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We’ve had the pleasure of visiting Universal Studios Orlando and Universal Studios Hollywood multiple times over the past decade. However, we’ve never really budgeted or analysed how much we’ve spent on a trip. That is, until now.
That’s because on our recent trip to Universal Studios, we decided to track exactly how much we spent.
On average we spent $100 per person, per day on food, drinks, transport and souvenirs during our trip to Universal Studios.
However, everyone’s trip to Universal Studios is different and as such there are a number of factors that could significantly influence how much money you should bring with you on your trip. This includes;
- Staying on-site in a partner hotel, or off-site in a resort elsewhere.
- Visiting Universal Studios in Orlando or Universal Studios in Hollywood.
- Hiring a car during your trip.
- How long you’re visiting for.
- Who you’re travelling with.
And so much more…
As such I’ve gone ahead and broken this article down into the three key sections where we spent the majority of our spending money during our trip.
This article assumes that you’ve already booked and paid for your accommodation, flights or gas to the area, car hire if applicable and park tickets.
Food & Drinks
The vast majority of the spending money we brought to Universal Studios was spent on food and drinks. Much like any theme park, the cost of food and drink at Universal Studios is inflated when compared to a grocery store or traditional restaurant.
For example, I picked up this refreshing can of Duff beer inside Springfield at Universal Studios for $5.86 including tax. Meanwhile, this Butterbeer inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter cost $8.50 plus tax.
When it comes to dining, most restaurants inside the Universal Studios parks are quick service and as such the prices are significantly lower when compared to some of the table service restaurants you’ll find at the likes of CityWalk.
For example, here’s our receipt from The Three Broomsticks at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. As you can see we purchased a bottle of water which cost $5.50, we then picked up a side of corn which cost $4.49 and finally a portion of Fish and Chips with wedge fries for $16.99.
This brought our total to $26.98 before tax and $28.38 including tax for one meal, a side and a drink. In this case, we shared, however, in most situations this is a meal for one.
Keep in mind that the prices are often inflated at Universal Studios in Hollywood and the tax is higher at 9.5% instead of Florida’s 6%.
As such the amount you have to budget for a trip to Universal Studios in Hollywood is likely to be around 10% higher overall when compared to Universal Studios in Orlando.
You can view the menu and associated costs for each restaurant at Universal Studios either online or by downloading the Universal Studios mobile application for your smartphone.
Alternatively, most restaurants often have a board outside the restaurant and again at the counter detailing the different options and associated costs.
While you are able to bring your own food and drinks into all Universal Studios parks (provided they meet the theme parks’ healthy and safety rules) in order to save money, this can ruin some of the experience.
Instead, we look to still try and experience everything while saving money in the process.
For that, we look to cost-saving opportunities such as the Universal Studios Orlando refillable cup. This refillable cup provides you with the ability to re-fill your cup every 10 minutes with a choice of hundreds of different drink combinations from a variety of different stands around the park.
The current cost of a Coca-Cola freestyle drink is $17.99 plus tax, however, once you have the cup you can add on additional days for $10.99 per day, plus tax. Given that a bottle of water inside the park is $5.50 alone this can be a great way to keep hydrated and enjoy some fun drink combinations.
Given that you’re flights, gas and / or hire car have already been purchased the vast majority of your transport costs have been accounted for. That being said there are some additional costs you will need to consider when visiting Universal Studios.
These costs will vary depending on two key factors;
- Whether you’re staying on-site in a partner hotel
- Whether you’re hiring a car / driving to the parks or getting an Uber / Lyft where applicable.
Given that we’re based in the UK we flew to Orlando, Florida and chose not to hire a car. While hiring a car can provide you with a significant amount of flexibility during your trip, the costs of doing so are increasing significantly year on year.
Staying On-Site In A Partner Or Resort Hotel
If you’re staying on-site in a partner or resort hotel during your trip to Universal Studios then you’ll be within walking distance of the entrance of the park and provided with complimentary transport to the park itself.
While this reduced the need of paying for parking at the theme park, you still may find yourself having to pay to park at the hotel and consider the cost of getting to / from the airport to your hotel where applicable.
Parking at Universal Studios Resort hotels in Orlando costs $15 plus tax, per night, per vehicle. Meanwhile, parking at Universal Studios Hollywood partner hotels varies depending on the hotel specifically. However, as an example, parking at Hilton Los Angeles – Universal City costs $35 plus sales tax, per night.
Much like the cost of parking at the hotel, the cost of travelling to it from the airport where applicable will vary depending on a number of factors including;
- Where you’re staying
- The number of people travelling
- The airport you’re flying to
- How you’d like to travel
Regardless of these factors we always use Hoppa to find the most competitive option for all transport methods.
Hiring A Car / Driving
If you plan to hire a car during your trip to Universal Studios then it’s best to book and pay for the car itself in advance. This means you’ll only have to think about the cost of gas and parking when it comes to the amount of spending money you’re bringing to the Universal Studios parks.
These expenses will then be the same if you’re driving from your home state (provided you’ve already considered the cost of gas to get you to either Orlando or Hollywood depending on which resort you’re visiting).
The cost of gas will vary depending on the price of gas at the time you travel, the type of car you are hiring / driving and the distance between you’re accommodation and the park itself. Meanwhile, there may be two parking charges you need to consider depending on where you’re staying.
The first is parking at your accommodation where applicable – If you’re staying in a hotel then many will charge per day for parking a vehicle.
It’s worth considering the additional cost of parking at a hotel if you’re driving / hiring a car during your trip. As this can make the transport option or that particular hotel a significantly more expensive idea.
In addition to the cost of parking at your hotel, you’ve also got the cost of parking at the Universal Studios resort itself.
- At Universal Studios Orlando parking starts at $27 per day and increases to $60 for valet options.
- Meanwhile, at Universal Studios Hollywood parking starts at $30 per day and increases to $70 per day for prime parking spots.
Should you find yourself paying for parking at the hotel and again at the parks you could easily be spending $50 per day on parking alone.
Uber & Lyft
We’ve found that for the most part hiring a car during our trips to Universal Studios isn’t economically feasible. This includes times in which we want to head to the malls, outlets, other parks (Disneyland / Walt Disney World), grocery stores etc. Instead, we look to use either Uber or Lyft.
I use Uber and Lyft interchangeably during trips since one often gives a better price for the same journey than the other given demand on that select platform in the area in which I’m travelling at that specific time.
The amount we spend on Uber and Lyft during our trips to Universal Studios varies depending on where we’re staying in relation to the park and what we’re doing that day.
For example, on our most recent trip to Orlando, we stayed on-site at Universal Studios Dockside at Endless Summers Resort. As such, we benefitted from the complimentary shuttle to CityWalk from which we were able to go to any of the three Universal Studios parks.
However, on days we wanted to visit Walt Disney World we’d pay roughly $50 for a return journey for the three of us. Meanwhile, a trip to the local Walmart cost roughly $18 return.
Despite these expenses, the cost of taking an Uber and Lyft was still significantly more affordable than hiring a car and paying for parking and gas throughout our two-week trip.
If you want to see the average cost of trips during your vacation download the Uber or Lyft app in advance and enter the from / to locations as if you were travelling to get a quote for that journey at this time.
Uber and Lyft pick up from specific locations at both Universal Studio Resorts. In Hollywood, the carpool pick-up area is at the back of CityWalk or on the ground floor of the Frankenstein parking garage.
Alternatively, in Orlando, the pickup area is on the top floor of the Jurassic Park car park in section 500.
Both locations have ample signage to direct you, while the ride-share app itself will show you where you are in relation to the pick-up point.
Souvenirs are the fun things you get to spend your money on during a trip to Universal Studios – and luckily, there’s a lot to choose from in this department!
You can spend as little as $10 on souvenirs at Universal Studios or as much as $500 and we’ve experienced both sides. On our early trips to Universal Studios back in 2013 and 2014, we couldn’t afford souvenirs and instead, all our money went towards our food, drinks and transport.
However, on our more recent trips, we’ve been able to purchase a number of souvenirs to enhance our experience and help us remember our vacation. On our most recent trips the souvenirs we purchased included;
An Interactive Harry Potter Wand
The current cost of an interactive wand at Universal Studios is $59 plus tax. This wand is interactive and can be used to cast spells at selected locations around the park. Additional items you can purchase to enhance your wand include an Ollivanders wand bag for $2 or a wand stand for $29 upon which you can display your wand.
Collectable wands are also available for $75. However, these do not have the interactive elements and can’t be used for magic within the Universal Studios parks.
My wife Helen also purchased the official Universal Studios Hogwarts robe which cost $139 plus tax. These robes are available in both adult and child sizes (both costing the same) and can also be embroidered while you wait for an additional $20 plus tax.
Depending on when and who you’re travelling with, you may find yourself also having to budget for some miscellaneous expenses. This includes everything from last-minute ponchos (because Universal Orlando doesn’t close if it rains) to stroller and wheelchair rental, or even cabanas, premium seating and towels when visiting Volcano Bay.
Luckily, we experienced very little in terms of miscellaneous expenses during our most recent trip. That being said, I’d still recommend budgeting at least $15 a day for this stuff just in case!