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How Canadians can save at Universal Studios

Sponge Bob greets an excited Canadian guest at Universal Studios. (Miriam Porter)
Sponge Bob greets an excited Canadian guest at Universal Studios. (Miriam Porter)

If you and the kids are dreaming of Harry Potter, Sponge Bob, Minion Mayhem or a trip down memory lane with the world’s favourite alien, E.T., it might be time to visit Universal Orlando. Besides these popular Universal favourites, you definitely want to save a day for Universal’s brand new thrilling and soaking wet adventurous themed water park – Volcano Bay. Here are some financial tips to help you prepare for the big adventure.

1. Stay on Universal resort property

You may think it costs more to stay on Universal property, but when you factor in all the benefits you receive from staying on site you will save in the long run. First off, when staying at an onsite resort such as the brand new Loews Sapphire Falls, you will receive complimentary transportation to the theme parks and Universal CityWalk. Free shuttles (buses and boats) depart the hotel often and will save you money on rental cars, taxis or Uber rides, and you won’t have to pay a single parking fee. Some select on-site resorts such as Loews Portofino Bay Hotel includes Universal Express Unlimited, a savings of approximately $50 dollars per person that allows you to skip the regular lines at Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. By staying on property you receive early park admission one hour before they opens so you can beat the crowds at The Wizarding World of Harry Potter and Volcano Bay. So when researching resorts, do the math and see if it makes sense for you to stay at a resort property. If you decide it’s beneficial and take the plunge, you can save money by eating at cheaper nearby restaurants instead of having every meal at the hotel.

Loews Sapphire Falls bus shuttle to Universal Orlando (Miriam Porter)
Loews Sapphire Falls bus shuttle to Universal Orlando (Miriam Porter)

2. The longer you stay the more you save on your hotel

If you are adamant about only going for a few days, then skip this point. But if you plan on being in Orlando for a week as many families do, you should stay at a hotel that offers discounts for each additional night. The Stay More, Save More deal will save you money at on-site resorts such as Universal’s Cabana Bay Beach Resort and Loews Sapphire Falls when staying for four nights or longer. Depending on when you are traveling, you can save up to 35 per cent with a seven-night stay. The savings kick in after four nights with a 20 per cent savings and 10 per cent savings during peak times. Keep in mind that kids go back to school earlier in Florida versus here in Canada, so starting August 13th you can save up to 20 per cent on a four-night package.

3. Bring your own snacks and treats

If you have food allergies or follow special diets, you’ll already be used to bringing your own food, but it’s also a great way to save money. Just make sure your goodies are packed in soft-sided lunch bags and no glass is allowed in the parks. If you bring snacks and sandwiches with you for lunch you can always eat dinner at Universal CityWalk, just a short walk from the theme parks, or take a free shuttle. With so many restaurants you are likely to find something you will enjoy that is also affordable such as sushi or burritos at Moe’s Southwestern Grill. If you are driving to CityWalk, there is free parking after 6pm.

4. Skip the souvenirs

If you really must give in and get your begging child a Harry Potter, Minion, or Secret Life of Pets souvenir, consider getting them outside the park versus inside at their specialty shops. Or for a cute and inexpensive trinket there are magnetic photo frames in the shape of a movie clapperboard for sale as soon as you exit the E.T. ride in Universal Studios. You can also visit Guest Relations for a free button to commemorate a special occasion or a first visit.

5. Purchase the unlimited soft drinks package

Before you decide you are never paying $15 dollars US for soft drinks and Icees, – consider that it’s 40 degrees Celsius, the hot sun is shining, and you are very thirsty. Not to mention, you don’t want to lug around multiple bottles on rides all day. If you are purchasing drinks for your family while inside Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure you are going to be spending money anyhow, so why not get unlimited fountain refills and drink as much as you want? The Coca-Cola freestyle Souvenir Cup gives you a full day of unlimited freestyle beverages including Icees at select locations throughout the park. Just bring your reusable cup to one of many refill stations, place it under the dispenser, and pick your favourite drink from over 100 options. You will be quenching your thirst around every corner. And hey, the cup is an automatic souvenir of your trip.

6. Take your own photos

Chances are you are traveling with your cell phone (and using the Universal app to navigate the rides and attractions, of course!). Universal has professional photographers to capture all the highlights of your day with the My Universal Photos program, but if you want to save money, take a few selfies on your own device with the famous globe in the background. Or if photography is really not your thing and you don’t want your precious memories to be blurry and photo-bombed, at least order the photo package online before your trip to save $10 dollars on the three-day photo deal.

7. Purchase the three-park ticket package to use over three days

If you plan on going to all three outstanding theme parks purchase the three-day park package because it’s definitely the best deal. You will get to ride the Hogwarts Express between Hogsmeade Station and King’s Cross Station with a park-to-park ticket. However to save even more, the one park per day option is a bit cheaper than visiting all parks at any time you choose. You will also save $20 dollars off the front gate price on multi-day tickets when you buy your tickets online. Also with multi-day ticket purchases you will receive a coupon booklet with up to $150 dollars in savings at restaurants and shops at Universal.

Universal's Volcano Bay (Miriam Porter)
Universal’s Volcano Bay (Miriam Porter)

Feel free to add your own financial tips for Universal Orlando in the comments!