How To Save Money at Universal Studios Hollywood

Universal Studios Hollywood might be fun, but it sure isn’t cheap!

However, there are several different ways you can look to reduce the cost of your trip to this incredible theme park without impacting the quality of your experience.

The best way to save money at Universal Studios Hollywood is by staying off-site in a hotel with a free shuttle or within walking distance to the park. However, you could also save money by taking your own food and drinks and buying souvenirs at a discounted rate.

Keep in mind that not all of these tips are likely to be ones you implement on your trip.

Instead, the savings methods you choose to implement will likely depend on your personal circumstances and what you want to achieve from a vacation to Universal Studios Hollywood.

However, implementing just a couple of these money-saving tips could save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars on your trip.

To make these tips as easy to navigate as possible, I’ve gone ahead and broken this post down into four key areas; accommodation, domestic travel, park tickets, food & souvenirs.

Accommodation

One of the most significant ways to save money on your trip to Universal Studios Hollywood is through your accommodation.

Better still, there are several ways you can do this without compromising on quality.

Choose Your Accommodation Wisely

If you’re not local to Universal Studios Hollywood, then it’s highly likely you’ll be spending a night (or two) in a hotel.

However, the cost of a hotel in Los Angeles can range from $100 a night into the thousands very quickly.

As such, choosing the right accommodation and the right duration for your trip could easily save you a couple of hundred dollars.

However, choosing the right accommodation when visiting Universal Studios Hollywood could also help you to save elsewhere.

For example, if you stay in a hotel local to the theme park, you’ll be able to walk instead of hiring a car or taking a taxi. This could save you anything from $25 to $500 depending on your chosen mode of transport.

Meanwhile, selected partner hotels to Universal Studios Hollywood, such as Los Angeles Marriott Burbank Airport, provide guests with a free shuttle to/from both the airport and the theme park.

This hotel might cost more when compared to some budget alternatives.

However, the amount you’re able to save on transport to/from both the airport and the hotel could allow you to stay in a better quality hotel for the same price or less when the complimentary extras are accounted for.

Shop Around For Accommodation

Once you’ve refined where you want to stay and how long you want to visit, you can look to book your accommodation of choice.

However, the platform you choose to book on could significantly impact the price you pay for the exact same accommodation option.

Be sure to check the price booking directly, as part of a package or on travel sites such as Booking & TravelZoo to find the best price.

Domestic Travel

While not everyone visiting Universal Studios Hollywood is from Los Angeles, these tips and tricks assume that you’ve already arrived in the city and don’t include travelling internationally or from out of state.

Hiring A Car vs Taking A Cab

Depending on where you’re staying in Los Angeles, how long you’re visiting and what else you plan to do during your vacation, you might want to consider taking a cab instead of hiring a car.

Taking a cab can somewhat limit your flexibility and make long journeys slightly less feasible financially.

However, taking a cab can also help reduce your stress (LA traffic is the worst) and help you to avoid the expensive parking charges at hotels and the Universal Studios Hollywood park.

Avoid Valet Parking

If you’re driving to Universal Studios Hollywood either in your own car or a hire car, then you’ll need to pay for parking.

The parking charges at Universal Studios Hollywood start at $25. However, these prices can go up to $50 if you’re looking for valet parking, preferred parking or front gate parking.

Park Tickets

While the cost of visiting Universal Studios Hollywood isn’t as much as other parks in the United States, the cost can still quickly add up, especially if you’re visiting as a family.

Luckily there are a couple of ways you can save a small amount of money on your park tickets without compromising on the experience.

Don’t Buy The Express Pass

The Universal Express Pass allows you to skip the line on selected rides inside the Universal Studios Hollywood park.

However, the cost of the Express Pass can be up to $153 per person in addition to your regular park tickets.

Luckily if you plan your trip to Universal Studios Hollywood in advance, you should be able to avoid purchasing the Express Pass and still not spend too long in lines during your visit.

For example, arriving as the park opens gives you the chance to go on the most popular rides in the morning, leaving your afternoons free for exploring as the capacity of the park increases.

Consider An Annual Pass

Annual passes cost between $150 and $500 depending on the pass category and provide you with admission into the park across an entire year from the date of first entry.

However, alongside multiple entries into the park (blackout dates apply) annual pass holders can also gain discounts on parking, food, drink, souvenirs and partner hotels.

This often makes even the lowest tier annual pass worth it for guests who plan to visit Universal Studios Hollywood more than once in a 365 day period (provided the planned dates for visiting doesn’t land on a blackout date).

However, it can also make the pass worthwhile for visitors who are only visiting the park once but plan to spend lavishly on food, drinks and souvenirs.

Food & Souviners

It’s so incredibly easy to get swept up in the moment when visiting Universal Studios Hollywood. But, then, before you know it, you’ve blown $300 on souvenirs and $150 on food.

However, a few strategic ideas can help you save significantly in this area and help you to spend your money on these items with a clear intention.

Pack Some Snacks & Other Essentials

While there are some restrictions on what you can bring into Universal Studios Hollywood, dried snacks and other supplies are permitted.

As a result consider stocking up on crackers, candies, power bars and fruit to replace the over-inflated prices inside the park.

Depending on the weather and what rides/activities you plan to participate in, you might also want to consider packing a change of clothes and a poncho. Both of these items have an incredibly high mark-up inside the parks.

Based on our multiple vacations to both Universal Studios Hollywood & Universal Studios Orlando, we’ve put together this extensive packing guide that should help you remember everything you need for your trip.

Be Strategic With Your Meals

While Universal Studios Hollywood doesn’t have discounted meal times you can save money on food by strategically deciding what you’re going to eat and when you’re going to eat it during your visit.

For example, if you know you want to be at the park for opening, consider having breakfast at home and grabbing a coffee on the way to the parks.

Not only will this save you money on your first meal but it’ll also mean you can head straight to your favourite rides once the park opens.

Meanwhile, if you know you want to save on snacks (which often cost between $5 and $10 each) consider going for a larger lunch option instead of a small sandwich which might leave you tempted by the ice-creams, doughnuts and popcorn.

Buy A Refillable Cup

Universal Studios Hollywood refillable or freestyle cups are a must-have for anyone looking for ways to save money while at the parks.

The cups are heavy-duty plastics with a strong lid, while the design incorporates Universal Studios branding in front and an RFID chip in the bottom.

This RFID chip allows you to refill your cup with more than 100 different drink options at selected drinks stations every ten minutes.

A single refillable cup costs $16.99 + tax and includes a day of refillable drinks.

We often share one refillable cup between two or three of us during a trip to the parks and therefore quickly get our money’s worth (considering a bottled fizzy drink in the park costs $3.79).

However, keep in mind that these refillable cups only work at selected drinks stations and don’t include tea, coffee or Butterbeer.

Grab A Refillable Popcorn Bucket

The refillable popcorn buckets at Universal Studios Hollywood are very similar to the refillable cups. 

The standard bucket costs $7.99 plus tax and comes pre-filled. Additional refills of the bucket then cost $3.49 plus tax.

Not only do these buckets make for a fun and practical souvenir they also help to minimise the amount you spend on snacks inside the park.

However, you’ll only save money by purchasing a refillable popcorn bucket at Universal Studios Hollywood if you’re planning on getting at least two additional refills during your trip.

That’s because a regular bag of popcorn (without the refillable bucket) costs $5.39 per tax.

With that being said, you can use your refillable popcorn bucket on future trips to Universal Studios Hollywood.

Therefore if you’re an annual pass holder or planning on returning in the near future, this additional investment may be worthwhile.

Eat At Budget Dining Spots

While the food at Universal Studios Hollywood does come at a premium, some restaurants are still cheaper than others.

In this case, we’ve often picked up meals and snacks from the following locations;

In most cases, we then opt to splurge more on a sit-down evening meal in CityWalk after a fun-filled day at the park.

Share Food

The portion sizes of food at Universal Studios Hollywood are fantastic and mean that it can be possible to share food in some cases.

For example, when travelling with our niece (five) and nephew (eight), we opted to purchase one adult’s meal and a Lard Lad Donut for them to share.

This was almost 70% cheaper than buying two kids’ meals and a doughnut each and meant that we didn’t have to walk around with a giant half-eaten doughnut in the baking California heat.

Get Your Hogwarts Robes & Wands Ahead Of Time

The Wizarding World of Harry Potter is one of the most incredibly immersive areas at Universal Studios Hollywood.

Fans of the Harry Potter books flock to this fantastic place to experience the rides & attractions and, of course, to buy souvenirs.

However, some of the most premium souvenirs here can come at a very high price.

Interactive wands that mirror those of famous wizards such as Harry Potter, Hermione Granger & Ron Weasley start at $52 plus tax. While highly detailed Hogwarts robes start at $115 plus tax.

However, you can save money without heavily comprising on the experience here by purchasing these items (and others) in advance.

This could mean buying different robes and wands from alternative locations such as Amazon and Walmart, or it could mean purchasing genuine Universal Studios items second hand from the likes of eBay.

Avoid the Arcade & Carnival Games

Once you get inside Universal Studios Hollywood, all the rides and attractions are free – except for the arcade & carnival games.

With so many fantastic things to see and do as part of your admission to the park, spending your extra dollars here can be somewhat of a waste.

The vast majority of these arcade & carnival games are situated inside of the Super Silly Funland and are therefore in prime position to be marketed to kids, and since each game costs $6, the cost of playing can quickly add up.

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