R2R Heads to Universal Studios Orlando

R2R is going to Orlando! Our annual family vacation will be spent at Universal Studios for 4 days at 3 parks. We will be staying at on-site hotels, and have 2 days with Universal express unlimited tickets, allowing us to skip the lines. Here’s a breakdown of our costs.

1.)  Admission Tickets

We are doing a 3-park-4-day ticket. Universal Studios just opened it’s newest park, Volcano Bay, this summer. Purchasing tickets online would have cost us a total of $1244.96. We were able to get the discounted military tickets for a total of $874 for 3 adults and 1 child. I saved up our credit card rewards points, and was able to cash out $522.74 to apply to our tickets, bringing our total to $351.26.  You may not be eligible for a military discount, but check and see if you qualify for other discounts. Universal offers a Florida resident discount, and if you buy your tickets online instead of at the gate, you can save up to $20 per ticket.  Take advantage of your credit card rewards.  We use our credit cards to make purchases we would otherwise make with cash. We pay them off in full each month.  If you can’t do this, then don’t get a credit card.  The interest you would pay would not balance out the rewards. We have a separate checking account that we deposit our rewards cash in, which we use towards our annual vacation.

2.) Universal Express Unlimited Tickets

These tickets make a huge difference on a sunny, hot, and humid Florida day. Spending our time waiting in lines is not how we want to spend our vacation. We are able to get 2 days with universal express unlimited tickets.  These passes allow us to skip the long lines, which means more time for rides, and less time standing around in the heat. If you are visiting during peak seasons, I highly recommend these tickets. For 2 days, these passes would cost $679.92 for 4 people. However, if you stay at 1 of 3 on-site resorts , they are free with your stay. When you factor in the cost of the tickets plus still having to pay for lodging, you come out ahead just staying on-site.

3.) Lodging

If you stay at Loews Royal Pacific, Loews Portofino Bay, or the Hard Rock Hotel, your family will get free unlimited express tickets, allowing you to skip the lines. Most people don’t realize that you get the passes for the day you check-in and for the day you check-out. This means that by staying just one night, you can get two days of unlimited express passes (a $679.92 savings for a family of 4).  Since Volcano Bay does not do express passes, we only needed the passes for the other 2 parks for the first 2 days. There’s no need to stay at their expensive hotel for days we wouldn’t be using the express passes. To get the most for our money, we are staying at Loews Royal Pacific for 1 night, and then swapping to their value resort, Cabana Bay, for the next 3 nights. The total cost for this would be $1044.03, but with the military discount, comes out to $767.24. We also signed up for the Capital One Venture card, since we were looking for a flexible travel card, and received their 40,000 bonus miles. This saved us another $400, bringing our total for lodging to $367.24.  Look for specials or discounts when booking. Try to be flexible in your dates. Weekdays and off-season always tend to be the cheapest. If you’re traveling during the off-season, you won’t need the express passes, and could stay at an off-site hotel. If you are traveling during peak season, plan ahead, and take advantage of your credit card rewards.

4.) Food

We budget around $75 per day for food, which is a total of $300 for 4 days for 4 people. We do this by purchasing kids meals for everyone at quick service restaurants, or splitting meals.  The kids meal portions are perfect for us, and a lot of times aren’t far from the adult portions. Kids meals run about $6.99, which comes out to $55.92 for two meals for a family of four per day. Another option is to buy a double cheeseburger, and request an extra bun. Some places will have a burger station where you can add all of your own toppings. You get two burgers for the price of one. We also pack our own water canisters and refill them throughout the park.  This saves a lot on drinks, as drinks tend to run about $2.99.  If we don’t pack breakfast, we can usually get breakfast at one of the quick service restaurants for under $20 for all 4 us. Beware of the dining plan. It would have cost us $431.84 for 4 days. The plan included just one meal, a snack, and unlimited coke products each day.  Throw in the costs of 2 additional meals each day, and you can see how this would have more than doubled our food budget.

5.) Transportation

We actually don’t have any transportation costs associated with our trip. This is because our travel expenses are covered as work-related costs for my husband’s job, so we are reimbursed the costs of fuel. Transportation costs will vary for everyone, depending on how far you’re traveling, and if you’re driving or flying. In the past, we have utilized credit card rewards for flights. We are usually able to get 2 free round trip tickets using our rewards, leaving us to pay for 2 tickets. I’ve found that flying on Tuesdays tend to be cheaper than other days, so try to be flexible for the best deal. Driving has always been the most economical form of travel for us.

6.) Souvenirs

We don’t budget for souvenirs. Our kids have their own checking and savings account, so if they want any souvenirs, they know to use their own money. Since they are using their own money, they tend to stay away from over-priced items. They are very careful in what they buy, and most of the time end up settling for a few pressed pennies and a memorable pin. My daughter has started collecting pins from all of the places that we visit, and she has held on to those much longer than she would any stuffed animal. The photos I take serve as my souvenirs, which I add to our annual scrapbook.

The total cost for our vacation comes out to $1018.50, or $84.88 per month. The total cost without our savings would have been $3309.83.  If we splurged on 4 nights at the Royal Pacific, went out to a fancy dinner each night, and bought plane tickets and souvenirs, you could see how this cost could easily more than double.  A good vacation doesn’t have to cost over $6,000. We are still enjoying perks like skipping the lines, and staying at an on-site hotel, but with much less costs.  Beware of vacation brain. Vacations not only relax our mind and body, but they tend to relax our wallet as well. Enjoy yourself, but stick to your budget, and still make it a habit to avoid wasteful spending.

2 thoughts on “R2R Heads to Universal Studios Orlando

  1. Great tips!! My family of 4 adults (me, sister, and parents) decided to celebrate 60th and 30th birthdays with a trip to Universal Orlando several years ago. We looked to cut costs as well, and discovered if you have retired or active duty military staying in each room, you get the discount. I put one room in my name (active duty) and one room in dad’s name (retired) to save costs for all 4 of us. We also discovered these cards at the in-park restaurants (is that the dining plan you mentioned?) The cards worked for us because you could choose several options, like entrees and drinks, and we were particularly interested in things like the Butterbeer and the crazy drinks at the Leaky Cauldron. It saved us some money because the entrees were rather expensive but could easily feed several people (we eat lightly when riding roller coasters during the day) so we paid a flat fee for the card and then split the largest entree and saved a few bucks, all by purchasing the dining card while in line for food. Staying on site in the hotels also offered some discounts and perks at the restaurants outside the parks. Plus a free water taxi to take between the park and hotel to save time and tired feet! The souveniers outside the park were often the same or very similar to inside the park, but less crowded and usually better prices. We went in early November, which meant perfect weather and small crowds, and with the express tickets and free smartphone app to determine wait times in line, our longest wait was 5 minutes in express lines and 30 minutes for rides without express!

    • I really do love all of the perks you get from staying on-site. That’s a really great idea about splitting the large entrees with the dining plan. I had never even thought about that. I’m definitely going to look into that. Are you able to get the crazy drinks with the dining plan card?

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