If you are a local there are many ways to get a good deal. Costco, AAA, if you are in the military and always check Universal online. Never just go to the park; it’s the most expensive that way! It pays to do a little research ahead of time.
Also, think about parking. It’s normally $20. There are different ways to work that out as well. If you want to take in a movie on CityWalk, you can get a rebate and pay only $5 if you keep your parking receipt. Or park at North Hollywood Metro Red Line for $3.00 and a round trip for $3.50 is still less than $20. OR get the Universal Gold Pass or above for free parking. (You can get the Gold Pass at Costco as well.)
But do watch your black out dates! Some passes have more than others, so know yourself. Black out dates are when you cannot come, usually weekend days during the summer. A nice perk is sometimes Universal will send an email for an extra day here and there during the year. Also, if you want to go on a blackout date, they will let you in for a fee (my niece got in for $30 and then once she got in, she went to Guest Services and they refunded the money. No guarantees, but take a chance if you really want to go!)
Another thing about the passes is the discounts, so check to see what discount (or not) you are getting. For the Gold Pass at the moment it’s 15% and completely worth it. Note: The discounts are not good for alcohol!
Also, when you get there and you decide what was I thinking, I need a better pass, they will let you upgrade by paying the balance. (Do that inside the park!)
Some thoughts for food. They do allow water (sealed) and food (not a picnic in a cooler, but snacks and such.) However, some good ideas for food if you want to purchase there is Three Broomsticks in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, the Great Feast is good for a big family. It was $60 last time I was there, but for at least a family of four, it has a ton of food and basically divided up to be $15 each.
Other thing is I always bring a smallish Tupperware and a plastic bag to wrap it in to put in my string Gryffindor backpack. (You can get the cheap kind at the dollar store 2 for a $1, so you don’t have to worry about losing a good piece of Tupperware.) I always have leftovers at Three Broomsticks, it keeps well, and is a treat to have later when you know you are going to be hungry when you get home.
A dessert treat is the funnel cake as you are coming in the park near the Waterworld show. Absolutely humongous! You can get with strawberries and whipped cream with it and add ice cream for another $1.50. It will feed at least two people, more like three or four.
In the winter, you can get Hot Butterbeer, sold only at the Hog’s Head bar. Completely lovely on a chilly February day. Another good meal is the Fried Chicken at Cletus’ Chicken Shack in Springfield. Not as fantastic as the old Doc Brown’s Chicken from back in the day, but pretty darn close!
Something terrific they are doing right now is a light show after the sun goes down on the Hogwarts castle. You have to start grouping (not a line) in the middle of Hogsmeade in front of the castle. I waited 20 minutes, but it’s completely worth it! It’s gorgeous! They aren’t particularly advertising it right now, but ask and they will tell you when and where.