What is this Universal Express Pass I keep hearing about?
It's the free -- yes, free -- ride reservation system at Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida. Most of the popular rides offer this. Right by the ride entrance look for the yellow Universal Express logo that mark the pass distribution machines. Step up and scan your ticket. That's the ticket you used to get into the park that day. Make sure you have all the tickets for the amount of Universal Express Pass tickets you need. You will be given two one-hour return windows. Pick the one that is the most convenient for you, which will usually be the earliest return time. Your Express passes will print out. Take them and enjoy all that the park has to offer until your return time comes. Then you present them at the Universal Express return lines -- usually right next to the regular entrance. You will be riding in 10-15 minutes, sometimes even less.
Pinch me! Did I just die and wake up in theme park heaven? Can you give me an example of how Express works that I can relate too?
Sure. It's noon and you would really love to cool off on a water ride. You show up at Popeye's Bilge-Rat Barges and apparently you're not the only one thinking that way. The line is an hour long! You can wait it out. However, to the left of the entrance you see the Universal Express logo. You realize that you are about to become the hypothetical answer to this question! What a coincidence. You see a half-dozen distribution terminals. You step up to one that is available and the computer monitor walks you through the painless process. You scan your ticket and you have two return time options. You can come back from 2:30pm to 3:30pm or from 4pm to 5pm. You pick the earlier one-hour window, because, man, it sure is hot today! You then have two hours and change to enjoy the rest of the park. Grab lunch. Hit Jurassic Park River Adventure for a quick water fix once you see the line is just 20 minutes. You're on vacation. Have fun. Then come back between 2:30pm and 3:30pm and you will enter the Express Pass queue which merges with the regular line just 5 minutes or so before you are assigned your raft. Sweet!
Can I wear a poncho on Popeye?
You can, but can we stick to the topic.
Sorry. So why stand in the regular line if I can just go around collecting Express Passes?
There's the rub. You can only have one outstanding Express Pass at a time. That's why they scan your park entrance ticket. If you choose the later return window -- or the return options are pretty far out -- they will usually let you get a second pass before that. The time that you can get a second pass is printed on the Express ticket that you receive.
How much does it cost?
How much does it really cost?
Would I lie to you? It is absolutely free. The parks know what they are doing. Not only does guest satisfaction spike higher when patrons don't have to wait around in long lines but the parks often make a little more money from the guest who spends that time in stores or at any of the park eating establishments instead of snaking around the attraction queues.
Aha! See, it's not really free now is it?
Well, I guess you got me there. You tricked me. Man, I'm easy that way.
So the Express Pass and the Express Pass Plus are free -- in theory?
Express Pass is. Express Pass Plus is an entirely different critter. That one isn't free, hence the word Plus. You can buy those just as you enter the park or at some of the retail stores inside the park. With Plus you will get a booklet of Express Passes, one for each attraction in the park. It's awfully convenient because you just show up at the Express Pass return entrances, they take your Plus pass, and you're in.
Sounds cool. And you said the Plus passes are free?
I did not. Prove it! Only the regular Express Passes are free. Plus will run you from $15 to $25 per person -- depending on whether you are hitting the park during its peak or non-peak season.
And I can just keep going on Spider-Man through the Express line all day long with these Plus passes? Fire Dragon. Ice Dragon. Fire. Ice. The wall!!! Fire! Ice!
No. The booklet is good for every ride in the park -- but just one ride on each. However, you can still get regular Express Passes or just stand in the regular lines for your rerides.
But if I don't want to go on Storm Force can I just use that Plus ticket to go on Spider-Man twice?
No. Good thinking, though.
What if everyone in the park would buy a Plus pass? Wouldn't it be great if they were all in the huge Express lines and I'm just walking right on the rides in the empty standby queues?
That won't happen. The number of Plus passes they sell daily is capped. And even the free Universal Express passes will run out by the early afternoon on the most popular rides. So if you want to buy a Plus pass or make the most of the free Express options, get to the parks early.
If I pay for Plus will I be able to see all of Islands of Adventure in one day?
The rides? Absolutely. They usually have an option to buy Plus passes for both parks on the same day and it's possible to hit most of the major attractions at both IOA and USF in one day. It's certainly not the best way to enjoy the parks and their finer details, but if your time is limited it's been done before. It will be done again.
I'm suddenly feeling very attracted to you. Is that normal?
Well, you're a Question. I'm an Answer. We were meant for one another.
All of this doesn't matter if you stay at one of the three onsite resorts. Guests are provided Front-of-The-Line access all day long (limited to once per ride until 3pm, unlimited after that). They're not cheap but certainly reasonable if you were going to spring for Express Pass Plus for your entire family. So consider pulling up a discounted online rate for the romantic Portofino Bay, the hip Hard Rock Hotel or the majestic Royal Pacific Resort.
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