10 Frugal Tips for Universal Studios {Travel & Leisure}

Morning everyone! I am so excited to write about this topic today because my husband and I adore Orlando.

Sure, while we are there we wonder why we choose to torture ourselves by walking our legs off in scorching heat, but much like childbirth (or so I hear) once it’s is over all I have is happy memories and an overpriced keychain.

Before I get into that, let me say that you all have me so busy with your e-mails and blog comments about some of my tutorials, mostly the espresso staining series. I so appreciate all the e-mails and comments, however, it’s sort of hard to reply to your comments if you do not have your e-mail set-up with your Google/Blogger account. What ends up happening is this:


I would love to reply to Lauren directly, but she doesn’t have her e-mail set-up. So I can’t reply. (But Lauren, the answer is eBay!)

How to Fix the Issue:

1.) Go to this link: http://www.blogger.com/edit-profile.g

2.) Check this box:


And then myself, as well as countless other bloggers, can directly reply to your comments. I’ve thought about going back and replying in the comments, but it’s hard to know where people plan on checking for an answer. It’ll take you less than 5 minutes to do this, so please do this now. 🙂

I’ll wait.

Done? Great!

Let’s talk Universal Studios.

Now these tips are tailored to Universal Studios, but some could apply to Disney.

1.) For Universal Studios Orlando, do not stay on property. Stay at the nearest off-site hotel you can stay at such as Holiday Inn (on Kirkman Rd is the one we stayed at), Doubletree, etc. at the entrance to Universal. Not only will you save money, but the hotels are a 15-20 minute walk or about a $4 cab ride to the park area. We took a cab to get back to the hotel usually. These off-site partner hotels have free shuttles in the AM and PM, but none in the middle of the day when you’re dying. So, we took the shuttle over to the parks for free, and spent about $6 to get back to the hotel if we didn’t feel like waiting until 7 pm for the first shuttle back. We were there for 3-days, so it was $20ish in cab fare. Way cheaper than staying on property, and just as fast. And the best perk? You get early park admission to enjoy the Harry Potter section. This proves to be invaluable because trust me, 99% of people head for that area when the parks open to everyone.


2.) From the airport to the hotel, if you’re a party of 3 or more, taking a taxi van will be the most economical way to get to the Universal Studios area. With Disney, if you’re staying onsite (which unlike Universal, I HIGHLY recommend because Disney has hotels for every budget), take advantage of their Magical Express service. My DH and I took a cab from MCO to the Holiday Inn, which cost us $55 with tip. Ouch! On the other hand, Super Shuttle to the hotel would have run about $38, but there’d be lots of stops, and we just wanted to get our hands on Butterbeer. We did take Super Shuttle going back, and didn’t mind the wait since we were pooped. I would say cab it over, and shuttle it back. Mears is another great shuttle service, FYI.

3.) If you have AMEX, use it. It got us perks such as $50 to spend in the parks, which we used to upgrade to park-to-park tickets rather than 1-park/day tickets. Plus, there’s an AMEX lounge at Islands of Adventure (IoA) that we totally forgot about once we were there. Apparently they have drinks and snacks, etc. I know our package was overall a better value because we have an AMEX card, and we booked directly on the Universal website.

4.) If you’re trying to get from Universal Studios to Disney, for the love of all things theme park, do not take a cab if you’re a party of about 2-4 people. It will be OUTRAGEOUS- about $60+ each way! Instead, call Mears about 1-2 days before you want to go to Disney, and schedule a round-trip to Disney from your hotel. The service is $19 per person for the round-trip ($9.50 each way). What a steal. They do pick up a few others along the way, but it honestly didn’t take longer than about 20 minutes to get from our hotel to Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Pick-up is easy, too. You call them about 2 hours before you’re ready to go, tell them what park you’re at, they’ll tell you where to go and you’re set. So easy, great service, and cheap!

5.) You’re at the parks, what now? Well, we tried to do just about all the attractions at both parks.

I’m about to tell you which attractions sucked.

At Universal Studios: Terminator, Twister, MIB.

At IoA: Poseidon’s Fury.

Now for the cannot-miss-attractions.

At Universal Studios: The Simpsons Ride, Shrek 4-D, Rip Ride Rock-It, The Mummy Ride. (The Despicable Me attraction wasn’t yet open when we went)

At IoA: Harry Potter (all of it!), Spiderman, The Hulk

We didn’t do any of the water rides because I hate smelling like smelly water, so I can’t comment on those.

6.) Drink lots of Butterbeer. It’s frothy, sweet and SO GOOD. It might seem crazy to get it in a souvenir cup, but then you can get soda refills all over both parks for 92-cents. I thought I would love the frozen kind, but the fizzy kind was way better.


7.) Harry Potter merchandise is EXPENSIVE. Don’t fall under it’s spell. Okay, you can, but please know that the stuff is truly pricey. DH got a Hogwarts t-shirt for $22, and I opted for a $9 keychain that has my name on it. Something that is free and cool, is that outside the Owl Post under the covered pavilion stands an employee who will stamp your postcards with the official Hogsmeade postmark. Take some stamps with you, and mail off a postcard from there. They do sell Harry Potter stamps there, but they’re $$$. Take your own. The postcards were reasonable at $1 a piece.


8.) Go early, leave early. Go late, stay late. Our first day at the parks we got there at 4 pm. People with kids were leaving the park. YAY! This made it super easy for us to do both Universal Studios + WWoHP (Wizarding World of Harry Potter) in that afternoon and be back to our hotel at 8. The next day we went late, left early, which is a bad idea. We wore ourselves out just trying to get through all the crowds and waiting in line. The last day we went early, did everything, and came back early to rest for Disney.

9.) Take lots of pictures, but also give yourself time to just be. I always had my camera on me, and sometimes it was a little exhausting because I was constantly worried about it. You want great photos, but you also want to relax and have a great time. 🙂


10.) Rest, eat and hydrate. Luckily Universal parks close usually by 8 or 9, so staying super late isn’t an option. Make sure to rest, sleep, and eat. Twice we ate at Mythos at IoA, and it was such a lovely atmosphere, affordable and relaxing. Sure it took longer than just grabbing fast food from a booth, but it’s those moments that make it feel like a vacation. Plus, since we stayed at an off-site partner hotel, we got a discount card to use at Mythos, which made it cheaper than fast food. In City Walk, there’s a Pizza Amore that sells pizza slices for a few bucks, making it a great/quick/cheap lunch. At Margaritaville they have a to-go margarita window…don’t do it. We paid $20 for 2 weak drinks. Ugh. Same with Pat O’Brien’s- the hurricane I bought was terrible. We tried to avoid the City Walk restaurants and took advantage of the TGI Friday’s next to our hotel. They have meals for $5 and a fab late night happy hour.

Hope those tips help! If you have any tips, leave them for everyone to see in the comments section. If you have questions, as always feel free to e-mail me at [email protected]



  1. Pink Coquette
    July 2, 2012 / 2:35 am

    Thanks for sharing the info.Carolineps: I went and checked the 'show my email address' box. Sorry.. I didn't know that that's what it was for.. thanks for letting me know.

  2. jostevenshuws
    July 2, 2012 / 2:30 pm

    Exploring new places on your own is great fun! I simply loved this post! Be it Orlando or New Jersey, weddings remain one of the biggest events in a person’s life. Wedding Planning

  3. AJH
    July 2, 2012 / 6:11 pm

    Yay! Great post! My husband and I are planning a trip to Orlando in November and all this information is so useful! Thank you for taking the time to write it! 🙂

  4. alicia
    July 2, 2012 / 8:37 pm

    Thanks for the AMEX tip! If I buy tickets online, does that count for the perks?

  5. Katie
    April 23, 2013 / 9:51 pm

    These are awesome tips. I was born and raised in Orlando (living in Cocoa Beach now, which is just as awesome as Orlando!) and I was fortunate enough to grow up going to Universal/Disney and one of the first people to go to IOA! City walk is a little over rated, but also look into the dining and entertainment discounts if you're wanting to explore City Walk. I often would purchase the movie and dinner deal which was almost half of buying then separate. Also, at IOA, Jurassic Park restaurant has a huge menu and its pretty affordable as well 🙂 but definitely spend the time/money and have lunch rather than snacks and drinks throughout the day; that's terribly expensive!