Universal now offers a number of pre-paid dining offers of varying value. The oldest and most widely available is the "Meal Deal," an "all-U-can-eat" option for those who can content themselves with a limited menu of fast food eateries. Here are the prices, including tax:
One-Park Meal Deal:
Children (3 to 9): $13.83
Two-Park Meal Deal:
Children (3 to 9): $15.96
There are a number of catches, however. No full-service restaurants are included and the list of three or four participating restaurants in each park changes seasonally, so you may not be happy with the selection. Kids must order from a special Meal Deal kids menu. You are limited to one entree and one pretty boring dessert each pass through the line. You can't game the system by ordering a whole pizza. And so it goes.
Also, drinks are not included, although you can purchase a "Coca-Cola Freestyle Souvenir Cup" for $11.70 entitling you to unlimited soft drink refills from the parks' newfangled Freestyle machines (located mostly in Meal Deal restaurants), which dispense over 100 exotic varieties of sugar water. You can add another day of refills for $9.57; computer chips inside the cups keep you from cheating. Confusingly, different souvenir cups are sold inside the parks for $9.57 to $15.98 that can be refilled for $0.99 anywhere except at Freestyle fountains. Aside from the fact that the Meal Deal encourages us to overeat and offers only fast food options, the savings aren't even all that great. On the other hand, if you like fast food fare and can eat three or four meals . . . well, you know who you are. If you aren't doing the Meal Deal, avoid the participating eateries, especially during peak season, as they will be mobbed at mealtime. The Meal Deal can be purchased online, at the ticket windows, or at any participating restaurant. At the first restaurant you go to, show your ticket and get a wrist band that identifies you as a Meal Deal diner. The offer is only good for the day of purchase.
Universal Dining Plan: More recently, the resort introduced a "Universal Dining Plan" (UDP) similar to the one popularized by Walt Disney World. This is not an "all-you-can-eat" deal, but a credit system where guests pre-pay for a set number of meals. The plan costs $48.97 per day for adults, $19.16 per child (3 to 9), and can only be purchased with a hotel and park ticket package booked through Universal Parks & Resorts Vacations (universalorlandovacations.com); it is not available for purchase at the parks. You don't have to buy it for every day of your vacation, but you must purchase it for every member of your party over age two staying in your hotel room. Guests on the UDP receive a voucher that can exchanged for a card at any on-site hotel ticket desk, or at dining reservation carts, or guest services inside the parks. The UDP card tracks your dining credits. For every plan day purchased, each guest gets:
One table service meal (entree, dining plan dessert, soft drink)
One counter service meal (entree, soft drink)
One snack (from food cart or counter service)
One beverage (from food cart or counter service)
The plan is valid at a much wider range of restaurants than the Meal Deal, including all table service and most counter service locations inside the parks — even Mythos and Three Broomsticks — though the Simpsons' Fast Food Boulevard is conspicuously excluded. There are a handful of CityWalk venues that accept the plan, but none at the hotels, which is disappointing. Snack credits can be used on popcorn, ice cream, Starbucks, and Butterbeer. A few fancy sit-down entrees like lobster aren't included; look on menus for the UDP symbol designating eligible items. Substitutions (e.g. swap dessert for an appetizer) are strictly prohibited and gratuities for table service meals are not included.
At certain times, several days of the UDP is included as a "Free Dining" promotion in Universal partner hotel packages. If you are not getting fed for free, carefully examine the prices of eligible restaurants you'd be interested in to evaluate the plan's cost-effectiveness; if you don't use your credits on the most expensive menu items, it may be hard to get your money's worth.
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