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Deciding to book a Universal vacation is simple. Determining whether or not you should purchase a dining plan isn’t always that easy. While many prefer the ease of having everything bundled together into one package, others prefer to be as economical as possible. The best way to decide if the Universal Dining Plan is right for your family is to review all of the details and compare them to your family’s needs. Gulf Coast TravelingMom sets out all the details on the different dining plans in her post, Universal Dining Plan Explained.
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Universal Dining Plan Explained
First of all, congratulations on deciding to visit Universal Studios Orlando. You are going to have a magical time! As someone who is obsessed with Disney, I was a little worried I wouldn’t feel the same way about Universal when I first visited. Boy was I wrong. Regardless of age, there is something for everyone at Universal Studios.
Whenever visiting Walt Disney World, my family always purchases the Disney Dining Plan. I have done the math repeatedly and can see that we actually save money that way. Besides, I like that having the dining plan feels more like an all-inclusive vacation.
Now, let me be the first to say that the Universal Dining Plans are NOT the same as those found down the street at Walt Disney World. While there are some similarities, there are more differences. There are some things I like better about the Universal Dining Plan and some things I do not.
Deciding whether or not to purchase a theme park dining plan can be a difficult decision. Below I break down the details of the two dining plans you can purchase as a guest at Universal Studios Orlando.
Universal Full Service Dining Plan
First of all, the Universal Full Service Dining Plan is exclusively available for pre-purchase with a Universal Orlando vacation package or at the Universal Ticket Center for on-site resort guests only. This is the only dining plan that offers both full service and quick service restaurants, as well as snacks.
The Universal Full Service Dining Plan offers guests one (1) full service meal, one (1) quick service meal, one (1) snack, and one (1) non-alcoholic beverage, per day. The cost of the Universal Dining Plan is $63.89 for adults (ages 10 and up), and $24.48 for children (ages 3-9), per day.*
The Full Service meal includes an entree, a dessert, and a non-alcoholic beverage. The quick service meal includes an entree platter and a non-alcoholic beverage. Each guest will receive their own dining card.
Important Details – Full Service Plan
- Reservations are highly recommended for full service restaurants. You can secure dining reservations online, or by calling (407) 224-FOOD, up to thirty (30) days in advance.
- The credits on the Universal Dining Plan (full service) expire at the end of your stay (or within 14 days).
- Gratuity is not included in the price of the dining plan.
- Theme Park admission is required for dining in Universal Studios Florida, Universal’s Islands of Adventure, and Universal’s Volcano Bay.
Universal Quick Service Dining Plan
The Universal Quick Service Dining Plan is available for all guests, regardless of where you are staying. You can purchase the Quick Service Dining Plan anytime throughout your visit by visiting one of the kiosks located at the front gates of the parks. The Quick Service Dining Plan offers guests one (1) quick service meal, one (1) snack, and one (1) non-alcoholic beverage, per day. The cost is $25.55 for adults (ages 10 and up), and $17.03 for children (ages 3-9), per day.* Y’all, that’s pretty cheap for a theme park if you ask me.
If you were to pay for these items out of pocket you would most likely exceed the $25.55 price tag. Let’s price it out just to be certain. Say you have lunch at the Leaky Cauldron and order the Fish & Chips ($13.99) along with a bottle of water ($2.75). Now, for your snack later in the day you order a frozen Butterbeer which is around $7.50 with tax. At the end of the day you order a Powerade for $3.29. Your daily total comes to $27.53 which is $1.98 more than the price you paid for your Quick Service Dining Plan.
More Flexibility with Quick Service Dining
The best part of the Universal Quick Service Dining Plan is that the credits don’t expire. You can carry your credits over from one day to the next. In addition, if you can keep up with the voucher, you can actually use them on your next Universal vacation. Another great perk is that you don’t have to purchase the plan for every day of your trip. Say you want to spend three days in the parks and two days relaxing by the pool. You can choose to purchase only three days of the dining plan. Even better, if you want to purchase the plan for the kids and not for the adults, you have that option. Universal allows you to be very flexible with their Quick Service Dining Plan.
Coca-Cola Freestyle Souvenir Cup
If you’ve ever researched the Universal Dining Plan before, you’ve probably heard about the Coca-Cola freestyle souvenir cup. What exactly is it and do you need it? Let’s review the details. You can purchase the freestyle cup for $11.99 (per day), or you can add it to the Quick Service Dining Plan for an additional $6.00. The cup can be reactivated for an additional $5.99 per day. There are approximately six (6) freestanding self-serve soda fountains in each park that can only be activated by the RFID computer chip on the base of the freestyle cup. In an effort to eliminate sharing, there is a 10 minute waiting period between refills.
Purchasing the Coca-Cola freestyle souvenir cup so that multiple people can share is not a good idea. Toting around the large cup all day can be cumbersome. If you carry a backpack through the parks you should be fine. Make sure you bring the cup with you to the parks each day you intend to use it. If you’re anything like me and suffer from motion sickness you’ll be thankful to have access to unlimited soda throughout the day to help settle your stomach.
Universal Dining Plan Snack Credits
Each of the two dining plans comes with one (1) snack per day. What is a snack on the Universal Dining Plan? Let’s review. You can find snacks located in various food carts and quick service locations throughout the parks. Some examples of snack credits include churros, ice cream, popcorn, pretzels, funnel cake, and my personal favorite – frozen Butterbeer! The key to saving money on the Universal Dining Plan is to maximize your credits by purchasing the more expensive items covered. For example, it is always better to use your snack credit to buy a $7 Butterbeer rather than spending $2.99 on a churro. The rule of thumb is to try and purchase snack credits that cost $5 or more to truly maximize the benefits of the Universal Dining Plan.
TravelingMom Tip: Curious exactly what is considered a snack? TouringPlans.com has a great tool on their Universal Orlando Menu page that allows you to search “UDP-eligible snacks only.”
Locations NOT Included in Dining Plans
My main complaint with the Universal Dining Plan is that NONE of the restaurants located in their on-site resort hotels are included. This includes full service and quick service dining locations, as well as dinner shows. If you plan on dining at your resort often, maybe the Universal Dining Plan isn’t the best option for you. Another negative to the plan, NONE of the Character Dining experiences are included in the Universal Dining Plan.
There are quite a few popular dining locations in Universal CityWalk that do not participate in the Universal Dining Plan, including: Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Emeril’s Orlando, Hard Rock Cafe Orlando, and The Toothsome Chocolate Emporium & Savory Feast Kitchen.
Universal is really good about working with guests who have food allergies. I encourage you to contact Guest Services in advance to discuss your dietary needs and options during your stay. You can reach Guest Services by calling (407) 224-3463. Additionally, you can speak to the restaurant manager and chef upon your arrival at the restaurant.
Is a Universal Dining Plan Right For You?
Now that you’ve had an opportunity to review the details behind the Universal Dining Plan, I hope you have enough information to decide whether or not it is right for your family. Do I recommend it? If you don’t want to spend time budgeting how much you spend on food each day, I absolutely recommend purchasing the Universal Dining Plan. If you aren’t planning to stay in an on-site resort hotel and this plan isn’t an option for you, I definitely think the Quick Service Dining Plan is a great option as well. In the end, if you maximize your credits by purchasing the most expensive snacks and entrees offered, you will absolutely save money.
Meanwhile, if you don’t think a Universal Dining Plan is right for your family, I have a money saving tip for you. Purchase Universal gift cards prior to your trip to cover the cost of your food. I did this on a last minute trip and it worked out very well. I purchased $200 in Universal gift cards for each day of our visit (we are a family of 4) and used them exclusively for food. We knew exactly how much money we could spend for meals and never had to worry about budgeting. I like to have everything paid for when I am on vacation because, let’s be honest, who likes to stress and do math on a trip? Not this girl!
One really easy way to save money is to use Undercover Tourist for your Universal Orlando tickets.
*Prices based on the 2018 Universal Dining Plan rates.