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How to Blow Your Budget at Universal Studios (or NOT)

Lucky you, It’s easy!!!! BUT I can help you save some $$. I’ll tell you where it’s worth it to splurge and where it isn’t!


Do you spend the $$ extra to stay on site? We vote yes!!! Stay at Hard Rock, Portofino or Royal Pacific and not only are early hours available but you also get the express pass with your room keys. We’ve also stayed at Cabana Bay (which is awesome for larger families!!!) but no express pass; so stay here when the park isn’t too busy. Check out the crowd calendar at Touring Plans. If the park will be busy (It’s busy for summer, spring break and special events like Halloween and Mardi Gras) chose one of the premier hotels listed above. The express pass is invaluable! Bonus, you feel like a VIP skipping the line!!! Now that the express pass includes the Wizarding World of Harry Potter attractions and the Hogwarts Express train between the parks it’s even more valuable!!



Just starve, it’s all mediocre, HaHa! Just a little background here, my teen twins are gluten free so this does slightly influence where we eat. I also get HANGRY, not proud of it, but true. This last visit I promised my husband that I would eat before I got too hungry (and mean), I turn into the Hulk and I know this, but slowing down the fun enough to eat… I can’t do it, especially for subpar expensive food. I’m sure there is awesome, decently priced, fast food in the park… but it’s never where we are and I’m not willing to trek across the park to find it. Throw some snacks in your backpack and grab one before you get hangry and save everyone some grief. Spend the chang at a nice sit down dinner at CityWalk.

SAVE $ at Lunch, SPEND $ at Dinner


If your jonsing for a pretzel at the parks, skip it, just Yuck… BUT if you’re lucky enough to find an open corn dog cart, go for it. Universal has some really cool snacks, huge pink doughnut…YUM, Butter Beer ice cream, double yum!!! Almost anything in Honeydukes is pretty yummy (except the no melt ice cream- this is just icing in a cup, sugar overload). If you pack snacks, you can save money here OR buy some snacks to take home… chocolate frog anyone???



WOW is that a big doughnut!!!


Gotta go all out here. The parks have some amazing BEvERages. Take a seat at Duff’s, have a beer, or a flaming Moe’s. In Hogsmeade? check out the Boars Head. Try the Deathly Hallows, also known as the triple, there is a good chance, depending on the bartender, they will make you spell out what’s in the drink…(that was a HP pun for you!). It’s a Strongbow cider topped by Hogshead brew, topped by Guinness, and my husband swears by this. I’ve also heard that the fire whiskey shot with butter beer is to die for, but I haven’t personally experienced it. For the teens, the Butter Beer is amazing, try all three varieties if you can, warm, frozen (my favorite) and just regular butter beer. One of the twins LOVED pumpkin juice, the other would rather “drink vomit”, so it’s up to you. We also tried the Gilly water, you can skip this for the price…it’s just water, no need to spend $5.99.


Hogs Head in IoA



This is a tricky one, cause I’m a sucker for sad, pleading puppy dog eyes! You know those eyes, that say, I’ll die if you don’t buy me… To avoid this, we give each kid a budget and let them spend as they want, but we always end up buying something extra. Plan on buying an interactive wand at Olivander’s, if you’re lucky you just might get picked for the show. To us, the wand was a must buy, there are multiple places in both Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley where you can perform spells!! Super fun, I know some families buy one wand and share but for us the $50 for each teen was well worth it (no fights over whose turn, they have played with them at home, use them at Halloween and now they have been on 3 Universal Vacations) so definitely worth it. Robes… That’s a little trickier and more expensive. They will set you back about $110 each. We were NOT buying them! But after lots of begging, sad puppy eyes and a promise that this was definitely what they would be for Halloween, we gave in and purchased at the parks. We haven’t been disappointed; we have gotten a ton of wear out of these, and even bought a second set for each kid because they grew a foot since our last trip. Postcards, not too expensive, considering the other souvenir options, for us this a must do on all of our adventures and it’s extra fun at Universal. As a tradition, we buy a package of Harry Potter postcards and each write one to ourselves, “What was the most unexpected, or favorite, or scary, or…that you did this vacation” you get the drift. The twins also send one to a friend (teaching life skills right here!). Don’t forget to send them by “owl” post! In Hogsmeade at the owlery, have the witch or wizard stamp the postcards and then mail them home. You can purchase stamps at the park or bring them from home. We had bought the Harry Potter stamps a couple of years ago, but they are not always available in the park, so if you buy stamps at the park they might just be regular old stamps.


All dressed up!

Postcards Home

Special events

Universal has multiple special events throughout the year. For example, Halloween Horror Nights is a hard ticket event that cost more to attend after the regular park closes. We have not tried this yet, and I say yet… I think the twins are starting to get old enough that they might actually like this. Me, I’m out, I went the year they opened and I’m a scare baby, their dad can take them!!! Celebration of Harry Potter, we did spend way too much money and went with Premium experience. This was amazing, and to us huge Harry Potter fans, this was more than worth the extra money to meet the talent and experience all the extras.

SAVE $ unless you’re a diehard fan of the special event