I'm not one of those people who enjoys splurging on vacation. It gives me hives to shell out endless amounts of money for a trip. I know, I know-- it's all about the memories. But sometimes you can have the fun memories without blowing your whole budget for the year.
Here are some things we did on our recent spring break (ie peak time!) trip to Universal Studios in Orlando:
I highly recommend (but am not being paid to recommend) Undercover Tourist. Not only can you get prices discounted from the gate price, but if you subscribe to their emails, you can get a special code for even bigger savings! Sure it's tempting to buy a package from the official website, but you can save a substantial amount of money if you book things on your own. We also found a great hotel deal through the same site, which leads me to the next tip.
1. Buy Tickets From A Reputable Travel Agency
2. You Don't Have To Stay On SiteYes, there are perks for staying on site, including free Express Passes at several of the hotels. Still, if you are able to find a cheaper hotel, you can buy Express Passes on your own and come out saving money. We stayed at the Holiday Inn Across From Universal. It was within view of the park and an easy walk there or back. For those times we didn't want to walk, there was a free shuttle to and from the park at convenient times. And, we stayed there for $99 night! For a full suite! Over spring break! You can't beat that.
3. You Don't Need Express PassesI know this one is up for debate. Certainly all the posts I read and all the advice from friends was that Express Passes are necessary and totally worth the money. That might be true, depending on how long you're visiting the parks, what time of year you are going, and how many people you are paying for.
The little secret about Express Passes is that each person needs a pass for each park, and for each day of your visit. In off-peak times, that's $49/day per person. Not too bad. But at peak times, it is $100/day per person or more! For a 5 person family visiting the parks for 3 days at spring break, as we did, that's $1500! On top of the $1500 for regular park tickets. No thank you.
This is the only time I would suggest looking into staying at a resort hotel with passes included. For us, it still was too expensive. So if you're like me and don't want to pay outrageous resort prices, here's what I suggest--
- Plan at least two and maybe three days to visit the park.
- Buy park-hopper tickets so you can go between parks.
- Be there before the official opening time so you are ready to go.
- Line up closest to the busiest rides (Hulk, Kong: Skull Island, Amazing Spider-Man, Harry Potter stuff, Despicable Me, and Rip Ride Rockit all get super busy pretty fast.
- Ride two or three first thing, then save the other big, busy rides for the next day.
- Use the app to check wait-times, then use the rest of your day to ride less popular rides, watch shows, and eat treats!
- If you have older kids or just adults, use the single rider lines!
- Be prepared to wait in line. Using this strategy, we only waited more than a half hour for one ride, and we rode every ride in both parks except the water rides (it was freezing when we were there!) and Rip Ride Rockit (which kept going down the whole time we were there. Boo.) Anything longer than a 35 minute wait, we put off till another time when the waits were shorter.
4. Consider A Shuttle Instead of a Rental Car
If you're only visiting Universal, you don't need a car. You'll probably just be paying to park it anyway. Factor in tolls and gas, and you're wasting money. Our hotel was a short walk away from several restaurants and a Walgreens, so we picked up a few groceries to keep in our room from there. No car needed! If you're there longer, you can get groceries delivered from local services too. So, hire a shuttle to and from the airport, or stay in a hotel that offers one. For us, it was cheaper to pay for a private shuttle for 5 than to rent a car, so we booked ours through Orlando Shuttle Service. There you can compare prices and ratings. Ours was right on time and very professional. It was worth it!
5. Don't Buy The Dining Plan
Every single post I read in preparation from our trip said that the Universal Dining Plan is NOT worth the money. I can't give you more details, but I can refer you to some of the articles I read here and here. Instead, eat outside of the parks as much as possible.
We started off the day with breakfast in our room, using groceries we picked up at Walgreens. We packed snacks to take with us in the parks, and we usually supplemented that with other snacks in the park, such as the famous Butterbeer, Lard's Donuts, and a few other snacks purchased along the way.
One great way to save is to buy a refillable popcorn bucket for $5.99, with refills at $1.29 each.
We ate dinner in Citywalk. There is a little food court with a Burger King, Moe's Southwest Grill, and Panda Express. There are a few other quick service restaurants as well as some larger sit-down restaurants there too. The food court worked perfectly for our family the first two nights, and then we splurged and ate at Hard Rock Cafe our last night there.
6. Buy a Refillable Cup
If you're a soda drinker or your kids like Icees, then the Coke Freestyle Refillable Cup is a great deal! It costs $11.99 the first day and $5.99 any additional days. Then refills are free! You would have to fill it 4 times to break even the first day. We bought one and just shared it all day long, so it was totally worth it for us. If you don't like sharing drinks, it may not be your best bet.
The other option is to buy a standard refillable cup for around $9, with refills for $0.99 each. If you are buying multiple cups or aren't as much of a soda drinker, this might be a better option. There are numerous other options for resort cups and beer mugs, but these are the two most commonly seen around the park.
I hope this helps you realize that you can afford an awesome trip to Universal Studios Orlando! It's not going to be cheap, but it is certainly more affordable when you follow some of these budget-saving tips.
Have you been to Universal Studios? What's your best budget-saving tip?
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