On the fence about spending extra on Universal Studios Hollywood’s Express Pass? I spent an entire day at Universal Studios during peak season in July to see if this ticket was worth the price to bypass the standby lines for rides, attractions, and shows. After spending a total of 15 hours at Universal Studios Hollywood, I would say paying more for an Express Pass experience was worth it because it saved us time and, more importantly, meltdowns from kids.
For context, my group went to Universal Studios, Hollywood, on a Wednesday in late July 2023. Super Nintendo Land has been open for five months and is still insanely crowded. I also opted for the early entrance add-on for Super Nintendo Land due to the Mario Kart restriction on Express Passes.
How much is the Universal Studios Express Pass?
The Universal Studios Hollywood website states that the Universal Express Pass costs $199 and up, depending on the day you visit. During the off-season, like September or January, you can find the lowest-priced Express Pass tickets at $199 in the middle of the week. And during peak season months of July and August, prices can range between $209-$319. Guests ages two years or younger are free and don’t need tickets.
For a Wednesday in July 2023, one-day general admission cost $149, and the Universal Express Pass was $295 per ticket–a $146 upgrade. So it’s typically double the price of a regular one-day ticket.
How does the Universal Express Pass work?
The Express Pass is an upgraded ticket with special line privileges. It’s still the same sized physical piece of paper as a regular ticket that you need to carry with you throughout the day. Ride operators scan a barcode on your ticket at the entrance to every ride with an Express Pass lane, helping you skip long lines. But let’s see if the pass is worth it for you.
Benefits of the Express Pass
The Express pass lets you bypass a typically large crowd in the standard standby line and save yourself from hours of standing in line. Only a limited number of Express Passes are sold daily, so they can sell out beforehand.
The Express Pass allows you to bypass 10 of the park’s 11 rides and attractions ONCE each ride that day by scanning the barcode on your ticket upon ride entry. However, if you want to ride an attraction again, you must line up in the regular standby line. Note, even though you bypass a majority of the standby line, some wait time is included, but it stays within 10-15 minutes.
These are the attractions that have an Express Pass line:
- 10 Rides:
- Despicable Me Minion Mayhem
- Flight of the Hippogriff
- Harry Potter & the Forbidden Journey
- Jurassic World – The Ride
- Kung Fu Panda Adventure
- Revenge of the Mummy – The Ride
- Studio Tour
- The Secret Life of Pets: Off the Leash
- The Simpsons Ride
- Transformers: The Ride-3D
- WaterWorld show with priority seating
- Access to Super Nintendo Land without a reservation when the park has reached capacity for the day and a reservation is required to enter Super Nintendo Land. This can happen during peak season months like July and August.
What the Express Pass does not include
Almost all of the rides and attractions at Universal Studios Hollywood have Express Pass, there is one ride restriction currently, and it’s the most popular ride, Mario Kart™: Bowser’s Challenge. So if you’re thinking about getting the pass for Mario Kart, it won’t work, and you’ll have to wait in the general admission line.
If your main reason for visiting Universal Studios Hollywood is for Super Nintendo Land, I recommend buying the Super Nintendo World™ Early Access Ticket and the Express Pass ticket. This lets you enter the park and Super Nintendo Land ONE HOUR before the general public.
With this early entrance, we could ride Mario Kart™: Bowser’s Challenge in under 40 minutes instead of the two to three-hour wait it became once the park opened. The early entrance ticket starts at $20 daily and rises during peak season.
Is the Universal Studios Express Pass worth it?
The Express Pass is not cheap, so it takes some consideration to weigh out the cost. Overall we saved over SEVEN HOURS of waiting in line this day, letting us ride just about every major ride we wanted to. Without this, we would have to spend more time in line and less relaxing, eating, or enjoying the park.
The pass let us ride nine out of 11 rides and attractions in the entire park long before closing. Note, the only reason we didn’t do all the rides was by personal preference (some people weren’t up for huge roller coaster drops).
Here’s a breakdown of our day WITH the Express Pass:
- Time spent in line: 10 minutes per ride, 1 hour 30 minutes total
- Time spent relaxing/eating/wandering/exploring the park: 13 hours 30 minutes
WITHOUT the Express Passes, it would be more like:
- Time spent in line: 1 hour per ride (minimum), 9 hours total
- Time spent relaxing/eating/wandering/exploring the park: 6 hours
The Express Pass is a must-have if:
- You’re visiting from out of town or out of state and only have one day to visit the park
- You don’t have time to spend the whole day at the park but want to see multiple rides
- You have kids that you know could not handle 60+ minutes wait in line
Consider skipping the Express Pass if:
- You’re buying an annual pass and will return to the park multiple times anyway
- You don’t plan to go on at least three rides with Express Pass lanes
- You’re visiting during a time of the year you know it isn’t crowded
- You’re on a tight budget and just want to enjoy the shops, games, and walking around the park most of the day
It’s worth paying for an Express Pass if you have the option because you spend less time in line and have more opportunities to do other activities, like playing games, relaxing in air-conditioned stores, and staying away from the heat.
Tips for using the Express Pass
- Park tickets require you to choose which day you’ll attend the theme park, so make sure your schedule for that day stays clear. Universal Studios Hollywood states that all tickets are non-transferable, non-refundable, and non-exchangeable.
- Make sure everyone in your group purchases an Express Pass; otherwise, your trip might exclude some members who can’t bypass the general standby line. Or you might end up choosing to wait in the standby line with non-Express Pass holders, which negates the use of the pass altogether.
- Purchase your Express Pass tickets at least one month ahead because a limited number are available daily.
- The Express Pass includes one-day admission, so you only need this ticket to enter the theme park.
- When you first scan your online tickets at the front gate, make sure you receive a physical ticket from the workers. Each ticket includes your name and a bar code you must scan at each Express Pass ride entrance.
- Download the Universal Studios Hollywood app to keep an updated notification of wait times and if rides and attractions accept Express Pass tickets.
How to buy the Express Pass
Since Express Passes are limited in quantity per day, I recommend purchasing them on the Universal Studios Hollywood website. You can also buy Express Passes at the front gate, but they can sell out which would change your entire day’s itinerary, so I recommend buying them online as soon as you can confirm a day you want to attend the park.
To purchase tickets online, click the “tickets” button on the Universal Studios Hollywood website. Then, click on the “Universal Express” option and continue to choose your specific date. Each price differs by date. Finally, add the number of guests. Guests two years or younger don’t need a pass and are free to attend.
How much is it to upgrade to the Express Pass?
The minimum cost to upgrade is $90, but it can be up to $170 extra. The price of a regular ticket ranges from $109 to $149, and the price of an Express Pass ticket ranges from $199 to $319. So on typical low-season days which aren’t busy you can expect to pay about $90 to upgrade to the Express Pass. During busier seasons, the prices of both tickets go up so you can expect to pay up to $170 to upgrade your ticket to Express Pass.
Suppose you originally purchased a general admission ticket and want to upgrade a regular ticket to an Express Pass. In that case, you can upgrade your ticket by calling Universal Studio Hollywood at 866-258-6546, or you can wait until the day of your trip and upgrade at the front gate.
However, I recommend upgrading over the phone since Express Passes can sell out early. If you try to upgrade at the gate you may not be able to if they have sold out. Currently, there is no way to upgrade tickets online.
What hotels include the Universal Express Pass?
The Universal Express Pass for Universal Studios Hollywood does not come with any accommodations. The Express Pass only comes with one-day admission inside the theme park on the specified date you choose from online or at the front gate.