If you think Disney is expensive, put on your seatbelt because Universal Studios Orlando might unseat Disney from the “Most Expensive Day Ever” throne!
That said, it’s the only place you can experience the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, so of course you’re still gonna go.
Here’s how to save time and money at Universal Studios Orlando.
1. Use the Universal Studios mobile app to find shortest wait times for rides.
Download the Universal Studios Orlando app and use it to decide which rides to hit next.
Maybe you want to ride Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts, but the wait time for Revenge of the Mummy is a bit shorter — go with Revenge of the Mummy.
2. Buy tickets cheaper online through a third-party vendor.
Or check out Groupon for up to $50 off each ticket when you buy a 5-day pass.
3. Or buy your tickets with your American Express to get free snacks and water in the AMEX Lounge.
As a perk for using your American Express card to purchase Universal Studios tickets, you’ll get entrance to the AMEX Lounge inside the park.
Honestly, it’s not a great place to hang out for extended amounts of time because it’s usually crowded, but it’s a great place to refuel with free water and snacks like chips and cookies.
It doesn’t matter what vendor you buy your tickets through — if you use your American Express card, you’ll get lounge access.
4. If you know you’ll be returning in years to come, buy a refillable mug.
Refillable mugs are $14.99 and they’re good for the whole day — there’s a chip in the bottom, so you just need to visit a Coca-Cola Freestyle machine and choose from 100 soda flavor combinations.
You have to wait 10 minutes between refills, but if you bring the mug back to the park for refills it’s only $7.99 per day.
Some visitors report that they’re still able to use their refillable mug after over a decade.
5. Dial 62442 (MAGIC) on the phone in Diagon Alley and you’ll reach the Ministry of Magic.
Just give it a try!
6. Eat lunch at CityWalk instead of in the park — less crowds and better food.
Prices at CityWalk right outside the park entrance will be about the same as they are inside the park.
But if you want a break from the crowds and arguably a better meal, head to Toothsome Chocolate Emporium, Margaritaville or Antojitos.
7. Plan to pay extra for Universal’s version of a Disney FASTpass+.
Universal offers the Express Pass and Express Pass Unlimited.
The Express Pass costs $69.99 per person, per park, and the Unlimited Express Pass costs $89.99 per person, per park (it’s $119 for a 2-Park Unlimited Express Pass and $99.99 for a 2-Park Express Pass).
Keep in mind, this is after you’ve shelled out at least $115 per person to enter one park.
The Express Pass cuts your wait time for each ride by at least 50%. You can use it just one time per day while the Express Pass Unlimited gives you access as often as you want.
8. Stay on-property one night to get two days’ worth of Unlimited Express Passes free.
If you must have an Express Pass — and honestly, if you’re an impatient person, it’s a must-have — stay at a hotel on-property just for the free passes. You’ll get free passes for your whole family for the day you’re checking in and the day you’re checking out — that’s a savings of $119 per person, per day in the park.
It’ll cost you up to $200 more per night compared to competing hotels that aren’t on-property (like Hilton DoubleTree), but you’ll cover the cost difference in no time if you have more than two people in your party
Make sure you book at stay at Loews Portofino, Loews Royal Pacific or Hard Rock — the other two hotels on-property don’t offer the Unlimited Express Passes.
TIP: You’ll also get complimentary shuttle service between the park and the hotel.
9. Get into the park an hour earlier than everyone else when you stay at any of the hotels on-property.
If you don’t want to pay to stay in one of the three on-property hotels that’ll snag you an Unlimited Express Pass, at least spring for a cheaper option on-property so you can get Early Admission into the park.
Early Admission allows you to beat the crowds to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and ride Minions Mayhem before anyone else gets there.
Literally any of the Universal hotels on-property will get you this perk: Loews Portofino, Loews Royal Pacific, Hard Rock, Loews Sapphire Falls, Cabana Bay or Loews Aventura.
10. Best time to visit Universal Studios is not summer and not Christmas.
The takeaway here is to avoid visiting in the summer and the last half of December if you hate crowds.
You’ll probably want to avoid local spring break too, so do your research before you take a spring break trip.
11. Don’t buy Express Passes ahead of time — wait until you see what the crowds are like.
Why? Because if it’s a little rainy, or crowds are just low that day, you likely won’t need Express Passes.
You can always buy them at the park for the same price you’d get them online.
12. Get your picture taken with a live raptor.
Visit the Raptor Encounter inside Islands of Adventure to get a photo op with Blue from Jurassic World.
13. Make phone number bracelets for your kids to wear.
These can double as luggage tags too in a pinch!
You can also write your phone number on your children’s arms with a pen. Learn more tips for packing when you have kids.
14. Upgrade to Club level at your Universal Resort, and eat every meal with it.
Depending on when you visit, if you upgrade to a Club level room, you will pay anything from $60-$150 more per night than you would without it.
But with Club level you get access to a breakfast buffet for the whole family (7-10 a.m.), afternoon snacks (12-3 p.m.), hot and cold hors d’ouevres and free beer and wine (4:30-6:30 p.m.), and sweets from 8-9 p.m.
In theory, you could time it so you’re doing every meal at the hotel. Even if you just ate breakfast and either lunch or dinner at the hotel, it’d save you boatloads compared to eating at the park.
15. If you want to ride the Hogwarts Train, you need a 2-Park Pass.
You can’t even get on the train without an entrance pass for both parks.
So heads up — if your only reason to visit Universal is for Harry Potter, spring for the 2-park pass.
16. Leave backpacks in the car unless you want to pay for lockers.
Universal Studios doesn’t allow backpacks on rides so if it’s possible to go without it, leave it in the car.
17. Most rides allow a fanny pack or purse if it can be zipped.
To rent a one-time-use locker large enough for backpacks is $2.00 to get in and $3.00 for every 30 minutes with a max fee of $20.00.
An “all day” locker costs $10-15 per day, and you can open it as many times as you like — this is ideal if you plan to get wet at Volcano Bay and also ride the dry roller coasters.
18. A fanny pack too 1980s for you? Pack a FlipBelt instead.
Runners use the FlipBelt to store keys, phones, and more.
It costs less than $30.00 and there are four zippers to access “pockets” around the belt instead of a single pouch like a fanny pack.
19. Plan to use the free lockers, or you might lose your place in line.
The Incredible Hulk Coaster and Rip Ride Rocket don’t allow any loose items at all — no fanny packs, FlipBelts — nada.
There’s a metal detector to make sure you comply, so be sure to put your items into a free locker before you get in line. If you try to sneak even your mobile phone along, you’ll be sent to a locker and the end of the line. Trust me.
These lockers are free as long as you’re in on the ride (or in line). After that it’s $3.00 per 30 minutes up to $20.00. They judge time based on wait times for rides and how long it takes to ride.
20. Download the Heads Up! app to pass the time in line.
This is an easy win and might help your kids make friends in line with them.
Heads Up! is only $0.99 on iTunes.
21. Use Single Rider or Child Swap to beat the long lines if you don’t have Express Passes.
These are two features that will help you get on the rides faster if you don’t want to shell out the cash for an Express Pass.
Single Rider is just that — a special line for people who don’t mind riding next to strangers. You’ll be separated from your party if you go this route, so this one is best with teenagers.
Child Swap is a holding area where one parent can wait with kids while the other parent rides. When the first parent gets off the ride, the second parent can get right on while the other continues to wait with the kids.
22. Buy your Harry Potter shirts and capes before your trip.
These are straight-up way too expensive inside the park.
23. Use Package Pickup and Free Package Delivery to avoid trucking souvenirs around the park.
Anyone can take advantage of Package Pickup — when you buy a souvenir, it’ll be ready for you at the park entrance within three hours of your purchase.
If you’re staying at a Universal Hotel on site, you can opt for your items to be delivered directly to your hotel and pick them up from the concierge.
24. Take a midday nap whenever possible to maximize your time in the morning and evening at the park.
There’s a lot of debate about when the best time to visit the park is — especially the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Some swear by morning being the best time (and it is if you have early entrance, because you’re staying on-property!).
But others believe evenings when children are worn out is a better time. One thing is for certain — the best time is not in the middle of the day, so to be sure you’re maximizing your time and can be there early and stay late, head to your hotel for a whole-family nap. You’ll thank me for this tip!
25. Pack your own poncho and avoid paying up to $20 each inside the park.
For real — if you don’t want to get drenched on the Jurassic Park River Adventure, you’ll need a poncho.
Also if you’re visiting the park in winter months, it can be rainy. The payoff of going to the park in the off-season is low crowds (yay!).
Get your ponchos for dirt cheap on Amazon, and pack them in your suitcase.
26. Ice water is free throughout the park.
Just head to a quick-service counter for a cup of water.
Also, if you bring in your own water bottle, it’s free to fill it with water at the Coca-Cola Freestyle machines.
27. Buy your kids a $5.00 Lad Lard’s Pink Donut to share.
Get this huge donut inside Simpson’s Land, and plan to share it. Not only is it big enough for a couple of people, it’ll be cheaper than buying individual desserts for your kids.