We all know that one of the biggest expenses of any vacation can be your food– especially if you’re visiting Universal Orlando! Fortunately, once you know your way around, it is not impossible to eat on a budget at Universal Orlando, while enjoying delicious food on vacation.
To help you out on your journey to the Universal Orlando resort, I’ve put together this comprehensive guide to eating on a budget at Universal Orlando. I’ll cover the best tips and tricks that I’ve learned from my travels, as well as the specifics of what you should seek out and what you should avoid. You’ll be a pro at maximizing every dollar for your Universal Orlando trip in no time.
This post is sponsored by Orlando Fun Tickets. The #1 ticket seller in Orlando.
Universal’s Dining Plans
One of the first decisions you’ll have to make when planning your Universal Orlando vacation is whether or not to opt for the prepaid dining plan. It’s worth spending a little bit of time to understand the options for these plans, especially if you don’t want to go through the hassle of planning all your meals yourself.
(The Universal Orlando website breaks the whole thing down for you right over here!)
Universal Dining Plan
This one is only available with purchase of a Universal Orlando vacation package, which bundles your hotel and entry tickets into one price. After a little bit of research, I determined that this plan works out to be around $32 per adult per day. It includes one full-service meal, one quick service meal, one snack, and one non-alcoholic beverage.
So what does that really look like? Lunch and dinner would be covered for you under this plan, with at least an entree and drink provided at each. You also get a qualifying dessert at dinner, plus a bonus drink during the day. The catch is that only certain restaurants qualify under this plan and only certain menu items can be selected.
Universal Dining Plan- Quick Service
The Quick Service version of the Universal Dining plan is available to everyone, even if you don’t book your room and tickets through Universal itself. The only other difference between this plan and the first plan is that this does not include the one full-service meal each day.
By only covering one quick service meal a day (plus a snack and drink), this plan does come cheaper at just $24 per adult per day. Of course, $24 is still a lot for a quick grab-and-go meal, so it’s worth carefully weighing your options when it comes to deciding which plan might work better for you.
Universal Dining Plan — Quick-Service + Coca-Cola freestyle® Souvenir Cup
Another plan that is available to everyone, the Souvenir Cup plan is identical to the Quick Service version with the exception of the free drink. Instead of that perk, you get a Coca-Cola reusable cup that can be refilled throughout the day at a variety of participating locations.
This plan weighs in at around $30, which is a better value than the Quick Service plan if you are likely to use the bonus Coca-Cola cup. Would you be buying multiple soft drinks throughout the day anyway? If the answer is yes, then this plan could save you more than the Quick Service plan’s one single free drink per day. However, if the answer is no, then this plan might be a waste of your money.
There is a little bit of fine print with these dining plans. They don’t cover everything on every menu in the park, which means your options will be limited if you opt into the plans. It’s not terribly convenient for people with food allergies, and Universal Orlando’s snack selections are not particularly impressive (think popcorn, ice cream, Butterbeer, etc.).
The Universal Dining Plans do offer a reasonable deal, provided you take full advantage of them. If you don’t mind having limited options and you are willing to max out your plan each day for each member of your party, then you could save quite a bit of money.
Other Dining Options
I never recommend always going with the park-sponsored dining plan options 100% of the time. I think they can be great if you know you are going to make the most of them, or it’s less of a hassle for your family by avoiding making your own dining plans.
However, if you are looking to stretch your dollars as far as they possibly can go, you’ll probably be better off exploring other options to feed your group:
Buy your own groceries.
Buying your own food is maybe the most important tip of this whole post! You will save so, so, so much money by fixing your own meals instead of eating out. We all know that theme parks tend to overprice
everything food, and most of those meals don’t tend to be out-of-this-world extraordinary.
I wrote a whole post about buying groceries while traveling, take a look if you’re interested in more budget-friendly grocery tips.
Seek out budget-friendly places to eat in the parks.
Imagine you already bought a healthy stash of groceries from the local stores, opted out of the Universal Dining Plans, and are ready to enjoy yourself in the spectacular world of Universal Orlando.
Just because you’re eating on a budget at Universal Orlando doesn’t mean you can never eat out during your trip, especially when you’re seeing some quite magical and amazing restaurants to check out! If you have children travelling with you, it might be worthwhile to think about scheduling a meal every now and again that you don’t have to make yourself.
The trick is figuring out how to strike that balance without completely blowing the budget. Fortunately, in the next section, I worked out a dining roadmap to help you decide which places to check out on your coming adventures.
Best Places to Eat on a Budget
I carefully combed through the restaurants available at Universal Orlando, and worked out the places that deliver both quality and savings. A few at the end are perfect if you’ve set aside a place in your vacation budget for a quality meal out.
The majority of these restaurants are quick service ones, as they tend to run cheaper than a full service restaurant. However, not all of the following restaurants participate in the dining plans, so be aware of that as you plan your trip!
A top rated spot in Universal’s Volcano Bay water park, this Hawaiian-themed restaurant/ pizza shop offers a reasonably-priced refresher after spending a day playing in the water. It does qualify for the Quick Service Dining Plan, and includes an ICEE with most everything ordered off the combo menu.
They specialize in “longboard” pizzas, which are pretty sizeable flatbread pizzas loaded with toppings. You can get the individual pizza for around $10, and make it a combo with the ICEE for about $15. If you’re trying to save money, I would stick to the plain pizzas and possibly consider splitting them, especially if you are a light eater.
I seriously cannot think of anything more archetypal of a theme park than a good old-fashioned hot dog. Unfortunately, it’s far easier to be disappointed by a hot dog than to be impressed with it. Luckily, that’s a barrier that Universal Orlando has overcome by setting up this all-star lineup of the best hot dogs ever.
You can get a plain hot dog for around $7-$10, or a platter (hot dog with fries) for $9 to $11. Flavors range from a Chicago dog dragged through the garden to a Bratwurst sausage and a MorningStar Farms veggie dog. Most of these are fairly substantial, and you can save by leaving off additional toppings or extra sides. Most items are covered by the Dining Plans.
The Fusion Bistro might have the cheapest and most accessible food available in Universal. It’s essentially just a sushi place, with a wide selection of alcoholic beverages available as well. None of their sushi entrees exceed $11, making it extremely friendly for your budget. This place is positioned in Universal’s CityWalk area, and could be a great option for an adults’ night out.
Even their sides, sauces, and the extras are not likely to break the bank. Add miso soup for just an additional $2.99, or fried chicken dumplings for under $5. It would not be impossible to enjoy a delicious, authentic Japanese meal for under $10 per person.
If you’re starting to sense a theme in this post of getting high-quality street food to save your budget and your appetite, you would be correct. The Bumblebee Man’s Taco Truck is a hidden gem at Universal Orlando that routinely gets overshadowed by some of the flashier restaurants. Of course, it’s always fresh and hip to eat at a food truck instead of a sit-down place, but it’s also way more affordable.
The food truck’s menu is not particularly extensive, as you have the choice only between Korean beef, chicken, and carne asada tacos, but word on the street is that these tacos are out of this world. The great part is that they ring in at just $10 for two tacos and a side of chips. Plus it’s covered under the Universal Dining Plans, which could entitle you to some Buzz Cola or another drink without worrying about shelling out extra cash to wash down your tacos.
The iconic dessert of Universal Orlando is maybe classic Dippin’ Dots, those tiny, frozen pellets of ice cream that look vaguely like cottage cheese (but taste much better, I promise). However, if you’re looking to try something new or you’re tired of paying the high price tag for those petite cups, look no further than the Croissant Moon Bakery.
It’s more than just a clever play on words– Croissant Moon has all the trappings of an adorable, tiny bakery. I recommend sticking with their desserts, which generally hover around $3 each. They offer some pressed sandwiches and heavy-duty salads as well, but those are expensive and not necessarily worth the price.
Bonus: All the desserts are covered on the Dining Plans, which is always great.
Let’s imagine you have scraped and scrimped on some of your other meals on your trip, grabbing some tasty eats at the previously mentioned places and whipping up your own meals a few times. If you have space in the budget after all that, try the Mythos Restaurant as a nice treat.
It’s not impossible to still keep up with your budget at a higher-end place, though. Skip the appetizers, or grab a light Tuscan tomato or roasted butternut squash soup for $7. Steer clear of some of the higher-priced feature items, and instead try out the Gnocchi Bolognese, Cranberry Blue Cheese Crusted Pork, or Plant-Based Tomato Pesto Cresto de Gallo for under $17. This way, you can still enjoy some of the finest dining in the park without spending more than $25 a person.
Have you noticed that I haven’t mentioned any Universal Orlando dining options located in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter? This is definitely one of the most interesting (and most packed) parts of the resort complex, but you certainly can’t just skip over it. Being popular and being iconic makes dining in the Wizarding World extremely expensive, which is why you might consider avoiding some of the tourist-heavy places.
That being said, the Three Broomsticks is worth including on this list because tasting a bit of Harry Potter’s world is an experience well worth having. The great thing about the Three Broomsticks is that it offers The Great Feast, a massive meal that can be shared with four people for about $60. It includes a salad, rotisserie smoked chicken, spareribs, corn on the cob, and roast potatoes. This massive meal breaks down to just $15 a person, with maybe a few extra dollars on top if you want to test out the famous Butterbeer or Butterbeer ice cream for dessert.
This post is sponsored by Orlando Fun Tickets. The #1 ticket seller in Orlando.
As always, a little bit of extra planning is all you need to manage your budget dining at Universal Orlando. You can eat delicious, substantial food without splurging too much, once you know the right places to go.
Looking for more budget tips for your Universal Orlando trip? Check out my ultimate guide for getting discounted tickets to the parks.