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    Early Park Admission

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Universal Orlando Early Admission Overview

The most valuable perk available to all Universal on-site Resort Hotel guests is Early Park Admission (EPA, also sometimes referred to as early entry), which grants entry to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter 1 hour before the general public. Thirty minutes to an hour of early entry is also offered every morning at the Volcano Bay water park. In addition to guests staying at on-site hotels, guests holding certain designated vacation packages—purchased through Universal Orlando Vacations and including both accommodations at an off-site Universal partner hotel and theme park admission—are allowed in early. Premier Pass holders can take advantage of EPA at USF or IOA on any morning, as can Preferred Pass holders on select days (block-outs apply).

Which park you may enter on any particular day, and which attractions will be operating, are at Universal’s discretion and will vary with the attendance seasons. The turnstiles to the park(s) participating in early entry will open 60–90 minutes before the official opening time. Both hotel and day guests will be admitted to the park, and each EPAeligible guest (including children) will need to show his or her own room key or annual pass to pass beyond the park’s entry plaza during the early admission hour. Guests not eligible for EPA will be held in an alternate area to await the official opening time.

Universal Early Admission Tips

During early park admission, all of the attractions, shops, and restaurants in the participating Wizarding World area should be open, along with select attractions outside the Harry Potter area. Attractions offer standby queues during EPA (along with single-rider lines and child swap, where available), but Express Passes are valid only during regular operating hours. EPA, when available at USF, allows early birds to ride Escape from Gringotts with a minimal wait, as this father from New York City experienced:

We got to the USF turnstiles 10 minutes before 6 [for 7 a.m. EPA] and had only five people in front of us. Soon there were plenty behind us, however! They let us in at about 6:20, and we were among the first 100–150 people to enter Diagon Alley and subsequently Gringotts. We essentially walked onto the ride, slowed only by our amazed awe at walking through the Gringotts lobby and seeing all the astonishing attractions in the line. We were through so quickly that we immediately got in the singles line and literally walked on the ride a second time, and then a third time with the singles line, which by this time was backed up a bit toward the steps leading to the loading platform, resulting in about a 20-minute wait. It was now 8 a.m. and we had been on the ride three times. The nonresort guests were now streaming into Diagon Alley to be welcomed by a standby entrance to Gringotts, which was marked 180 minutes.

Most of the feedback we get about EPA at Universal is extremely positive, like this comment from a multigenerational family of seven:

Early entry to the park was a game changer and gave us enough time to do everything we wanted to do by noon. This allowed us to go back to the hotel and rest. (Best idea ever!)

However, because EPA crowds are concentrated in The Wizarding World, it can quickly become overcrowded, particularly on days when only one park participates. This comment from a Carbondale, Illinois, reader reflects a common criticism of Universal’s early entry:

I wasn’t a fan of the early admission at Universal. Most of the rides are not open, and you are shuttled back to Harry Potter with everyone else. The early admission did not seem like a perk.

If you aren’t at the front of the pack when the turnstiles open, but you’re eligible for Express access, you may be better off riding Gringotts just as EPA ends, according to this reader from Natick, Massachusetts:

The early-entry hour was a bit disappointing because it was soooo crowded in Diagon Alley. It was absolute gridlock in the wand shop from the moment the park opened. We waited about half an hour for Gringotts during that first hour. Then immediately afterward, at 9 a.m., when we could use Express, we walked right onto Gringotts.

Instead, guests with Universal Express Passes may want to use the early-entry hour to enjoy Ollivanders and the interactive wand effects, as this mom from Dallas suggests:

If your kids want to cast every spell and wander around Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley for hours, do that first thing in the morning, especially if you have Express Passes to ride the other rides.

Similarly, when IOA opens early, the Forbidden Journey ride typically operates only about 25% of its ride vehicles during EPA, which makes the queue move maddeningly slow. If the queue is backed up beyond the talking portraits, you may want to enjoy the other Hogsmeade attractions and save Forbidden Journey until afternoon, lest you spend most of the hour inching through Hogwarts’s boarding area. Also, if the Gringotts or Forbidden Journey attractions are not operational when early entry begins, skip them and try again late in the day; by the time they begin running in the morning, there will be a huge backlog of riders.

Universal publishes its EPA calendar several months in advance on this webpage, but procedures seem to change often and arbitrarily with no warning. Ask at your hotel’s front desk to find out what opening procedures are in effect during your visit.

Islands of Adventure

At certain off-peak times, only IOA (and not USF) may admit eligible guests for EPA. IOA-only EPA was in effect during the fall of 2020. The following attractions should be available during IOA-only EPA:

On days that only IOA offers EPA, USF may still unofficially open up to 15 minutes early, with Despicable Me Minion Mayhem open for all guests (hotel and off-site alike).

Guests entering USF early may also enter the queue for Escape from Gringotts, though the ride itself usually won’t begin running until just before the park officially opens.

No matter which park offers EPA, the Hogwarts Express does not provide a shortcut around the rope drop rush. The first Hogwarts Express train from Hogsmeade Station should depart shortly after both parks have opened their gates for the day. The first trainload of guests riding from IOA will enter Diagon Alley a few minutes after the first guests entering through USF’s front gates. Likewise, the day’s first train riders coming from USF will find themselves standing in line for Hogsmeade’s attractions behind the crowd that came straight into IOA. Early-entry guests at IOA are held at the bridge between Hogsmeade and Jurassic Park or in Marvel near Cafe 4 until the park’s official opening time, at which point they may proceed to Skull Island: Reign of Kong or any other attraction.

Universal Studios Florida

For the first half of 2020, EPA was confined to USF, and it may return there in the future. The following attractions should be available during USF-only EPA:

In addition, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem usually opens to all park guests 10–15 minutes before EPA ends. Day guests are sometimes also allowed to queue for Transformers: The Ride 3-D and Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit prior to the official park opening time.

The Hogwarts Express train from King’s Cross Station will not begin running to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter–Hogsmeade in IOA until both parks have opened their gates to guests. The first trainload of guests riding from USF will enter Hogsmeade shortly after the first guests entering through IOA’s front gates.

Two-Park Early Park Admission (Peak Season)

Universal Orlando only guarantees early admission to one park per day, but during the busiest times of the year—primarily the weeks around Easter and Christmas—Universal offers EPA to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter areas at both USF (Diagon Alley) and IOA (Hogsmeade).

When both parks are scheduled to open at the same time, Hogwarts Express will begin running when EPA starts.

Volcano Bay Early Park Admission

In addition to the early entry offered at USF and IOA, Volcano Bay also opens 30 minutes–1 hour early every morning for all on-site resort hotel guests, with many of its attractions operating.

While EPA is a wonderful luxury in The Wizarding World, at the water park it’s an absolute necessity. Because the park closes when it reaches capacity, which on busy days may be within hours of the official opening time, early admission is the only way to be guaranteed admittance to Volcano Bay, much less have a chance to enjoy most of the slides.

During the early-entry hour, most, if not all, of the slides are kept at “Ride Now” status, allowing guests to take advantage of the relatively short lines. During peak season, using EPA is just about the only way to experience all the slides in one day without purchasing an Express Pass, as one woman from Stamford, Connecticut, found:

You are only able to get the “Ride Now” signs if you come for early admission. The moment the park opens to the public, the waiting times for the attractions increase fast. If you don’t have early-admission privileges, you may be able to do three or four rides during the day, as waiting times longer then 100 minutes are typical. We came at 7:30 and did the rides we wanted, then left in the afternoon.

Off-site guests who aren’t eligible for early entry should still try to get to the gates at least 30 minutes before official opening, potentially getting a few minutes’ head start on the slides. If you aren’t able to arrive that early, save yourself a lot of frustration and skip Volcano Bay until you can. Alternatively, use a multiday park-to-park pass to sample some slides in the late afternoon (preferably post-rainstorm) after spending the morning in USF or IOA.

To prevent overcrowding, Universal caps attendance inside Volcano Bay at a maximum of 8,000–10,000 guests (far less during social distancing), a limit that can be reached within hours after opening during the peak summer period. When the park approaches maximum capacity, Universal first restricts day visitors, then on-site guests. The park usually reopens its gates as guests depart in the afternoon, but tickets are not date-specific, so no refunds or rain checks are issued if you are refused entry after capacity is reached.

Annual Pass Holder Early Park Admission

Premier Pass holders may use EPA at USF or IOA on any day of the year, while Preferred Pass holders can enter USF or IOA early on most days. During Annual Passholder Appreciation Days, held in the off-season, Power and Seasonal Pass holders can use EPA at IOA or USF on select dates, and all 3-Park pass holders can take advantage of EPA at Volcano Bay without having to stay on-site.

Last updated on February 2, 2021

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