The Guide to the Universal Express Pass

These passes aren't cheap, so weigh the benefits against the overall cost of your trip to decide if it's worth it.
Carissa Rawson
By Carissa Rawson 
Edited by Meg Lee

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Raise your hand if you hate waiting in line. Kidding — we already knew every hand would fly directly into the air.

Even so, long queues may seem necessary in many parts of life, whether at the DMV, the airport or your favorite theme park.

Happily for entertainment enthusiasts, however, many amusement parks have realized that standing in line can ruin the mood. As a result, they’ve come up with various systems that help ease the pain.

These systems include the Universal Express Pass, which allows guests to skip the regular line in favor of a shorter queue. Let’s look at the Universal Express pass, how it works and whether it’s a worthwhile option.

What is the Universal Studios Express Pass?

Different theme parks have introduced line-skipping options. Examples include Disney’s Lightning Lane and Six Flags’ Flash Pass.

Universal has done the same with its Express Pass, a paid option for guests looking to spend as little time in line as possible. It’s available at Universal theme parks worldwide, including California, Florida, Osaka, Singapore and Beijing.

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How does the Universal Express pass work?

During popular dates and for popular rides, lines for attractions can grow incredibly long. This is true whether you want to ride the newest, best roller coaster or seek a spot in an air-conditioned theater in the middle of a hot day.

Universal’s Express Pass helps eliminate the wait by providing guests with an alternate queue. Rather than waiting in the standard line, those who’ve purchased an Express Pass have exclusive access to the Express lane, which tends to be much faster.

Riders head over to the attraction they’d like to board and follow the signs to the Express line.

Note that not all rides participate in Express Pass. Some trendy options — like Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure at Universal Islands of Adventure in Orlando — aren’t available with Express Pass.

🤓Nerdy Tip

At some parks, such as Universal Studios Florida, you can purchase an Unlimited Express Pass, which allows you unlimited access to participating rides. However, the standard Universal Express Pass allows you to skip the line once per attraction.

How much does a Universal Express Pass cost?

A few factors will affect how much you’ll pay for a Universal Studios Express Pass.

These include:

  • Which park you’re visiting.

  • Whether you’re visiting more than one park per day.

  • The time of year you’re visiting. 

  • The date you purchase the Express Pass.

  • The type of Express Pass you purchase.

Universal Express passes are more expensive during periods of high demand, such as summer or winter holidays. You’ll also pay more if you intend to visit more than one park per day. This is especially pertinent in Orlando, where Universal Studios Florida and Universal Islands of Adventure are located.

Regarding exact pricing, the cost of an Express Pass in Orlando will range from $89 to $379 per day, in addition to your park entrance ticket.

An Express Pass included with your admission will range from $199 to $369 per day in California.

🤓Nerdy Tip

The Universal Express Pass in Orlando allows you to skip the regular line for the Hogwarts Express, which transits between theme parks. However, you’ll need to purchase a park-to-park ticket to ride the train.

How to get a Universal Express Pass

Acquiring a Universal Express Pass is simple. Depending on which park you’re visiting, you can either buy the pass when you purchase your park ticket or add it later.

On the day of your visit, you can also buy an Express Pass inside the park. However, this can be more expensive than purchasing ahead of time, and since Express Passes are limited, you risk them selling out before arrival.

If you’re traveling to Orlando, getting a Universal Express Unlimited Pass is possible when staying at select resorts. This includes Premier-level hotels, such as:

  • Loews Portofino Bay Hotel.

  • Hard Rock Hotel.

  • Loews Royal Pacific Resort.

Is the Universal Express Pass worth it?

The answer to this question is going to depend on you. Let’s say you and your family, a group of four, will visit Universal Studios Florida during the summer. This is one season when room rates, ticket prices and crowds are at their highest.

A three-night stay at the mid-tier Universal’s Aventura Hotel will run you $796 after taxes and fees, assuming you’re traveling with two adults and two children.

A three-day, park-to-park ticket for two adults and two children then comes to $1,576.

You’ve chosen to rent a car, which costs about $160 per day, while parking at Universal is $30 daily. That totals $570 for transportation, not including gas.

Finally, let’s assume a meal budget of $60 per person, per day, for a total of $720.

Your family vacation will run you at least $3,662 for three nights. This excludes additional costs such as souvenirs, gasoline or flights to Orlando.

Now, say we were to knock down the trip to just two days rather than three and throw in an Express Pass to visit the parks more efficiently.

Your hotel costs drop to $530 for two nights, while your rental car and parking charges are reduced to $380. Food for two days costs about $480, and a two-day theme park ticket costs $1,473.

In the height of summer, Express Passes are pretty pricey, especially if you’re visiting both parks in one day. For the four of you, it’ll cost $958 for one day of an Express Pass.

This brings your total cost to $3,821 — $159 more than if you had spent an extra day on your vacation. So even though you’re reducing costs in many areas, the added expense of an Express Pass doesn’t quite provide you savings overall.

Many of your decisions will be based on intangibles.

What days are you flying? Are some dates cheaper than others if you time them correctly? Can you take a longer vacation?

Are you relying on school holidays to travel? How do you or your children tolerate waiting in lines? Is the thought of a two-hour queue enough to keep you from visiting?

To some, it may be worth taking advantage of the convenience and time savings to shell out for an Express Pass, while others may be delighted getting an extra day of holiday and spending a little less.

Universal Studios Express Pass recapped

Universal Express Pass offers the ability to enjoy shorter lines at their theme parks, saving you a great deal of time and allowing you to enjoy more attractions during your visit.

Before purchasing, however, you’ll want to do the math and weigh whether the added expense is worth it.

(Top photo courtesy of Universal Studios Hollywood)

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