Complete guide to the Universal Dining Plans

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.

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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. You can view the complete list of available locations on this handy PDF file.

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:

Universal Dining Plan - Quick Service: Menu selections.

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…

 

Universal Dining Plan (available only to vacation package guests)

The Universal Dining Plan, or UDP for short, is available as an add-on to any vacation package booked through Universal Parks & Resorts Vacations or an authorized third-party seller, like a AAA travel agent. The cost of the Universal Dining Plan is $51.99 + tax for adults and $17.99 + tax for children (age 3 to 9) – gratuities not included.

The Universal Dining Plan is NOT available for purchase at the parks.

To see exactly how the plan works and where it’s accepted, Universal provides a handy PDF file, part of which you can see here:

Universal Dining Plan - Summer 2014.

This is for visual reference – to download the full PDF file, click here.

Summer 2014 update: The adult price increased from $45.99 to $51.99 (the child price stayed the same). Also, USF’s Leaky Cauldron has been added as a table service meal credit option. Finally, also added to the list of participating restaurants are CityWalk’s Margaritaville, Red Oven Pizza Bakery, Antojitos Authentic Mexican Food, and VIVO Italian Kitchen.

Please note that a table service credit may be used for the Superstar Breakfast at Universal Studios Florida (reservations required, call 407-224-7554; for some reason this option is not listed on the form above but is definitely available). A table service credit may also be used for the Cinematic Spectacular Dining Experience at Lombard’s Grille for an upcharge of $20.00 for adults and $7.00 for children.

 

Is the UDP worth it?

The very first thing to consider when answering this question is whether or not you would like to eat full-service meals during your visit – and if so, do the full-service restaurants you’re interested in accept the program (see above)? Please note that no venues at Universal’s on-site hotels participate.

The next thing to consider is Universal’s refillable soda programs. The UDP includes three beverage credits, so again, if you buy one of the parks’ drink programs, you basically lose the value of your beverage credits.

If you’ve considered these two points and the UDP still sounds like a possibility, then it’s time to consider the benefits. First, as we explained with the UDP-QS, this plan provides you with a way to pre-pay for your dining, so that will be one less budget to worry about while you’re traveling. Then it comes down to a matter of pricing.

If you follow the advice from our UPD-QS section above, you’ll be able to use about $20.00 of your dining plan’s value on the quick-service meal, the snack, and the one additional beverage. That leaves around $30.00 for your table service (or full-service) credit, which covers an entree, non-alcoholic beverage, and dessert. $30.00 is a good “average” price for purchasing these three items a la carte at Universal’s full-service restaurants. This means, if you choose wisely, you can definitely save some money with the UPD. On the other hand, if you’re not paying attention, you’re just as likely to lose money – particularly if you use your full-service credit to eat at Leaky Cauldron, which really is a quick-service restaurant whose average entree cost around $12.00

What if I can get free dining as part of a Universal vacation package?

Like Disney’s free dining, this is a promotion that Universal periodically offers. If you’re considering it, just keep in mind that, like Disney, Universal may just be hiding the price of the dining plan in the hotel room rate (or another portion of the vacation package). So it’s always best to get a price quote for the exact same package, with and without the “free” dining. Then you’ll see what you’re really paying.

OI tip Make a note, should you decide to purchase the UDP, you do not need to use all your credits on a daily basis. Rather, you have 14 days to use all the credits you’ve purchased. You’ll find this useful if, for example, you’d like to do the Superstar Breakfast (which requires a table service credit) on the same day you’d also like to eat at CityWalk’s VIVO Italian Kitchen (which also requires a table service credit). Then the next day, you could use two counter service credits for meals at Universal’s quick-service restaurants.

OI tip If you purchase the UDP, it’s a good idea to make reservations for your full-service meals. All the information you need is on our Reservations page.

Always remember… to check your receipt each time you use your UDP 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 needs to be rung up separately for snacks and quick-service meals.

 

Readers: If you have an experience with either Universal Dining Plan you’d like to share, join us on the OI Forums – we’d love to hear about it.

 

Food photos!

How could we possibly talk about all the different restaurants and dining options at Universal’s theme parks without showing you some photos of the food? We can’t, so please enjoy these images in no particular order:

Krusty Burger at Simpsons Fast Food Blvd.

Krusty Burger at Simpsons Fast Food Blvd (USF).

Veggie pizza at Louie's Italian Restaurant (USF).

Veggie pizza at Louie’s Italian Restaurant (USF).

Rotisserie Chicken Platter at Classic Monsters Cafe (USF).

Rotisserie Chicken Platter at Classic Monsters Cafe (USF).

Sandwich & potato salad at Beverly Hills Boulangerie (USF).

Sandwich & potato salad at Beverly Hills Boulangerie (USF).

Steak Tacos at Cafe La Bamba (USF).

Steak Tacos at Cafe La Bamba (USF).

Bangers & Mash at the Leaky Cauldron (USF).

Bangers & Mash at the Leaky Cauldron (USF).

Green Eggs and Ham Sandwich at Green Eggs and Ham Cafe (IOA).

Green Eggs and Ham Sandwich at Green Eggs and Ham Cafe (IOA).

Gyro at Fire Eaters Grill (IOA).

Gyro at Fire Eaters Grill (IOA).

Shepard's Pie display at Three Broomsticks (IOA).

Shepard’s Pie display at Three Broomsticks (IOA).

Kids Sweet & Sour Chicken at Comic Strip Cafe (IOA).

Kids Sweet & Sour Chicken at Comic Strip Cafe (IOA).

Famous Dagwood Sandwich at Blondie's (IOA).

Famous Dagwood Sandwich at Blondie’s (IOA).

Kids Cheeseburger Platter at The Burger Digs (IOA).

Kids Cheeseburger Platter at The Burger Digs (IOA).

Butterbeer at the Wizarding World (counts as a snack).

Butterbeer at the Wizarding World (counts as a snack).

 

On the rest of this page we have included our old information covering the classic Universal Meal Deal. Please remember, as of November 2, 2013, the classic Meal Deal is no longer available for purchase.

 

Classic Universal Meal Deal [DISCONTINUED!!!]

Do you know about Universal Orlando’s Meal Deal plan? Even though it is well advertised by Universal, most guests either don’t know about it or don’t really understand it. And it’s surprising too, because the plan is so simple and an incredible value for the right family.

Universal Meal Deal.

Universal Meal Deal.

There are two versions of it: The one-park Meal Deal if you are just visiting one of the Universal Orlando theme parks, either Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure. It costs 24.99 plus tax for the day (half the price for kids 9 and under). The two-park Meal Deal, which is good at both theme parks for the day, is about $29.99 plus with tax (again, half the price for kids 9 and under).

Universal Meal Deal – what you get

With the Meal Deal you get unlimited meals at six participating quick-service restaurants, three in each park — see the restaurant list at the bottom of this page. Unlimited meals mean that each time you walk up to the counter, you can order up to an entree, side, and dessert (in other words, a full meal) without having to pay anything; you just show your Meal Deal wristband. Whether it is five hours later or five minutes later you can return to the counter at the same restaurant or any other participating Meal Deal restaurant and again order up to an entree, side, and dessert. And you can keep ordering as many times as you want. Seriously. The Meal Deal starts at 11:00am for lunch and goes to 30 minutes before each park closes, which will vary day to day.

Universal Meal Deal – why it’s a good deal

The good news is that the Meal Deal really can be one heck of a deal. Realize that the average full meal at a quick-service restaurant will run about $10 to $15. That means the Meal Deal basically pays for itself if you buy two meals. But you don’t just get those two meals, you get UNLIMITED meals! You can eat at 12:30, 1:00, 1:20, 1:25, 3:30, 4:00, 5:40… well, you get the picture.

And consider this: During the busier times the parks are open as late as 10:00pm, 11:00pm, or midnight. That means 11, 12, or even as much as 13 hours of food for around $25. Seriously, that’s an incredible value for food inside a theme park.

Universal Meal Deal – why it may not be a good deal for you

The biggest issue with the Meal Deal is the food. Yes, this is quick-service food, which means it is cafeteria fare, or fast food, similar to McDonald’s. And while there is some variety (rotisserie chicken, pizza, pasta, meat loaf, burgers, hot dogs, salads, etc.), it is all very simple, slap-these-two-things-together, pour-this-over-that-and-serve stuff. Below you will find more information about the food options and several images.

The other issue is the length of time you’ll have to wait in line to get your food. During busier periods the wait times are pretty inconsistent, so they can be as quick as hardly no wait at all, which is common, to wait times up to 20 minutes or longer, which is just as common. The “busyness” of the restaurants is really hit or miss. Of course, avoiding prime eating times — noon, 5:00pm — is always a good strategy for avoiding the longest lines.

If you are visiting when crowd levels are low or moderate, you won’t have to worry about lines at the restaurants. But in this case you do want to be aware of the park closing times. You just don’t get as good of a value out of the Meal Deal when the parks close at 6:00pm.

Universal Meal Deal – what do you think?

So that’s the trade off. It is up to you to decide if it is worth it. While the food is indeed a bit bland and wait times can be annoying — and the whole experience probably wouldn’t be satisfying if you weren’t at a theme park — you are at a THEME PARK!

A few other pointers: First, the price of the Meal Deal does not include any drinks. However, tap water is always free. Otherwise you can purchase drinks a la carte or buy into one of Universal’s refillable drink programs described on this page.

Second, the Meal Deal is available at six restaurants, three in each theme park. This means that it does not include any of the walk-up food & beverage stands throughout the parks, nor does it include any of the full-service restaurants inside the parks, nor any of the restaurants at CityWalk or the on-site hotels.

Third, kids 9 and younger must order from a separate kids menu at each of the Meal Deal locations. While the number of kids meal options are smaller than the number of adult options, the portions are generous — indeed, many of the kids meals are actually the same as the adult meals. An example is the Personal Cheese or Pepperoni Pizzas sold at several of the Meal Deal restaurants.

Finally, certain “specialty items” at the Meal Deal locations are not included, such as the root beer floats at Mel’s Drive-In.

 

Again, please remember that the classic Meal Deal is no longer available for purchase as of November 2, 2013.


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