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Refillable cups, popcorn buckets & Coke Freestyle at Universal

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 their refillable cup programs and Coke Freestyle stations.

Even though these are popular and heavily used programs, guests constantly have questions about them because of many factors. 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 to Coke Freestyle.

 

How Universal Orlando’s discount refill programs work

In this show there are three stars. Without further adieu, allow me 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):

Refillable cups at Universal Studios Florida.

Refillable cups at Universal Studios Florida.

Coke Freestyle program at Universal Orlando.

Coke Freestyle program at Universal Orlando.

The basics

Because Universal’s refillable popcorn bucket and classic souvenir cup programs have been around for years, I will explain them first. Then I will explain the new Coke Freestyle program on our second page. 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 $5.49 plus tax and the cup costs $8.99 plus tax. If you purchase both, the total with tax is $15.43.

Once you have purchased either product, you can receive discounted refills forever at any participating location. Refills for popcorn and soda are 99 cents each plus tax, which works out to $1.05 with tax. (You also receive discounted refills of slushies, ICEEs, and some WWoHP beverages, but I’ll get into these details a little further down this page.)

Refill locations

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 those carts anyway. To find a participating refill location, all you have to do is look for the red bubble sign displayed in this photo:

Refillable cups at Universal Orlando.

Refillable cups at Universal Orlando.

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 they sell fountain drinks, you should be able to get a discounted refill – just ask!

For popcorn, there are four locations at each park where you can get discounted refills. To find these locations, look for the big popcorn machines:

Refillable cups at Universal Studios Florida: Popcorn machine.

Popcorn machine at the front of Universal Studios Florida.

 

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 get discounted refills (at least until the current policy changes).

It is 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 that 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.

 

And that, my 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 deeper, 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 common for sure, but Universal also sells a variety of character cups. Here is a shot of the Transformers and Despicable Me versions:

Refillable cups at Universal Orlando.

Refillable cups at Universal Orlando.

Refillable cups at Universal Orlando.

Refillable cups at Universal Orlando.

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 minions through your beverage container. But refills still cost the same 99 cents 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 that 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:

Refillable cups at Universal Orlando.

Refillable cups at Universal Orlando.

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 & Premier Passholders can get their standard beverage discount on butterbeer if they purchase it inside Three Broomsticks or Hogs Head.)

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 souvenir cup, you will pay $11.71 with tax. After you slam your butterbeer and bring it back for a refill, you will be charged $4.25 with tax. But this is not a discounted refill price. $4.25 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.)

Can I use my souvenir cup for discounted refills of Pumpkin Juice, Pumpkin Fizz, etc?

I’m sorry to say it, but you cannot. Pumpkin Juice, Pumpkin Fizz, and the other “branded” Harry Potter drinks are always full price, just like I 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 beverage sold at Three Broomsticks and Hogs Head. These generic drinks include tea, lemonade, and cider.

What can you tell me about the Hogs Head mug? Can I use it for discounted refills?

In addition to the butterbeer souvenir mug, guests can also purchase a souvenir Hogs Head mug:

Refillable cups at Universal's Islands of Adventure: Souvenir Hogs Head mug.

Souvenir Hogs Head mug.

But I’m afraid I’ve got more bad news. The souvenir Hogs 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 Hogs Head and get it in a Hogs Head mug instead of the regular butterbeer mug. (Turns out that the Hogs Head mug is actually bigger – 20 oz. verses 16 oz.). So is there any point in paying $11.49 with tax to get a Hogs Head mug if you don’t care about the beer? About the only reason I can suggest is that the Hogs Head mug has the cool WWoHP insignia. It is a bit tough to see, so click this image to view it full screen:

Butterbeer and Hogs Head souvenir mugs.

Butterbeer and Hogs Head souvenir mugs.

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 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 99 cents for a refill. However, with a souvenir cup, you can get a percentage discount on a few other beverages around the park. As I 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 my butterbeer up refilled with a lemon slushy for $3.19 with tax (the discount worked out to about 70 cents, or 20 percent off):

Refillable cups at Universal's Islands of Adventure.

Refillable cups at Universal’s Islands of Adventure.

So now I 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 about most beverage carts & kiosks, all restaurants, any of a dozen water fountains around the park – and 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.

The answer is, yes, you can. We’ll explain this in more detail when we get to our Coke Freestyle discussion below. For now, let’s wrap up our questions about the classic refill programs.

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 99 cents 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 park over at the other?

Absolutely.

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 and the very last concession stand on your way out, in the parking rotunda:

Refillable cups at Universal CityWalk.

Discounted refills available even inside Universal’s 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.

Do the soda cups leak?

Yes, they do, but let me 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). However, when the straw is in use, that also means the second hole is wide open. In addition, while the straw fits snug into the lid holes thanks to its ribbed design, it is by no means an watertight fit – so 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. I was 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, I 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.

 

Continue to the second page to learn about Coke Freestyle and more!

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