JUMP TO: Saving Money on Express Passes
Unlike at Disneyworld, where Fast Passes are included in the purchase of a ticket, at the Universal parks the “Express Passes” are not included with your tickets and (if you want them) need to be bought separately.
As with Disney Fast Passes they allow you to skip the standard line and enter the Express Pass line which is shorter.
However, unlike Disney Fast Passes, you don’t have to pre-book any rides and you have to buy them per day. You can just enter any Express line for any ride (see below for Pass types) so it’s less stressful than Disney and, apart from knowing what day you are going to US or IOA (as the Passes are date specific), you don’t need to plan anything else.
Different Types of Universal Express Passes
Basically there are two types of Universal Express passes for Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure (we deal with Volcano Bay further down).
- Universal Express Unlimited – you can use this an UNLIMITED number of times at eligible rides (most at IOA and US have Express lines) each day that your pass is valid for. This means you could go on the same ride 40 times in a day if you wished (and what our son wanted us to do!). These range in price from $90-$100 depending on whether you want to visit one or two parks (NOT Volcano Bay).
- Universal Express Pass – you can use this pass ONE TIME per ride each day that your pass is valid. So this means if you use your pass for a ride, eg Hulk, if you want to go on it again you have to join the standard line. This would be totally unacceptable for a certain 9 year old in our family! These passes range in price from $70-$80 again depending on if you want to visit one or two parks (NOT Volcano Bay).
There are quite a few pricing options of Universal Express Passes and the prices do change all the time. To get the latest prices for your trip please see here.
How to use your Universal Express (Unlimited) Passes
When you get to the ride just show your Pass to the staff member who will scan it and then let you enter the Express Pass line. Nearer to the entrance of the ride you will merge with the standard line. You will still have some kind of a wait (usually less than 10 minutes but on very busy days it may be longer) but will always be shorter than the standard line.
Express Passes for Volcano Bay
Volcano Bay (the Universal Water Park) has a separate Express pass system and there are two types of Passes:
- 1-Park Universal Express PLUS – with this pass you can skip the Virtual Lines at ALL participating rides at Volcano Bay. This pass starts at $39.99.
- 1-Park Universal Express – with this pass you can skip the Virtual Lines at SELECT rides at Volcano Bay. This pass starts at $19.99.
It’s also worth noting that with both these passes you can only skip the queue for a ride once and, as with the Universal Express Passes, you have to have bought your entrance tickets first.
Staying at a Universal hotel
If you are staying at a Universal Hotel unfortunately you do not get automatic Universal Express (Unlimited) Passes unless you are staying in 3 specific hotels:
- Loews Portofino Bay Hotel at Universal Orlando
- Universal’s Hard Rock Hotel
- Loews Royal Pacific Resort
At these hotels Unlimited Passes are free for every day of your visit, including your date of check-in and departure.
Remember you have to have purchased entrance tickets first – the passes alone do not allow you entry to the parks.
If you are staying at any Universal Hotel you do get early entry to the parks and Volcano Bay which is useful if you don’t have Express Passes (Unlimited or Standard) as you can get onto rides at (hopefully) less busy times.
It’s also worth noting you do not get Fast Passes to Volcano Bay if you stay in any Universal Hotel (including the 3 listed above) but you do get early access to the water park which is really useful, especially in the busy months.
Staying at a Universal Hotel JUST to get Express Passes
If you only read one thing on this page PLEASE READ THIS!!!!!!!
You will have gathered by now that if you are not staying at one of the 3 specific Universal Resorts and want to visit the parks it can be VERY expensive to purchase Universal Express passes. Firstly you need to have bought entry tickets and then it can cost approximately an additional $80 or more a day per person to get Express (Unlimited or Standard) Passes which as you can see clearly adds up!
Now here is the clever bit.
What a lot of people do – us included – is to book a stay in one of the 3 hotels above. For approximately $250 you get a night in a hotel and every person in your party gets Universal Express Unlimited Passes for the day of check-in and day of departure. This year we actually stayed on 2 non consecutive nights in a Universal Hotel so we got 4 days of Unlimited Express Passes for roughly $500 for the 4 of us (plus the cost of our entry tickets). If you worked out how much this would cost separately it would cost about $800 so it’s clearly worth thinking about.
You also get early entry into the parks if you are staying on-site (including Volcano Bay) and you are able to walk a short distance to the parks which is an added bonus. Some people even book a room to get the Passes but never stay there!