Early Park Admission is a perk available to Universal hotel guests (and certain other guests) that gets them access to a limited selection of rides at at least one of Universal Orlando’s parks—Universal Studios Florida or Universal’s Islands of Adventure—every day. In this post, we discuss who gets access to Early Park Admission, what is included in the extra hour, and how it can impact your day whether you have it or not.
What is Early Park Admission at Universal Orlando?
Every day, select guests have access to at least one of Universal Orlando’s theme parks an hour before it opens to the rest of the public.
Through September 2019, Early Park Admission is available daily at Universal Studios Florida and Volcano Bay. It is not available at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, presumably because that park has the new Hagrid ride.
This post will not cover Early Park Admission at Volcano Bay, the water park at Universal Orlando Resort.
Who gets Early Park Admission at Universal Orlando?
The majority of the guests of Early Park Admission are the guests of Universal Orlando’s hotels. These seven (soon to be eight) hotels are: Endless Summer — Surfside Inn, Endless Summer — Dockside Inn (coming March 2020), Aventura, Cabana Bay, Loews Sapphire Falls, Loews Royal Pacific, Hard Rock Hotel, and Loews Portofino Bay.
The next biggest group are higher-level passholders. Premier Passholders (the highest tier) get Early Park Admission daily, but not at Volcano Bay. Preferred passholder get Early Park Admission every day their pass is valid (not at Volcano Bay).
Universal occasionally offers Early Park Admission to other groups. For example, during select “Passholder Appreciation” days in 2019, lower-tier passholder also have Early Park Admission.
What rides are included in Early Park Admission?
These lists are always subject to change, we so recommend you confirm on the official website.
At Universal Studios Florida, the available rides are Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. Ollivander’s wand experience is also open.
At Universal’s Islands of Adventure, the available rides historically were Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Flight of the Hippogriff. However, through September 2019 no Early Park Admission is scheduled as this park. We’ll have to wait and see when it returns and if it returns with the new Hagrid’s Magical Creature Motorbike Adventure.
At Volcano Bay, the current list is: Kala & Tai Nui Serpentine Body Slides, Ohyah of Ohyah & Ohno Drop Slides, Ohno of Ohyah & Ohno Drop Slides, Honu of the Honu Ika Moana, ika Moana of the Honu ika Moana, Krakatau Aqua Coaster, and Ko’okiri Body Plunge.
Park Strategy With Early Park Admission
In this section we’re going to talk about how having Early Park Admission impacts your strategy. In the next section, we’ll talk about working around Early Park Admission if you don’t have it.
Hagrid’s and Early Park Admission
Islands of Adventure has not yet had Early Park Admission with Hagrid’s operational, so we don’t know exactly what that will look like. Nonetheless, people often use Early Park Admission at Universal Studios Florida to try and get a leg up on the folks over at Islands of Adventure.
The strategy here is to ride the Hogwarts Express right at its open, then hopping in the Hagrid’s queue once you’re in Hogsmeade. As estimated in part 6 of my August 2019 Universal Orlando trip report, the first train of guests will be on Hagrid’s at about one hour after Island’s of Adventure opens.
I don’t like this strategy because I think it puts a lot of risk on the Hogwarts Express starting on time and efficiently, and once you’re in Hogsmeade your wait rests on the whims of the Team Members deciding to let you into the Hagrid’s line. That said, I’m envious of anyone who cleanly executes this trick.
Early Park Admission at Universal Studios Florida
At Universal Studios Florida, Early Park Admission includes two rides—Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem. Ollivander’s wand experience is also open, but won’t impact our strategy.
Here’s an example timeline, with commentary following (times are for an 8AM to 9AM early hour—always check the schedule because times cary):
7:38AM Arrive at Universal Studios Florida
7:50AM Gates Open
7:57AM Enter Gringotts Queue
8AM Gringotts Begins Operations
8:14AM Exit Gringotts
8:22AM Enter Despicable Me Queue (posted 5 minute wait)
8:48AM Exit Despicable Me
8:50AM Enter Rip Ride Rockit Queue
As you can see, arriving 30 minutes before the start of Early Park Admission should be fine.
On days with a 7AM start to Early Park Admission, even 6:45AM should have you in a good position. You’ll need your park admission ticket and your hotel key (or whatever entitles you to Early Park Admission).
Your general goal for Early Park Admission is to visit both Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts and Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, finishing right around park opening and starting the regular day with Rip Ride Rockit.
Here’s a look at the walk to Gringotts during Early Park Admission. Wide walkways and numerous routes allow you to easily pass people en route to the ride:
Most days, there should be little difficulty finishing both rides, but if you’re at all concerned, there are a few reasons to start with Despicable Me and consider saving Gringotts for the afternoon.
First, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem generally has longer waits that Escape from Gringotts. It can be close, but even on days when Escape from Gingrotts has longer waits…
Escape from Gringotts is a much better ride to wait in line for midday. Even though it’s only the last 20 to 30 minutes of the queue that is fully inside, that section of the queue is a fantastic treat.
What’s more, if you walk over to Escape from Gringotts midday and see it has a wait that’s way too long for you—just spend an hour in Diagon Alley (which you need to anyways) hoping for a drop in wait time during your visit.
Finally, Despicable Me has lengthy pre-shows that can mess up your morning if you try and squeeze it into your Early Park Admission too late. For example, when I visited and got in line at 8:22AM (posted 5 minute wait), I wasn’t off the attraction until 8:48AM.
If things do go wrong in your morning, you’ll likely still want to go to Rip Ride Rockit first and push Transformers or Revenge of the Mummy into the afternoon.
Early Park Admission at Islands of Adventure
It used to be that you could easily ride Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and Flight of the Hippogriff in plenty of time to walk back to Incredible Hulk Coaster.
Now the priority ride would obviously be Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, but Universal has yet to post dates that will include Islands of Adventure Early Park Admission.
In the event that we haven’t updated this and you’re staring down Early Park Admission with Hagrid’s, we advise arriving 45 to 60 minutes early (30 minutes if early admission starts at 7AM) and starting with Hagrid’s.
Park Strategy Without Early Park Admission
In this section we quickly discuss how to cope with not having Early Park Admission at a park. If possible, you want to avoid a park with Early Park Admission if you don’t have it, but that won’t always be an option.
Working Around Universal Studios Florida Early Park Admission
There are three quick tips for handling a morning when you’re working around early guests at Universal Studios Florida.
First, ignore Escape from Gringotts until the afternoon. Between early guests and guests who have to start there, the waits for Gringotts are worth skipping until the afternoon. Crowds will level out then and you can spend some time in the gorgeous indoor queue.
Second, probably ignore Despicable Me. If the Despicable Me wait is five minutes when the park opens to all guests, then it probably won’t get too long midday and it’s worth waiting until then.
If it’s a day when the wait is going to sit at 90 minutes all afternoon, then it will already be 30 to 45 by the time the park opens. With the lengthy total experience time, it rarely will make sense to start there.
Third, start with Rip Ride Rockit. Rip Ride Rockit is a short, outdoor experience that carries decent waits midday. It’s the prototypical ride to get out of the way to start your day, if possible.
Working Around Islands of Adventure Early Park Admission
As covered above, we don’t know what to expect from Early Park Admission at Islands of Adventure going forward. If we haven’t updated this, though, and there is Early Park Admission, here’s what we recommend.
If Hagrid’s is not included in Early Park Admission, consider starting there (but see our Rope Drop at Islands of Adventure post for more on starting with Hagrid’s).
If Hagrid’s is included in Early Park Admission, just start with Incredible Hulk Coaster and fit Hagrid’s later into your day (hopefully).