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Our Top Tips for Eating on a Budget at Universal Orlando

by Mommy Frog on October 17, 2023 9 Orlando

Eating on a Budget at Universal Orlando - PinterestEating 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.

Eating on a Budget at Universal Orlando - Load Up on Snacks

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.

Eating on a Budget at Universal Orlando - Leaky Cauldron

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 the Leaky Cauldron and Louie's Italian Restaurant in Universal Studios Florida and Thunder Falls Terrace in Universal 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.

Eating on a Budget at Universal Orlando - Cup of 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 $5.10 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.

Eating on a Budget at Universal Orlando - Chucky 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 $18.99, and you can share among friends and family. But if you want to buy multiple cups (3-6), each one is discounted to $14.99 (or two cups for $16.99 each). You may use the same cup on multiple days of your trip ... add on any additional day for $11.99. 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 $12.29 initially, and then each subsequent refill costs $2.19. 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. Universal Orlando also sells adorably themed character popcorn buckets and sippers around the parks and CityWalk (most of which come with one free refill), but those are going to take a little bit extra out of your wallet.

There you have it, folks! Do you have any other tips for eating on a budget at Universal Orlando? Share in the comments below. 

Related: Our Top Spots for Cheap Food at Universal Orlando

Hoppy planning!

Keep hopping, Mommy Frog!
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Mar 16, 2024 at 12:38 a.m. Jason Says...

Can you bring these cups filled into any restaurant at Universal? And would they refill it for you?

Mar 18, 2024 at 4:05 p.m. FrogBlog Says...

Hi Jason!

The refillable souvenir cups can be filled at any self-serve Coke Freestyle station in the parks, Volcano Bay or CityWalk. Most quick-service restaurants and food stands have these self-serve stations available. However, the stations are not inside The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley), The Simpson's Fast Food Blvd food court or table-service restaurants.

Hoppy planning!

Mommy Frog

Dec 2, 2023 at 10:21 p.m. Mas Says...

This was very helpful. The day before my trip me and my kids were frantically packing last minute and we had a 8 hour road trip ahead of us. In the car, instead of sleeping my kids were finding ways to save money and I asked them if they saved money for food and drinks and they said no. So I watched them and my look at this site and tell me everything and i mean EVERYTHING. So thank you very much me and my kids loved it.

Dec 4, 2023 at 8:52 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Thanks for hopping by, Mas! We're so glad you found it to be hopful and hope you had a frogtastic time :)

Hoppy planning!

Mommy Frog

Jul 18, 2021 at 11:40 p.m. Denita ELLIS Says...

Great tips undercover tourist . Now that they (Universal ) no longer has the dining plan .I have to do some adjusting to paying in cash and watching what I buy. It will be horribly tough on fixed income people like me and other people . I will have to stretch those dollars as far as possible and two thumbs ???? up for this site.

Jul 19, 2021 at 8:04 a.m. FrogBlog Says...

Thank you, Denita! We are hoppy to help :)

Hoppy planning!

Mommy Frog

Oct 22, 2019 at 10:27 a.m. Tanya Says...

Really great tips to save a few $ to spend on other things!

Oct 18, 2019 at 12:17 a.m. Renae Says...

Thanks!! Great tips for a first timer Aussie family heading over next year.

Oct 11, 2019 at 3:33 p.m. Jennifer Sutton Says...

Great tips! Looking forward to making a trip soon!

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