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 machines.
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 down 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):
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. 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.)
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:
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:
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 version:
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 SpongeBob SquarePants 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:
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:
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:
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):
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. 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. Also, there are many water fountains around the parks you can use to fill up your cups.
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?
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, inside Cinnabon, and inside the Pastamore Market. You can even get the discount and 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.
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.
Coke Freestyle at Universal Orlando
There is a new refillable cup program at Universal, and it is 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 exactly what 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 is also quite simple on its face. You pay $10.99 plus tax for the cup — $11.71 including tax — and that entitles you to unlimited free refills at any Coke Freestyle station at either theme park for the day. If you already have a cup, extra days are $8.99 plus tax.
Currently there are eight Coke Freestyle stations at Universal:
- USF – Classic Monsters Cafe (quick-service restaurant and Meal Deal location in Production Central)
- USF – Louie’s Italian Restaurant (quick-service restaurant and Meal Deal location in New York)
- USF – Mel’s Drive-In (quick-service restaurant and Meal Deal location in Hollywood)
- USF – Richter’s Burger Co. (quick-service restaurant in San Fransisco)
- IOA – Comic Strip Cafe (quick-service restaurant and Meal Deal location in Toon Lagoon)
- IOA – The Burger Digs (quick-service restaurant and Meal Deal location in Jurassic Park)
- IOA – Circus McGurkus (quick-service restaurant and Meal Deal location in Seuss Landing)
- IOA – Doc Sugrue’s Desert Kebab House (stand-alone food & beverage kiosk in Lost Continent)
I’m 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.
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? How does Universal know when I bought it?
Unlike the classic souvenir soda cups, which can be used forever for discount refills, the Coke Freestyle cups can only be used the day you purchase them. 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 machines register it using the RFID chip for use that day. If you return days later with the same cup, the machine will read the chip, see that it is expired, and it will not dispense what you desire.
Are refills really free?
Yes, they are. Unlike the classic souvenir soda cup program, in which you pay 99 cents 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.
If refills are free, why would I ever want to purchase the classic souvenir soda cup?
There are three major trade offs with the Coke Freestyle program:
- To use the cup for mutiple days, you much purchase access again each additional day for $8.99.
- you only have eight locations to choose from; and
- you can only get refills at the Coke Freestyle machines.
If you purchase the classic souvenir soda cup, you may have to pay 99 cents 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, etc — just not at the Coke Freestyle machines.
And that, my 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 you’re limited to eight locations and one day of refills (unless you pay extra). 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).
Still have more questions? Let’s do this…
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 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 and disadvantages explained above remain the same.
Since I refill my 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 five minutes before you can use any of the machines again.
Once the five minutes is up, you can get another free refill — so if your group is willing to wait five minutes a time for refills, then I suppose you could share. But I don’t know how long you’ll really want to be hanging out in the restaurants.
How does the Meal Deal fit into all of this? What happened to the blue Meal Deal refillable cups?
When the Coke Freestyle program was introduced, Universal discontinued the Meal Deal cup program. However, it is important to understand that the Coke Freestyle cups did not exactly replace the blue Meal Deal cups. The major difference between the two programs is that you do not have to purchase Universal’s Meal Deal to get a Coke Freestyle cup. Anyone who just wants a few gallons of Coke product all mixed together can get the Freestyle cup. Of course, if you want to use the Freestyle cup and the Meal Deal, you can do that too — you just need to purchase each separately. Or you can use the classic souvenir soda cup and the Meal Deal — again, you just need to purchase each separately. Or you can use the Meal Deal by itself and not purchase any refillable cups.
Visit our Meal Deal page to learn more about that program.
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
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