Eating on a budget at Universal Orlando Resort may seem like a daunting task. After all, you're on vacation — and even us frogs would rather not think about how much we should spend. However, it's necessary if you don't want to fork out on food. Luckily, we have a few tricks up our sleeves to make it much easier! Whether it’s packing snacks or sharing meals, we’re hoppy to share some of the strategies we’ve used in the past to stick to our dining budget.
Tips for Eating on a Budget at Universal Orlando
Go grocery shopping upon arrival, or get groceries delivered to you.
Depending on how long your trip is or if you have a kitchenette in the hotel room, you could go to a local grocery store once you arrive in Orlando to eliminate some of the meals you'd otherwise need to purchase inside the parks. At the very least, stock up on non-perishable foods and snacks, such as trail mix or pre-packaged crackers (who doesn't love Goldfish?). There are three Publix stores, a Trader Joe's and a Whole Foods Market within five miles from Universal Orlando Resort hotels. If you don’t have a car, consider getting groceries delivered to your hotel. Be sure to check if the delivery service requires you to be present at pick-up and if your hotel charges a delivery fee.
Eat breakfast in your room.
You’ll be saving money AND time by eating breakfast at the hotel before leaping over to the parks. If you’re able to get groceries, pick up simple breakfast foods, such as granola bars or fresh fruit. There’s no need to worry about waiting in line at Starbucks in Universal CityWalk. Plus you can get some extra sleep or an earlier start to the day.
Load up on snacks to bring with you.
Universal Orlando does allow outside food and drinks, but only to a certain extent. You may bring in bottled water, small snacks that do not require heating or refrigeration and baby food or formula. However, you are not allowed to bring in full meals or coolers larger than 8.5 inches wide by 6 inches high by 6 inches deep. The only exception is for any food required for medical purposes or special dietary needs. We love to bring our trail mix, Goldfish crackers and granola bars along for times when our stomachs are rumbling.
Share your meals.
Often times, it’s more cost-effective to split a meal! Not all restaurant meal sizes are created equal, though. We find that we tend to share entrees from Universal Studios' Classic Monsters Cafe, the Leaky Cauldron and Louie's Italian Restaurant in Universal Studios and Thunder Falls Terrace in Islands of Adventure. The Loaded Nachos at Margaritaville in Universal CityWalk is a frog favorite, as well!
Know what’s included in combo deals on menus.
The menus at quick-service restaurants will often list two prices (a combo price and a regular price) side by side. For instance, at Mel’s Drive-In, a combo meal includes the entree, fries and a milkshake, whereas the normal entree platter only has a side of fries. So, if you don’t want the milkshake, just stick with the entree platter. It depends on the restaurant, but usually the combo deal is adding a side salad or dessert. Drinks are purchased separately.
Just drink water.
Speaking of drinks ... Universal lets you bring in refillable water bottles from home, so why not take advantage of it? If you buy bottled water inside the parks, the cost of about $3.50 per bottle for every frog in your family would add up quickly! There are drinking fountains where you can fill your own bottles around the park. However, we get that carrying them around could become a hassle (especially when trying to fit them into a ride locker), so we suggest sharing one. At quick-service restaurants, we haven’t had any issues when asking for a “cup of water.” Some of them even set out large water jugs with small plastic cups next to them, ready for use.
Purchase a refillable drink cup or popcorn bucket.
If you're craving something more than water, we'd recommend investing in a refillable souvenir drink cup (and a popcorn bucket)! With the purchase of a souvenir cup, you're allowed unlimited refills from the Coca-Cola freestyle stations all day. (However, you do need to wait 10 minutes in between each refill.) One cup costs $16.99, and you can share among friends and family. But if you want to buy multiple cups (3-6), each one is discounted to $12.99 (or two cups for $15.99 each). You may use the same cup on multiple days of your trip ... add on any additional day for $9.99. Considering that a single-serve drink will set you back about $4 each, the savings would add up if you refill frequently!
The popcorn bucket is another way we like to snack on a budget! You purchase the bucket for $11.29 initially, and then each subsequent refill costs $2. The downside to the popcorn bucket is that it won't fit in the free ride lockers, and your refillable mug must be empty and turned on its side in order to fit.
There you have it, folks! Do you have any other tips for eating on a budget at Universal Orlando? Share in the comments below.