Universal Express for Resort Guests, Universal Express and Universal Express Unlimited
Like Disney's FASTPASS, Universal Express is a system whereby guests can experience an attraction via a special line with little or no waiting. Unlike FASTPASS, Universal Express is not free. Three versions are available, all of which require you to cough up more money beyond your park admission:
- Universal Express Pass: Available for purchase online or in the parks, allowing one person one ride on each attraction which participates in Universal Express
- Universal Express Unlimited: Available for purchase online (bundled with admission) or in the parks, allowing one person an unlimited number of rides on any attraction which participates in Universal Express
- On-site Hotel Universal Express Unlimited Pass: Included for Universal Resort Hotel guests (except those at the upcoming Cabana Bay Resort, which opens in early 2014) at no extra cost, allowing each person staying on-site an unlimited number of rides on any attraction which participates in Universal Express
Anyone can purchase the Universal Express Pass, which comes in two versions: basic and unlimited. Both provide line-skipping privileges at each Universal Express participating attraction or show within the two theme parks.
The basic version, known simply as Universal Express, can be purchased for either one or both parks, and from 1 to 4 days. The cost varies depending on the days of the year, with the pass costing more when the park is more crowded. For 2013, the per-day rate ranges from $30 to $80 for Universal Studios Florida, to $30 to $110 for IOA, and $36 to $120 for both parks on the same day.
The Unlimited version is good for both parks and an unlimited number of rides on each participating attraction.
The number of passes is limited each day, and they can sell out. Increase your chances of securing passes by buying and printing them at home off Universal's website. Speaking of participating attractions, more than 90% of rides and shows are covered by Universal Express, a much higher percentage than those covered by FASTPASS at Disney World.
You can also purchase Universal Express Pass at the theme parks' ticket windows, just outside the front gates. Inside Universal Studios, it's available at Nickstuff; inside Islands of Adventure, you can buy it at Jurassic Outfitters, Toon Extra, and the Marvel Alterniverse Store. Universal Express is also available up to eight months in advance at UniversalOrlando.com. You must know what date you plan on using it, because different dates have different prices.
When we tested the basic Express Pass one recent summer, we discovered that Universal employees very rarely scrutinize the pass and that we could use it several times on most attractions, as long as we waited 15 minutes or so between attempts. Although the pass has a bar code, it was never scanned, nor did we see any scanning devices at the entrances of the attractions.
A New York mom had a trouble-free experience but questions the value of the investment:
We bought Universal's Express Pass, but it was neither necessary nor consistently effective. Arriving at park opening, we were able to see many attractions right away without needing the passes at all. They helped on about three attractions between the two parks—a poor return for an investment of $156, but it was like life insurance: a good thing to have "just in case." On Dudley Do-Right, we still had to wait 30 minutes even with Universal Express, whereas with Disney's free FASTPASS we never waited more than 5 minutes for an attraction. The only aspect of UE that was better than FP is that touring order was unaffected: UE could be used whenever you first approached an attraction instead of your having to come back later.
Is Universal Express Pass Worth It?
The answer depends on the season you visit, hours of park operation, and crowd levels.
In the Universal Studios Florida park, only a few attractions (Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, and Transfomers: The Ride 3D) might be hard to ride without waiting an inordinate amount of time. All offer Universal Express, but if you arrive 30 minutes before park opening and use our touring plans, you should experience them with a minimal wait. For the Studios, therefore, you shouldn't need the Universal Express. This may change when the park's Harry Potter London/Diagon Alley area opens in 2014.
Islands of Adventure is a different story. Because of all the hoopla surrounding Harry Potter and the lack of high-capacity theater shows at IOA to siphon off crowds (there is only one show at IOA compared with six at the Studios), rides here are sometimes inundated. Using our touring plans will cut your waiting to a minimum, so we encourage you to try it first. The beauty of Universal Express Pass is that you can purchase it in the park if waits for the rides become intolerable.
Universal Express Program Available to Universal Resort Guests
This program allows Universal resort guests to bypass the regular line anytime and as often as desired. This perk far surpasses any benefit accorded to guests of Disney resorts. Guests must first use their room keys with a computerized kiosk in their hotel lobbies or in the parks to obtain photo-bearing On-site Hotel Universal Express Unlimited Pass cards. Be aware that Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey at Islands of Adventure is not a Universal Express attraction. As mentioned before, however, Universal hotel guests are eligible to enter The Wizarding World of Harry Potter 1 hour before the park opens to the public.
A father from Snellville, Georgia, did the math and discovered that it was cheaper for his family to stay at a Universal resort than buy a Universal Express pass:
The benefits of that room key alone can be worth the price, with early entry to The Wizarding World and unlimited Express privileges at both parks. We got a room at the Royal Pacific Resort for $349 on a Saturday night, which allowed us to use Universal Express Saturday and Sunday. The room cost $43.63 per person per day, while an [a la carte] Express pass this same weekend would have cost $55.99 per person per day, and we still would have had to pay for a hotel.
How Universal Express Affects Crowd Conditions at the Attractions
This system dramatically affects crowd movement (and touring plans) in the Universal parks. A woman from Yorktown, Virginia, writes:
People in the Express line were let in at a rate of about 10 to 1 over the regular-line folks. This created bottlenecks and long waits for people who didn't have the Express privilege at the very times when it's supposed to be easier to get around!