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What is Universal Express?
Like Disney's FastPass+, Universal Express is a system whereby guests can skip lines and experience attractions via a special queue with little or no waiting. Guests approach the marked Universal Express entrance at participating attractions, present their Universal Express Pass, and proceed to ride with a significantly reduced wait—usually 20% or less of the posted standby time, or no more than a 15–20 minute wait.
There are three major differences between Disney’s FastPass+ and Universal Express. While Disney’s system requires scheduling your ride reservation hours or days ahead of time, Universal Express involves no advance planning; simply visit any eligible operating attraction whenever you choose, no return time windows required.
Also, Disney World's FastPass+ is only offered at a select list of designated attractions, while more than 90% of rides at Universal (with a couple of high-profile exceptions, as discussed below) accept Express. Finally, unlike FastPass+, Universal Express is not free.
How Many Types of Universal Express Are There?
Four versions of Universal Express 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 Pass: Available for purchase online or in the parks (either bundled with admission or separately), 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 all guests at the three luxury Universal Resort Hotels (Cabana Bay Beach Resort and Sapphire Falls excluded) at no extra cost, allowing each person staying on-site an unlimited number of rides on any attraction which participates in Universal Express.
- Premiere Pass Universal Express after 4 p.m.: Holders of the top-of-the-line Premiere Pass get free Universal Express access every day from 4 p.m. until park closing (excluding special events like Halloween). Even though it’s officially valid only once per attraction per day, we’ve rarely been denied a re-ride, and can usually bring a companion along.
No matter which version of Universal Express you use, it works the same: present your pass to a greeter at each attraction entrance, get it scanned for verification, and enjoy your expedited entertainment. At shows, you can show your pass for priority seating 15 minutes before showtime, but that's less of a perk since Universal's large theaters rarely fill up.
It's worth noting that, while almost all the Express queues are themed, in a few cases (Revenge of the Mummy and MEN IN BLACK at USF; Doctor Doom's Fearfall, Skull Island: Reign of Kong, and Dragon Challenge at IOA) they sacrifice significant scenic elements and story set-up that the standby line sees.
Universal Express and Express Unlimited for Purchase
Anyone can purchase Universal Express for one or both parks and for either single (one ride only on each participating attraction) or unlimited use, and from 1 to 4 days. The number of Express 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. They are available up to eight months in advance at tickets.universalorlando.com/Ticket-Store/PurchaseTickets.aspx?ExpressPlus. You’ll need to know when you plan on using it, though, because prices vary depending on the date.
Universal Express Pass prices range from $40 for an IOA-only single-use pass in slow season (USF-only passes start at $60), to $150 for a two-park Unlimited pass on a holiday; the top-tier passes are significantly cheaper when bundled with a park-to-park multiday pass. Incidentally, the online calendar of Express Pass prices is a great indicator of how crowded Universal will be on any given day. Visit the above link and click “choose dates”; the more expensive the passes, the more packed the park will be.
You can also purchase Universal Express Pass at the theme parks' ticket windows, just outside the front gates. Express passes are sold at the large stores near the front of each park, and in most major gift shops. Universal also sells Express from freestanding kiosks that seem to proliferate around the parks like mushrooms during peak seasons. When the park is open late, Universal sometimes sells an unadvertised Express pass valid after 4 p.m. only for about $35; ask at any Express sales location for details.
Universal Express for Resort Guests
This program allows guests at Universal's three original luxury resorts (Cabana Bay and Sapphire Falls excluded) to bypass the regular line anytime and as often as desired. Guests must first use their room keys at a computerized kiosk in their hotel lobby to obtain photo-bearing On-Site Hotel Universal Express Unlimited Pass cards. This perk far surpasses any benefit accorded to guests of Disney resorts. Be aware that neither Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey nor Pteranodon Flyers at IOA is a Universal Express attraction, nor is Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts at USF or the interpark Hogwarts Express train. Again, however, all Universal hotel guests, including those staying at Cabana Bay and Sapphire Falls, may enter one or both parks’ (depending on the season) Wizarding World outposts an hour before they open to the public. Which park you may enter on any particular day, and which attractions will be operating, are at Universal’s discretion and may rotate among the hotels to manage demand.
Universal Express for resort guests is available from the moment of check-in until closing time on the day of check-out. And even though check-in time at Universal's on-site hotels isn't until 4 p.m., guests can retrieve room keys and Express passes as early in the morning as they are able to arrive, and may drop their luggage in the lobby and head to the parks until their room is ready. Therefore, a single night's stay on-site yields two full days of Universal Express access. This perk far surpasses any benefit accorded to guests of Disney resorts; combined with the hour of early park admission to the Wizarding World, it helps make touring Universal Orlando a remarkably low-stress experience for on-site guests, even during peak attendance periods.
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.
Is Universal Express Pass Worth It?
The answer depends on the season you visit, hours of park operation, and crowd levels. Attendance has jumped at both parks since the opening of each Harry Potter land, especially at Universal Studios Florida since Diagon Alley debuted; attendance also jumps whenever Universal opens a major new attraction, which they seem to do every year or two. However, the big-ticket rides in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley don’t participate in Universal Express, so you don’t get to cut in line at Universal’s most in-demand attractions. Still, if you want to sleep in and arrive at a park after opening, Express is an effective, albeit expensive, way to avoid long lines at the non-Potter headliner attractions, especially during holidays and busy times.
If, however, you arrive 30 minutes before park opening and you use our touring plans, you should experience the lowest possible waits at both parks. We encourage you to try the plans first, but if waits for rides become intolerable, you can always buy Express in the parks, provided it hasn’t sold out (an infrequent occurrence).
A New York mom had a trouble-free experience but questions the value of the investment:
We bought Universal Express, but it was neither necessary nor consistently effective. By 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. 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.
On the other hand, this Kansas City family of four thought very highly of the hotel Express Pass:
The Express Pass that you get “free” by staying at one of the resorts is a lifesaver. We never waited in line more than 15 minutes, and it was usually closer to 5. For my roller coaster–loving family, this was great. We didn’t have a scheduled time to ride anything like Disney, so we could stray from our plan and re-ride Hulk or Rockit over and over again, which we did.
Finally, you’ll want to devise a convenient way to keep track of your pass, as this Bluffton, Indiana, dad found out a little too late:
I wish I’d known ahead of time to bring a lanyard to hang our Universal Express Pass on.
Universal will happily sell you a souvenir lanyard with a plastic pouch so you can proudly wear your admission around your neck for all to see. Universal’s lanyards start at around $10, and come in a variety of themes, including the colors of each Hogwarts house. You can also pick up equally usable and far cheaper (though less magical) versions at your local office supply store.
How Universal Express Affects Crowd Conditions
Guests using Universal Express don’t have to modify their touring behavior in any way; simply visit any attraction at will, and enjoy the shorter waits. However, the Express effect can be somewhat less salutatory for guests without Express. The standby and Express queues at each attraction meet up shortly before the boarding area, and attendants are supposed to merge them so that Express guests wait 15 minutes or less, without the standby guests’ wait being inflated beyond the estimate posted outside.
Typically, this means about half of each ride’s capacity is dedicated to Express guests, which ordinarily keeps both queues flowing smoothly. The catch is that, because Universal Express guests (unlike Disney FastPass+ users) don’t schedule ride times in advance, the number of them waiting in a queue at any given time is highly variable and unpredictable.
As a result, an unexpected backlog of Express guests—either because of a sudden influx of pass users or a temporary technical breakdown that pauses the line—can force Universal to increase the ratio of Express to standby, slowing non-Express guests’ progress to a crawl.
While great news for Universal Express users, this can dramatically affect crowd movement (and touring-plan usage) for those without it, as 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 the rest of us at the very times when it’s supposed to be easier to get around!
If you encounter this situation while waiting standby, simply grit your teeth and take some deep yoga breaths; the situation normally clears up quickly, and your total wait should still be approximately as originally advertised. In case of a major traffic jam where the standby line stops moving altogether, calculate how much time you’ve invested already, and consider hopping out of line and returning later when things are running more smoothly. And for those who really can’t stand watching Express guests pass them by: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.
This ride-reservation system works much like Disney’s FastPass+ but incorporates the small U-Bot device. Guests can purchase access to the device at any Express kiosk U-Bot is only available seasonally, is not advertised or offered online, and some Express vendors don’t even know it exists. Guests can only purchase access to the device at the Rental Services window inside each park. Once you have your U-Bot, you can use it to reserve ride times for any Universal Express attraction, but note that you can make only one reservation at a time. The U-Bot will vibrate and display a message telling you when it’s time to ride. Next, you take your U-Bot to the ride’s Express entrance, where the attraction greeter will scan your device and admit you to the Express queue.
U-Bot costs considerably less than an Express Pass (usually by about $10–$20); it isn’t advertised and may only be offered during certain seasons. While U-Bot can help cut time spent standing in queues if managed efficiently, most visitors are better off saving their money or investing a little more in Universal Express passes.
Last updated on November 29, 2016