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  • Writer's pictureEmily Rojas

#TravelTips - One Day in Universal Studios on a Budget

If there's one thing you need to know about me, it's that I love to travel. I have this need deep down to get out of whatever city I'm in and experience new things as much as possible. It doesn't matter to me if it's just a day trip to Nashville or a weekend getaway to the beach, I'm always looking for new ways to fit travel into my life, and my budget.

Earlier this year, I convinced my best friend/roomie Emma to take a weekend trip to Universal Studios with me. We're both only a few months post-grad, and our budgets are tight. But I knew that we could make a trip to Universal Studios work.

After we returned, I got a lot of questions on how we managed a trip in such a short period of time and on such a tight budget. So, this post goes out to all of you adventurers out there looking to take on something new. If you're brave enough to attempt one day in Universal Studios - here are my money and time saving tips for you.

1. Airfare

If you're only spending a weekend in sunny Florida, you can't waste any time on long drives. And, in a lot of cases airplane tickets can be cheaper than the gas and food and random spending that occurs on road trips. My biggest #traveltip for flying is as simple as a mobile app: Hopper.

Hopper is the single most important tool I use when planning all of my trips. You can plug in the airport your flying out of, the airport you're flying to, and your travel dates and it'll search the web for the best prices. Hopper doesn't stop there though. After looking at the most current prices, Hopper will make estimates of the best time to buy your tickets, and it'll alert you when the prices drops. That's how Emma and I chose the best weekend to fly to Orlando, and how we ended up spending only $57 EACH on round-trip tickets from Atlanta to Orlando. We left late Friday so neither of us had to miss any work, and we got back on Sunday afternoon.

2. Hotel & Theme Park Tickets

This is obviously the most expensive part of the trip. There are definitely cheap hotels and Airbnb's that you can rent around Universal Studios. However, my #traveltip for this short of a vacation is that you need to stay at one of the theme park's on-site hotels.

We chose to stay at Universal's Cabana Bay Beach Resort. It's one of the most affordable on-site hotels starting around $120 per night. The reason this hotel is a little more affordable than some of the other options is because it doesn't include Express Passes that allow you to skip the lines. Emma and I specifically went in January because it is a slow season at the parks, and we knew we wouldn't need Express Passes to get through the lines pretty quickly. However, if you're going at a more heavily trafficked time of year, you may seriously want to consider these time-savers.

Staying at Cabana Bay did offer us Early Park Admission which was absolutely critical to our one-day adventure. We were sure to be some of the firsts in the park, and rode rides with traditionally long lines such as the Mummy, the Hogwarts Express, and other Harry Potter rides! We also had the option to quickly walk to and from our hotel, or ride the complimentary shuttle so we didn't have to worry about transportation AND midway through the day when we were soaked from water rides we could easily go back to change without wasting much time.

As for theme park tickets, if you're only there for one day, I think it's worth the splurge to get the 2-park pass. This is the only way you can get the experience of riding the Hogwarts Express and it allows you to go easily back and forth between the parks during the day.

3. Dining Options

Another amazing perk of staying in Cabana Bay was their cafeteria style restaurant on-site. Here you are able to pick up snacks, drinks, meals and more for pretty reasonable prices. They also have a Starbucks in the lobby which is where Emma and I grabbed breakfast the day of the parks. We we able to quickly get a hot breakfast sandwich and some coffee we sipped on the morning walk to the parks.

For lunch, we had to eat in one of the Harry Potter themed restaurants which wasn't too pricey. You're also allowed to bring small snacks into the park with you, so we brought a couple granola bars to tide us over between meals. We even had room in our budget for 4 butter beers which may sound excessive but it was so worth it.

For dinner, we went back to our hotel (another perk of Cabana Bay) and grab burgers by the pool. All of this was super affordable and fit nicely into our overall budget.

4. Making the Most of your Time in the Parks

When you only have one day in the parks, you need to have a solid plan. Emma and I decided to start the morning in Universal Studio's Diagon Alley where we rode the rides and saw the sights. I knew that the line for the Hogwarts Express would get long quickly, so we rode that over almost immediately into the Islands of Adventure where we spent the rest of our morning. We then finished our day in Universal studios.

The thing that helped us manage our time the MOST was the Universal Studios App. I can't emphasize enough how important the app was to our day. The app has an interactive map that shows you the real-time wait times of each ride in the parks. It lets you know what shows are happening when, and alerts you if anything is closed. Using the app, we were able to skip rides that had longer wait times and come back to them when the wait time was lower. Even without an Express Pass, using the app we never waited longer than 20-30 minutes for even the busiest rides.

5. Have a Good Attitude

Although the trip felt perfect, there were a few things that could've been better. I got some pretty intense blisters from my shoes first thing in the morning and had to change halfway through the day. Some of the lines were very long and our feet got sore as we spent the entire day walking from place to place. But we kept a good attitude and none of these issues bothered us for more than a few minutes. Knowing we only had one day in this magical place, we made the most of every opportunity and kept smiles on our faces, which made the trip that much better for both of us. Overall we got to spend a whole day together in an amazing park, drink 4 butter beers, ride the Mummy three times and we made it to every other ride we wanted to throughout the day. I would wholeheartedly recommend spending one day in Universal Studios - and I know that it can be done on a budget!

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