I used to have a jacket.
It was blue with golden triangles across the chest, made of the same plastic-like cloth material that they used to make Umbro soccer shorts back in the 1990s.
It was a good jacket, flattering. In fact, it suited my color palette well. The jacket had a lot of very useful pockets and zippers.
And, it was my smuggler’s jacket.
What was I smuggling, you might ask? Mostly sandwiches.
In those days, outside food wasn’t allowed in Neyland Stadium – home to the then world-beating University of Tennessee Vols. And the food options inside the stadium weren’t what they are today.
So when the mood struck, I would load a handful of 12-inch subs up into the sleeves and various pouches of my baggy blue jacket and stroll into the stadium unmolested.
Well, John, you might ask, how hard can it be to smuggle lunch meats into Neyland Stadium? After all, it’s a place where as late as 2021 they were bringing golf balls and other items handy for throwing at opposing coaches – specifically Lane Kiffin.
It’s a valid point. But what if I told you I took my smuggling game international?
My wife and I went to Paris and got a room near the Serves LeCourbes metro stop. We had a window with a small ledge overlooking the Eiffel Tower and the metro right across the street.
It was perfect except for one thing: A strict no food or drink in the room policy.
Let me tell you, touristing about Paris is thirsty work.
At night, I might require a beverage, even a bit of snack. There was a boulangerie – a bakery – right around the corner. Each day I’d go out, buy a long, crusty fresh baguette and a small liter of Fanta Orange and use my handy-dandy smuggler’s jacket to slip it past the undoubtedly very diligent desk workers and up to our room.
Food policies at Universal Studios Florida
I’ve mostly retired from the food smuggling game. I don’t even try to sneak stuff into the movies anymore. I don’t even still have my jacket.
Before we purchased our tickets on our most recent trip to the Universal Orlando park, we discussed bringing in some outside food and drink. But we were not smuggling it in, just following the Universal Studios Orlando policies.
Our son, John Paul, has a litany of food allergies. It’s not anaphylactic – it doesn’t affect his breathing. It just makes him break out in itchy hives. Or, in the case of beef, makes him throw up.
Most places – even quick service restaurants in theme parks – have something he can eat. However, it’s made harder by the fact that he’s more than a little stubborn about trying things.
So we consulted the official policies and found them more reasonable than I expected.
Can you bring outside food to Universal Studios?
Yes. The good news is you can.
It should be noted that like Disney World and the Magic Kingdom – there are plenty of dining options available at the Universal theme parks as well as Universal Citywalk. Every place we tried had options that worked for my son John Paul, except at Green Eggs & Ham where we had to get a little creative.
But it was nice to know that if we needed to bring outside food into the park to make sure John Paul could have something to eat, we could have.
Acceptable outside food items include baby food, water bottles, food for special dietary needs and food necessary for medical purposes.
Allowable foods include bottled water at a maximum of 2 liters. That is plenty because you can reuse your refillable water bottle for free in several locations within Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios and at City Walk.
Foods that need to be heated or refrigerated are not allowed, as are hard-sided coolers.
What kind of food can you bring to Universal?
I would think the best foods are things like energy bars and fresh fruits. Those sorts of things would all fall in the small snacks category.
Not enough to feed the entire family for a day but a great way to get your kids through a hunger spasm while you finish whatever you’re trying to do in Jurassic Park.
You can bring your own water bottle as well, which is especially handy on a hot day.
Can I bring sandwiches to Universal Studios?
Unless you have a smuggling jacket, foot-long sandwiches are not going to make it into Universal.
However, you are allowed a soft-sided insulated bag no larger than 8.5″ wide x 6″ high x 6″ deep. Certainly, I feel like you could fit a few sandwiches into it. But not enough to feed a large family.
Look, picnic lunches are specifically ruled out, so I think you could make an argument that a sandwich is a small snack, but I’d be prepared to lose. I suspect this policy is very dependent on the diligence of the team members involved.
What can’t I bring to Universal Studios?
Prohibited items include glass containers and alcoholic beverages. Also, do not bring anything that gets flagged at the metal detectors. Use common sense.
Hard-edged coolers are ruled out as our soft-sided coolers larger than 8.5″ wide x 6″ high x 6″ deep. Folding chairs and picnic lunches – as we mentioned earlier – are also not allowed.
I enjoy the mental picture of an entire family pulling up to the Islands of Adventure entrance like a team mom at a travel softball tournament with chairs and coolers and lunches and maybe a nice fan and a generator to set up shop for the day.
That would be a great way to spend an entire day, just giving out chilled Powerades and what have you to any passersby.
Are there any places in Universal Studios that aren’t allergy friendly?
I was surprised to find that Florean Fortescue’s Ice-Cream Parlour in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter didn’t have non-dairy choices.
We were able to get JP a slushie-like beverage just down Diagon Alley. But the fact that there wasn’t an almond milk option was surprising.
Obviously, park policies are generally stringent on such matters. For example, when we explained to a team member that JP couldn’t have certain items, policies and protocols were followed carefully.
Not as carefully as at Disney, where the chef came out to talk to us himself, but still they were quite diligent. We actually ate at Lombard’s Seafood Grill twice over the course of our trip because they were so accommodating and JP liked it.
Always discuss allergies with the staff.
What if someone in our party has serious food allergies?
Because they aren’t life-threatening, I don’t consider John Paul’s allergies to be as “serious” as someone who has allergic reactions that can affect their breathing.
But if you have more serious food allergy questions, you can email a Guest Services Team Member at [email protected] prior to your trip for planning purposes.
They do ask that you acquaint yourself with available options and information online before emailing. You can also speak with staff onsite if you have questions.
Are they less strict on bringing in outside food if you have allergies or other requirements?
It appears so. Universal says to simply notify a security team member at the bag check at the front gate and the items should be allowed. They should still be in a soft-sided container. No glass is allowed.
Universal has Kosher or Halal menu options available but it’s not exactly affordable. Kosher Fresh and Halal Fresh meals are expensive and include a salad, entrée and dessert.
Staff must be notified 4 to 5 days in advance and a confirmed dining reservation is required. You can email [email protected]
Should I try to bring in outside food? It is worth it?
If you need to, yes. If you have a small child or someone who needs specific food items for whatever reason, then absolutely bring those important items into the park. But as a cost-saving measure? I just don’t know that it’s worth it.
Sure, you could have a cooler full of sandwiches back in the car in the parking structure or a variety of homemade meals back in your hotel room.
But it’s a long walk back out of the parks through City Walk to the parking lot or buses. You’re going to miss some of the best times to be in the park by being in transit to and from your cost-saving meals.
Eating in the parks is more expensive than what you can bring or make at home but I don’t know – even with a large family – that it’s worth it.
Bring a water bottle and a couple of snacks to get through a hunger pang while in line for a water ride or something. That’s really all you need in most cases.
Have you taken food inside Universal Studios? Tell us about it in the comments!