Don’t make the same $300 mistake one TravelingMom did when buying Universal Express Passes before her park visit. They were kicking themselves all day long, knowing that money could have meant nicer meals, fun souvenirs or several more giant pink donuts!

Homer Simpson's big pink donut available in Springfield at Universal Orlando

Photo credit: Karen Heffren / Desert TravelingMom

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.

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 to 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 earlier this summer, it now covers almost all of them.We missed the change by about a month on our visit earlier this year. We had to utilize 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.

The Universal Express Pass now includes the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions including Hogwarts Express

Photo credit: Karen Heffren / Desert TravelingMom

Express Pass Rides at Universal Studios Florida (as of 8/31/17)

  • 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
  • A Day in the Park with Barney
  • Terminator 2: 3-D
  • Universal Orlando’s Horror Make-Up Show
  • FEAR FACTOR LIVE
  • Animal Actors On Location!
Buy your Universal Express Pass in the parks including ride gift shops

Photo credit: Karen Heffren / Desert TravelingMom

Express Pass Rides at Universal’s Islands of Adventure (as of 8/31/17)

  • The Incredible Hulk Coaster
  • Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge-Rat Barges
  • Jurassic Park River Adventure
  • Dragon Challenge
  • 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
  • Caro-Seuss-el
  • Flight of the Hippogriff
  • The Amazing Adventures of Spider-Man
  • Storm Force Accelatron
  • Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls
  • Doctor Doom’s Fearfall
  • The Eighth Voyage of Sindbad
  • 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 single ride version. Obviously, a park hopper version is more expensive than a single park pass. 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 Universal’s Islands of Adventure, with prices from $65-$120 per person, per day. Change that to an unlimited Express Pass for both parks and prices vary from $100-$160 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 in the off season 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.

Learn all about the benefits of the Universal Orlando Express Pass and why you should never buy your Universal Express Pass online!

Photo credit: Karen Heffren / Desert TravelingMom

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 you walk through as we exited 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. I won’t be repeating our $300 mistake!

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. You might as well enjoy a nicer hotel and get free passes if it makes sense financially.

Learn all about the benefits of the Universal Orlando Express Pass and why you should never buy your Universal Express Pass Online!