESS UNLIMITED must be purchased through Universal, either online or over the phone (407-224-7840).

What if the price of a multi-day option changes over my travel dates? Universal has told us that the date you select when purchasing a PARK-TO-PARK TICKET + UNIVERSAL EXPRESS UNLIMITED should correspond with the very first date you use the ticket at the parks, regardless of whether the price fluctuates on subsequent dates.

Can I save money by bundling? In other words, can a guest save money with a PARK-TO-PARK TICKET + UNIVERSAL EXPRESS UNLIMITED versus buying an admission ticket and then a separate, standalone Universal Express Unlimited ticket? Well, let’s see what happens if we were just visiting one day, on Thanksgiving 2014:

  • PARK-TO-PARK TICKET + UNIVERSAL EXPRESS UNLIMITED for one day, November 27: $229.99
  • Park-to-Park admission ticket for one day: $136.00
  • “Both Parks” Universal Express Unlimited for one day, November 27, 2014: $99.99
  • Total for buying separate, standalone tickets: $235.00

Now let’s see what happens with a four-day visit in early December 2014:

  • PARK-TO-PARK TICKET + UNIVERSAL EXPRESS UNLIMITED for four days, starting December 12: $379.99
  • Park-to-Park admission ticket for four days: $195.99
  • “Both Parks” Universal Express Unlimited for four days, starting December 12: $349.96 **
  • Total for buying separate, standalone tickets: $545.95

As you see in these examples, yes, the saving do add up significantly if you are planning to visit multiple days. Keep in mind that the prices quoted above do not include tax, and as always, are subject to change until the dates past. Be sure to do your own math diligently before making a final purchasing decision.

** For the purposes of this calculation, the Express Pass prices on December 12, 13, 14 & 15 were used. However, remember that you are not required to use the PARK-TO-PARK TICKET + UNIVERSAL EXPRESS UNLIMITED option on consecutive days, as we noted earlier.

 

To learn about unlimited Express Passes offered at Universal’s deluxe on-site hotels, whether it’s worth it to purchase an Express Pass, and so much more, continue to page 2

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