Travel Tools from The Unofficial Guide™ Team  -  See Our Books Here!
  • Background Image

    Universal Express

Subscribe Now: 1 Full Year for Only $8.95!

Get full access to the UOR Crowd Calendar, Lines Mobile App, Touring Plans and More!

topsub_examplefamily

"Our TouringPlans subscription was a lifesaver on our trip. One of the busiest days of the year, and we never waited longer than 20 minutes!"

- Smith Family, KY

Subscription Type:

1 Year UOR Subscription ($8.95)

Payment Method:

Pay With Your Credit Card
Pay With Your PayPal Account
Click here to close the subscription form

What is Universal Express?

Like Disney's FastPass+, this system allows guests to “skip the line” and experience an attraction via a special queue with little or no waiting. Guests approach the marked Universal Express entrance at participating attractions, present their Universal Express Pass to the greeter for scanning, and proceed to ride with a significantly reduced wait—usually 20% or less of the posted standby time, or no more than a 15- to 20-minute wait. For rides that use a Virtual Line like Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon, you’ll be able to enter the attraction lobby whenever you like without a prearranged return time.

Though Disney’s FastPass+ and Universal Express both let guests bypass the typical wait, there are three major differences between them. 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, FastPass+ is only offered at a select list of designated attractions, while nearly all the attractions at Universal (with a couple exceptions, noted later) accept Express. Finally, unlike FastPass+, Universal Express is not free.

How Many Types of Universal Express Are There?

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 that participates in Universal Express. (Note that for single-use Express, each Hogwarts Express station counts as a separate attraction, so you can ride the train once in each direction.)
  • 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 that participates in Universal Express.
  • On-site Hotel Universal Express Unlimited Pass: Included for all guests at the top three Universal Resort hotels (Hard Rock, Portofino Bay, and Royal Pacific) at no extra cost, allowing each person staying on-site an unlimited number of rides on any attraction that participates in Universal Express. Note that the free Express Passes are not valid at Volcano Bay.

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. (Universal has been experimenting with a facial-recognition system for identifying Express Pass holders, but it has not been fully rolled out yet.) At shows, you can produce your pass for priority seating 15 minutes before showtime, but that’s less of a perk because 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 Alien Attack at USF; Doctor Doom’s Fearfall and Skull Island: Reign of Kong at IOA), they sacrifice significant scenic elements and story setup that the standby line sees. We recommend experiencing these attractions using the standard queue for your first time, if time permits. Express Pass users at Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Escape from Gringotts rides get to see nearly all of the same scenery as standby guests, and none of the parks’ other Express queues skip anything important.

Finally, be aware that Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure was not yet accepting Express Passes at press time. Pteranodon Flyers at IOA, a slow-loading children’s ride with limited capacity, also does not accept Universal Express, though it does offer free Virtual Line return times. Neither do the Ollivanders Wandkeeper presentations or the kiddie waterslide in Fievel’s Playland at USF. Further, all of the Express types (including the free passes for resort guests) are valid only during regular operating hours and not during separately ticketed events. Separate Express Passes are available at an additional cost for special events such as Rock the Universe and Halloween Horror Nights.

Universal Express and Express Unlimited for Purchase

Anyone can purchase Universal Express for one or both theme parks and for either single (one ride only on each participating attraction) or unlimited use. 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 from 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 $59.99 for a one-park single-use pass in slow season to $259.99 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; the more expensive the passes, the more packed the park will be.

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. 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 (Hard Rock, Portofino Bay, and Royal Pacific) to bypass the regular lines at USF and IOA and use the Express entrance anytime and as often as desired. Guests of one of the above-mentioned hotels may simply present their room key card for admission through any Universal Express attraction entrance inside USF or IOA.

Universal Express for resort guests is available from the moment of check-in until park closing time on the day of checkout. 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 guests 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.

Universal Express at Volcano Bay

inside the park at the concierge stands or in advance online. Volcano Bay’s basic Universal Express Passes cost $19.99–$69.99 (depending on the season). Express Passes are valid for one ride each on select slides, which include the Krakatau Aqua Coaster and Honu & ika Moana but exclude the Kala & Tai Nui body slides, Ohyah & Ohno drop slides, and Ko’okiri Body Plunge. A 1-Day Universal Express Plus Pass costs $39.99–$99.99 for a single trip down every slide in the park; at press time, no unlimited usage Express option was available. Express allows you to act as if participating attractions say “Ride Now,” but even though you won’t need a TapuTapu return time, you’ll still experience some waiting before your slide.

Is Universal Express Pass Worth It?

No matter when you use it, Universal Express will significantly reduce the amount of time you spend waiting in queues at Universal Orlando. But whether or not that time saving is worth it depends on the season you visit, hours of park operation, and crowd levels.

During busy periods, Universal Express users should wait no more than 15–20 minutes for a ride, even when the standby wait is well over an hour. That’s a significant time savings and may make the difference between seeing all your favorite headliners in a single day or going home disappointed.

During slow periods, Express users should experience little to no wait at most attractions and can practically walk on to most rides. However, the standby waits will typically top out between 15 and 30 minutes at these times, making the total minutes saved with Express much less impressive.

Universal Express is not mandatory for enjoying the parks (as we’ve heard some claim), just so long as you show up bright and early with a well-organized agenda. 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 headliner attractions, especially during holidays and busy times. If, however, you arrive at least 30 minutes before park opening and you use our touring plans (see pages 395–408), you should experience the lowest possible waits.

If you aren’t eligible for free Express Passes, we encourage you to try the touring plans first, but if waits for rides become intolerable, you can always buy Express in the parks (provided they haven’t sold out, an infrequent occurrence).

A New York mom had a trouble-free experience, but she questions the value of the investment:

Universal Express 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. The passes helped on about three attractions between the two parks—a poor return for an investment of $156, but it was like life insurance: good to have just in case. On Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, we still had to wait 30 minutes even with 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.

Universal Express 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. The passes helped on about three attractions between the two parks—a poor return for an investment of $156, but it was like life insurance: good to have just in case. On Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, we still had to wait 30 minutes even with 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.

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 users of Disney FastPass+) 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.

Last updated on February 2, 2021

Top