Don’t make the same $300 mistake I did when buying a Universal Express Pass before our first park visit. I was kicking myself all day long, knowing that money could have meant nicer meals, fun souvenirs or several more giant pink donuts!
Never Buy A Universal Express Pass Online
So, why you should never buy a Universal Express Pass online? Before I get into that, let’s start with a clarification to that extreme statement. I would buy a Universal Express Pass online in certain circumstances like when visiting during spring break or other high season days. But I highly recommend you read about our $300 mistake before you automatically buy your pass.
After reading about our $300 Universal Express Pass mistake, you will better understand why sometimes you shouldn’t buy a Universal Express Pass online before you arrive. Seriously no one wants to waste $300! So Let’s first chat about what a Universal Orlando Express Pass is before we talk about why you should *almost* never buy it online.
What is a Universal Orlando Express Pass?
Universal Orlando sells an add-on ticket that allows guests to skip regular lines and enter attractions via a typically much shorter Express Pass line. This is an add-on ticket, which means you first must buy your Universal Orlando admission to the parks and then decide if you want to add on this extra perk. During busy days and on the most popular rides, you will greatly appreciate skipping the standby line and hopping into the express line.
Is it like Disney’s Fast Pass?
For Disney folks, you can think of it as a Universal Orlando Fast Pass, sort of. Of course a Disney FastPass is now called Disney Genie and lighting lanes but that is a whole subject. At Walt Disney World, you must schedule your rides ahead of time, you don’t have to do that with the Universal Express Pass. You just walk in the designated Universal Express Pass line and show your pass. The flexibility of the Universal Orlando Express Pass comes at a steep price though. The shorter line benefit is adds a significant cost to an already expensive trip. You have to way the benefits of shorter wait times with the cost.
Is a Universal Express Pass Worth It?
I think a Universal Express Pass is worth it most of the time but not quite always. Obviously saving time by not waiting in longer lines means you can do more in the parks. It might mean you can visit both parks in one day instead of two. And it will likely save your sanity from whining kids.
In fact, we learned an expensive lesson on our first visit to Universal Orlando because we bought our Universal Orlando Express Pass online before we arrived. This was our $300 Universal Orlando Express Pass mistake because unlike at Walt Disney World a Universal fast pass is not free. (Side note – Disney now charges for the Genie+ and Lightning lanes but they are much cheaper still than a Universal Express Pass).
Are there different types of Express Passes?
There are actually a couple different types of Universal Express Passes. Universal Orlando sells a regular Universal Express Pass, a Universal Express Unlimited Pass, and Universal Express PLUS Pass. What’s the difference between them?
The regular Universal Express Pass is available at all three Universal Orlando theme parks, and allows you to use it once at each participating attraction. The Universal Express Unlimited Pass is available for the Universal Studios Orlando and Universal’s Island of Adventure parks and allows you to use it as many times as you like at participating attractions. Yes, you can skip the line for your favorite rides and unlimited number of times!
The Volcano Bay Express allows you skip the virtual line one timer per participating ride. Universal’s Volcano Bay is Universal’s water park.There is also a Universal Studios Hollywood Express Pass. Also with an unlimited version.
What does the Universal Orlando Express Pass Cost?
To be clear this is a ticket add-on. You first must buy a regular admission ticket to Universal Orlando (1 park or 2 parks) and then purchase an extra Universal Express Pass ticket for the dates you are visiting. The Universal Express Pass is an additional ticket and varies in price from about $20-$190 per person. The price varies for a few different reasons including which park, date of visit, and type of pass. When I checked prices the cheapest options were in September 2020 and the most expensive were around Christmas.
Current Universal Express Pass Costs (as of 5/11/2023)
- Universal Express Pass – Universal Studios Orlando from $89.99 per person
- Universal Express Pass – Universal’s Island of Adventure from $94.99 per person
- Universal Express Pass – 2 Park Pass from $104.99
Current Universal Express Unlimited Pass Costs (as of 5/11/2023)
- Universal Express Unlimited – Universal Studios Orlando from $119.99
- Universal Express Unlimited – Universal’s Islands of Adventure from $124.99
- Universal Express Unlimited – 2 Park Pass from $134.99 per person.
Current Universal Express Volcano Bay Costs (as of 5/11/2023)
- Universal Express Pass – Volcano Bay from $19.99 per person
- Universal Express Pass PLUS – Volcano Bay from $49.99 per person
How we wasted $300 on Universal Orlando Express Passes
In our case, we got off pretty lucky with our $300 mistake. We only spent $300 on Universal Orlando Express Passes for 4 people. Even though we were on the lower end of the Universal Express Pass pricing, it was a complete waste of money because of the time of year we traveled and the weather on our day of the visit.
Consider the crowds when buying an Express Pass
We opted to buy Universal Express Passes on our first visit to Universal Orlando because we had only one day to visit both parks. $300 was a lot of money but we weren’t sure when we’d visit Universal Orlando again and wanted to make sure we rode all the rides on our wishlist.
Our error in judgment was not realizing you can buy the Universal Express Passes in the park. Once we arrived we noticed that many rides had a sign advertising the Universal Express Pass in the gift shop as you exited.
What should have we done? We should we have waited bought them at the park. Why? We purposely traveled during the offseason because we prefer low crowds. Our midweek visit in February wouldn’t likely result in big enough crowds to warrant the use of the Universal Express Pass.
Plus on the day we visited, it rained heavily in the morning which kept the crowds even lower than projected. I loved the emptiness of the parks that day but we definitely wasted our money on the Universal Express Passes on that visit.
Would I buy a Universal Express Pass Again?
Yes! In fact, we did use Universal Express Passes on our next visit. The next trip was in late April with much higher crowds and worth every penny. It made a huge difference in our experience on that trip and saved us lots of time from waiting in long lines.
So when I say never buy the Universal Express Pass online, I really mean never blindly purchase the Universal Express Pass online. There are some visits when a Universal Express Pass just isn’t necessary.
Is it worth buying the Express Pass for little kids?
While there is a slight discount for kids tickets to Universal Orlando, there is no discount for kids when purchasing a Universal Express Pass. While the bulk of the rides included in Universal Orlando Express Pass are roller coasters and big-ticket rides, there are plenty of kid-friendly attractions included as well.
My kids are big fans of both the Universal Orlando water attractions and The Simpsons area. There was plenty of opportunities to use the Universal Express Pass on water rides and in Springfield, USA. It even includes several attractions in Seuss Landing!
What attractions are included in the Universal Orlando Express Pass?
Universal Orlando Express Pass Attractions (valid as of 5/11/2023)
Universal Express Pass Rides at Universal’s Islands of Adventure
- The Cat in the Hat
- One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish Blue Fish
- Doctor Doom’s Fearfall
- Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls
- Flight of the Hippogriff
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- Hogwarts Express (requires 2-park admission)
- Jurassic Park River Adventure
- Jurassic World VelociCoaster
- Skull Island: Reign of Kong
- Storm Force Accelatron
- The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
- The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride!
- The Incredible Hulk Coaster
- Popeye and Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges
Universal Express Pass Rides at Universal Studios Florida
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
- E.T. Adventure
- Fast & Furious – Supercharged
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
- Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
- Hogwarts Express (requires 2-park admission)
- Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl
- MEN IN BLACK™ Alien Attack
- Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon
- Revenge of the Mummy
- The Simpsons Ride
- TRANSFORMERS: The Ride-3D
- The Bourne Stuntacular
Universal Express Pass Rides at Universal’s Volcano Bay
- Honu of Honu ika Moana
- ika Moana of Honu ika Moana
- Krakatau Aqua Coaster
- Maku of Maku Puihi Round Raft Rides
- Puihi of Maku Puihi Round Raft Rides
- Punga Racers
- Taniwha Tubes
Additional Rides Available with Express PLUS:
- Kala & Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides
- Ko’okiri Body Plunge
- Ohyah of Ohyah & Ohno Drop Slides
- Ohno of Ohyah & Ohno Drop Slides
What attractions are NOT included in the Universal Orlando Express Pass?
Any rides not on the list are not included in the Express Pass. The list of included attractions is subject to change and Universal Orlando does change it a few times a year, I try to keep the list updated but you can always check out Universal’s current list of attractions. I do want to note that Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and Pteranodon Flyers, both attractions are at Universal’s Islands of Adventure and neither are a participating ride.
P.S. The Universal Hollywood Express Pass situation is a little different. It includes ONE-TIME (per day) express access to each ride, attraction or show. BUT it does exclude Mario Kart: Bowser’s Challenge. It does include a one-time (per day) reservation-free entry into SUPER NINTENDO WORLD when reservations are required to enter the land
Can I get a discount on a Universal Express Pass?
I don’t know of any regular discounts for Universal Express Passes. It’s also important to note that Universal Express prices can increase as you get closer to your trip. If you are going to be visiting during a busy time, and will definitely want to use a Universal Express Pass then don’t wait to buy the passes and chance the price going up. The Universal Express Pass can sell out as well.
How to get a Free Universal Express Pass
While there are no discounts for the Universal Express Pass you can get one for free. The best deal on the Universal Express Pass is to stay at one of the select Universal Orlando Hotels that gives them free to guests. Yes, you can get a FREE Universal Express Pass if you book the right hotel.
Which hotels offer guests a free Universal Express Pass?
There are three Universal Orlando Hotels that include a free Universal Unlimited Pass for their guests. The hotels are the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Hard Rock Hotel, and Loews Royal Pacific Hotel. These are Universal Orlando’s premier hotels and definitely cost more than the other on-site (and off-site) options but it’s important to do the math.
Staying at one of the premier hotels means that you get 2-park, Universal Express Unlimited Passes for all registered guests in the room. Each registered guest receives their own personalized hotel room key that acts as a Universal Express pass.
You receive this benefit on the day you check in and check out, so a one night stay actually gets you two days of the Universal Express Unlimited Passes. For a family of 4 that could save a lot of money. It might make staying at a premier hotel a cheaper overall option compared to staying at a cheaper hotel and then buying a Universal Express Pass for each family member.
Plus all Universal Orlando Resort hotel guests receive free early park admission. This means on-site hotels guests can get into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Universal’s Volcano Bay (their new water park), 1 hour before it opens to everyone else (with a theme park ticket of course). This benefit is available for all official Universal Orlando hotels, not just the premiere level ones.
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Universal Studios Express Pass
What about Universal Studios in Hollywood? Well, there is a Universal Studios Express pass for the theme park on the West Coast. The Universal Studios Express pass allows one-time express access to each ride and attraction and priority seating at select shows. Express access is a separate line with a shorter wait time at each ride and attraction and a priority seating area at select shows.
More Universal Tips and Reviews
- 4 Reasons Universal Hollywood is Better than Universal Orlando
- Should Kids See the Blue Man Group?
- Universal Hard Rock Hotel Review
- Universal Orlando Resort VIP Experience
This post was originally published February 1, 2019.