How to Do Universal on a Budget | Money-Saving Tips for Universal Orlando

How do you do Universal on a budget? Today we are sharing our money saving tips for your next Universal Orlando trip.

Universal Orlando Resort includes Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, Volcano Bay water park, and Universal CityWalk. It is not part of the Walt Disney World resort.

The Universal Orlando resort is home to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Diagon Alley & Hogsmeade), Jurassic Park franchise, Minion Land, and Seuss Landing.

It is a great place to visit but theme park vacations can be expensive!

We have been visiting the theme parks for over a decade with a family of five and we always look for the cheapest way to visit, so we can visit more often.

How to Go to Universal for Cheap

  • Avoid spring break and holidays. These are the most expensive times to stay at Unviersal.
  • Purchase a “More You Stay, Less You Pay” Ticket deal. I talk more about this below but typically you pay less per day the more days you visit.
  • Stay at an on-site value resort to receive perks of on-site guests at a budget friendly price.
  • Don’t buy what you don’t need. Skip souvenirs and snacks. Share meals when possible.

Want more details on the cheapest ways to do Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Read on for all the tips for saving on your Universal Orlando vacation.

Nightly Show at Hogwarsts Castle.

What are the Overall Costs for a Universal Orlando Trip

When planning a Universal Orlando vacation there are five main categories where you can save money for your trip.

I find these to be valued differently depending on your family priorities and what type of theme park trip you want to have.

The basic costs of a Universal vacation are:

  • Tickets Prices
  • Accommodations/Hotel Room
  • Transportation Costs
  • Food/Dining
  • Souvenirs/Gifts/Extra Cost

Some families may value sit down meals over souvenirs, others may prefer to stay at a premier resort over a value.

I’m going to share the ways we save on our Universal vacation, and hope it helps you plan your budget for Universal Orlando.

How to Do Universal on a Budget

Lets breakdown the costs for the trip to Universal to help you get started.

One of the biggest costs for our family of five are the ticket costs. Then it is transportation or accommodations, and then dining and souvenirs.

We decide before we arrive at the parks what our budget for the Universal trip is, and then we plan based on those numbers.

How to Save on Universal Studios Orlando Tickets

Tickets are expensive for theme parks and are over $100.00 a day. If you add park to park tickets or express passes your daily price goes up even more.

You can shop around for tickets to find your best price. I suggest starting with Universal Orlando Resort website.

These prices will show you any deals they are offering and will give you a base line price.

From there check our partner Undercover Tourist. They offer Universal Orlando ticket and hotel deals.

Universal on a Budget: Purchase an Annual Pass

Another option that we have found to save us a lot of money is to purchase an annual pass.

This may not make sense at first, especially since we live in New York state, but it most recently saved us over $1000.00 on our next trip.

For a family of 5 with kids ages 16, 13, and 11 a 5 day park to park ticket cost $2209.85. This would allow us to go between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure for 5 days.

I decided to look at the annual pass options to compare prices. For the five of us an annual pass cost $2263.10. This includes unlimited visits to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure for 15 months.

Passholders also receive deep discounts on the Universal Orlando on-site resorts. We saved over 45% per night and were able to upgrade to a stay at Hard Rock Hotel for our trip.

The price difference between a 5-day pass and an annual pass for my family is $53.25. This pass will cover 2 vacations to Universal Orlando within 15 months.

There are different tiers of passes and we purchase the most inexpensive one, the seasonal pass.

There are blackout dates for this pass but because we live far away we know the dates we will visit and plan accordingly.

Annual passes at Universal are worth it if you know you are going to visit 5+ days in a calendar year. It may not be for everyone but we really enjoy the savings and the perks of having an annual pass.

universal on a budget despicable me

Universal on a Budget: Visit During the Off-Season

Visiting during the off-season will save you money on flight and car rentals as well as accommodations.

Resorts can offer deep discount on hotel rooms during the off-season when they are trying to fill rooms, which makes it one of the best time to visit.

The off-season is during school months. September and January are some of the quietest. The exception to this is during special events at Universal like Halloween Horror nights.

If you are visiting during peak season and spring break expect prices to be higher.

The same goes for flights and car rentals. If there is availability there will be discounts.

The off-season is typically when kids are in school. Late August-end of September and January-February before winter breaks starts.

Universal Orlando Accommodations

I always start with Universal’s website for deals on their on-site resorts. We have stayed at the value resorts, prime value, and premier.

It is a good idea to price out the different Universal hotels to see which is best for your budget.

Check out the reviews for each of our stays:

There are perks to staying on-site at Universal. All hotels include early entry which allows on-site guests early park admission an hour before park open.

The premier hotels include express pass. If you are planning on purchasing express pass as an add-on you will save so much money (usually) by booking a hotel that includes it.

universal on a budget value resorts surfside

Transportation Needs When Visiting Universal Orlando

The best ways to decide if you need a car rental is to decide if you are going to stay at the Universal resort or explore other areas of Orlando.

You will need transportation to/from airport unless you drive yourself to the parks. The airport does offer paid shuttle buses through Mears.

We have used their car service and been happy with the service.

If you stay off-site be prepared to pay for daily parking and resort fees. These can range to different costs. Always contact your resort for the most up-to-date parking information.

Parking at the Universal Orlando resort is $30.00.

If you are staying on-site parking ranges from $15.00-$28.00 a night. There is a free shuttle to and from the resorts and theme parks.

Be sure to include these prices in your budget. We usually rent a car and include parking fees in the trip, but it might make sense for you take a ride share, taxi, or shuttle to the resort.

orlando with kids bus transportation.

Universal on a Budget: Share Meals

When purchasing meals in the park share when you can. Meals are often big enough to share and can be split between an adult and a child or two adults.

I will often split a sandwich with my kids and then purchase a small snack later in the day if we are hungry. I also find myself not wanting to eat huge meals during park days because of all the rides and the heat.

We also bring a reusable water bottle to avoid the pricey costs of drinks for a family of five.

We don’t do this at every meal but if does help save some money on meals. We also plan more quick/counter service meals than sit down meals.

This will save you money and time when visiting the theme parks.

For breakfast we eat our meals in the room. This usually consists of a breakfast bar or dried cereal.

I will bring it from home, stop at a grocery store to do grocery shopping on our way to the resort, or order instacart to the resort.

These food saving tips may not work for everyone but deciding on what meals are a priority and what meals you can save on will help you stay on budget for your trip.

Don’t Buy What You Can Bring from Home

Everything cost more at the theme parks. If you know you will need something purchase it at home and bring it with you.

We purchase character t-shirts, ponchos, sunscreen, and everything you need for our trip before we arrive at the parks.

Of course you can pick something up at the parks but you will spend more money that if you purchased it before.

The last thing is souvenirs. Some people prefer to purchase during vacation because that is the point of a souvenir. Others feel it is a waste of money at the parks.

This is a personal decision. I have given the kids a set amount of vacation money on some trips and we have visited without buying anything. It depends on the trip.

Be sure to think about how you feel about souvenirs before you find yourself in the middle of a gift shop! It will save you stress and everyone will know the expectations ahead of time.

universal on a budget small treat

How Much Does Universal Orlando Cost

Most people want to know where they should even start with a budget. What does a Universal Orlando vacation cost?

Based on what I shared above you can see it can vary greatly depending on your needs and priorities.

I try to keep the trip to around $5000.00 and under. I have listed the breakdown of costs below:

  • Annual Pass for Family of 5: $2263.10
  • Hotels: $607.50 (5 Nights at a Value, Check hotel prices.)
  • Food: $150.00/day
  • Transportation : $600.00 (Driving from NY to FL, gas and 2 nights in hotel)

**These prices are from February 2024. Prices are subject to change.

This budget also allows our next trip to Universal to be less because tickets are already purchased.

Doing Universal on a budget is possible if you break down all the costs and decide what your priorities are!

Read Next: Universal Orlando with Kids: 71 Must Do Attractions

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