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​Universal Orlando Quick Serve Meal Plan– The Good, Bad and Ugly…

Universal has some amazing new attractions and experiences and has definitely grown on us through the years, but somehow, they fall just short of expectations in the details. The quick serve dining plan is a prime example. As we often find, traveling outside of the Disney bubble can be slightly disappointing by comparison.


Universal Dining


As a travel agent and planner in general, I am well aware of the need to plan and maximize any dining plan in order to get the most value out of the offering. The challenge in this case, is how little information is out there about the dining plan. Yes, they have a one page flyer with the locations…but, what we found when going to the different locations is that some of them were closed or closing before the park closed, and most of the employees don’t know much about the dining plan to give suggestions.


It should be easy to get snacks on the plan since there seem to be so many. However, even that proved to be a challenge. We were told about the big pink donut that we could get as a snack credit. Our birthday girl was very excited about this option, so we headed over to the Simpsons area and went to the food cart to get the donut. It was about three hours before the park closed and they had run out. We went to the neighboring merchandise location that had them, and were told they didn’t have the right system to be able to use the dining credit to pay for it. What we learned is that if the location sold merchandise and the snack, they could not use the dining plan.


That seemed to be the natural course of things as we tried to use the plan. One roadblock after another.


What is so different about the meal plan at Universal is that it is not part of your resort package. It is a park add on, which means you can’t use any dining credits at your resort and there isn’t a mug for unlimited refills at the resort included like you receive at the Walt Disney World Resort locations. You can use the meal credits and snacks at locations within the parks and at City Walk, but the options are limited and only at designated food stands and quick service locations.


The good points about the plan are:

  • You can use the credits whenever. It’s not tied to a resort stay. So, if you don’t use up everything, you can use what you have left the next time you return.
  • Leaky Cauldron and Three Broomsticks are included. If these are a must for your family, if is a win to use the dining plan.
  • It’s affordable. $21.99 per adult. You would definitely spend more out of pocket paying for a meal ($10-$16), snack ($3-$6) and drink ($3-$4) individually. (That is if you would get those options anyway.)

The bad points:

  • You can’t use it at the resorts. Sorry, but being able to get breakfast and having unlimited drinks is one of my favorite parts of the Disney Dining plan.
  • Limited availability and so many food options in glass cases that you can’t use with the plan because they are within merchandise locations is a challenge at best.
  • When you first use the paper ticket, you will then be given a plastic card for each person. When you use the plastic card, you need to have everyone’s card as they are scanned individually and items are deducted off each card. If you are buying two snacks and a drink, remember to tell the cashier which card to charge what to, otherwise they will choose for you, leaving you with an imbalance of benefits on one or the other card.

The ugly:

  • There is so little information given about the meal plan and how to use it. The system needs to be simple and easy.
  • Upon checking in at our resort, we were directed to another desk to get our meal plan vouchers. The employee working the desk simply pointed to the kiosk and told us to follow the directions to get our tickets. Definitely not helpful. The system froze every time we tapped on the touchscreen, the system would freeze. Eventually, the system printed out paper tickets.
  • Throughout our stay, we found one employee at City Walk who gave us some great ideas on how to use our snack credits….and, she also shared that most people just let them go to waste because they don’t know how to use them.

Time to step up your game Universal. It’s a good plan if you help people understand how to use it. Keep it simple.


Quick Serve Comparison Chart: Disney vs. Universal


Disney

Universal

What is included in QS Plan?

2 QS Meals, 2 Snack/ per night of stay, 1 unlimited refill mug for duration

1 QS Meal, 1 Snack, 1 drink (no expiration date)

Price

$48.19 Adult/ $20.88 child

$21.99 Adult/ $13.99 child

Are resort meals included?

Yes

No

Expiration Date

At the end of stay

No expiration, not tied to resort stay

Check It Out: Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon

As we ventured out for a day of adventure at Universal Studios Orlando to check out the new “Race through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon”, we had no idea what to expect, but watching the teasers on the Today Show and Tonight Show we knew we had to check it out.


We are Disney people. We have mastered the fast pass system and know when and how to navigate the parks to get the most out of our time. We had no idea what a Virtual Line was, when we heard this was a feature of the ride, so our hope was just that we could get to the park early enough to get to do the ride at some point during the day.


Approaching the 30 Rock building, walking down Main Street in Universal is pretty awesome. It really captures the look and feel of New York City. The gift shop is also a grand display of Jimmy Fallon merchandise, NBC memorabilia and larger than life pictures of Jimmy Fallon and crew. But then we approached the line entrance and were told that there were no more virtual line spots available for the day…sorry. Ack, what?? So, not to be beat by this technical fail, my husband whipped out his iPhone and began his quest to challenge this defeat.


Here’s the thing with the Virtual Line. You have to be on Universal property to get a reservation. Using the Universal Orlando app, you can go online to reserve your spot, but only for same day reservations and only when you get to Universal. Unlike Disney you can’t do this from home or many days in advance and once all the spots are filled, the only shot of getting a spot is if someone cancels. Fortunately, he happened to be in the right spot at the right time and found an open spot 2 hours after we had inquired at the entrance. This allowed a nice window of time to grab lunch. Our day was saved.


When we came back with a “virtual reservation” secure the next approach to the ride entrance was much more fun. We were welcomed into the lobby where we had a walk down memory lane, seeing pictures and scenes from Tonight Show hosts present and past. From Jack Parr to Jay Leno and Johnny Carson – everything about the main floor lobby was TV magic. And then we were told to go upstairs “whenever we were ready” to go to phase 2 of the pre-show. An area of sofas and gaming tables as well as video clips from The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon played on larger than life screens. High energy and fun, but also a great place to chill and relax. (And phone chargers were plentiful as well). An additional feature is the color-coded cards that each guest receives when they enter the lounge area. The colors are displayed and announced when it is your turn to enter the line queue. A great way to keep the people moving through the attraction without having to stand in line.


Once you enter the queue the ride is all about Jimmy Fallon and being part of his crazy adventure. The safety precautions rap sets the stage for a ride that has character and makes each rider feel like they are part of the show. The ride is a journey through New York, racing Jimmy Fallon. With twists and turns and little extras, it is a ride that can be enjoyed by all and one that we will probably need to do a few more times to make sure we didn’t miss anything the first time.

Universal - A World of Adventure Awaits

A world of adventure awaits to thrill the young, and young at heart, at the Universal Orlando theme parks. Attractions inspired by Dr. Seuss, Minions, Shrek and Marvel Superheroes are all on deck to entertain, but of course the biggest draw is The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ – Hogsmeade™and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter™ – Diagon Alley™.


Universal Globe

The real fun is being able to experience the worlds of Harry Potter back to back, thanks to the Hogswarts Express. Spend a few hours at Universal Studios Florida in Diagon Alley Escaping Gringotts, and dining at the Leaky Cauldron enjoying fish and chips or bangers and mash. Shopping options are plentiful, including Olivanders, an interactive wand shop, with wands from floor to ceiling. Then, with your park to park ticket, make your way to the Kings Crossing Station 9 3/4 and jump on the Hogswarts Express where you can travel to Hogsmeade. This short train ride is a must see for all true Harry Potter fans!


Once at Hogsmeade, there are even more rides and shops to explore. The Three Broomsticks restaurant offers a variety of menu options for breakfast, lunch and dinner, including kids meal options. And be sure to stop at the Hog’s Head to grab a tasty Butterbeer or pumpkin juice. The Dragon Challenge and Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey are catered to the more adventurous travelers, while the Flight of the Hippogriff is a family friendly coaster designed for the whole family to enjoy.


Interactive wands allow guests to cast spells in multiple location throughout both Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. Simply look for the medallions on the ground and follow the directions with the map included with the wand purchase to be able to experience the wizarding world to the fullest!


Tips:

  • Be sure to have a park to park ticket to be able to ride the Hogwarts Express between both park locations.
  • Evening hours are great times to explore with a little less heat. Plan your day to enjoy staying for a bit after the sun goes down… (check park hours before you go).
  • Interactive wands allow guests a whole new way to experience the magic! Make sure to buy your wand early in your trip to have the most time to enjoy it.

Dining at Universal Florida

Universal Studios City Walk offers a variety of dining options for all tastes and budgets. One hidden gem in the mix is Bread Box: Handcrafted Sandwiches. High quality ingredients, custom made sandwiches and convenience make this a great place to grab a quick meal when in the CityWalk area. The park bench swing seating and overall atmosphere creates a corner deli look and feel.


A few of their specialty sandwiches include: Smokey Beef Brisket, NY Style Pastrami, and Buffalo Chicken. More traditional sandwich options include: 3 cheese, turkey, ham or tuna. All meals come with fries although coleslaw and potato salad are offered as well. Super fresh salads and cream of tomato soup, or the soup of the day are available to complete the meal. Gluten free options are available.


When it comes to beverages, not only are there soda options, but also a selection of beers. 2 shakes, Chocolate Hazelnut and Vanilla Sky offer those with a sweet tooth a tasty treat!


The Bread Box was a quick and easy option for our family to enjoy on our recent trip to Universal Orlando. Located on the 2nd floor of the City Walk complex in the quick serve area, we found it to be one of the most affordable meals of our trip and one of the most satisfying. For locals, or those driving to the Universal complex it is conveniently located on your way in or out of the parking facility. Breadbox participates in the Universal Dining Plan.


To book your stay at Universal Orlando or for more information – contact Teri Murray at The Magic for Less Travel!

© 2017 Story Institute, LLC - John E. Murray, III & Teri A. Murray
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