A couple of weeks ago, I began planning for my first trip to Universal Studios in Orlando. As a Harry Potter fan, I was looking forward to seeing the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. I had gotten some great advice from fellow readers. One of the things I considered was whether to invest in a Universal Express Pass. An Express Pass saves you time by fast-tracking you to the front of the lines for many of the attractions.
Two Types of Universal Express Pass
I am not going to sugarcoat it, but a trip to Universal Studios is no small chump change. If you buy a one-day 2-parks admission ticket (a park hopper ticket includes access to both Universal Studios and the Island of Adventures on the same day), it’s going to set you back about $170 per person.
And on top of that, it’s going to cost you more to buy an Express Pass.
I had a 3 nights Orlando trip, and I budgeted 1.5 days for City Walk/ all the Harry Potter attractions. I was worried it wouldn’t be enough time; it turned out I had plenty of time to cover grounds at both parks. Given that I had one day for both parks, I spent time looking into Express Pass options. There are two flavors of the Express Passes. You could purchase for one or both parks.
- An Unlimited Pass: Gives you Express access for each ride (unlimited times per ride)
- Universal Express Pass: Gives you Express access for each ride (once per ride)
Pricing out the Universal Express Pass
As of this post, these are the pricing for the Unlimited Express Pass:
If you only plan to go on a ride once, you can get the cheaper Universal Express Pass:
Advice for Readers
1. What kind of Express Pass should you get? If you are on the fence, get the Universal Express Pass. Unless you are one of those people who wants to ride the same attraction over and over again, the regular Express Pass works fine for most people. I had an unlimited pass from staying at an on-site property (more below), but there was no need for me to go on any ride twice. If I had to choose, I’d go with the regular Express Pass.
2. How else can I get Express Pass Access?
You can also get Express Pass access by staying at one of the onsite hotel properties. There are 6 on-site properties, and 3 properties include the Universal Express Passes:
- Loews Portofino Bay Hotel – (You can read the review here!)
- Loews Hard Rock Hotel
- Loews Royal Pacific Hotel
I stayed on-site at the Portofino Bay Hotel. At the time of my stay, the room rate is a bit over $400USD per night for 3 people. After subtracting the value from the Express Passes, an on-site hotel still made sense for us. The extra early hour access was also appealing and we made full use of that benefit by getting to the park early. An Amex offer of 10,000 MR points (or $100 value) for booking through the Amex Travel portal helped too.
On our last day in Orlando, we stayed off-site and I was able to compare the convenience and value (more in a separate post).
3. What if I want exclusive access?
If cost is not a factor for you and time is a premium, Universal Studio offers a VIP experience that include a behind-the-scenes tour. It also includes a Universal Express Pass with access to participating rides.
Is The Express Pass Worth It?
I visited on a weekday which registered a 6 out of 10 in terms of the “crowd” scale. In other words, it was not too bad in terms of the crowds. There were lines at the more popular attractions, such as the Despicable Me, Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, and the Shrek attractions. With the Express Pass, the wait was never longer than 10-15 minutes.
If you’ve ever been to Disney, I love their free FastPass which fast-track you to the front of the line when you come back during the designated times. While Universal’s Express Pass system is definitively more convenient (in that you can just use the line whenever), it also seemed less fair. Imagine if you just shelled out $170 for ticket admission for each person in your family and you are all waiting in line for a ride, only to have people who are willing to shell out more breeze by in the Express Pass lane. Granted, it’s really no different than if someone were to pay more for business or first class or some other special access, but there is something inherently unfair about it when everyone paid the same admission price for the same magical experience.
Meanwhile, I can’t imagine how much additional profit Universal is milking away with this Express Pass system.
Is the Express Pass worth it?
Yes, I’m not going to lie. The Express Pass is totally worth it in terms of time and convenience.
Would I would pay for them separately?
I probably won’t buy these passes separately. However, I wouldn’t hesitate to book an on-site hotel again to make use of the Express Pass and other on-site property benefits.