Recently the TouringPlans blog has posted an interesting series of articles explaining how you, Dear Reader, can survive on eating inside the theme park world for just $20 a day. Click on these links to see the plans for Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom. It’s only natural that this financial exercise be extended to the Universal family of parks, and who better to tackle this subject than a man who has eaten a three pound slice of cake at Universal, twice?
At first, this seemed like a no-brainer. Well, duh. A Chicken & Waffle sandwich ($10.99) from Cletus’ Chicken Shack and a Flaming Moe ($7.99) from Moe’s Tavern. My favorite theme park food item and a show, but after tax the total came out to $20.11. I quickly realized that I would have to get my thinking cap on for this one (plus I was informed from the Grand Poobah himself, Len Testa, that most guests would want more than that during an entire day at the park. I know what you’re thinking: Americans.)
Plan B. I’m going to start out the day in Islands of Adventure, and since we’re taking this journey together, we’re going to rope drop the park because we want to head over to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter as soon as possible. We’re up early and looking at a long day of excitement and adventure ahead of us, so while we are walking up the Port of Entry we are going to stop by The Last Chance Fruit Stand to pick up something quick. Our day of eating is going to start with an orange, which is value priced at $1.37 after tax. There are a lot of good health benefits that come with an orange, and it also contains a good amount of water to keep us plugging along. A lot of people go for sugar early in the morning, like a donut or a wonderful Cream Horn from the nearby Croissant Moon Bakery, but while those foods will spike your energy in the short term, so you’ll be slogging around not long after. The orange creates a win-win situation: it’s cheap and will help keep us hydrated, and we can grab it and head on to our next stop. Balance: $18.63.
While we’re inside the village of Hogsmeade,we gotta go for tradition and get a cup of Butterbeer, possibly the greatest signature drink that has ever been created. The vanilla “head” of a Butterbeer actually defies the laws of physics. Despite constant sips of a Butterbeer, and getting a wonderful taste of vanilla with each sweet wash down the gullet, the head appears to have the exact same size until you get the very end. Forget the talking portraits in Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey and forget the wand chooses the wizard moment from the Ollivanders wand experience; Butterbeer is the true magic in the Wizarding World.
A 16 oz. Butterbeer will set us back about 6 Sickles (or 9 Knuts), and the current rate of exchange at Gringott’s Wizarding Bank gives a total of $3.75 in Muggle currency. Worth every single penny. Balance: $14.88.
As we make our way around the park, our next pit stop for food is going to be in Toon Lagoon. At the end of the bridge that connects Jurassic Park to Toon Lagoon is Slurp & Snack or Ale to the Chief, a very clever tribute to the Jay Ward cartoons that Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls is based off of. The Toon Lagoon island has several positives – and many negatives about it – but one thing I would really like to see in the area is sort of a One Man’s Dream-like walkthrough dedicated to Jay Ward. The work Ward was doing back in the ’70s was just as cutting edge and hilarious as anything The Simpsons or Seth McFarlane are doing today, if not more so.
Anyway, at Ale to the Chief we are going to get one of the more iconic theme park snacks, the soft pretzel. Joining popcorn and churros, soft pretzels have become ubiquitous in the theme park world. It’s hard to walk 20 feet without running into one. The price is reasonable ($3.18 after tax), the serving is huge, and you get to put free condiments on it, the most widely accepted being mustard. Balance: $11.70.
A side benefit of Ale to the Chief’s location is that it’s a great spot to watch guests come out drenched from Ripsaw Falls. And it got me to thinking… so far we’ve just been thinking of ourselves during this adventure. It’s time to show the readers of this very site that charity begins at home.We’re going to walk back onto the connecting bridge to Jurassic Park and buy our fellow guests a drink. For the low, low price of just $0.25 (that’s right, just a quarter…it’s almost free!) we are going to BLAST unsuspecting riders with a cannon shot of water!
This will be the best quarter that you have ever spent in your life. Not only are there about 10 cannons at Ripsaw Falls, but just a few steps away over at Popeye & Bluto’s Bilge Rat Barges there are opportunities to use water cannons and shower heads that dump water onto guests below. This can almost be seen as cruel and unusual punishment, though, as every person who rides Bilge Rat Barges is going to get soaked regardless. We’ll play the part of the Frugal Gourmet and save our money for our remaining meals over at Universal Studios Florida. Balance: $11.45.
As you can see by now, this plan is going to eschew the traditional “three square meals” concept, as I believe that eating a whole bunch of smaller meals throughout the day is a better way to go when traversing through the world of theme parks. Celebrity blogger Morgan Crutchfield calls it grazing. Keep in mind that you have a lot of walking (and standing) throughout the day, along with the very good possibility of severe Florida weather, so it makes sense to stay away from foods that are going to slow you down or not sit well in your system. I also found out when doing a Eating Vegetarian at Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival that – in almost all cases – staying away from meat can help you save money when it comes to eating.
Our next food stop is going to be at Chez Alcatraz in the San Francisco area of USF and is located across the street from Disaster!…A Major Motion Picture starring YOU and right next to the San Francisco Candy Factory. Chez Alcatraz is a fantastic place to stop by and just relax with a snack or drink, as it has a full size bar and there is almost always little-to-no wait. It also neighbors one of the most well known photo-ops in the entire Universal Orlando Resort, the hanging Bruce the Shark from the movie Jaws.
Here is where we are going to find one of the best values in the park, the Bucket of Chips. Served in a metal bucket, these are house made seasoned potato chips and served with chipotle ketchup (ketchup with a touch of Tabasco sauce). When I first ordered this bucket, I figured their had to be a false bottom because there was no way the chips went all the way down for the price of $3.99 ($4.23 after tax), but I was in for a pleasant surprise. Great chips that are thick and flavorful. You can easily split this among 2 – 4 adults as an appetizer if needed. Balance: $7.22.
To prepare for the final rush of our theme park day we are going to add a little sugar into the system and we’ll do via The Ice Cream Of The
Chapter 11 Bankruptcy Future, Dippin Dots. There are several Dippin’ Dots locations in USF, including outside of Beetlejuice’s Graveyard Revue and next to the Super Silly Stuff gift store, but we’re going to head into KidZone and go to the Hollywood or Bust location that sits between Spongebob Storepants and E.T. Adventure. This is the only Dippin’ Dots location in the park that has any type of theming and, let’s face it, eating Dippin’ Dots can make you feel like a kid again, so we’ll be right at home.
There are several varieties of Dippin’ Dots on the menu, including chocolate chip cookie dough, but I finally ended up settling on cookies ‘n cream. This option sprinkles in bits of Oreo cookie into vanilla Dippin’ Dots. When I got the cup of dots and they were orange and not white, I suspected that I was somehow given mango dots, but I was assured by the employee it was vanilla. So add vanilla Dippin’ Dots to the list of things that are orange but should be white (a list that already includes Hulk Hogan and Jersey Shore’s Snooki. .After tax this delicious dessert cost us $5.21, a bit pricey considering our mandate, but you live long enough you learn there are certain things in life you should never skimp on, including toilet paper, your mattress, and desserts. Trust me on that one. Balance: $2.01.
One great place to be in the park is right outside Cafe La Bamba. Here you can make the decision to head down into Hollywood and check out the scandalously underrated Horror Make-up Show, head on towards Transformers: The Ride-3D and join the battle to save the world (good news recruits, N.E.S.T. was not affected by the government shutdown), or go back towards Woody Woodpecker’s KidZone and Springfield USA. You can also take photos with the vintage cars outside Mel’s Drive-In, enjoy a spot for the Superstar Parade, or even head down towards the lagoon to just take a break and enjoy the scenery. In many ways this area is the nexus of the USF universe, and it’s here where we are going to stop at the Lemon Slush & Fruit stand to pick up our last food item of the day, an apple.
I know what you’re thinking? AN APPLE?! IS HE SERIOUS?! Yes, I’m completely serious. The expression “an apple a day keeps the doctor away,” has some truth to it. Apples provide both short term and long term benefits. For this particular case they fulfill three objectives: make us feel full, give us a little bit of an energy shot to end our day, and save us money. We just spent the whole day on our feet, walking who-knows-how-many-miles, standing behind people using an iPad to take a picture, all while being under a Florida sun whose heat and humidity can make the planet Mustafar seem like the planet Hoth, and having the time of our lives while doing it. And now that we think about it, the apple only set us back $1.37 after tax. That means we have 64 cents left in our pocket, enough money to get a souvenir…
It’s time to head over to the main store at USF, right at the front of the park and get a PRESSED PENNY! The hardest part here is which one to choose. A Jaws penny? A King Kong Penny? One of the classic Universal monsters? You can’t go wrong with any of them. A pressed penny costs $0.51 leaving us with $0.13 of our original $20. It’s never too early to start saving for that next trip….