Lightning Lane vs. Express Pass: Which is the Better Value?

Ever since Disney started to charge for their “skip the line access” (formerly FastPass and now Lightning Lane), the question of value has been on the front line. The best way for me to answer that question, is to compare it to the other major competitor’s version in Universal’s Express Pass.

Get to know the services:

I have a full break down of what Lighting Lane is here. But to simplify it, Lightning Lane offers you the ability to make reservations and to skip the line on available attractions. While most of Walt Disney World’s attractions are on this system, a few are set aside for Individual Lightning Lanes. These are an extra fee and priced according to crowd levels.

Universal’s Express Pass has two versions, regular and unlimited, and allows you to walk up to the attraction of your choosing and ride at your convince. All attractions are equal and no extra money is spent on a more popular ride.

Test One: Price Point

Let’s start with the big point, price. Lightning Lane itself stays at a $15 per person per day fee. So for a week for a family of 4, the total add on is $300 (not including taxes). The only thing that effects this is if you want to do any Individual Lightning Lanes, which can range from $7-$15 depending on the attraction and the crowd level. You are only allowed to pay for 2 attractions a day on this level. There are no discounts for the Lightning Lane system, and if you want to only use Lightning Lane for one day, then you don’t want to add it to your package. Currently a package will include Genie + (Lightning Lane) with the total days of ticket you buy, if you choose. All four of Walt Disney World’s theme parks are included in the price.

Express Pass may give you a heart attack, they range from $59.99 for one park one day per person to $259.99 for two park one day during the holiday for one person. Universal will price their express passes according to crowd levels, so you can avoid expensive pricing if you book a slow time to go. There are 3 hotels on Universal Property that offer the Unlimited Express for free with your stay. Portofino Bay, Hard Rock, and Royal Pacific all offer this great insensitive for your length of stay, including check in and check out days. So if you are interested in Express Pass, booking a room at one of these hotels may save you a few dollars. You can buy express pass for any day during your stay in your package, and bundling it with your package can also save you a few dollars. All three of the Universal Parks offer Express Pass, but Volcano Bay (their Water Park) is a separate Express than the Dry Parks. I’ll also note that the Premier Annual Pass will give you free Standard Express after 4 pm.

Winner: Lightning Lane, it’s an attractive price point, and even though you have to pay extra to ride select attractions, you will still come out cheaper than Express Pass.

Test 2: Attraction Availability

In 2012, Walt Disney World started putting FastPass+ on every attraction and show, whether it needed it or not. So when they made the transition to Lightning Lane, it all stayed the same. The difference was that instead of scheduling 3 rides 60 days in advance of your trip, you can only book 1 ride at a time starting at 7 am. After that you can either make one every two hours or as soon as you get off the current Lightning lane selection; which ever comes first. Because every guest wants to tour a different way in WDW, that means that by lunch you could be out of luck on getting Lightning Lane for the big attractions. The My Disney Experience app is a vital part of the Lightning Lane passes, as you will need it to make the reservations and to “tap in” to the attraction. Lightning Lane will also give you a set time to ride the attraction, so you will have to work your plans around that reservation.

Express Pass keeps their selections to just the attractions. The only attractions that currently do not have Express access is Hagrid’s Motorbike and Velocicoaster, as they are the newest attractions at the park. This is the typical way that Universal will do things. After a new attraction opens, or a certain time period passes, the attraction will join the line up. The Express Pass doesn’t use any type of reservation system. When you walk around the park in the way you want, you can just walk on to the ride of you choosing.

Winner: Express Pass. Knowing that you can walk up to an attraction and get on when ever you want will make the day that much better.

Test 3: ReRide Ability:

When Walt Disney World introduced FastPass, the chances were great for you to get a second FastPass to an attraction. Due to the guests having to walk to a physical location. When WDW brought FastPass+ online and the digital element and pre arrival planning came into play became a game changer. These Fastpasses would be gone 60 days in advance, with no hope to get one while you were in the park. So with LIghtning Lane, they got rid of the pre arrival reservations, but you can start making the reservations at 7 am on the day you are going to a park, and after that you can do the process known as “stacking”. Every 2 hours you can make a reservation, so by the time you make it into the park, you could have at least 2 reservations. But so can everyone else. For every reservation made, your chances of rerides using Lightning Lane become slim. And with the Individual Lighting Lane, you can only purchase the ride one time each day.

Universal offers 2 types of the Express pass, a standard and an Unlimited. With the Standard, you only get one ride on each attraction per day. The Unlimited lets you ride the reride as much as you want. No wait periods in between, just go ride. You want to ride the Hulk 3 times in a row with Express Pass? Go for it. As stated above, the Unlimited Express is the one that is included with the top 3 tier resorts on property. Neither require the app to use, and will be a separate ticket or your room key to use it. So you just walk up and scan.

Winner: Express Pass. Not having to get up at 7 am to start making plans for your day, and then not tying down your day to to what you have to do and when, makes Express Pass the easy winner.

Test 4: Benefits

Disney’s Lightning Lane/ Genie + does offer a few extra features included with its purchase. You can get some Snapchat AR filters, and you will also get some audio selections that tell you the history of areas of the parks and attractions. It’s not a lot, but it’s something to make you feel nice about the money you spend. I think Disneyland has the best option of Memory Maker as one of their benefits. They also offer an anytime, any ride pass (some times there are exclusions) if a ride breaks down or is in a weather hold during your return window. This is normally a one time pass for the people on the reservation for that attraction, and you don’t need to make a new reservation for whatever attractions you would like.

The Express Pass pass doesn’t offer you any type of extras for the money you are spending.

Winner: Lightning Lane, but right now I don’t think this is really a contributing factor when coming to purchase a “skip the line” pass for either resorts.

Overall winner: Express Pass

I really feel that even though the price point is steep, if you aren’t staying at a Universal Premier hotel, that Universal’s Express Pass is the best deal. The benefit to not having to worry about your phone, reservations, or where you have to be by a certain time really helps with a relaxing family vacation. Add in to the reride ability of attractions that you and your family enjoy with Unlimited Pass adds to benefits.

Published by Jason

I’m a huge Disney and Universal Fan, and try to make at least one trip a year to Orlando to visit the parks there. I also love to go out to Disneyland in California, but that’s just about every other year. I am a travel agent with MTE Vacations, and would love you help you plan your next Disney Destination or Universal Resort Vacations! Contact me today with a no obligation quote at Jason@MTEvacations.com

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