Our Two Biggest Time Savers at Universal Studios Orlando: Express Plus Pass and Child Swap

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I say this quite often: my time has value.

My time has value.

While there are many times that I enjoy slowing down and taking my time to see or do something, I really really hate wasting time.   During our recent road trip to Florida, we spent two days checking out the Universal theme parks.  You have two parks to visit when you go to Universal: the original Universal Studios park and the Islands of Adventure theme park.  You can choose to purchase a one or two park pass – depending on which areas you want to visit.

Universal Studios is the original.  The streets have a distinct Hollywood feel to them and there are a bunch of rides to enjoy.  Most are thrill rides featuring pyrotechnics, roller coaster elements and a TON of special effects.  There are characters wandering around the park to meet (Nickelodeon characters, the Simpsons, even older classics like Betty Boop).  Food and gift shops are around every turn.  I loved  E.T. Adventure, Jaws and Disaster (HILARIOUS!) while Revenge of the Mummy scared the COMPLETE CRAP out of me.  Seriously, had to close my eyes and everything!

Islands of Adventure is next door.  Sections of that park (or “islands” if you will) have different themes: Marvel Comics, Jurassic Park, Dr Suess, Lost Continent and Harry Potter (<– look for an entire review just on HP in days to come).  Each island features rides and other attractions that all coincide with the island theme.    We enjoyed a bunch of the water rides (getting COMPLETELY drenched on a couple) and Lily LOVED just about every single ride in Seuss Landing.

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Child Swap at Universal Orlando

Very much the opposite of the Disney parks that we visited, the majority of both Universal parks is aimed at adults.  With just a smattering of slower-paced children rides at either park, you will be treated to an abundance of action-packed thrill rides.  Coasters, free falls, special effects – these rides will rattle your brain and make you scream – we had a blast!

As you might imagine, at just 2.5 years old, Lily Bean was not old enough for the majority of these rides.  In fact, I would say that she was only able to go on about 10% of the rides at Universal.


She was happy as a clam the entire day.  Why?  CHILD SWAP.

So each ride at Universal (both parks) houses a Child Swap room.  This room is right near the loading spot for the ride and it is where you can wait with a young child while Mom, Dad, Aunt Bessy, whoever goes on the ride first.  Then when that person is finished on the ride , he or she swaps places with the other adult – staying with the child while the other person gets a chance to go on the ride.

The Child Swap rooms were really nice!  Plenty of seating and just about all of them had a television playing some sort of kid-appropriate show or movie.  The room had a diaper changing table and some of the rooms even had a few toys/activity tables.

Here’s how we worked it: the four of us – Biker Bob, my dad, my stepmom and myself – would wait in line with Lily Bean.  When we got to the front of the ride we informed the attendant that we would be doing a child swap.  Then two of us would go with Lily into the Child Swap room while the other two got right on the ride.  When the first couple finished the ride, they would go sit with Lily while the second couple got their chance to ride.

SO COOL.  We only had to wait in line ONCE for all 4 of us to get to ride.

Express Plus Pass at Universal Orlando

Now let’s talk about those ride times.  We visited in late-March.  The parks were busy, but I know that the crowds we saw didn’t come close to the summertime crowds.  I would say that the majority of the rides at both Universal parks all had a minimum wait time of at least 30 minutes.  Some rides were at 1-2 hours.

When you visit a theme park, tickets are not cheap.  Universal is most DEFINITELY no exception.  The ticket prices are HIGH. (We paid $135 per person for 2 day 2 park passes – plus tax… ouch!)

So after paying those high ticket prices, you are probably going to tell me that I’m crazy for what I’m about to tell you.  But I’m going to tell you anyway:

I very much totally without a doubt HIGHLY recommend that you fork over a little bit more money and get everyone Express Passes.  (Please remember: I am writing this as a vacationer who visited these parks for just 2 days and I probably won’t be back for many more years.  The goal was to fit as many rides and attractions as humanly possible into those two days.  It was only after talking to about 5 season ticket holders who highly recommended the Express Passes for our quick visit that I decided to buy them. )

Huh?  More money?  You’ve got to be kidding, right?  NOPE.

Here’s why: only a certain amount of Express Passes are sold per day.  They average in price around $20-$40 per person per day – price depends on time of year and peak vs. non-peak dates and if you want 1 park or 2 park passes.   This is in ADDITION to your park admission (*gulp*).  By limiting the number of Express Passes sold, Universal can guarantee a minimal wait time for each ride.  (Please note – Express Passes can cost upwards of $80/PERSON/DAY during very popular peak times.  When they get that expensive, you will really need to weigh the cost vs. benefits.  Personally, I would most likely never plan a theme park vacation during peak season- I don’t handle big crowds too well and would spend the majority of the trip annoyed and grumpy.  When we visited in mid-March we paid $20ish/person/day for Express Passes.)

You have two choices – an Express Plus Pass which will get you express admission to each ride in the park ONCE.  There is also a VIP Pass (costs more) that gets you UNLIMITED express admission to each ride in both parks.

Tip: For what it’s worth, we spent two entire days at Universal – one at Universal Studios and one at Islands of Adventure.  It took the two full days just to ride the majority of the rides ONCE – and we still didn’t get to all of them.  Non-VIP passes worked great for us.

Why I suggest getting Express Plus Passes: Remember how I said that my time had value?  Here’s the perfect example.  With our Express Passes we literally walked onto EVERY SINGLE RIDE that we wanted to go on.  We did not wait more than 5 minutes to get on a single ride.  Rides that had 90 minute wait times – we walked RIGHT ON. (I would think during peak times, like summer, even Express Passers might have to wait for upwards of 10-15 minutes, but not much more than that.)  We were able to check out almost every single ride in both parks in 2 days.  If we had not had the Express Passes, we would have spent our entire day waiting in lines for probably half the rides that we rode.  Express Plus Passes enabled us to maximize our time at Universal – it was amazing.

Not included: There are THREE rides that Express Plus Passes and VIP Passes do NOT grant you quick entrance to: Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Pteranodon Flyers.

But they add so much money to our tickets – I can’t afford it. Let’s face it – if you’re planning a trip to Universal, you will be spending money on park tickets, hotels, food and some sort of transportation like plane tickets or gas for the car.  I know that it can be hard to imagine budgeting for one more thing.  BUT TRUST ME – this was worth it.  So give up take-out dinner for a month, skip date night at the movies a couple of times, it all adds up.

And just think of the smiles your family will be wearing when they zip past everyone wasting their time standing in that non-Express Pass line.  :)

Universal Orlando has in no way compensated me nor did they provide tickets in exchange for this review.  We paid for our tickets out of our own piggy bank.  All opinions are 100% our own.

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25 thoughts on “Our Two Biggest Time Savers at Universal Studios Orlando: Express Plus Pass and Child Swap”

  1. We are planning a trip to Universal this summer and all of the boards that I have been reading have multiple members that recommend Express pass. If you are going the very, very slowest weeks of the year, maybe it wouldn’t be as valuable but everyone does speak highly of Express pass. Now if you can afford it, they recommend staying at one of the 3 universal hotels and you automatically get the unlimited express pass with your hotel key so you don’t have to pay extra to get it. We are going at the end of summer and the room with AAA discount was about 180 per night but supposed to be a very nice hotel. Anyway, it will be nice to get express pass unlimited for 4 people as part of our room reservation and just be able to take the boat from the hotel to the parks. Again, like you said, we budgeted in that expense as people say with the heat of summer, it will be so nice to have. They said to do universal after the disney as the hotel experience and unlimited fast pass will spoil us on disney. Of course, we are doing it the other way around so I hope we don’t get spoiled by the priviledges. One review said he was already sweating at 7:30 am as he walked the 10 minute walk to the park instead of taking the boat so if it is that hot, I know we will like not waiting in line! We go to Universal Studios in Hollywood a lot as we have season passes and someone gave me a couple of the fast passes and it was great, totally recommend it. Thanks for the article!

    • Hi Susan,

      I can only imagine how hot it must get there in the summer… we were there in late March and the temps were already hot in the 80s! That’s a great point about staying at a Universal hotel to get the free Express passes thrown in. We stayed at a house that we rented on VRBO.com- saved a ton of money and got the whole house for $80/night which we then split with my dad and stepmom. It was also great having a kitchen – we made many of our meals! That saved us A LOT and it was centrally located near Disney and Universal – which worked nicely since we spent half a week visiting each.

      Hope you have a fantastic trip!

      • Hey Mama Cheaps,

        Do make a posting about the VRBO? renting and your experience. I have heard of it but never checked it out. I would love to hear more about it and anyone else’s experiences also. Also, I miss the info on the daily groupons but I know it was getting bigger and bigger and now so many competitor sites. Please keep up updated like you do about any especially good groupons.

        • Oh! I just might write one about VRBO- I’ll put that one on the to-do list! :) I will be sure to keep you updated on any really good Groupons – I’m sorry that the big list every day just got to be too much to write every morning. If I ever find a simpler way to post them, I will!

      • is there any ‘catch’ to the VRBO rentals? My fiance and I are going to Disney and Universal for our honeymoon in October and I’m wondering if this would be a good deal for us.

        • Nope – no catch! It’s just a site where vacation rental owners list their properties for rent. (Similar to Craigslist, etc). We have used VRBO 3 or 4 times now in the past 4 or 5 years and have not had an issue. :)

  2. you ReALLY planned a trip here and didnt let me know!?!?!? I would so love to meet up for a drink and chat coupons…. the ppl I can coupon and blog chat with are few and far between.. NEXT TIME!!!!

  3. Just a heads up: Fastpass prices are on a sliding scale dependant upon the time of year. We were there for Spring Break week this year (the week before Easter) and the cost of a Fastpass was an additional $80.00 per ticket!!!!!!

    • YES – very very true. I did mention peak vs non peak times in my post, but after reading your comment I went in and elaborated a bit. $80 per EP is INSANE – though I can only imagine how packed those parks get during popular seasons!! Thanks for the comment!

  4. While some free tickets for your time and opinion would have been great, it’s nice to see that you provide that just for the benefit of your readers :)

    Some bloggers (not you!!) seem so focused on the free stuff that most of the benefit (and all of the good intentions) are lost in the mix!

    We’re saving our dollars and pennies for a Disney trip so I’ll be referencing all your related posts within the year– thanks Mama!

  5. Did you also visit Disney World? We are planning to visit this fall and would love some tips for Disney World. Thanks

  6. Pingback: 10 Fastpass Tickets Blogs | Tickets, Vouchers and Coupons
  7. If you are using child swap, it it necessary for each member of your group to have the Express Pass, or could part of your party have the Express Pass then utilize the child swap for the remaining rider(s)? Just curious. I used the child swap and loved it!!! However, we did not have the Express Pass.

      • I see this question very interesting: I’m visiting with my wife, 2 kids, and a baby.
        I was wondering if I could save some money in this fashion:
        I buy express passes for me and one of my kids and not for my wife and the other kid, since they will wait in the child swap room.
        Do you know if this is possible? I think buying express passes for all would be a waste, since we would have to child swap in almost every ride.
        Thanks for your answer!

        • I’m pretty sure you’d still have to purchase Express Pass for every person who wants to ride the ride, not the baby who won’t be riding. You need the Express Pass to skip the lines and once you get there you do child swap. If only you had the Express Pass, not your wife, only you could get to the ride boarding area where the child swap room is, not her. Hope that makes sense! Definitely double check with Universal before you buy your tix.

  8. This review was very useful! Thank you! I am planning a trip with 7. Only 1 young child (also 2.5). To hear that the child swap rooms are like this helps my decision! Also I was looking into express pass unlimited…your review clinches it! I just hope I can buy them before they sell out! Thanks!

  9. Hi! We are planning on going in February, and have one nine year old and a 2.5 year old. Do you have to buy the express pass for the 2 year old, even if you don’t have to buy them a park ticket? Or can one of the parents take the 2 year old on the ride – I’m thinking of the Dr. Seuss rides here. Thanks.

    • It’s been a few years since our trip, but if I remember correctly, we did not have to buy an Express pass for the then 2 year old. I’d double check with the park before your trip though – just in case things have changed!


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