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A trip to Universal Studios in Orlando can be incredible. However, it can also be very expensive. We’ve had the pleasure of going to Universal Studios multiple times over the past decade, both on a budget and more lavishly. As such, we’ve found the best tips and tricks when saving money when visiting the resort.
1. Buy Your Tickets In Advance
One of the best ways to save both time and money when visiting Universal Studios Orlando is to buy your park tickets in advance. Buying your park tickets online in advance is almost always cheaper than buying them at the gate.
Not just that but buying your park tickets in advance means you’ll be able to head straight into the parks rather than waiting around at Guest Services when you arrive, missing out on those vital first minutes in the park could add hours onto your day later on.
2. Look For Discounts
A number of third-party retailers are able to offer Universal Studio tickets at a slightly discounted rate since they buy so many at one time. As such we recommend looking through these verified third-party sites for the best deal.
If you’re based in the UK we recommend buying your Universal Studios tickets from AttractionTix – we’ve used them for over a decade for all our Universal & Disney tickets.
Meanwhile, if you’re based in the US or Canada we recommend buying your park tickets from Get Your Guide who provide you with the ability to cancel up to 24 hours in advance and receive a full refund.
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Both of these third-party providers allow you to save between $10 and $30 per park ticket with additional discounts available if you book larger ticket combos including some of the additional attractions in Orlando or during special promotional periods (Black Friday etc.)
That being said, avoid anyone selling Universal tickets at prices too good to be true. They are either scamming you or looking to take you on a tour of the timeshare.
Universal Orlando tickets for Florida residents are typically 10% to 20% cheaper when compared to retail prices which is the best discount for Universal Orlando theme park tickets outside of a staff discount.
3. Consider An Annual Pass
If you’re planning on visiting Universal Studios Orlando more than twice in one year it may be worth researching the cost of upgrading to an annual pass.
There are multiple different annual pass tiers that provide you with access to the parks at different times of the year and a varied discount percentage on additional park tickets, food, drinks, hotels and souvenirs.
Select Universal Studios annual passes also provide you with complimentary parking, which with prices starting from $28 may make the upgrade to an annual pass worthwhile alone.
4. Stay At A Premier Universal Hotel For Free Express Passes
If you’re only visiting Universal Studios for a day or two then you might not experience everything the park has to offer without access to an Express Pass.
An Express Pass allows you to skip to the front of the line on all rides in the parks except Jurassic World VelociCoaster, Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure and Pteranodon Flyers at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.
Express Passes commonly cost upwards of $180 plus tax per person with the price increasing further depending on whether you’d like to use the pass in one park or two and whether you’d like to skip the line on the same ride more than once.
That all being said, guests staying in a Universal Premier on-site hotel are able to obtain an Express Pass for free for all guests staying in the room for the duration of their stay (including the days you check in and check out).
As such if you only book one night at a Universal Premier on-site hotel you’ll still get two days’ worth of Express Passes for your entire party.
While staying in a Premier on-site hotel at Universal Studios can be expensive this can be a cost-effective way of purchasing Express Passes with the added benefits that come with being on-site.
5. Bring Your Own Food & Drinks
If you’re looking to save money on food and drink while visiting Universal Studios then consider bringing your own with you to the park.
Most foods are permitted inside the park provided they meet the health and safety requirements (i.e. no glass, no alcohol etc.)
Security will check all bags upon entering Universal Studios, and you will be asked to dispose of or return to your car with anything that is not permitted inside the resort.
Bringing your own food and drink into the parks can be hard work and may require you to bring a larger bag.
However, the cost of a locker for the day is often still cheaper than the cost of buying food at Universal Studios, especially if you’re travelling with a larger family where the food at one quick-service restaurant could easily cost upwards of $15 per person.
If bringing sandwiches and meals into the park isn’t quite your speed consider instead bringing a bag of chips and a water bottle to prevent you from having to waste your precious Universal Studios Orlando spending money on those basic items.
6. Share Meals
If you do decide you want to eat on-site while visiting Universal Studios Orlando then consider sharing meals where possible.
The portions at most restaurants at Universal Studios are relatively large and two younger children could easily share an adult’s meal rather than purchasing two separate kid’s meals.
7. Invest In A Refillable Cup
If you want to stay hydrated during your trip consider investing in one of the popular Universal Freestyle cups.
The cup costs $17.99 plus tax (or less if you’re buying multiple) and lasts until the park closes with each additional day costing $11.70 tax inclusive.
While this is more expensive than bringing your own water bottle to the parks and refilling it with water for free at the water fountains throughout the day.
It’s still cheaper than buying single bottle of water, which cost $5.50 plus tax.
In our case, my wife Helen and I shared the refillable cup throughout the duration of our trip. Purchasing our cup on the first day and reactivating it 3 times cost us $54.33 including tax.
Given that we were in the parks for four full days exploring and taking in all the new information to share with you guys here on our website we made use of the refills every 10 minutes and easily refilled our cup at the fountain at least six times per day.
Six single drinks per day would have cost us upwards of $33 plus tax or a total of $132 for our four-day trip, more than double what we spent on our refillable cup.
Which in this case made the Coca-Cola freestyle refillable cup a worthwhile investment for us personally.
8. Eat Off-Site
Another way to cut costs on your food and drink while visiting Universal Studios is by eating off-site.
While this can be hard, and time-consuming to do for lunch in the middle of the day it’s relatively easy for breakfast.
In our case, we look to stay in a hotel that has a kitchenette and head to Walmart can’t store to pick up cereal, milk, toast and any other breakfast items on the day we arrive.
If you don’t have the ability to do this consider stopping at a fast-food or budget restaurant on your way to the parks to eat breakfast.
There are plenty of options to choose from near the I-4 and along International Drive including; Mcdonald’s, Denny’s, Wendy’s, Dunkin’ and iHop.
Now, while this will cost some money it should still be cheaper than eating an additional meal at the parks.
Just make sure you allow for enough time in the morning to grab breakfast before the park opens so you’re still able to make the most of the quietest time inside the parks.
9. Look At Ubers & Lyfts Instead Of Car Hire
We’ve found that the cost of car hire and gas in Orlando is increasing year on year.
Meanwhile with the cost of parking at Universal Studios starting at $28 plus tax per day and the additional cost of parking at the hotel (where applicable) the overall cost of hiring a car during a trip to Orlando is incredibly high.
While some of these costs are unavoidable if you’re driving from your home state, for those flying it may be more economically feasible to consider using Uber or Lyft instead.
While this does limit some of your flexibility the prospect of saving money and sitting back and relaxing as someone else drives you to / from the parks can be very much worthwhile.
10. Get Savvy With Your Souvenirs
Universal Studios Orlando is home to plenty of incredible souvenirs. However, merchandise purchased inside the resort can be expensive and sadly, not all souvenirs are created equal.
As such we recommend researching the best things to buy at Universal Studios Orlando in advance and budgeting for those items accordingly.
We’ve spent over $1,000 on souvenirs at Universal Studios and found that the Harry Potter interactive wands and the Harry Potter inspired robes are some of the best since they can be worn / used inside the park on the same day and nicely displayed inside the home.
Personally, I’d avoid purchasing anything at Universal Studios that you can get at home. This includes cuddly toys & books.
These are not exclusive to Universal Studios so it’s often more cost-effective and easier to buy them at home instead.
11. Thrift Themed T-Shirts
Wearing themed t-shirts on a trip to Universal Studios can be super fun and allow you to get some incredibly well-themed photographs inside the parks.
However, the cost of purchasing these t-shirts inside the parks can add up quickly with most retailing for between $24.99 and $29.99 plus tax.
We found this t-shirt branded Universal Studios, Griffindor t-shirt in Goodwill for $3.99 plus tax. The same t-shirt was still on sale in the park for $39.99 plus tax!
That being said, we’ve found that most Goodwill’s in the area often have a surplus of Universal Studios themed t-shirts available for under $5.
On our most recent trip, we picked up multiple branded Universal Studios t-shirts at Goodwill, washed them on-site at our hotel and wore them to the parks the next day. This tip alone saved us in excess of $100.
12. Consider Buying Souvenirs Elsewhere
If you don’t fancy thrifting for t-shirts consider saving money on your souvenirs by purchasing them from other stores in Orlando instead.
Walmart and Target are just a couple of stores in Orlando that have a dedicated parks section selling a range of Universal Studios merchandise.
While this isn’t Universal Studios Parks branded it’s still genuine and an easy way to save 50% off keyrings, photo frames, t-shirts and more when compared to the prices in the parks.
13. Skip The My Universal Photo Package
Photographs can be an incredible souvenir and a fantastic way to remember a trip.
However, despite this, I’d advise against paying for the My Universal Photo Package.
This photo package isn’t the same as what you’d get from the PhotoPass+ from Walt Disney World and instead only provides you with a few photos from rides inside the park.
That being said, do make sure you pack a camera or smartphone with spare batteries or a power bank to ensure you’re able to take your own fantastic photos for free throughout the day.
14. Ensure You Get Any Entitled Military Discounts
If you are an active member, retired member or spouse of the military or Department of Defense then take your identification card to an authorised retailer or call the ticket and travel office on (877) 801-9720 to get discounts on your tickets or vacation packages.
Discounts include 40% off at Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort, 30% off at other Universal hotels and 2-day park tickets from $199.99 plus tax.
15. Make The Most Of Your AAA Membership
The AAA are among one of many organisations that are able to provide discounts on Universal Orlando theme park tickets, hotels, food, drink and souvenirs.
As such be check all your membership cards in advance where eligible to find out which gives you the best benefits prior to both booking and travel to Universal Studios.
While the savings might not be significant on each individual item they can add up over the course of a day and potentially save you $100’s if you’re visiting as part of a larger group.
16. Don’t Book Too Many Days
While the price per day will be cheaper the more days at Universal Studios Orlando you book, the total cost will increase.
As such be sure to only buy the number of days you need at the park.
Based on our experience we recommend three days for the two-parks or four days if you want to visit both parks and the resort’s incredible water park, Volcano Bay.
If you’re based outside of the US or Canada you’ll likely find that booking a two-week ticket is cheaper than purchasing three days or more.
These tickets are provided by third-party retailers such as AttractionTix and are used by us every time we travel to Universal Studios.
17. Make Sure You’ll Use Your Add-Ons
Add-ons to your park tickets such as park-to-park and entry into Volcano Bay do come at an additional cost.
As such if you add them to your ticket purchase make sure you are going to use them.
We’d highly recommend paying the additional cost to visit Volcano Bay if you’re heading to Universal Studios during the summer months.
Meanwhile, for those looking to experience the best The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has to offer we’d recommend upgrading to a park-to-park ticket so you’re able to ride the Hogwarts Express between the two.
Again if you’re purchasing your tickets from a third-party retailer outside of the US such as Attraction Tix then both park-to-park access and entry into Volcano Bay come as standard.
18. Consider Visting In The Off-Season
If you’re able to choose which month you travel to Universal Studios then consider visiting in the off-season which generally runs from January through to May excluding Spring Break.
Not only should the parks be quieter during this time resulting in shorter wait times for the rides, but you should also find that flights, car hire, hotels and park tickets are also more affordable too.
19. Pack A Poncho, Sunscreen, Nappies & Wipes Where Required
Whether you’re travelling to Universal Studios Orlando solo, with friends or as a family avoid getting caught off guard and having to pay over the top for essentials.
While items including ponchos, sunscreen, nappies and wipes are all sold inside the parks they come at a premium when compared to the nearby grocery stores.
As such make sure you check and double-check you have all the essentials with you for your trip.
20. Research Hotels As Far In Advance As Possible
Depending on the number of nights you’re staying in Orlando the cost of your accommodation could be the largest portion of your trip’s budget. However, you’ll find the best discounts and hotel availability when booking in advance.
Most hotels offer rates up to 12 months in advance, with the occasional special discounts being available over Black Friday & Memorial Weekend.
As such make sure you put together a short list of the hotels you’d like to stay at and a target price for booking (look at the different rates through the year and keep your expectations reasonable).
Sign up for any newsletters for the hotels, and set up any alerts for rate reductions to ensure you’re ready to buy as soon as the price you’ve set becomes available.
If you’re happy to spend the extra time then consider booking a hotel with free cancellations and cancelling / rebooking should the rates come down further on that particular hotel or one similar.
21. Don’t Buy The Express Pass In Advance
An Express Pass can be a worthwhile investment when visiting Universal Studios in select circumstances.
In most cases, I’d suggest staying at a Premier hotel on-site at the Universal Studios Orlando Resort in order to obtain this perk (as discussed above).
However, if that’s not possible you may have to instead look at purchasing your Express Pass outright.
While you can do this online. I’d recommend avoiding doing so unless you’re travelling in the peak season.
That’s because in many cases during the off-peak season an Express Pass may not be necessary since the standby wait times are incredibly reasonable.
Express Passes can be purchased at the park (provided there’s still availability – which is why I suggest buying in advance in the peak season) as such it’s best to see what the wait times are in the run-up to your trip before making your investment.
22. Skip Alcoholic Drinks In The Park
If bottles of water and fizzy drinks inside the parks are $5.50 plus tax then you better believe alcohol is a whole other level.
Therefore I’d recommend skipping out on the cans available while in the parks if you’re looking to save money.
Sadly unlike other drinks, you’re unable to bring any alcoholic beverages into the resort with you so in this case, it does mean trading these drinks out with alternatives such as those provided by the Coca-Cola Freestyle machine.