Don’t make the same $300 mistake one TravelingMom did when buying a Universal Express Pass before her park visit. She was kicking herself all day long, knowing that money could have meant nicer meals, fun souvenirs or several more giant pink donuts!
First of all, let’s chat about what a Universal Orlando Express Pass is before we talk about why you should *almost* never buy it online.
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click through and buy, TravelingMom will get a small commission at no additional charge to you.
What is a Universal Orlando Express Pass?
Universal Orlando sells an add-on ticket that allows guests to skip regular lines and enter an attraction via a much shorter (typically) Express Pass line. This is an add-on ticket, which means you first must buy your admission to the parks and then decide if you want to add on this extra perk. 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.
Are they like a Disney FASTPASS?
Nope. These passes operate differently than FASTPASS options at Disney, most importantly because they cost a significant amount of money. Disney FASTPASS is free at Walt Disney World. With the additional price comes more flexibility at Universal Orlando. There are no time constraints for using the Express Pass. You just hop in an Express Pass line. If you purchase a single ride version, you can only ride each Express Pass attraction once using the special queue. If you purchase the unlimited version, then you could potentially ride the same ride over and over again using the special Express Pass line.
What Universal attractions are Express Pass eligible?
The Express Pass does not work on every single attraction, but after the inclusion of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions, it now covers almost all of them. We missed the change by about a month on our visit. We had to use the early entry trick to cover most of the Wizarding World before the crowds arrived. The exclusion of those rides used to be the biggest downside to buying the Universal Express Pass. Now everyone – including Potterheads – will be happy to use the pass.
Express Pass Rides at Universal Studios Florida (as of 10/8/18)
- Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon
- Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
- Hogwarts Express
- Hogwarts Express: King’s Cross Station
- TRANSFORMERS: The Ride-3D
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
- Revenge of the Mummy
- The Simpsons Ride
- Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
- Woody Woodpecker’s Nuthouse Coaster
- Shrek 4-D
- MEN IN BLACK™ Alien Attack
- E.T. Adventure
- Kang & Kodos’ Twirl ‘n’ Hurl
- Fast & Furious – Supercharged
Express Pass Rides at Universal’s Islands of Adventure (as of 10/8/18)
- The Incredible Hulk Coaster
- Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges
- Jurassic Park River Adventure
- Hogwarts Express
- Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey
- Hogwarts Express: Hogsmeade Station
- The High in the Sky Seuss Trolley Train Ride!
- One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
- Skull Island: Reign of Kong
- The Cat in the Hat
- Flight of the Hippogriff
- The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
- Storm Force Accelatron
- Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls
- Doctor Doom’s Fearfall
- Poseidon’s Fury
How much does the Universal Express Pass Cost?
Well, that depends. Prices vary by date, which park(s) you will be attending and if you want the unlimited or once per ride version. Obviously, a park hopper version is more expensive than a single park pass. And the unlimited express pass is also more expensive than the single ride.
Universal Orlando also varies the price by season and expected crowd level. The pass costs more during peak time periods. The cheapest option is a single ride Express Pass for one park which I can find (as of published date) for some dates for $70 per person, per day. Change that to an unlimited Express Pass for both parks and the price can be as high as $140 per person, per day, based on pricing available online for the next 4 months.
How we wasted almost $300 on Universal Express Passes!
I want to make it clear that I do like Universal Express Passes. They are super beneficial in most cases if you can afford it. I do think buying them online before you arrive can be a mistake, as it was in our case. On our first trip to Universal Orlando, we debated buying Universal Express Passes online the night before our visit. It was a good chunk of money but we only had one day to visit both parks, so we just went for it.
It ended up being our $300 mistake. Why was it a mistake? We purposefully planned our visit to be midweek in February. We always prefer to travel offseason if we can help it and this trip was no exception. It also ended up being a rainy day, so the park was almost empty. I loved the low crowds but was kicking myself all day long for buying the Express Pass online before we arrived. We never used them, as there were minimal lines for every ride.
Express Pass can be purchased online and at Universal Orlando. And not just at the entrance, but at many locations in both parks. Pretty much every gift shop we walked through exiting a ride advertised the sale of Universal Express Passes. Great information to know and share with others, but on that day, it was a constant reminder of needlessly spending almost $300.
Is the Universal Express Pass Worth It?
It depends. Obviously, it wasn’t worth it on our first trip. We gave the Universal Express pass a second chance in April and we loved it. It made a huge difference during our trip and I wouldn’t hesitate to use it again. I’d be hard pressed to buy it online before our visit though, especially if we were going to be there during the offseason. I won’t be repeating our $300 mistake!
If I was going to Universal Orlando during holidays like Christmas, Halloween or spring break, I would definitely buy a Universal Express Pass ahead time.
Get Universal Express Passes for Free!
The better option is to get a free Universal Express Pass by staying at select Universal Orlando Hotels. It could be worth splurging a little more on one of their hotels if you plan on buying Express passes anyway.
The three Universal Orland0 Hotels that include a free Universal Express Pass are the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel, Loews Hard Rock Hotel, and Loews Royal Pacific Hotel. These hotels are typically pricier than the more budget-friendly Cabana Bay Universal Resort but not necessarily when you factor in the cost of the free Universal Express Passes.
You might as well enjoy a nicer hotel and get free passes if it makes sense financially. Plus keep in mind you get the Universal Express Pass on both the day you check in and the day you check out, so one night gets you two days of Universal Express Pass. If there are 4 people in your family and you can snag a room for say $300 a night, then you will be saving money compared to the cost of 2 days of Universal Express Passes!
While I don’t recommend buying Express Passes until you’re sure you need them, Traveling Mom does recommend buying your actual tickets at Undercover Tourist because you’ll save over gate pricing.
Get More Great Universal Insider Tips!
- What is the secret to early entry at Universal Orlando?
- Is Universal a good girlfriends getaway vacation destination?
- Where are the best places to eat at Universal City Walk?
- Should I take my preschooler to Universal?
- How does the Universal Dining Plan work?
- Is it worth going to Universal for only one day?