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Food and drink can surprisingly be one of the largest expenses you have to budget for when it comes to planning a trip to the Universal Orlando Resort. However, it doesn’t have to be.
Having visited Universal Orlando more than ten times in the past eight years, it’s safe to say we’ve learnt all the top tricks when it comes to saving money on food and drink when visiting the theme park – even more so now that we travel with a toddler!
I’ve made this post incredibly comprehensive, covering everything we have ever done to cut costs. Subsequently, you might not want to implement each and every one of these during your next trip. Instead, I recommend picking a handful that will best suit you and your family.
When it comes to how much to budget for food at Universal Orlando we recommend around $50 per person, per day at the park. This is based on lunch, dinner, drinks and snacks. You can spend significantly less, and you can also spend significantly more depending on your interests, dining preferences, age of children etc.
1. Bring A Water Bottle
To give you an idea of how much food costs at Universal Studios, a bottle of Gilly Water from the Hogs Head inside the Wizarding World of Harry Potter recently cost a whopping $4. However, you are more than welcome to bring a water bottle of your own and fill it up for free throughout the day.
Given the heat and humidity in Florida, it’s highly important that you stay well-hydrated and Universal want to encourage this. Subsequently, you can refill your water bottle at any of the water fountains or at the Coca-Cola Freestyle machines around the park for free.
Even if you forget to bring your water bottle, you can still ask for a cup of water for free from any of the quick service or table service restaurants within the Universal Orlando Resort.
2. Grab A Coca-Cola Freestyle Refillable Cup
If like me, water all day just isn’t going to cut it, then I highly recommend investing in a Universal refillable cup. Honestly, this should be my number one tip because it’s what we do every single time we visit Universal, without fail.
The Coca-Cola Freestyle cup costs $17.99 (or less if you’re buying multiple) and provides you with a drink every 10 minutes until the park closes.
You can fill your refillable cup up at any of the Coca-Cola Freestyle locations situated at Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, Volcano Bay and even the entrance of CityWalk with a choice of more than 100 different drink combinations.
If you are visiting the Universal Orlando Resort for multiple days, then you can reactive your Coca-Cola Freestyle cup at any of the vending locations for $10.99. This also applies to keeping the cup and bringing it back with you on future trips in months or years to come, if like us you visit Universal Studios regularly.
While purchasing a Universal refillable cup 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 still provides incredible value for money.
During our most recent visit to the Universal Orlando Resort (July 2023), my wife Helen and I shared the refillable cup throughout the duration of our trip. We purchased our cup on the first day and reactivated it during our three additional days which brought our total cost to $50.96.
However, during those four days, we refilled our cup an average of 7 times per day (or 28 times in total). Given that a fountain soda currently costs $4.29 at Universal Studios, had we not invested in the Coca-Cola Freestyle cup we would have spent an average of $30.03 per day or $120.12 in total – almost 3 times what it cost us to purchase and reactivate our cup for the same duration.
3. Pack Some Snacks
Provided they meet the security requirements, you are more than welcome to bring food and drink from home (or the local grocery store) with you into the Universal Studios theme parks.
Obviously, even if they meet the security requirements, some foods are definitely going to be better than others, especially considering the heat and humidity that Florida has. This means that in most cases, the majority, ourselves included, bring snacks to the Universal Studios theme parks rather than sandwiches and other lunch items.
You’re also welcome to bring food to the Volcano Bay waterpark provided that it meets the regulations of the Universal Orlando Resort. Since you’ll likely be doing a lot less walking and have a central base in the form of a sunlounger, bringing food here is significantly less hassle too!
Snacks are portable and lightweight meaning you can often carry them in your backpack and pull them out to eat on the go. The same can’t be said for lunch supplies.
That all being said, if you would like to bring lunch items with you then it may be worth storing those items in a locker within the park until you’re ready to eat them, as that way you’re not having to carry them around with you.
4. Get A Popcorn Bucket
If you love popcorn then I highly recommend investing in a popcorn bucket these come in either a standard format or a character design depending on your preference, and your budget.
A standard popcorn bucket with the Universal Studios Orlando design currently retails for $12.29 and includes one popcorn refill, with a $2.19 per refill charge. Meanwhile, the cost of a character popcorn bucket varies depending on the design but is usually circa $18 to $25 and includes one popcorn refill, with again a $2.19 per refill charge.
Much like the Coca-Cola Freestyle cups, once you’ve purchased the bucket you’re able to use it on future visits in months or years to come, which makes this a fantastic investment for annual passholders and regular park visitors.
However, even one-time visitors to Universal may find a popcorn bucket a worthwhile investment since a regular serving of popcorn currently retails for $5.19.
Looking to save money on your theme park tickets? If you’re based in the UK I recommend buying your Universal Orlando tickets from AttractionTix. They always have the best deals and incredible customer service.
Meanwhile, if you’re based in the US or Canada I recommend Klook for your theme park tickets. They have the best prices and a range of different ticket options to suit all budgets and requirements.
5. Eat At Quick Service Locations
There are two types of dining locations at Universal Orlando; quick service and table service (also known as full service). Quick service restaurants are similar to fast-food locations and are the most popular within the Universal theme parks.
Meanwhile, table service restaurants offer a more formal setting with servers, and are more commonly found at the entertainment district CityWalk and inside the on-site hotels at the Universal Orlando Resort.
Unsurprisingly, given the difference between the two, quick-service restaurants are cheaper than table service and subsequently are a great way to save money on food during your trip to Universal Studios.
Avoid the long lines at quick-service restaurants by placing a mobile order using the Universal FL mobile application.
Personally, we always have lunch at a quick-service location during our trip to the parks and then depending on the time, and a number of other factors, we may opt to have dinner at a table-service restaurant in CityWalk.
Of course, if you’re on a tight budget or a tight schedule then you can easily have both lunch and dinner at quick-service locations within the Universal Studios theme parks as there are plenty of options and cuisines to choose from. Alternatively, you can find plenty of other cheap restaurants within Orlando that are also close to Universal.
6. Share Meals
If you’re travelling with young children, don’t have a big appetite, or fancy saving room for snacks then I highly recommend sharing meals. Obviously, this is a lot easier to do at quick service locations, however, table service restaurants within the Universal Orlando Resort are also very accommodating with this too should you require it.
Personally, when I visit Universal Studios I’ll usually split an entree either with my wife, or we’ll have one each and share with our son, especially since he’s getting a little older now, but still not big enough to have a kid meal on his own.
This is not only a great way to cut costs but also leaves us with enough room to enjoy all the fantastic snack options that Universal has to offer.
7. Have Breakfast Before Visiting The Parks
During the past eight years, we’ve visited the Universal Orlando Resort ten times, which as a result of multi-day tickets and trips, means that we’ve likely spent over 30 days at Universal. However, not once have we had breakfast at the theme park.
Eating breakfast before you arrive at Universal Studios is one of the best and easiest ways to cut costs on your trip. However, it can also help you to save a lot of time inside the parks too.
That’s because the first hour after the theme park opens is the quietest it’ll be all day. This is your opportunity to go on some of the park’s most popular rides (I’m looking at you Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure) without having to wait in super long lines.
As a result, the last thing you want to be doing is arriving at the park, and then wasting that time going and getting breakfast. With that being said, when it comes to eating breakfast before arriving at Universal you have three options;
- Eat breakfast at a restaurant or fast-food location
- Grab breakfast at your hotel
- Cook / make breakfast at your accommodation
The option you chose is likely going to depend on a number of factors, and may not be the same during every day of your trip. However, in every scenario, you’ll likely spend less than what you would have had you have gone for a similar breakfast inside the Universal Orlando Resort.
8. Stay In A Hotel With Free Breakfast
This all brings me to my next best tip for saving money on food at Universal Studios and that’s to stay in a hotel that offers a free breakfast.
Being the theme park capital of the world, Orlando has an extensive number of accommodation options for you to choose from and in an effort to attract customers many of these businesses offer a number of great deals including complimentary breakfast and even a free shuttle to the theme parks (which can help you to save on parking costs too!)
If you’re a large family, then staying in a hotel with free breakfast is a great way to save. Assuming breakfast at a fast-food location was going to cost $12 a person, that’s $60 for a family of 5 that you’re able to save every day. Which if you’re visiting Universal Studios for 3 days is a total saving of $180.
However, that being said, the cost of the ‘free’ breakfast has likely been sunk into the cost of your accommodation so you’ll still want to compare prices and think about the convenience factor before making your final decision on where to stay.
Depending on your budget, you may wish to skip hotels with free breakfast in favour of the Universal Resort hotels, since these hotels offer unique benefits of their own including;
- Early park admission
- Complimentary transport to the parks
- Close proximity to the parks
- Complimentary Universal Express Passes (at selected hotels)
Budget-friendly hotels at Universal include; Cabana Bay Beach Resort, Aventura and Endless Summer: Dockside & Surfside. While hotels that offer the free Universal Express Pass include; The Hard Rock Hotel and Loews Royal Pacific.
9. Skip The Alcohol
If a bottle of water costs $4 and a fountain soda costs $4.49, you can imagine how much a bottle of beer costs right?
Well, I’m going to tell you anyway… During our most recent visit to Universal Orlando (July 2023) a bottle of beer sold inside the theme park cost between $9.50 and $11.50 depending on the brand.
Meanwhile, speciality cocktails sold at Universal’s Volcano Bay and in restaurants at CityWalk often cost in excess of $20 apiece. Therefore, to save money on food and drink during your Universal Orlando vacation I highly recommend only purchasing non-alcoholic beverages.
Sadly, unlike water bottles and the Coca-Cola refillable mug, security will not allow you to bring any of your own alcoholic beverages into CityWalk or any of the Universal theme parks with you. However, if you’re staying in a Universal hotel then you are permitted to purchase alcohol from elsewhere and consume it within your hotel room.
10. Pick Up A Universal Dining Card
If you happen to be visiting Universal Studios during Mardi Gras then you can purchase a $75 dining card for just $65.
This dining card, which is similar to a gift card in design comes on a lanyard and can be used at any food and beverage location across Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, Universal’s Volcano Bay, and Universal CityWalk.
Sadly, this card can only be purchased during Mardi Gras. However, it has no expiration date or purchase quantity limit making it a great way to save on food costs during that trip and future trips to the Universal Orlando Resort.
Free Universal Orlando
Printable Packing List
Our comprehensive Universal Orlando packing list can be both customised and printed for your convenience.
11. Use Gift Cards
Selected restaurants within the Universal Orlando Resort are chain restaurants and are not owned and operated by Universal. These include; Starbucks, Cinnabon, Bubba Gump Shrimp etc.
Therefore while you can use a Universal gift card at these locations, you can also use the company’s gift card as a form of payment too.
Much like the Universal Dining Card, you can often find gift cards for these restaurants on sale throughout the year at selected stores such as Target, Costco and Sams Club. For example, a $50 Buba Gump Shrimp gift card may be on sale for $46.
This is a great way to save a little bit of money on food and drink without much effort, although it does require some forward thinking as to where you might want to eat.
Before purchasing your gift card make sure you read the terms and conditions. While I’ve never been rejected from using a brand’s gift card at a restaurant within Universal, the restrictions are likely to vary between different companies.
12. Invest In An Annual Pass
If like me, you plan to visit Universal Orlando regularly then it may be worth investing in an annual pass. Universal Studios Orlando offers four different annual pass options;
- Seasonal Pass
- Power Pass
- Preferred Pass
- Premier Pass
However, of the four passes, only two currently offer discounts on food, drink and souvenirs. Unsurprisingly, these are the two most expensive annual passes available.
The first is the Preferred Pass which currently retails for $629.99 (for a 2-park pass) and provides you with a 10% discount on food, drinks, and souvenirs as well as free self-parking, discounted tickets to Halloween Horror Nights and entry into both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure 365 days a year.
Meanwhile, the second is the Premier Pass which currently retails for $904.99 (for a 2-park pass) and provides you with a 15% discount on food, drinks, and souvenirs as well as free parking, a free Universal Express Pass after 4pm and entry into both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure 365 days a year.
If you are a AAA Member or a Florida resident then you are able to purchase Universal Studios theme park tickets and annual passes at a significant discount.
Obviously, these annual passes are a lot of money and therefore the saving on food and drink here isn’t going to be the deciding factor as to whether the investment is worthwhile. Instead, it’s going to be based on how frequently you visit / would like to visit, and subsequently how much you’d save when compared to purchasing Universal Orlando tickets. Instead, the savings on food, drinks, souvenirs and parking is simply a bonus.
13. Use Credit Cards For Payment
Whether it’s your theme park tickets, your parking or your food and drink, you’re going to have to spend some money at Universal Studios, and therefore you may as well be rewarded for doing so.
Credit cards offer a number of different reward programmes and benefits, provided that you’re able to use them responsibly. Depending on a number of factors including your credit score, the amount you spend on average, and your interests, you could be rewarded in cashback or points which can be exchanged for goods or future travel.
It’s important to note that this isn’t going to instantly reduce the price you pay for food and drink at Universal Studios. Instead, these rewards will come in the future, the time of which will depend on the specific credit card you choose.
Given that the cost of visiting the Universal Orlando Resort is expensive (even when travelling on a budget). Putting this expense on a credit card can provide you with a lot of added protection and be a great way to save.