While visiting a theme park is always an expensive proposition, there is definitely one way that Universal helps take the pressure off of your wallet or purse, and that is with its refillable cup programs and Coke Freestyle stations.
Even though these are popular and heavily-used programs, guests consistently have questions about them because of significant changes over the last few years and some misinformation that’s out there. The purpose of this page is to explain each program in full and let you know how to best take advantage of them!
Keep reading to start with the “classic” refill program, or you can skip down to Coke Freestyle.
How Universal Orlando’s discount refill programs work
In this show there are three stars. Without further adieu, allow us to introduce you to Universal’s refillable souvenir popcorn bucket and Universal’s classic refillable souvenir cup (first photo), and the new star on the scene, Universal’s Coke Freestyle cup (second photo):
Because Universal’s refillable popcorn bucket and classic souvenir cup programs have been around for years, we will explain them first, then we will explain the newer Coke Freestyle program right afterwards. Let’s get started…
At many locations throughout Universal’s theme parks, you are able to purchase a souvenir popcorn bucket and souvenir cup. The popcorn bucket costs $5.99, plus tax, and the cup costs $9.58.
Once you have purchased either product, you can receive discounted refills forever at any participating location. Refills for popcorn are $1.29, plus tax, and refills for soda are $1.19, plus tax. (You also receive discounted refills of slushies, Icees, and some Wizarding World of Harry Potter beverages, but we’ll get into these details a little further down this page.)
The classic souvenir soda cups can be refilled at virtually any permanent beverage counter, quick-service restaurant, or full-service restaurant inside the parks. In other words, really the only places that can’t fill them up are the beverage carts – but you can’t get fountain drinks at these, anyway. To find a participating refill location, all you have to do is look for the red bubble sign displayed in this photo:
There are actually a few counters that will give you discounted soda refills that do not have the red sign. Bottom line: if the venue is inside the theme parks and it sells fountain drinks, you should be able to get a discounted refill – just ask!
For popcorn, there are four locations at each theme park where you can get discounted refills. To find these locations, look for the big popcorn machines:
Yes, you really can refill the soda cups and popcorn buckets forever
Let’s go ahead and address one of the biggest sources of confusion: yes, you really can refill popcorn buckets and classic souvenir cups forever. This is a source of confusion because, right on the red souvenir cups, it states that they are good for refills on the day of purchase only. I don’t know why the cups have this printed on them, because it simply is not true. You can bring back the popcorn buckets and classic souvenir soda cups day after day, week after week, year after year and still get discounted refills (at least, until the current policy changes).
It’s important to note that the day-after-day usage is not a loophole, and you are not breaking the rules by doing so. Any Universal team member who works in the parks will tell you that you can bring back your popcorn buckets and classic souvenir cups again and again, no questions asked. So there’s no need to feel like you’re “breaking the law” by doing this, and if you start talking to folks who’ve visited Universal before, you’ll quickly find out that it’s a very common practice.
And that, our friends, is the program for popcorn buckets and the classic souvenir soda cups – clean and simple, at least on the outset. But it does get complicated once you start to dig a little more deeply, so let’s look at some questions…
What counts as a classic souvenir soda cup?
Turns out this is another big source of confusion because Universal actually sells many different souvenir soda cups. The red ones pictured above are the most obvious, for sure, but Universal also sells a variety of character cups. Here is a shot of the Transformers and Despicable Me versions:
The reason why you see many more red soda cups sold than character cups is because character cups cost more – you gotta pay a premium if you want to show off your love of Despicable Me‘s Minions through your beverage container. But refills still cost the same – $1.19, plus tax.
Does my butterbeer mug count?
Good question, and the answer is yes, it does. If you purchase a souvenir butterbeer mug, it can be used for discounted soda refills at all the same locations where the classic red souvenir soda cups can be used. A good rule of thumb is, if you paid more than $8.99 for your non-alcoholic beverage cup, you will be able to use it for discounted refills. Here’s a shot of the souvenir butterbeer mug:
Can I use my souvenir cup for discounted butterbeer refills?
This is a question many Muggles want to know, and, unfortunately, the answer is no – there is no such thing as discounted butterbeer refills. It doesn’t matter what kind of cup you have; if you want butterbeer, you are paying full price. (I should note that Preferred and Premier passholders can get their standard beverage discount on butterbeer if they purchase it inside The Three Broomsticks, Hog’s Head, or anywhere in Diagon Alley.)
Now, this answer confuses some guests, because Universal sells butterbeer in two different style cups: the souvenir cup pictured above and a disposable plastic cup. If you purchase frozen butterbeer in the souvenir cup, you will pay $12.99, plus tax. After you slam your butterbeer and bring it back for a refill, you will be charged $4.99, plus tax. But this is not a discounted refill price; $4.99 is the price you pay for frozen butterbeer in the plastic disposable cup. So, while you are, indeed, paying less than you did for your original butterbeer in a souvenir cup, you are not getting a refill discount – you’re just paying the disposable-cup price that everyone else pays who doesn’t want a souvenir cup. (If you want to save a little more money, regular butterbeer is a buck less than frozen. Also, it’s worth noting that the souvenir butterbeer mug can be purchased without butterbeer for $9.00, plus tax.)
Can I use my souvenir cup for discounted refills of Pumpkin Juice, Pumpkin Fizz, Fishy Green Ale, etc.?
We’re sorry to say it, but you cannot. Pumpkin Juice, Pumpkin Fizz, and the other “branded” Harry Potter drinks are always full price, just like we described above with butterbeer. So, even if you have a souvenir cup, you pay what everyone else pays.
However, you can use your souvenir butterbeer cup or any other souvenir mug for discounted refills on the generic beverages sold inside the Wizarding World, which include tea, lemonade, and cider.
What can you tell me about the Hog’s Head mug? Can I use it for discounted refills?
In addition to the butterbeer souvenir mug, guests can also purchase a souvenir Hog’s Head mug:
But we’re afraid we’ve got more bad news: the souvenir Hog’s Head mug cannot be used for discounts on anything, period. No draft beer refill discount, no soda refill discount, no nothing.
In addition, you cannot order a butterbeer at Hog’s Head and get it in a Hog’s Head mug instead of the regular butterbeer mug. (Turns out that the Hog’s Head mug is actually bigger – 20 oz. verses 16 oz.). So, is there any point in paying $11.49 with tax to get a Hog’s Head mug if you don’t care about the beer? About the only reason we can suggest is that the Hog’s Head mug has the cool Wizarding World insignia, but it is a bit tough to see.
The butterbeer souvenir mug just has the butterbeer insignia on both sides.
Can I get discounted refills on the Simpsons specialty drinks?
At The Simpsons‘s Fast Food Blvd, you’ll find a slew of specialty drinks, including Buzz Cola and Flaming Moes. However, like you’ve seen with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the “branded” Simpsons drinks are not available as part of the discount refill program. But do keep in mind Coke soda fountain drinks are served at Moe’s Tavern and all the Fast Food Blvd venues, so you still have a chance to get a discount soda refill.
What else can I get discounted refills on with the classic souvenir cup?
Soda is what you need if you only want to pay $1.19 plus tax for a refill. However, with a souvenir cup, you can get a percentage discount on a few other beverages around the park. As we mentioned above, inside the Wizarding World you can get discounted refills of tea, lemonade, and cider. Outside of the Wizarding World, discounts are also available for slushies and Icees. Here is a picture of our butterbeer cup refilled with a lemon slushy for $3.19, with tax (the discount worked out to about 70 cents, or 20% off):
So, now we bet you are wondering: “Well, can I get the same slushy discount using one of the big red cups?” Yes, you can. You’ll get five scoops of lemon slushy goodness, and you’ll be charged the same $3.19, with tax.
If you are looking for a deluxe iced beverage, then head to a stand selling Icees. You can get your entire cup refilled with a blue or red Icee for $2.99, plus tax, which is a dollar off the regular price.
Do I have to pay if I just want water?
Nope – you don’t have to pay anything for water refills, so this is a great way to save money and actually get some hydration for your body. You can get free water refills at about most beverage carts and kiosks, all restaurants, and any of a dozen water fountains around the park – plus, you even get free water refills using any cup at the Coke Freestyle machines.
Keep in mind that you’re getting what may be referred to as “tap water,” not bottled water, but, on a hot day, it’ll taste just fine. Or bring a water enhancer like MiO or Crystal Light Liquid to make that free cup of water even better!
Can I use my Coke Freestyle cup for 99-cent refills?
We haven’t talked much about Coke Freestyle yet, but in case you’ve studied ahead, you may be wondering if you can use a Coke Freestyle cup for 99-cent refills. After all, we did say that a good rule of thumb is, if you paid more than $8.99 for your non-alcoholic beverage cup, you will be able to use it for discounted refills.
Unfortunately, the answer is no. Universal has made a policy decision to keep the two programs separate. For those who have studied this topic in the past, please note that this is a more recent change.
How does the Universal Dining Plan fit into all of this?
It doesn’t. Both of Universal’s dining plans offer their own beverage credits – you cannot purchase a dining plan without them. So, if you also purchase a classic souvenir cup, you’re essentially forfeiting your dining plan beverage credits. (Of course, you can still use your beverage credits if you want, but in many cases they become redundant.)
If you’d like to learn more about Universal’s dining plans, click here.
Can I get “flavored” popcorn at the discounted rate?
Oh, you’re getting hungry again? As you recall, the souvenir popcorn buckets can be refilled for $1.29, plus tax. However, this rate is just for the standard buttered popcorn coming out of the big machines. Universal also sells flavored popcorn, like caramel and cheddar, at a few spots around the parks, but if you want to splurge on flavor, you’ll need to pay full price.
Can I use the souvenir popcorn buckets and cups I buy at one theme park over at the other?
What about Volcano Bay?
Universal’s new water theme park does offer its own refillable cup, but it doesn’t have any popcorn machines, so bringing your popcorn bucket won’t get you anything (unless you want to make sand castles with it). It should be noted, however, that an Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure refillable cup can work at Volcano Bay, or vice versa, so that’s definitely something.
Can I get refills at CityWalk or the on-site hotels?
For soda refills, yes, you can get the discount at any walk-up concession stand in CityWalk and a few other locations, like Cinnabon and Red Oven Pizza Bakery. You can even get the discount at the very last concession stand on your way out, in the parking rotunda:
However, there are no discounted popcorn refills at CityWalk, nor are there discounted refills of soda or popcorn at Universal’s on-site hotels. We should note that Cabana Bay Beach Resort does have its own soda refill program, but its cups do not work for discounts anywhere at Universal’s parks or CityWalk, and vice versa.
Do the soda cups leak?
Yes, they do, but let us explain. The lids screw on very tightly, so nothing will leak from that connection. On the other hand, the lid design includes two straw holes. This is great for storing the straw when not in use (you just bend the one end back and into the second hole), but when the straw is in use, that also means the second hole is wide open. In addition, while the straw fits snugly into the lid holes thanks to its ribbed design, it is by no means a watertight fit – even if the straw is tucked into both holes, soda will still leak out.
What if I need a new straw or lid?
Universal will replace straws and lids at no charge. Just ask at a participating concession stand.
Are the cups and buckets dishwasher-safe?
Maybe. We were able to wash the cups (both the red one and the butterbeer one) and the popcorn bucket in our dishwasher multiple times without a problem. However, we have heard from other fans that their red cups have melted in the dishwasher. So, if you want to be safe, hand-wash these items.
Coke Freestyle at Universal Orlando
There is a second refillable program at Universal, and it’s ready to quench your thirst in over 100 different ways…
The Coke Freestyle program, like the classic souvenir soda cup program described above, is quite simple on the outset. But, again, once we start digging into the details, it gets a little sticky. So let’s talk about what, exactly, Coke Freestyle is, how Universal’s refill program works, and how it compares to the classic souvenir cup program.
First, what is Coke Freestyle? Basically, what Coke has done is create a super soda fountain machine, stocked it full of dozens of drink products, reduced the nozzles down to a single dispenser, and given you full control to fill up your cup as you please.
The machines are a breeze to use: put your cup in place, push back if you want ice, then make your drink selections using the touchscreen and work your magic devising the perfect drink combination. Here’s a short video:
The Coke Freestyle refill program features different pricing points. If you want to purchase one, it will cost you $12.99, plus tax. If you purchase two, it will cost you $11.99 each, plus tax. Finally, if you want to purchase three to six, it will cost you $9.99 each, plus tax. All of the cups must be purchased at once to receive the discount. No matter how many cups you choose to purchase, the cup(s) entitles you to unlimited free refills at any Coke Freestyle station at any of the three parks for the day. If you already have a cup, extra days are $5.99, plus tax.
We’re sure you’re wondering exactly what you can dispense from one of these Coke Freestyle machines. Well, believe it or not, there are simply too many options to list here, but you can learn about it all on the Coke Freestyle website.
Update: beginning with the 2015 season, Coke Freestyle is available during Halloween Horror Nights.
There are Coke Freestyle stations at many locations across both theme parks, including these quick-service restaurants:
- USF – Classic Monsters Cafe (quick-service restaurant in Production Central)
- USF – the food stand directly outside Classic Monsters Cafe
- USF – Louie’s Italian Restaurant (quick-service restaurant in New York)
- USF – Mel’s Drive-In (quick-service restaurant in Hollywood)
- USF – Richter’s Burger Co. (quick-service restaurant in San Fransisco)
- USF – Kid Zone Pizza Co. (quick-service outdoor restaurant in Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone)
- IOA – Comic Strip Cafe (quick-service restaurant in Toon Lagoon)
- IOA – The Burger Digs (quick-service restaurant in Jurassic Park)
- IOA – Circus McGurkus (quick-service restaurant in Seuss Landing)
- IOA – Oasis Coolers (stand-alone food and beverage kiosk in The Lost Continent)
- IOA – Captain American Diner (quick-service restaurant in Marvel Super Hero Island)
- IOA – The Watering Hole (outdoor bar in Jurassic Park)
- IOA – Pizza Predatoria (quick-service outdoor restaurant in Jurassic Park)
- VB – Kohola Reef Restaurant & Social Club (quick-service restaurant in Wave Village)
- VB – Whakawaiwai Eats (quick-service restaurant in River Village)
- VB – Bambu (quick-service restaurant in Rainforest Village)
In addition to the restaurants, Universal has expanded its Coke Freestyle locations considerably since the beginning of the program in 2012, and you can now find “free standing” stations around the parks, such as these in Port of Entry and Seuss Landing at Islands of Adventure:
In Universal Studios Florida, there is one near Men in Black: Alien Attack and just before both sides of London. In Islands of Adventure, there is also one at the end of Port of Entry at the dining reservation cart, and Cool Bones in Jurassic Park.
It’s worth noting that there are no Coke Freestyle stations inside The Wizarding World of Harry Potter (Hogsmeade or Diagon Alley), The Simpsons‘s Fast Food Blvd, or any of Universal’s full-service restaurants. In addition, there are no Coke Freestyle stations at CityWalk or any of Universal’s on-site hotels (at least, that work with the in-park program). But, aside from these areas, you will never be too many paces away from the next Coke Freestyle station as you’re walking around the parks.
Now that you know the basics for the Coke Freestyle program at Universal Orlando, you may already have identified some differences between it and the classic souvenir cup refillable program. Let’s get to the questions…
I can really only use the Coke Freestyle cup for the day?
Yes and no.
We say “yes” because the Coke Freestyle cups can only be used the day you purchase them for free refills at the Coke Freestyle stations. Universal is able to track this because each cup has an RFID chip inside it (RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification). The first time you use your cup, the Coke Freestyle station registers it using the RFID chip for use that day. If you return days later with the same cup, the station will read the chip, see that it’s expired, and it will not dispense what you desire.
We say “no” because you have the option of purchasing additional days of Coke Freestyle access for the discounted price of $5.99, plus tax. (Note: the days do not have to be consecutive.)
Are refills really free?
When using the Coke Freestyle stations, yes, they are. Unlike the classic souvenir soda cup program, in which you pay $1.19 for a refill, with the Coke Freestyle cups you get unlimited refills at no additional charge. Better yet, you don’t have to wait for a Universal team member to fill the cup – you can just walk up to any Coke Freestyle station and do it yourself!
But won’t it be a madhouse waiting in the Coke Freestyle line?
Despite the benefits of this program, and the freedom of the Coke Freestyle concept, these cups are not immensely popular. So, you may encounter some waits during the lunch or dinner rush, but nothing that should stop you from buying in. And, remember, there are several “free standing” stations available, too.
I don’t care about the “freestyle” part – I just want my Diet Coke straight. Should I skip Coke Freestyle?
Just because you have a Coke Freestyle cup doesn’t mean you need to get all crazy with your drinks – you can use the machine however you’d like. So, if that means you just want to drink one product, not mixed with any others, you are “free” to do so. The advantages explained above remain the same.
Since I refill my Coke Freestyle cup myself, can I just buy one and fill my friends’ plastic cups all day long?
Nope… or, at least, not conveniently. The machines track when you fill your cup, and once your refill is done, you have to wait 10 minutes before you can use any of the machines again.
Once the 10 minutes is up, you can get another free refill – so, if your group is willing to wait 10 minutes a time for refills, then we suppose you could share. But we don’t know how long you’ll really want to be hanging out in the restaurants.
How does the Universal Dining Plan fit into all of this?
It doesn’t. Both of Universal’s dining plans offer their own beverage credits – you cannot purchase a dining plan without them. So, if you also purchase a Coke Freestyle cup, you’re essentially forfeiting your dining plan beverage credits. (Of course, you can still use your beverage credits if you want, but, in many cases, they become redundant.)
If you’d like to learn more about Universal’s dining plans, click here.
If refills are free, why would I ever want to purchase the classic souvenir soda cup?
There are two major trade-offs with the Coke Freestyle program:
- To use the cup for multiple days, you must purchase access again each additional day for $5.99
- You can only get refills at the Coke Freestyle machines (several stations per park, but none at CityWalk or the on-site hotels that can be used with the in-park program)
If you purchase the classic souvenir soda cup, you may have to pay $1.19 per refill, but…
- You can use your cup for multiple days (or years, until Universal changes the policy)
- You can use it at 50+ locations throughout both parks and CityWalk, including the full-service restaurants
- It can be used for discounts on multiple beverage options – soda, ice tea, slushies, Icees, cider, etc – just not at the Coke Freestyle machines
And that, our friends, describes the major decision you must make between the programs. With Coke Freestyle, you don’t have to pay for refills and you get to use their groovy machines to blend the perfect drink. But your refill locations are not overly abundant, and you only get one day of refills with your initial purchase. With the classic souvenir cup program, you do need to pay for individual refills, but you can get those discounted refills virtually anywhere inside the parks and CityWalk, and you can use the cups forever (again, until Universal changes the policy).
Whether you are visiting Universal Orlando’s theme parks once or for multiple times year after year, the refillable programs can work out to be a great deal. Now, should you really be drinking all that soda and eating all that popcorn? Well, that’s a discussion to have after you get home from vacation!
Refillable cups and popcorn buckets at Universal – photo gallery
Click any image to view it full-screen. When the full-screen image is open, click to the right to advance through the gallery.
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