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Is the Universal Express Pass Worth It?

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Are you heading out to Universal Studios and wondering if it’s worth the extra money to purchase an Express Pass? If so, you’ve come to the right place. We checked out the standby wait times to see how much time we would save with the Express Pass.

We look at each parks Express Pass, including the cost, the rides they include and more to help you answer the question, “Is the Universal Express Pass worth it (and the Unlimited Pass) or should you just wait in line at the Standby queue?”

Universal Studios is split into two main theme parks and a water park, all of which have the option to add on an Express Pass, but are they really worth it for your family? 

Let’s dive into the Universal Orlando Express Pass and discuss how it can alter your trip in the Universal Studios Florida park, the Islands of Adventure Park, or the Volcano Bay Water Park. 

Is the Universal Express Pass Worth It?

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How Much Time did the Express Pass Save Us?

We have visited on various days of the week and different periods over the year; Including January, February, April, June, September and October. In all cases the Express Pass was worth it. Below are some example times that I noted down of our experience.

For Escape from Gringotts, the standby line was 90 minutes and we were on in 20 minutes.

For Minions, the standby line was 60 minutes and we were on in 19 minutes.

For Twirl n Hurl and One Fish, Two Fish and Caro-Seuss-el, the standby line was 20 minutes and we were on in 5 minutes.

Seuss High in the Sky instead of 25 minutes, we waited 5 minutes.

E.T the standby line was only 5 minutes.

Men in Black the standby line was 45 minutes and we were on in 10 minutes.

Spiderman was a posted standby of 75 minutes and we were on in 25 minutes. This was our longest wait.

Flight of the Hippogriff had a wait of 45 minutes, we were on in 20 minutes.

Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey had a standby wait time of 90 minutes and we took 30 minutes. This was one of longest waits.

Hogwarts Express both ways the wait was over an hour and we were on in 20 minutes.

In our experiences the Express Pass has saved us 3/4 of the time it would have taken us in Standby. Yes, in some cases we could have ridden single rider, but with younger children this wasn’t really an option, but is worth considering if you have teens.

During our most recent visit, Velocicoaster was not Express Pass but it now is!

Note currently the Express Pass cannot be used for Hagrids.

What is the Universal Express Pass?

If you’re a frequent Disney visitor, then you may be familiar with their alternative to an Express Pass. Disney has the Disney Genie+ (in replacement of the old Fast Pass), and Universal has the Express Pass and Express Pass Unlimited. 

All passes do the same thing and allow you to skip the lines at your favourite rides and attractions throughout the parks. The Universal Studios Pass, however, lets you line up in the queue at whatever time you wish, whereas with Disney, you need to book an allocated time slot.

For non hotel guests, the Express Pass is a paper ticket. Pop your name on it once you have it so you can easily identify whose is whose. Look after it carefully and make sure it doesn’t get wet. A lot of guests recommend purchasing a lanyard for ease of use. A tip from one of the team at Universal, said photograph your tickets, that way if they got lost or damaged you can show Guest Services proof, making it much quicker and easier to replace.

Volcano Bay Express Pass and Plus Pass

Volcano Bay has a different system for its Express Passes and they are not part of the other parks combo options. At Volcano Bay, where you have the choice of the regular Volcano Express Pass or the Plus Pass

The regular Volcano Express Pass allows you to skip the virtual line on SELECT participating rides and the Plus Pass will enable you to skip the virtual line on ALL participating rides throughout Volcano Bay. 

Universal and Islands of Adventure Express Pass and Unlimited Pass

The two theme parks Express Passes work slightly differently. The Express Pass gives you the option to skip the regular line at most rides throughout the park, but only once. 

So, for example, you can skip the line for Incredible Hulk Coaster in Islands of Adventure once, and if you want to ride a second time, you will have to stand in the queue like everyone else. 

The Unlimited Express Pass option lets you skip the lines on the park’s most popular rides as many times as you want. If you want to ride that Hulk Coaster 100 times, the Unlimited Pass will let you do that. Depending on the day, the extra cost for an Unlimited Pass is about $30 per person more than a Express Pass.

All paper Express Passes can be used for one day. You will need one for each day you are visiting the parks unless staying at a resort which gives you them as a Resort Key.

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How Much Is Express Pass at Universal?

The prices of the Express Passes vary depending on the day so this is a rough guide:

  • Universal Express Pass for Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure – $79.99 per ticket, plus tax.
  • Universal Express Unlimited Pass for Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure – $109.99 per ticket, plus tax.
  • Universal Express Pass Volcano Bay – $19.99 per ticket, plus tax.
  • Universal Express Plus Pass Volcano Bay – $39.99 per ticket, plus tax.
  • 2 Park Express prices are only $10 more than the one park, making it good value if you have a park to park ticket.

Where Can You Buy The Universal Express Pass?

Purchase Universal Express Passes by using the Universal Orlando app, at the park gate or at kiosks around the park.

Keep an eye on ride wait times on the Universal app before your visit, to decide whether to buy in advance or wait for real time information on how busy the park is the day(s) you visit.

They can sell out during the day, but you should have a good idea how long wait times will be once when you get to the park. Early entrance visitors can complete quite a bit but after an hour or two you will have a bit idea of how the lines will be now the parks are open to all.

How Does the Universal Express Pass Work?

I briefly mentioned before that unlike the Disney Genie+ pass, you don’t need to book an allocated time slot for the Univeral Express Pass. Instead, you can turn up at the ride and skip the queue at any time you want. 

With the Unlimited Pass, you can keep showing up at numerous points throughout the day and ride the rides without having to wait in long queues. 

When you walk up to the ride, there will be two different lines, one stating Express Pass and the other for regular ticket holders, an attendant will then scan your pass, and you will merge into the front of the regular ticket holder queue.

Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane Queue Cheat Sheet
Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane Queue Cheat Sheet

Which Universal Resorts Provide Complimentary Express Passes?

If you’re staying on-site, there are three select Universal Hotels that offer complimentary Express Unlimited Passes with every room purchase.

Universal’s Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Universal’s Loews Royal Pacific Resort and Universal’s Hard Rock Hotel give all paying guests the higher tier Express Pass (Express Unlimited Pass) for every day of their stay, including check out day. (All universal hotels offer early entry.) One night stay, gives you two passes per person staying in the room.

So, let’s say you’re staying in the hotel for three days and two nights and want to visit all three parks; you’ll receive roughly $200 of Express Passes per person while staying at these Universal Express Pass Hotels for free. 

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.

Many guests opt for a hotel room for one night to gain access to the Unlimited Express Pass as it’s valid for check in day and check out day.

For a family of 4 staying in a garden view Queen room at Loews Portofino Bay Hotel during peak April time on a Saturday, this will be around the $800 mark with each free Unlimited Pass included -which would have cost $520 for 4 people.

If you are off peak during a weeknight, the same room is about $454, meaning a huge saving!

Another bonus for staying onsite is Early Park Admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ up to one hour before the parks open. Even if you are not a fan of the books or movies, the theming and interactive aspects are a lot of fun!

Universal Express Pass
Universal Express Pass sign

What Rides Can You Go On With an Express Pass at Universal?

Here is a list of all the Universal Express Pass Rides that accept Express Passes so you can skip the queues and free up hours of your time.  

Universal Studios Florida 

  • Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
  • Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
  • Transformers: The Ride – 3D
  • Revenge of the Mummy
  • Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon
  • Fast & Furious – Supercharged
  • Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
  • Hogwarts Express (park-to-park admission required)
  • Men in Black Alien Attack
  • Springfield: Home of the Simpsons
  • The Simpsons Ride
  • Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl
  • Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster
  • E.T. Adventure
  • Horror Make-Up Show
  • Bourne Stuntacular

Universal’s Islands of Adventure 

  • The Incredible Hulk Coaster
  • Storm Force Acceleration
  • Doctor Doom’s Fearfall
  • The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
  • Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls
  • Jurassic Park River Adventure
  • Flight of the Hippogriff
  • Hogwarts Express (park-to-park admission required)
  • Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
  • Poseidon’s Fury
  • The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride!
  • Caro-Seuss-el
  • Skull Island: Reign of Kong
  • Velocicoaster. New for 2023!

Universal’s Volcano Bay

  • Krakatau Aqua Coaster
  • Punga Racers
  • Honu ika Moana
  • Maku Puihi Round Raft Rides
  • Tonga and Raki of Taniwha Tubes
  • Ohyah & Ohno Drop Slides – Plus Pass Only
  • Kala & Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides – Plus Pass Only
  • Ko’okiri Body Plunge – Plus Pass Only

Notable Rides or Attractions That Aren’t Included

  • Ollivanders Wand Shop for the Wand ceremony. (Both Parks)
  • Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure (Islands of Adventure) This is attracting huge lines still.
  • Pteranodon Flyers (Islands of Adventure)

When Is the Best Time to Use a Universal Express Pass?

The additional add on of an Express Pass can be expensive, and there are times in the parks where using them would be more beneficial than other times:

During Peak Times at the Parks

Peak times at the parks see a huge influx of crowds, and wait times can be upmost of 2 hours. If you don’t want to wait around in the hot sun for that long, then you may want to consider purchasing an Express Pass to make your day at the park far more enjoyable. 

The busiest times at Universal are during the summer months, Spring Break and around Christmas and New Year. 

If You Only Have One Day at Universal

Although getting around one of the parks in one day is possible, getting around both theme parks and going on all the rides you want without an Express Pass would be near enough impossible.

If you only have one day at Universal, or you want to experience the best rides in both of the parks, save yourself the time and purchase the Express Pass and park to park ticket. You’ll be so thankful at the end of the day when you’re all rollercoastered out with all the rides ticked off your bucket list. 

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Does the Universal Express Pass Include Admission?

Express Passes at any of the three Universal parks DON’T Include admission, and you’ll need to purchase your regular ticket before or at the same time as your Express Pass. 

Can I Use My Universal Studios Hollywood Pass in Orlando?

Sadly not, your Universal Studios Hollywood Pass can only be used in the California park and likewise with your Universal Orlando Pass. 

Can I Use the Express Pass On Any Day?

When you purchase your Express Pass for any of the parks, you select the date that matches that of your regular admission ticket. If you don’t use the Express Pass on that exact date, it won’t be valid. 

Single Rider Lane sign at Universal Florida
Single Rider Lane

What about Single Rider Lanes instead of using an Express Pass?

Single Rider Lanes are brilliant if you are a couple or have older kids who don’t mind being split up. You will not be put next to each other, and will be placed to fill in set gaps. This will be quicker than the Standby queue but might not be ideal for your family, particularly if you are visiting Universal with toddlers or other young children..

Are Universal Express Passes Worth It?

Whether or not you think an Express Pass is worth the money ultimately comes down to you, your personal preferences, and how long you have in the park.

In my opinion, if you only have a day or two in the park(s) and you want to make the most of it, or if the parks are extremely busy because it’s peak season, then yes, they’re totally worth it as lines will build up. 

For time periods where the parks may not be so busy, or if you’re not in a rush, then you could get away with just riding in the regular queue and spending your money elsewhere. If you find it is busier than expected, then you can also buy the Express Passes at various points around the park in kiosks.

However in our testing, we found that the Express Pass saved us considerable amount to time and we didn’t feel rushed. This meant we could wander around and take in the atmosphere and the sights as well as going on every ride we wanted to.

Cost wise, the prices fluctuate, BUT always look to see if the one of the higher end Universal resorts have availability. As mentioned previously, they include Express Passes for duration of stay, including check in and check out day – meaning a one night stay for a family of 4 at Universal’s Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Universal’s Loews Royal Pacific Resort or Universal’s Hard Rock Hotel might be cheaper than purchasing 4 separate unlimited express passes.

Final verdict: We covered much more with an Express Pass than when we haven’t had one. Although not essential, it does make things a LOT easier when visiting Universal with kids.

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