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Many theme parks offer dining plans, and its often hard to know if it’s worth adding these plans to your vacation package. On my recent visit to Universal Orlando Resort, I was given one day of the full service dining plan to try out and get to know the product. I put the dining plan to the test to help answer the question, is the Universal Dining Plan is worth it?
Is the Universal Dining Plan Worth It?
JULY 2021 UPDATE– As of July 2, 2021, Universal suspended sales of all dining plans. Why? I have no idea! Will the Universal dining plan come back? Hopefully! I will keep this post up with the hopes it will come back at some point.
How To Budget for Food at Universal Orlando without a Dining Plan
Now that the dining plan is no longer offered (as of July 2021) here are some suggestions to help budget and save money on food during your Universal Orlando stay:
- Order groceries from Publix or Amazon Fresh to have a quick breakfast, waters, and snacks in your room.
- You can bring food (snacks/drinks) into the parks. You can also bring a refillable water bottler – there are water fountains all around the parks.
- If you drink alot of soda – consider buying a refillable cup. The price per day goes down the more days you purchase.
- Pre-book your Harry Potter breakfast at Three Broomsticks or Leaky Cauldron (approx. $20 per person) As your Universal Travel Agent, I can do this for you. Go later (930 or 10AM) and then skip lunch.
- Order Ubereats, Door Dash, or delivery pizza to your hotel for a less expensive dinner.
- Pre-purchase Universal gift cards and set those aside for dining. This won’t save you money, but could help you budget for food.
Planning a Universal Orlando vacation is not an easy task. With eight amazing Universal Orlando hotels, various ticket types, and a whole bunch of extras to add on to your vacation, it’s hard to know what to do. Of course, I recommend always booking a Universal trip through a Universal Specialist (like myself) so I can help navigate all those options. I even wrote a great post about planning your trip to Universal Orlando to get you started
Need help planning a trip to Universal? Click the banner below to get started – I give you great service, and no fees! That’s right, you pay the same amount you would by booking directly through Universal, but booking with me means personalized service for every aspect of your trip!
But let’s assume you are already booked, and today we are dissecting the Universal dining plan. Let’s try to figure out if it’s worth adding a dining plan to your Universal vacation.
What does the Universal Dining Plan Include?
Universal Orlando actually offers three different dining plans. Two are available to all ticket holders, and one is exclusive to vacation package guests.
In a nutshell here are the three plans:
- Quick Service Dining Plan – includes one quick service meal (entrée and non-alcoholic beverage), one snack (from carts or quick service locations), and one non-alcoholic beverage from food carts or quick service locations.
- Quick Service Dining Plan with Coca-Cola Freestyle Cup – same as the quick service plan but also includes 1-day refill through the day at the Coca-Cola Freestyle machines.
- Full Service Dining Plan – same as quick service plan, but also includes one full service meal consisting of an entrée, dining plan dessert, and non-alcoholic beverage
Where Can You Use Universal Dining Plan?
The Universal dining plan is meant to be used in the two Universal theme parks and at CityWalk. There are limited food eateries in Volcano Bay and they are only quick service, but you can use your dining credits there.
I think my biggest complaint with the Universal dining plan is that you cannot use it at the onsite hotel restaurants. NOTE: It’s because the hotels are not owned by Universal, so it makes sense, it’s just annoying.
Also, it’s worth noting that the theme parks offer mostly quick service options and the full service restaurants are mainly located at Universal’s City Walk.
How do you buy a Universal Dining Plan?
Anyone can buy days of the quick service plans. Only vacation package guests can purchase the full service dining plan. When I book your Universal trip, I can add days of either (or both) to your vacation package.
Yes, I said “days.”
One of the best things about Universal’s dining plans is that you can add as many or as few days to your package as you would like. You do not have to buy a plan for each day of your stay – making it very flexible!
I also like that each person in your party does not need to buy the same, or any dining plan! You can buy a few days of dining under one guests’ name and everyone can use the meals.
Once you arrive at Universal, your meal entitlements are loaded onto a plastic card (don’t forget your Universal lanyard to hold all your cards) and once you activate your card, you have 14 days to use all of the credits.
That does keep it very simple and offers the guests maximum flexibility!
Is the Universal Dining Plan Worth It?
My answer in short- YES.
Not only can purchasing some dining plan days save you money, it can help you budget for your Universal Orlando vacation.
But let’s see how I fared with using the dining plan at Universal Orlando Resort on my recent stay at Loews Royal Pacific Resort.
I was given one day of the full service dining plan which includes;
🍴 one quick service meal (entree & non-alcoholic drink)
🍴 one full service meal (entree, plan dessert and one non-alcoholic drink)
🍴 one snack
🍴 one beverage
Over the course of a few days, here is what I purchased with my dining plan entitlements:
⭐️ Butterbeer at Islands of Adventure (considered a snack)- $8
⭐️ Powerade at Universal Studios (my drink) – $5
⭐️ Quick Service Lunch at Mel’s Drive-In at Universal Studios. I had a Beyond Burger, fries, and a soft drink – $12.49
⭐️ Full service dinner at BigFire at Universal’s City Walk -I had a New York Strip Steak and a piece of chocolate cake – $45
TOTAL if purchased ala carte: $71.46
COST OF ONE DAY, FULL SERVICE DINING PLAN: $69.21
FULL DISCLOSURE: I let someone else use my dinner credit to maximize the plan- I don’t eat steak! I had actually ordered the Cauliflower Steak, which was only $17. Had I used that as my dining plan entrée, I definitely would have paid more using the dining plan than ala carte.
If I had a quick service dining plan that day and used it for my drink, snack and lunch, I would have paid $25.49 for my food ala carte. One day of the quick service dining plan is only $25.99 + tax. So definitely worth it if you order a more expensive lunch entrée!
Other Information about Universal’s Dining Plans
- One day of the Universal dining plan does not need to be actually used in one day. You actually have 14 days after you activate the card to use your entitlements.
- The Universal Dining Plan does NOT have to be purchased for all days of your trip.
- The Universal Dining Plan does NOT need to be purchased for all folks in your party.
- Kids nine and under can purchase the dining plan at a reduced rate, BUT must order their entrees off the kids’ menu. If your little one has a grown up palette, you can purchase them an adult dining plan (or use your entitlements for their meals).
- With the full service dining plan, gratuity on the sit down meal is not included. The server will give you a bill to show what your meal would have cost, so you can tip appropriately.
- The freestyle cup seems like a great deal for families who love soft drinks. The cups are chipped and can be used at the self-serve machines located all around the parks.
Should You Purchase the Universal Dining Plan?
At the end of the day, I do think buying a few days of the Universal Dining Plan for at least one member of your party is a smart way to budget and save a few bucks on food at Universal.
That way you can use it on more expensive items (like steak and butterbeer) and pay ala carte for the cheaper plant based meals!
I would shy away from planning to eat ALL meals on the dining plan because you can easily do a quick breakfast in your hotel room, you might want to dine at your hotel or one of the many hotel restaurants, or you might want to just order a pizza or Uber Eats one night to save money over constant theme park food.
These dining plans are also are not a good deal if at the end of your trip you are buying stuff you don’t need just to use up your entitlements, so probably better to under purchase the days then over buy them.
As always, I can help you navigate all aspects of your Universal Orlando vacation including whether or not the Universal dining plan is a good choice for your family. I love planning theme park trips and as always, my concierge vacation planning services are totally free.
Have you been to Universal Orlando? Did you buy the dining plan? Tell me about it in the comments!