When my friend, Julie, and I decided to take a trip to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, we agreed that we wanted to keep the costs down. As busy Moms and new homeowners, it was an extremely important factor in our decision to go. While my friend has been, I have never been and in my opinion, it’s sacrilegious! As big a fan as I am, I should have experienced this a long, long time ago. Responsibilities and finances have always held me back, after having a discussion with my husband, he was ready to support my going on a “girls trip.” I finally felt ready to experience this magical place.
There was just one problem. To my dismay, Julie was suddenly unable to go. Upset and discouraged I vented to my Mom who, to my astonishment, said she would go with me and we’ll bring my sister as well. Wait… oh my gosh… what?! We booked our tickets a few weeks later and let me tell you, that was a magical day.
The first thing I did before booking, was head over to google to search how people visit Universal on a tight budget. (I may have been going with my Mom and sister but I was still on a budget.) All the blog posts were interesting reads but this one was probably the most insightful. I read every blog, Instagram post and watched all the YouTube videos I could so I would have the ability to experience this trip on a rather tight budget. The goal was not to even bring my credit card into the park, just my debit card. The intention was to put aside enough money for merchandise, food, the hotel, and flight – I had zero intention of spending $500 on merchandise.
Here are my tips for visiting The Wizarding World on a budget:
- Sign up for a credit card with rewards
After taking a lot of recommendations from friends and bloggers alike we decided to book in the offseason, in our case, January. We booked our flights using my credit card, as I had enough points to redeem my portion of the flight. If you’re looking to tighten your budget my first piece of advice and biggest is to apply for a credit card that gives you rewards or miles. If you already have one, start charging the little things such as gas, groceries, and nights out, if you aren’t already doing so. So long as you’re paying your bills, you will rack up points. Those points can be redeemed for free hotel stays, free park passes and/or free flights. Cutting the cost of the flight was a huge money saver.
- Choose your hotel wisely
We stayed at The Hard Rock Hotel in Universal and it was a bit pricier than most of the other ones but the convenience! You are in walking distance to the parks (5 minutes), super easy to stop back in midday for an outfit change, a quick phone charge or a nap. There are cheaper hotels by far – Universal Endless Sumer Resort Surfside Inn and Suites and Dockside Inn and Suites, Aventura Hotel and Cabana Bay Beach Resort are all reasonably priced between $85 – $120 a night BUT they are the furthest away. All the hotels offer shuttle service but if you are someone who enjoys walking those hotels might be a tad too far, I believe they’re a twenty-minute walk, give or take. My Mom enjoys walking very much but wouldn’t have been able to handle that much walking. By our third day, she was struggling to get through Islands of Adventure. I’m sure if you stayed off site you may get an even better deal though I would caution against it because as an added bonus for staying on site, all hotel guests are allowed access to Universal Studios an hour before the park opens! Ever wonder how Instagrammers get those gorgeous photos without anyone in the background… I believe you are able to get the early park admission when you book a Universal Orlando Vacation Package as well. You’ll have a choice of over 40 partnering hotels that fit every budget. You won’t be in the park but you’ll be right around the park and I’m fairly sure they offer shuttle services since they are partnered with Universal.
- Spend wisely on merchandise
This next tip is probably the biggest reason to budget but it’s also where you can actually save yourself a little money. I cannot stress this enough, spend wisely while in the parks. Many fans get caught up in wizarding world goods and end up blowing a lot of money but they also forget they have to fly the things they’ve bought home (if flying, of course.) I actually watched a series of shop tours on YouTube by The Potter Collector. Peter walks his viewers through the most popular shops, telling us the prices of almost all the items in the shop. As someone who has never been there, I was able to get a rough idea of the items I may want to spend money on and how much they would cost. Some of those MUST HAVE items I bought in advance or I asked my family for as a Christmas or a birthday gift, which so happens to fall in December. Some of those items included a Hufflepuff scarf and ripped black jeans (to wear under my wizarding robes of course!)
- Owl Post
I ended up buying a touch too much and had to send home my husbands robe and sweatshirt with Owl Post. Owl Post is a mailing service offered in Diagon Alley to customers wanting to send home packages to loved ones as a surprise. And let me tell you, it is expensive. One box with the wizarding robe and sweatshirt cost $23 to ship and I opted for the middle-grade packaging. There are three types of packaging all with different price points but I don’t remember them being widely different which is why I opted for the middle type.
- Interactive Wands
Can we talk about interactive wands? I really didn’t think I wanted one, I thought I’d be the oldest one doing spells. When I got there, that wasn’t the case! People of all ages were casting spells and I looked on in wonder, I wanted to cast spells like everyone else! We went through the wand ceremony early next morning (ensure you go early and its the first thing you do.) Sadly, I did not get picked 🙁 After picking out an Ollivanders original, staff explained that the map with all the spell locations was included in the box. The wand cost $52, I had no problem paying that because I plan to go back. If you plan on ever going back, you can bring your wand back to the park. A small piece of advice, if you are bringing a young child who is an avid fan please budget for an interactive wand. Firstly, if the wand chooses them in the ceremony and you don’t buy the wand their little hearts will be crushed. Secondly, they have so much fun casting spells, the kids were having a blast. It’s worth getting, just to see them happy. Heck, I was ecstatic to cast spells – I literally had so much fun!
- Save on Food
Food is necessary and not always budgeted for properly because of how of necessary it is. I knew I wanted to eat at The Leaky Cauldron and The Three Broomsticks but that it was pricey. While looking for reviews of those restaurants I came across another YouTube video from The Potter Collector. Peter did a taste test at The Leaky Cauldron. His review of the food was insanely good, informative and insightful. He gave the prices, showed how big the portions were and rated the dishes. I was able to budget for lunch in the parks but I just didn’t want to pay $50-$100 a day on food so I had to come up with other options for the rest of the day. Just a PSA, if you’re visiting the wizarding world, eating at The Leaky Cauldron/The Three Broomsticks is an absolute must! The reviews are no joke, the food tasted incredible. Unfortunately, or not so unfortunately for me, I never ended up sticking to my budget, as my Mom insisted on paying for all of our meals. Still, I have a few tips. While perusing hotels, one that includes complimentary breakfast is a must for anyone looking to save money. Eliminating spending on at least one meal per day (breakfast) saves at least $10-$20 a day. Though I will tell ya, breakfast at The Leaky Cauldron is top notch. I highly recommend the apple oatmeal flan with yogurt and fruit. Opting to pack protein bars in your carry on as well in case you become hangry while in the parks is a good idea. I don’t know about you but I’d rather eat a protein bar than spend an obscene amount of money on simple fare such as hot dogs, cheeseburgers and fries. Also, there’s a food cart outside of Grimmauld Place that serves Jacket Potatoes with various toppings and they are huge! Not to mention super filling as well. It could easily replace a meal if you are a light eater.
- Bring a water bottle
Sticking with the food theme, I feel I need to mention this if you are at all concerned with how much sugar you consume. According to Wizarding World Park, a 14oz serving of Butterbeer contains 29 grams of sugar while a 16 oz serving of pumpkin juice contains 48 grams of sugar. That’s a lot of sugar, guys. That doesn’t even include sweets from Honeydukes, ice-cream form Florean Fortescues Ice Cream Parlor or dessert from The Leaky Cauldron. I recommend you eat clean several weeks before you are to go and stay hydrated! The Wizarding World of Harry Potter sells specialty bottles of water called Gilly Water for $4. It’s a great souvenir item but it’s just bottled water. Universal has fountains all over the park that you can refill water bottles up or even those great souvenir butterbeer mugs when you’re looking for a water break. Water killed us, my family and I are big water drinkers and we did not bring reusable water bottles. BRING A WATER BOTTLE. We didn’t want to be burdened by carrying them or having to wash them in a hotel sink. Had we gotten small enough bottles then we could have stashed them in our half-size backpacks. Also, we probably could have found dish soap at a convenience store or even our hotel to rinse our bottles at night.
Budgeting isn’t easy, it’s always easier to spend money on convenience. Remember your budget, start a rainy day fund so you have money saved up for those holy grail items. Also, I highly recommend you save up for one of the nicer hotels that are close to the parks. That is the one convenience I would recommend 100%. Not everyone can afford to eat in the parks daily but saving up for one meal at The Leaky Cauldron or The Three Broomsticks (we preferred The Leaky Cauldron) is part of the experience. There is no way around it, the food at Universal is expensive. My sister frequently commented she wasn’t sure how anyone could afford to bring their family to the wizarding world. I can’t emphasize this enough, remember your budget! Try not to get lured in by souvenirs, I know I did and it bankrupted me for several weeks.