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Universal Orlando's Dining Plans - complete guide & tips to save money

OI Center




Welcome to the OI guide to Universal Orlando’s Dining Plans, two separate and distinct programs now offered at Universal Orlando Resort.

 

Debuting November 2, 2013, the Universal Dining Plan – Quick Service, or UDP-QS for short, is available to all guests visiting Universal’s theme parks. UPD-QS offers quick-service and snack options, and replaces the classic Universal Meal Deal.

 

Debuting July 1, 2013, the Universal Dining Plan, or UDP for short, is available only to guests booking Universal vacation packages. UPD offers table-service, quick-service, and snack options.

 

We now present a complete look at the details of both plans, followed by expert analysis and tips on how to get the most out of them.

 

Universal Dining Plan – Quick Service (available to all guests)
Accepted at over 100 locations throughout Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, and Universal CityWalk, the UDP-QS allows guests to pre-purchase dining credits for use during their day at the parks.

 

How is it purchased? The UDP-QS is available for purchase online at UniversalOrlando.com, at Dining Reservation kiosks in the parks and CityWalk, and all quick-service locations inside Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure.

 

What is included? Guests receive one of each of the following items per day from participating locations:

  • One quick-service meal (entree and non-alcoholic beverage)
  • One snack
  • One additional non-alcoholic beverage
Price and restrictions: $19.99 for adults, $12.99 for children ages (3 to 9; children must order their quick-service meal credit from the kids menu at participating locations).

 

How is it redeemed? Each guest is provided with a plastic dining card, similar to a credit card, which they must present to a cashier at check-out.

 

Where can it be used? The UDP-QS can be used at virtually every quick-service restaurant and food & beverage kiosk inside Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure. In addition, select locations at CityWalk also accept UDP-QS credits, including Starbucks, Cinnabon, Bread Box, and Hot Dog Hall of Fame.

 

To determine which selections can be ordered at any location, simply look for the “UD” symbol. Here you see that the pizza combo and slices can be ordered as a quick-service credit:

 

Posted Image

 

Exception: There are two in-park dining locations that don’t show the “UD” designation. These are USF’s Simpsons Fast Food Blvd and IOA’s Three Broomsticks. However, this is not much of a problem, since practically everything offered at these two restaurants is available on the dining plan. Still, it’s a good idea to ask before you order.

 

Where can’t it be used? Perhaps most notably, the UDP-QS meal credit cannot be used at USF’s Leaky Cauldron. The only portion of the UDP-QS that can be used at Leaky Cauldron is the snack credit to purchase a butterbeer. In addition, the UDP-QS cannot be used for any items at Universal’s full-service restaurants, nor can it be upgraded to include full-service meals. In addition, the dining plan does not include any venues at Universal’s on-site hotels.

 

Is the UDP-QS worth it at Universal Studios Florida?
Now we get to the important question. To answer it, let’s look at three examples of how you might use the UDP-QS during a day at Universal Studios Florida. Remember, for an adult the UDP-QS costs $19.99. All the prices on this page exclude tax.

  • Meal: Chicken & Rib Platter from Monsters Cafe $14.29
  • Drink with meal: Regular soda $2.69
  • Snack: Regular Dippin’ Dots $4.99
  • Additional drink: Powerade $3.29
  • Total: $25.26, so we saved $5.27
  • Meal: Chicken Parmesan Platter from Louie’s Italian Restaurant $10.99
  • Drink with meal: Coffee or Hot Chocolate $2.39
  • Snack: Soft Pretzel $3.29
  • Additional drink: Regular soda $2.69
  • Total: $19.36, so we lost $0.63
  • Meal: Soup & Salad from Beverly Hills Boulangerie $7.19
  • Drink with meal: Ice cold milk $2.39
  • Snack: Churro $2.99
  • Additional drink: Bottled water $2.75
  • Total: $15.32, so we lost $4.67
Here’s what we can deduce from these examples: To save a decent amount of money using the Universal Dining Plan – Quick Service, you need to find entrees over $12.00 and snacks over $4.00. Unfortunately, these are somewhat rare. Most entrees cost between $7.99 and $10.99, meaning that, without careful planning, it’s difficult just to break even with this plan. More times than not, you’ll lose money.

 

What’s worse, the plan includes two beverage credits. This is fine if you need them, but many guests enjoy Universal’s popular 99-cent refillable cup program or their newer Coke Freestyle program. If you decide to participate in one of these, your beverage credits as part of your dining plan – which could be worth more than $6.00 – are likely to be useless. In this case, there is no way to break even using the UDP-QS. You can learn more about Universal’s refillable cup and Coke Freestyle programs by clicking here.

 

If you decide to play the odds, you’ll find the most expensive entrees at Universal Studios Classic Monsters Cafe:

  • Chicken & Rib Platter $14.29
  • Rib Platter $15.99
  • Four Layer Lasagna Platter $10.99
And Simpsons Fast Food Blvd:
  • Basket O’ Bait Platter $13.99
  • Battered and Plattered Fish $12.99
  • Clogger Burger Platter $12.99
  • Ribwich Platter $11.99
It’s also worth noting that the most expensive items are certainly not the healthiest.

 

Final reminder: meals at the Leaky Cauldron are not included in the Universal Dining Plan – Quick Service.

 

Is the UDP-QS worth it at Islands of Adventure?
Again, let’s look at three examples of using the UDP-QS during a day at the park:

  • Meal: Spareribs Platter from Three Broomsticks $14.99
  • Drink with meal: Powerade $3.29
  • Snack: Key Lime Pie from Thunder Terrace Falls $4.29
  • Additional drink: Lemonade $3.49
  • Total: $26.77, so we saved $6.07
  • Meal: Famous Dagwood Sandwich from Blondie’s $8.99
  • Drink with meal: Tea $2.29
  • Snack: Frozen butterbeer $4.49
  • Additional drink: Powerade $3.29
  • Total: $19.06, so we lost $0.93
  • Meal: Cheeseburger Patter from Captain America Diner $6.99
  • Drink with meal: Regular soda $2.69
  • Snack: Bacon added to cheeseburger $0.75
  • Additional drink: Coffee $2.29
  • Total: $12.72, so we lost $7.27
As we see in these examples, getting the greatest value out of the Universal Dining Plan – Quick Service is the same story at Islands of Adventure as it is at Universal Studios Florida. To save any actual money, you need to find the most expensive entrees. Otherwise, you’re likely to lose money. Also, the whole thing sinks if you participate in one of Universal’s refillable soda programs.

 

If you decide to play the odds, you’ll find the most expensive options at Thunder Terrace Falls:

  • Chargrilled Ribs Platter $14.99
  • Chicken & Ribs Platter $13.99
  • Smoked Turkey Leg Platter $13.99
And Three Broomsticks:
  • Fish & Chips $12.99
  • Spareribs Platter 14.99
  • Chicken & Ribs Platter $13.99
  • Smoked Turkey Leg Platter $13.99
Do we recommend the UDP-QS?
You’ve seen the numbers, so you know that money can either be saved or lost using the Universal Dining Plan – Quick Service. So, ultimately, do we recommend that you purchase the program?

 

Our answer is “yes” if you think the most expensive options we’ve listed above sound delicious, and you make sure you select one of them as your meal. Then, if you also make sure your snacks are close to or over $4.00, and your beverages are close to or over $3.00, you’ll save money! Purchasing and redeeming your credits at the restaurants can be a little bit of a hassle, but nothing that should deter you from avoiding the program altogether.

 

Our answer is also “yes” if you are interested in pre-purchasing dining credits so you don’t have to worry about that part of your budget at the parks. You may end up losing a little money if you don’t make your menu selections carefully, but for some folks, that is a fair trade for not having to keep a running tally of what everyone is buying. This is even more true if you have teens who want some time to explore on their own, but you don’t want to hand over cash for meals and snacks.

 

Our answer is “no” if you think the most expensive options listed above are not appealing.

 

Our answer is also “no” if you’re interested in eating healthy, as all quick-service dining options, such as salads and veggie burgers, are less than $10.00, ensuring that you’ll lose money with the UDP-QS.

 

Our answer is also “no” if the beverage portion of the plan will not be useful for you. This will be the case if you want to use Universal’s 99-cent refillable cup program or their Coke Freestyle machines. (You can learn more about these drink programs by clicking here.)

 

Finally, our answer is “no” if you just don’t want to plan your snacking and dining ahead of time. If you prefer the idea of buying what you want to buy when you want to buy it, without worrying whether you’re saving or losing money, then this plan is not for you. Chances are, if you don’t seek out the most expensive options as we’ve described, you’ll lose money with the Universal Dining Plan – Quick Service.

 

OI tip If you’re planning to visit Universal for multiple days, I recommend only purchasing one day’s worth of the UDP-QS in advance. As it is non-refundable, and it is the same price whether you purchase it in advance or at the parks, the best approach is to try one day and see how everyone likes it. If it’s a hit, you can easily buy another day’s worth of credits. If it’s not, you don’t have to worry about trying to get a refund for your non-refundable purchase.

 

Always remember… to check your receipt each time you use your UDP-QS card. These programs are relatively new at Universal, so it is not uncommon for cashiers to make mistakes. Also, be ready to be patient, because each member of your family using the UDP-QS needs to be rung up separately.

 

Bringing your own food
This is a good time to quickly discuss a question that many guests have: “Can I just bring my own food to Universal Orlando to save money?”
The resort states that you cannot bring “picnic food” into their parks, implying that only the lightest of snacks are allowed through security. Well, I’m here to tell you that I’ve seen plenty of “picnic food” brought into the parks. I can’t make any guarantees about it since the policy states what it states. All I can tell you is that I go to Universal at least once a week and yes, I see lots of sandwiches and bags of chips coming out of backpacks.
Whatever you do, don’t bring food that needs to be heated, hard-sided coolers, or alcohol.

 

Now, let’s return to our discussion about Universal’s dining plans… Continue to page 2 to read on.






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2 Comments

Photo
DPCummerbund
Mar 01 2015 02:26 PM

Update: Leaky Cauldron is now available for breakfast, lunch, and dinner on the Quick Service Dining Plan.

A quick question about the QS  card, do you have to use it within 14 days of activation like the UDP? Does it have to be used in the same day?