This year, our family had an amazing opportunity to go to the Universal Studios parks at the Universal Orlando Resort in Florida.
I want to share with you a few of the things we did and how to save BIG on hotel, tickets and food at Universal Studios Orlando Resort in Florida.
It was an incredible family trip – one that we surprised our kids with on Christmas last year. We decided to include the surprise as part of Christmas, although we had been saving as a family for this trip for a while. The looks on their faces when they opened the DIY puzzle and put all of the pieces together to find out that our goal had finally been met was precious!
It was seriously an amazing way to present it!
We have a lot of things to share about the trip and will share some tips here and there, but the most important tips of all for all of us “thrifties” are the money-saving hacks, tips and tricks.
Although we planned and saved, we wanted to stretch our budget as far as possible. We saved so much, that we did splurge with a nice meal on the last day at the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium as we had more than enough left from the budget to enjoy this final meal! It was a nice reward for saving big the rest of the trip!
Please note, our goal for this trip wasn’t to do everything as cheaply as possible, it was to experience and do as much as we could for the budget we had. This was a trip of a lifetime and our family’s first time in Florida (other than earlier that year, myself and daughters going on a free cruise because my daughter was in a math competition on a cruise ship!) and we had been planning this trip for a long time.
Here’s how to save BIG on hotel, tickets, and food at the Universal Studios Orlando Resort in Florida
How To Save On Hotel Accommodations at Universal Studios Universal Orlando Resort:
We stayed on-site. Many people think that the biggest savings comes from staying elsewhere. This can certainly be true for many reasons, but for us, staying on-site was the most cost efficient and enjoyable option. We flew into Florida, so we didn’t have our own vehicle. Once we grabbed an Uber from the airport to the Universal Orlando Resort, we didn’t need to worry about transportation until the Uber ride back on our way home.
There are shuttle buses and water taxis to Universal Studios and Universal Studios Islands of Adventure. We did not need a vehicle the whole time. For our family, this saved us a HUGE amount of money in car rentals, in Uber costs (just the one time to/from the airport) and the convenience of being on site.
Not to mention that the resorts are AMAZING!! Even the cheapest on-site hotel at Universal Orlando Resort is a 5-star resort. The rooms are nice, though pretty basic. But the resort is like no other resort we have stayed at!
It was like a first-class experience the whole time. Every one of the five hotels on-site has an amazing pool with water slides. This is where we spent all of our non-park time. But this is what is truly awesome about the Universal Orlando Resort – you can stay at any of the on-site hotels and enjoy the amenities and pools at all of the hotels. No joke!
So as you can imagine, we stayed at the one of the cheaper of the 5 hotels and we enjoyed the pools and amenities at all of the resorts for the week. We still today have a hard time picking a favorite pool. It was so, so awesome and felt like a luxury vacation!
But the news gets better….
So not only did we not need a rental car or transportation to the parks and not only did we get to enjoy all of the resorts, including the luxury 5-star expensive on-site resort pools and amenities, we got free ticket upgrades!
At certain times and during certain promotions, guests staying at the on-site resorts can often get free express pass upgrades on their tickets. These are basically “front of the line” tickets, where the lines are significantly shorter. This makes the cost of staying on-site that much more affordable and worth it. You might even justify one less day of vacation as those “front of the line” tickets really do make your time at the park that much more efficient as well meaning even more discount on the trip!
Plus, as a guest staying on-site, you get to enter the parks early! This is another HUGE bonus, especially for Volcano Bay Water Park. The fact that we could enter an hour early made all of the difference in the world in our experience.
This is one of the few times where staying on site was one of the most cost efficient options. Especially when you can book their affordable resort – Cabana Bay for around $100 – $125 a night in the off-season. There are not many hotels in general that are much less than this in touristy areas, so the cost was totally worth it.
We ended up being able to find rooms even closer to the $100 price by signing up for the Universal Orlando Resort email promotions and watching those emails, combined with going off-season, combined with the “stay more, save more” deal. This deal drops the price of your room even more if you are staying 4 or more nights or 7 or more nights. We personally stayed for 7 nights exactly, so we were able to book the lowest price with all of these methods combined.
How To Save On Tickets at Universal Studios Universal Orlando Resort:
The next trick was trying to find tickets for less. Do you think you can go to Universal Studios for less than $60 a day per person considering that a 1-day ticket is $110? Well, if you plan it right, you certainly can!
The Universal Orlando Resort has a plethora of deals all of the time. The deals change, but we can tell you that if you are also booking with a room, in advance that you are going to save big. During the time we went, there were free day deals! This meant we could enjoy the parks for longer and with less stress as we didn’t feel the pressure to fit everything into a shorter amount of time!
The goal should be to take advantage of a deal that gives you tickets for around $60 per person, per day. When you find that, that is a good time to buy. And if you buy from Universal Orlando Resort online and in advance, you also get a coupon book to use on-site at the stores and restaurants worth $150 – including a few buy one get one free coupons, but mostly 10% off. 🙂
At the time of this post, they actually have a similar deal posted on their website to the one when we went! Four days for $239 for adults and $229 for kids?!? This is about $59.75 per day!
Plus, if you are staying on site, don’t forget those other perks with your discounted tickets. 😉
How To Save On Food at Universal Studios Universal Orlando Resort:
Now that we had the hotel and the ticket deals that came in under budget, the next biggest category is food. And this one category can cost almost as much as the hotel for a large family!
But we were determined to save as this is also one are with the most wiggle room in the budget. So this is what we planned and did.
We took one suitcase full of snacks. I will talk about flight savings, including that of free luggage in the future, but we had a suitcase that was filled with fun-themed kids snacks. I was able to buy Minion-shaped animal crackers, Scooby Doo Graham Cracker Snacks, and a few other fun themed snacks with Universal Characters, along with granola bars, etc.
Then when we arrived at our Universal Orlando Resort, we used Amazon Prime Now. We talked about this in a previous post, but this was for our milk, cereal, bread, peanut butter and jelly, etc. It was delivered fresh within a couple of hours.
This meant that our plan included eating breakfast in the room, packing a lunch and snacks and eating one meal in the park. We do this on nearly every trip we take – we plan to eat out one meal. It has worked well for years and this was no exception, except that we were able to feed our family breakfast and lunch for pennies on the dollar. I will share the “one meal per day” savings tips to also make these meals as cheap as possible too.
Before we left, I also visited the party section of Walmart and found goodie bags, Minion Goggles and a few other Universal Themed party supplies. I used these goodie bags to put their snacks and any other miscellaneous in for the day. This meant that they had a fun themed bag to help reduce the amount of “I wants” of souvenirs in the park.
The next savings trick was buying a refillable popcorn bucket. We bought it the first day for $6.49. Then you can refill it for the whole trip for $1.59 per refill. This big bucket of popcorn was one of the best snack values. We were able to be satisfied with this snack bucket of popcorn refills a few times per day, with our packed lunch and our packed snacks.
That leads me to the next refillable item! Refillable drinks! You can see from this menu of prices how much the Coke Freestyle refillable mugs cost. This seems like it is high priced, and it is. But it is a good option for a theme park.
We only got one for our whole family. That means that we paid $14.99 the first day. The menu says the more mugs you buy, the cheaper they are for each mug. But we just bought one and did something different. Because we could refill it an unlimited number of times at the Coke Freestyle machines all throughout the park (that gives hundreds of options when you combine flavors), we just bought one.
It was also good for unlimited Icee Refills too! Once you buy the cup the refills are free all day. Since there was 8 of us, we each took turns. Basically each hour, someone got the mug. We would just rinse it off in hot water when it was the next person’s turn. They got to get any drink they wanted and they loved it! Most of the time, they chose Icees because I never let them have them at home. 🙂
But here’s where it is a great value for multiple days. Bring the mug back each day and it is only $5.99 to reactivate it for the whole day. This worked perfectly for us and was a refreshing change to usually not getting any drinks at all.
Even better, we took our own refillable water bottles into the parks. In these machines, you can get free ice and there are also water fountains all around. So we all had our own water bottles for the times that the Coke Freestyle cup was not ours to use. 🙂
Now it is time to share our tips for the one meal a day that we ate in the parks. First off, you need to know that anyone can get the kids meals. You don’t have to be 12 and under.
But even with that said, we never bought kids meals. For us, it is far more cost efficient to buy 4 adult meals at around $10-$13 each and split than to buy 2 adult meals and 6 kids meals at $6 each with much less food than half of an adult meal.
Hopefully that all made sense, but by splitting 4 adult meals with 8 people (2 adults, 2 older kids and 4 little kids), it was only $40-$50 a day in food. This varied slightly by a few dollars each day depending on where we ate. But the best place was the Thunder Falls Terrace by Jurassic Park.
The prices were the best, the food selection was the best and they also had very affordable side dishes.
So one night, we actually got three adult meals and everyone picked out a side for a couple of dollars. We got two of the Rotisserie Chicken, which came with two large pieces of chicken and the bacon cheeseburger entree. They both came with sides, so we just bought everyone an additional side like corn, roasted potatoes, rice or french fries. You can even piece a meal together with the sides for a good price!
It was the best and most affordable meal in the parks during our trip.
But the savings didn’t stop there – you see, we are AAA members. Our membership card gave us another 10% off of food in the parks. This is also a similar perk if you have an American Express (of course using it as a debit card ;)).
That meant that the food was a very reasonable option for our family in a theme park! It turned out well and didn’t break our trip budget.
So like I mentioned, we got to enjoy a nice dinner on the last day at the Toothsome Chocolate Emporium, which is in Universal City Walk. Who knew chocolate in every dish could taste so good?!?
It was a sweet end to an amazing trip!
I hope we shared some tips with you that will help you make the most of your vacation budget and to show you how a trip to Universal Studios Florida Universal Orlando Resort can be affordable and how to save big on hotel, tickets and food!