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Ways to Save Money at Universal Orlando

Orlando Florida is known for its epic amusement parks that people travel from all over the world to visit. These vacations can get very expensive with the cost of ticket prices, hotel, food, drinks, and souvenirs. Danny and I used to live in Florida and have learned the best ways to visit Universal Studios on a budget. Here are our best tips full of different ways to save money at Universal Orlando so you can start getting ready for your next amazing and affordable vacation.


Tips for Saving Money at Universal Orlando

When most people think of Orlando vacations, they assume it will cost thousands and thousands of dollars. And if you aren’t careful, they can! With a bit of planning and our budget tips, you can relax and save a ton of money on your upcoming Universal vacation.

Best Time to Visit Universal Studios Florida

One of our top low-budget travel tips is to travel in the off-season and avoid holidays. Not only will traveling to Universal Florida be cheaper, but you will also get to enjoy fewer crowds. This means shorter wait times and better pictures with fewer strangers in the background.

Couple smiling in front of Hogwarts Castle

The off-season at Florida’s Universal Studios tends to be from September until May. This does not include dates around Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year, and spring break. It is also cheaper to book your dates during the week versus the weekend. This tip will also save you money on transportation costs like airfare if you are coming from out of state.

How Many Days Do I Need for Universal Orlando?

If you visit Universal Studios Orlando in the off-season and are highly motivated, you can see everything in the parks in 2-3 days. This does take some work because you will need to plan ahead in order to see all of the shows and stay on top of the wait lines for the rides. For a more relaxed visit, I’d plan on staying for 3- 5 days.

Cheapest Way to Buy Universal Orlando Tickets

The cheapest way to buy your tickets to Universal Orlando is to buy them before you get to the park. You will save money even if end up buying them at one of the Universal Studios hotels. Buying your tickets as part of a vacation bundle through the park or at Sam’s Club or Costco can also save you money. Florida residents as well as retired and active-duty military members can also get discounted tickets.

Book an Affordable Hotel Near Universal Studios Orlando

Universal Studios has two affordable hotel options in Orlando: Dockside and Surfside. By staying at a Universal Hotel, you will be able to take advantage of early admission hours and the free shuttle service to and from the parks during your stay which can save you a lot of money in parking fees alone.

View of Dockside Inn & Suites from the front. Shows front lobby area with the two towers that hold rooms on each side

If you are wondering what to expect at one of these budget hotels, take a look at our Dockside Inn & Suites Hotel Review. We also added some extra tips to make your stay there even better.

You can look for other budget-friendly hotel options in Orlando using our link below.


How to Save Money on Food at Universal Studios Orlando

Food is one of the biggest expenses on vacation after ticket fees. This is one category that is impossible to skip because everybody has to eat and stay hydrated to be able to fully enjoy their vacations. Because eating is a necessity, meal and snack prices in theme parks are usually more than what you would find outside of the parks where you can easily shop around for the best prices. Though it does take some planning ahead, there are still ways that you can save money on food at Universal Orlando.

Lard Lad Donuts Statue and shop in Universal Orlando

Eating at Universal Studios Orlando on a Budget

There are a few restaurants that offer good budget-friendly meal options. Here are several food options to keep in mind when you start getting hungry in the parks:

  • Lard Lad Donuts in the Simpson’s area has a large donut that can be split between 2-3 people for a great breakfast or snack.
  • Mel’s Drive-In in Universal Studios has several budget-friendly meal options if you are in the mood for diner food.
  • Fire Eater’s Grill has an affordable Gyro meal in the Islands of Adventure park.
  • Thunder Falls Terrace offers several combo platters that can be split between two people.

Remember that you can also choose to leave the park for meals for even more choices for low-cost food.

Bring Your Own Snacks and Water to Universal Studios

Universal does allow you to bring in outside food if it meets their guidelines. You can bring small snacks into the parks that don’t need to be heated up and any type of food that is required for medical purposes or special dietary needs. This is a great way to avoid being forced to pay the high price for whatever food is closest because you’re starving and hangry.

open bag of pretzels

You can also keep snacks and leftover food in your hotel room which will save the most money on food. This is only if you can make it back to your room for meals. Take advantage of the hotel refrigerators and microwaves available in your room or on-site.  Leftovers can save you quite a bit of money if you have some heavy snackers in your group.

Line of 4 water bottles; one pink, one blue, one green, and one yellow

You can also bring up to a 2-liter refillable bottle with you into the parks. There are multiple water fill stations around the park so you don’t have to pay for drinks unless you want to. This will save you a ton of money because it is very important to stay hydrated in the hot Florida sun.

Buy the Universal Studios Unlimited Refill Cup

This is a great investment if you plan on drinking more than water during your stay. There are multiple refill stations around the park. Keep in mind that it is supposed to be one cup per person and there is a 10-minute wait between refills.  

2 refillable cups from Universal Orlando Resort. One is from the parks and the other is from the Endless Summer Resort

For some special events like Halloween Horror Nights, the refillable cup for alcoholic beverages can also be used in the parks during the day. Alcohol refills are not free, but these cups DO provide a discount when you use them. Make sure to double-check with a staff member on whether they are allowing refill discounts with these cups.

How to Get Cheap Universal Studios Souvenirs

The items you buy inside the park will be more expensive than any similar items you can find outside the park or online. So parents, feel free to hide pre-purchased Harry Potter or Jurassic World items in your suitcase and present them to your kids after a day or two in the park. Just pretend you bought it for them while they were on a ride or napping!

For ‘cheap’ Universal Souvenirs, head towards the exit at each park. The store at the exit has a “Clearance” section full of discounted items from all over the park. Make this your first stop because they typically have the widest selection of ‘sale items’.

Not all the items are discounted in these stores, but many of the products are marked down. This includes items that they are phasing out. You might find these deals in select stores around the parks, but the price will always be the same in each location so if you find a good deal on a souvenir, buy it when you can!

Set a Budget for Universal Souvenir Purchases

Decide ahead of time what souvenirs you will want to purchase in the park. This doesn’t mean that you must pick the exact item that you are going to get. But you will want to have an idea of what type you will be looking for. It will also help to have a budget already set on how much you are willing to spend. This way, you have a plan that will make it harder to go on an unnecessary and expensive shopping spree.

The one big purchase I knew I wanted the last time we went to Universal was an interactive wand from Harry Potter World. And YES, It was totally worth it!

Ollivanders boxes and two wands displayed on a dark table

Take Advantage of the Free Photo-Ops

There are free photo opportunities with characters and props around the park. If taking selfies or pictures is not your forte, then getting the photo package bundle is a good deal. The photo package is also useful if you know you will want to bring home the pictures taken of you and your group on the rides.

Couple posing with Shrek and Donkey in front of a cottage façade at Universal Studios

Use the FREE Lockers at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure

Throughout Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, you will find lockers available to rent so you can store your belongings while you go on rides or walk around the park. Keep a close eye out for the free lockers. These lockers are only free for short periods of time and are only meant to be used when you are going on a ride. Don’t forget to pick your items up as soon as you are done with the ride, otherwise, you may be charged a fee.

Free Locker sign and instructions at Universal Orlando Resort

How to Save Money at Volcano Bay

There are no free lockers at Volcano Bay and the lockers are more expensive here than the other parks because they have no small locker options. You can avoid renting a locker if you bring a waterproof lanyard to hold your room card, wear your water shoes to the park, and bring an inexpensive towel if you need one. If you forget your towels, you can rent them onsite for $4.99 each. There are a few rides that do not allow footwear but they will have free shoe racks available for guests to use.

Empty lanyard on a blue cord

Enjoy Your Budget-friendly Universal Orlando Vacation!

The most important thing to do on vacation is to relax and enjoy yourself. No one can have fun if you are worrying about how much money is being spent and how you are going to pay it off when you get back home. With these budget tips for Universal Florida, you can save money and have fun enjoying the parks with your family and friends!

If you are a Harry Potter fan, check out our tips to help you make the best of the Wizarding World in the parks.

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About Author

Animal and wildlife enthusiast that currently owns four dogs, loves to travel, and try new things while saving as much money as possible!

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