It can be hard to determine exactly how much you’ll spend when visiting Universal Studios, and near on impossible to spend a day at the park without spending anything.
I speak from A LOT of experience when I say that planning and budgeting accordingly prior to your trip will help you enjoy your visit without feeling guilty.
We budget between $20 and $200 for souvenirs and $50 – $100 per person, per day for food when visiting Universal Studios. Therefore if you’re visiting the parks for 3 days I’d advise a minimum of $170 and a maximum of $500 per person. This doesn’t include the cost of parking or park tickets.
If you are hiring or driving to the park then you’ll need to add on a minimum of $25 per day for general parking however, this covers the car and isn’t per person.
While you can bring sandwiches into the park, and save money by getting free water I’ve found that these cost-cutting measures often take the fun out of a trip to the park. Instead, we opt to save money on food by having a quick-service lunch and a table service dinner.
We always pick up a refillable cup, the amount saved easily outweighs the amount spent for us personally (I’m a huge pop drinker and I love using the dispenser machines). However, instead of having one each we share this and snacks as they are often so large that we don’t need one each.
In regards to park tickets, I’d advise you to book your park tickets online in advance to get the best deal, we personally use the Universal website or Attraction Tickets Direct if we’re planning to visit both Disney and Universal.
However, if you’re planning on buying them at the park gates then you’ll need to add on between $119 and $349 per person if you’re visiting Universal Orlando and $129 and $169 if you’re visiting Universal Hollywood (the price varies depending on the time of year, number of days, number of parks and age of guests).
How To Pay At Universal Studios
Despite being from the UK I still prefer to pay on a card when visiting Universal Studios. I have a bank card with a zero percent exchange fee which gives me real-time exchange rates.
That said, even if I was from the US I’d still opt to pay with a bank card instead of cash. Firstly, because it’s easier to track when and where you spent your money on a bank card, but also because it’s a lot easier to lose cash than it is a bank card.
In most cases, if you lose your bank card, the bank will be able to quickly block the card and prevent any unauthorized spending. If you lose cash, however, the money is gone. Depending on the number of days you’re visiting and your planned budget for the trip this could be anything from $70 to $500.
I often keep a couple of small bills handy for tips that can’t be paid on a card during our Universal Studios vacations but this is often used at the hotels and in restaurants and not so much at the park itself.
American Express & Universal Studios Parnership
If you’re travelling to Universal Studios from within the US and are an American Express cardholder then you’ll be able to take advantage of a number of benefits that the two companies offer.
American Express and Universal Studios have a partnership providing cardholders who pay using their American Express card 10% off certain dining plans and 10% off merchandise when you spend $75 or more. The Points Guy covers these benefits and more in detail.
If you’re from elsewhere in the world then you sadly won’t be able to take advantage of any of these benefits except for access to the American Express lounge. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing given the exchange rate and fees offered by American Express is terrible which as a result often wipes out any and all benefits of the partnership and more.
Spending A Lot Of Money At Universal Studios?
If you’re planning on spending a lot of money during your Universal Studios vacation then it may make sense for one of your group members to become an annual passholder.
There are four Universal Studios annual pass holder tiers the preferred annual pass offers 10% discount on Universal-owned and operated stores, and the premier pass offers a 15% discount.
This is in addition to complimentary general parking, discounts on resort hotels and discount in the restaurants and of course the ability to return to the park multiple times throughout the year (dates vary depending on the annual pass you choose).
The cost of the annual passes varies between Hollywood and Orlando, this is mainly due to Orlando having three parks and Hollywood just having one.
How Much Money You Need To Spend To Save
In Orlando, a preferred annual pass costs $394.99 including tax for two parks (this excludes Volcano Bay) although discounts are available for Florida residents.
Given the cost of a one day park to park ticket starts at $164.00 the benefits of an annual pass based on just one day of visiting comes in at $230.99.
Meanwhile, a two-day park to park ticket starts at $303.99 which brings the cost of the benefits of a preferred annual pass down to just $91.99.
The free self-parking will save you $25 after your first visit so only those driving and visiting for two days or more will benefit from this saving.
However, the benefits available in the resort’s restaurants and shops start straight away. In most cases, this is 10% which means if you’re visiting for one day you’ll need to spend $2,399 to begin profiting from the annual pass.
Alternatively, guests visiting for two days will have already saved $25 on parking (where applicable) and therefore only need to spend $669.90 over the two days to begin profiting from the annual pass.
If you purchase your annual pass in advance you’ll also be able to use the benefits to gain 15% discount on park tickets for additional guests. This allows groups and families to benefit from the savings even further.
There’s a lot of information to consume about annual passes so it’s worth reading more online if you’re interested.
How Much Money To Bring To The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
If you’re a big Harry Potter fan, no doubt the biggest attraction at Universal Studios is going to be the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This is a fan’s dream with highly detailed and exclusive products and experiences.
I’d add an additional $100 per day for the fans of the Harry Potter franchise to spend in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. This is enough to cover the purchase of an interactive wand and Butterbeer in a souvenir cup which are popular merchandise staples.
However, it won’t cover everything. There are more purchasing opportunities in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter than there is anywhere else in the park from unique plushes to incredible sweets. How much of a fan you are is likely to really dictate how much you spend here.
Other Things To Budget For When Visiting Universal Studios
Depending on when you’re travelling, who you’re travelling with and how long you’re spending at the parks you may want to consider adding money to the budget for your trip to pay for additional items.
I have covered the exact cost of a Universal Studios vacation in more detail here. However, somethings to consider are;
- Wheelchair hire
- Buggy hire
- Character dining
- Transport from the airport to the hotel
- Hotel costs
- Evening entertainment and additional activities outside of the parks costs
- Transport from the hotel to the parks
- Tips & gratitude
Of course, everyone’s vacation is different and what someone spends a lot on you may spend very little or nothing at all on. That said, it’s important to plan for the worst. In a recent trip with my parents, my mum struggled to walk around the parks comfortably.
After getting the Hogwarts Express from Universal Studios to Island’s of Adventure we decided to hire a wheelchair for her. It’s not something we planned for or budgeted for in advance but obviously was highly important at the time and made a huge difference.
If there’s one thing I’ve learnt after numerous trips to Universal Studios is that’s expenses like this are often inevitable. So be sure that you budget a little extra or have the means to purchase an item or service if you need to.