There’s no doubt in my mind that Universal Orlando Resort has the best theme parks in Orlando. Yes, you could argue that Disney World is a better experience, but if you’re looking for thrills and the best rides, then you should make Univeral your top priority. Of course, most people wonder how much does it cost to go to Universal Studios?
Listen, theme parks in Orlando aren’t cheap. They’ll easily cost you more than $100 per person, per day, but there are ways to save money. You also need to understand that Universal Orlando Resort consists of three theme parks: Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay.
If you follow this guide, you don’t need to wonder how much does it cost to go to Universal Studios, you can focus on an epic vacation while keeping costs reasonable.
Cost of Universal Studios Orlando
|Car rental, gas & parking||$223|
|Universal Studios tickets||$550|
|Food and drink||$348|
The above estimate is based on US dollars. If you want to know what it costs in your local currency, use XE.com for the conversion.
Most people/families visit all three parks but you might have to limit yourself depending on how much time you have. For the purpose of this article, I’m going to cover all three theme parks and assume you’ll be spending three days and three nights at Universal Orlando Resort.
This guide will also cover the costs for two adults. If you’re travelling with kids, you’ll just need to factor in the extra expenses for everything except hotels. Don’t worry, in this how much does it cost to go to Universal Studios guide, I’ll be sharing various tips on how you can save money.
Depending on where you’re flying from, the cost of airfare to Orlando can vary quite a bit. If you’re flying within the U.S., it shouldn’t be too hard to find flights in the $250-300 range. Those coming from Canada will likely need to budget closer to $450. Flights from Europe get into the $600-700 range.
It is possible to save money on airfare. Within the U.S., there are multiple discount airlines such as JetBlue that typically have great prices. Canadians could take advantage of the WestJet companion voucher that comes with the WestJet RBC World Elite Mastercard.
If you’re travelling with kids, many families will opt to drive to Orlando as the savings on airfare and car rental can be a fair amount. Driving 15 hours+ each way may sound crazy, but if it can save $1,000+, it might be worth it. That said, think about your time since it’s valuable. Although you’ll save a fair amount of money, you’d probably spend 3-4 days travelling to/from Orlando.
If you’re Canadian, you may want to consider applying for one of the best travel credit cards in Canada to help offset your costs by collecting points. For example, the American Gold Rewards Card gives you a signup bonus of up to 30,000 American Express Membership Rewards points which have a minimum value of $300 (potentially more if you transfer your points to Aeroplan or Marriott Bonvoy). There’s also the Scotiabank Passport Visa Infinite card that has no foreign transaction fees, a sign up bonus worth $250 and it comes with airport lounge access.
As you can imagine, the cost of hotels can vary quite a bit depending on where you stay. If you’re looking to save as much money as possible, it won’t be difficult to find a cheap motel or hotel within a short drive. However, staying at a Univeral Orlando Resort hotel comes with extra perks that may appeal to you. Here’s a breakdown of some of the options available.
Universal Studios Orlando hotels
Universal Studios Orlando hotels are generally regarded as hotels that are on-site or directly associated with Universal Orlando. They can range anywhere from $100-$300 a night depending on which hotel you book and they come with additional perks.
Universal Studios Orlando hotels – Value
- Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Surfside Inn and Suites
- Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn and Suites
Universal Studios Orlando hotels – Prime Value
Universal Studios Orlando hotels – Preferred
Universal Studios Orlando hotels – Premier
All Universal Studios Orlando hotels give you the following perks:
- Early admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Volcano Bay
- Free transportation to the theme parks and CityWalk
- Resort-wide charging privileges
- Delivery of purchased merchandise right to your room
- Complimentary club-to-club access to select Universal CityWalk venues
If you’re staying at one of the premier hotels, you also get a free Universal Express Unlimited that has a value of $129 per person, per day. This perk alone greatly offsets the cost of your room. You even get priority seating at select restaurants.
Another perk when staying at a Universal Studios Orlando hotel is that you can get big discounts if you’re staying at least 5-nights or if you’re booking a vacation package.
Hotels near Universal Orlando
Staying at hotels near Universal Orlando can be a great way to save money as there are many 2-3 star hotels in the $60 – $100 a night range. These hotels will likely have a pool and a free shuttle to Universal Orlando, so you don’t need to worry about the parking fees. Some of these hotels also offer free breakfast so it’s another way to cut down on your costs. Here are a few recommended Universal Orlando hotels with a free shuttle:
- Best Western Plus Universal Inn
- Four Points by Sheraton Orlando International Drive
- Super 8 by Wyndham Orlando International Drive
- La Quinta Inn by Wyndham Orlando International Drive North
If you have the right credit card, you can save a fair amount of money on hotels. For example, Canadians should consider the BMO World Elite Mastercard since it typically has a sign up bonus of $250 when you charge $3,000 to your card in the first three months of card membership. This card does have an annual fee of $150 but it’s normally waived for the first year so you’re getting $250 for free. There’s also the Marriott Bonvoy American Express which gives you 51,000 Marriott Bonvoy points when you charge $3,000 to your card in the first three months. That’s enough points for up to five free nights at some hotels which could easily have a value of over $650.
Universal Studios ticket prices
Universal studios ticket prices depend on when you’ll be visiting, how many days you plan on visiting, how many parks you’ll be visiting and if you’re going to add on the express pass option. Here’s a quick look at the cost of Universal Studios (as of June 22, 2020).
1-Day – 1 park ticket
- Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure – From $119 for adults, $114 for children (3-9)
- Volcano Bay – From $80 for adults, $75 for children (3-9)
1-Day – 2 park ticket (park to park)
- Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure – From $174 for adults, $69 for children (3-9)
2-Day – 2 park ticket (1 park per day)
- Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure – $234.99 for adults, $224.99
2-Day – 2 park ticket (park to park)
- Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure – $294.99 for adults, $284.99 for children
2-Day – 3 park ticket (park to park)
- Access to all three parks – $349.99 for adults, $339.99 for children
3-Day – 3 park ticket (1 park per day)
- Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure – $309.99 for adults, $299.99
3-Day – 3 park ticket (park to park)
- Access to all three parks – $369.99 for adults, $359.99 for children
Express passes upgrade
- Universal Express – From $69.99 – Skip the lines one time at participating rides at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure
- Universal Express Unlimited – From $89.99 – Skip the lines unlimited times at participating rides at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure
- Volcano Bay Express – From $19.99 – Skip the virtual line one time per participating ride at Volcano Bay
I realize the above list may seem overwhelming, but here’s how to look at it. One day tickets are the most expensive. If your time is limited and you want to see as much as possible, getting the 1-Day – 2 park ticket with the Universal Express Unlimited option is your best choice.
Since this how much does it cost to go to Universal Studios guide is for three days, your best option will likely be the 3-Day – 3 park ticket (1 park per day) ticket. This will allow you to spend one entire day at each park. You also won’t need an Express Pass as you’ll have time to wait in the lines. That said, paying the upgrade is worth it if you love rides.
Universal Studios discount tickets
Here’s the thing, all the Universal Studios ticket prices I listed above are the regular price. Rarely will you have to pay that much since it’s easy to find Universal Studios discount tickets. It’s not like there’s some kind of secret hack, Universal Orlando runs promotions a few times a year so it’s worth checking the site on a regular basis if you plan on going to Orlando in the near future.
For example, one of their best promotions is where you get 2 days free when you buy 2 days. That means if you buy the 2-Day – 2 park (park to park or one park per day) ticket, you get two additional days at no extra charge. There is a surcharge if you want to add Volcano Bay to this promotion, but it’s still cheaper than if you had paid the regular price.
Assuming you take advantage of the Universal Studios discount tickets, you’re looking at $274.99 for adults and $264.99 for children. Remember, this gives you access to the parks for 4 days so it could be worth your while to spend an extra day here.
Car rental, gas & parking
Getting a car rental in Orlando is crazy affordable. If you get a compact car, it’ll cost you about $35 a day. If you need a mid-size car, SUV or mini-van, you’re looking at about $45-55 a day.
I strongly recommend booking with a car rental agency that has a location at the Orlando International Airport (MCO). Every major car rental agency has a location there, but the cheapest ones are usually off-site.
Like many other car rental agencies, you book your vehicle based on class, and then you pick what you want based on availability when you arrive. It’s worth doing a little bit of research in advance to see what cars are good on gas as it could save you some money. For example, I once rented a Toyota Prius and only spent $4 on gas. Another time I rented a Nissan Rogue and ended up spending $25 on gas (the daily rate also costs more).
Be sure to check the prices of adding a car rental when you book your airfare. One time I booked my flights on Expedia and then adding a car was only $20 a day. That was half the price compared to had I booked the car rental separately.
I should also mention that it’s possible to see Universal Studios without a rental car. If you’re staying at a Universal Orlando partner hotel or nearby, they may have transportation to all the theme parks. Some even offer airport pick up (at a cost).
Universal Studios parking cost
If you end up driving to Universal Studios, regular parking is $26 a day while prime parking is $36. Prime parking just gets you closer to the entrance. If you’ve rented a car from Avis or Budget from their Orlando International Airport, you can get a complimentary upgrade to prime parking when paying for regular parking (a voucher is required).
If you’re visiting after 6pm, free self-parking is available to all guests, but it’s not valid during Halloween Horror Nights.
Keep in mind that Volcano Bay guests should also use the Universal Orlando parking garage. There’s a dedicated section for people headed to Volcano Bay so be sure to follow the signs. Once you’ve parked, there’s a free shuttle to the park entrance.
Food and drink
Since you’ll be in a theme park, you can expect to pay higher than normal prices for food and drink. The good news is that the quality of the food is usually good and there’s quite a bit of themed food that is worth trying.
For example, the Three Broomsticks and The Leaky Cauldron are Harry Potter inspired restaurants where some of the staff never break character. You can also get butterbeer which is a staple in the Harry Potter universe. Over in Springfield, you can go to Moe’s Tavern, Krusty Burger or Lard Lad Donuts.
Sometimes you’ll see lines to get into some of the restaurants, but don’t let that throw you off. Those lines are for crowd control and once you get inside, the food is served quickly as it’s counter service. You might spend a little more at these restaurants, but I find the meals to be more filling than the ones at kiosks found throughout the park.
Generally speaking, this is what you should budget for your meals:
- Breakfast – $8 (at your hotel or on the way to the parks)
- Lunch – $20
- Snacks – $15
- Dinner – $15 (after departing)
That works out to $58 a day, per person which may seem like a lot, but I think it’s a reasonable estimate. As mentioned, theme parks are expensive, but they’re a lot of fun. Getting a turkey drumstick as a snack or a giant milkshake with your lunch is part of the experience. I don’t typically spend money on snacks, but I do whenever I’m at a theme park. There’s also a good chance that you’re not hungry when you leave so you won’t need a full dinner.
Here’s one tip if you want to save money. There are a few fast food/casual restaurants located in City Walk which is found directly between Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. This would require you to backtrack a little, but you can also think of it as a break.
Universal Orlando Resort allows you to bring in outside food, but there are a few rules.
- You can’t exceed 2L of bottled water
- Only food that doesn’t require reheating is allowed
- No hard-sided coolers (use soft insulated bags)
- No glass containers
- No open containers or drinks containing alcohol
Some families will bring their lunches and drinks but spend money on snacks which I think is a good strategy since there’s more people in their party. If it’s just two of you, I’d just enjoy the food the theme parks have to offer.
When looking at the cost of Universal Studios Orlando, you need to budget a little extra money for random spending. In most cases, this budget will be used for merchandise. Theme parks have a lot of merchandise for you to choose from but generally speaking, adults don’t typically buy anything. That said, it’s still an important thing to factor in, just in case.
If you’re a big Harry Potter fan, you’re likely going to be interested in the official wands that you’ve read about. I’ll admit that I’ve been tempted to buy stuff after getting off the Transformers ride since I grew up watching the cartoon. For those travelling with kids, you better believe that they’ll want to leave with something.
The best time to go to Universal Studios
Orlando is buys at all times of the year, but I would argue the following dates are the best time to go to Universal Studios:
- Late April / early May
- After the U.S. Spring Break
- Late August / early September
- Before Halloween Horror Nights begins and after it ends
- Early November before holiday celebrations begin
The above are general recommendations as traffic within the parks can vary every year. Weekdays are usually slower than weekends but it also varies depending on the time of the year.
So how much does it cost to go to Universal Studios Orlando? I recommend budgeting $2,101 for two adults. This will cover you for three days and give you access to all three parks. You can easily reduce your costs by a few hundred dollars but it really depends on your flights, what accommodations you choose and how much you want to spend on food.
That might seem like an insane price to pay for theme parks, but that’s one of the main reasons people go to Orlando so enjoy it. Check out my guides on Disney World, Disneyland and Tokyo Disney for more ideas.