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. Unlike FastPass+, however, Universal Express costs money, with a few exceptions. Two versions are available, both of which require you to cough up more money beyond your park admission.
Universal Express is free to guests at all Universal hotels except Cabana Bay and Sapphire Falls Resorts; they may use the Express lines all day long simply by flashing the pass they get at check-in. This is especially valuable during peak season. Guests staying at Cabana Bay, Sapphire Falls, or a non-Universal hotel may purchase Universal Express for an extra $40–$100 (depending on the season).
A Kansas City family of four liked 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.
You can purchase Universal Express for one or both parks and for either single (one ride only on each participating attraction) or unlimited use. 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. More than 90% of rides and shows are covered by Universal Express, a much higher percentage than those covered by FastPass+ at Walt Disney World.
You can also buy Universal Express at the theme parks’ ticket windows, just outside the front gates, but it’s faster to do so inside the parks. Passes can be purchased in most park gift shops, as well as from freestanding kiosks that seem to proliferate around the parks like mushrooms during peak seasons. It’s also available up to eight months in advance at universalorlando.com. You’ll need to know when you plan on using it, though, because prices vary depending on the date.
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. Express also gives you priority seating at shows 15 minutes before they start, but that’s less of a perk because Universal’s large theaters rarely fill up.
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.
Three 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.
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 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 $34.99 for a one-park single-use pass in slow season, to $149.99 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. Inside Universal Studios, it's available at Super Silly Stuff; inside Islands of Adventure, you can buy it at Jurassic Outfitters, Toon Extra, and the Marvel Alterniverse Store. Universal also sells Express from freestanding kiosks that seem to proliferate around the parks like mushrooms during peak seasons
Universal Express Resort Guests
This program allows guests at all Universal resorts except Cabana Bay and Sapphire Falls to bypass the regular line anytime and as often as desired simply by flashing a pass they get at check-in. 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 opened; attendance also jumps whenever Universal opens a major new attraction, which they seem to do every two years. 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).
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.
How Universal Express Affects Crowd Conditions
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 the rest of us at the very times when it’s supposed to be easier to get around!
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 (buying access online is currently not an option). 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 by Seth Kubersky on July 21, 2016