It was a bit more frustrating for me since I woke up with Strep Throat the morning after we arrived so my experience is a bit jaded. However, I learned some valuable lessons I think you can benefit from for future visits.
We stayed at Windsor Hills, google “closest to Disney” – it really was just a 10 minute drive from Disney World and about a 25 minute drive to Seaworld and Universal Studios. It’s in Kissimmee. The condo was a bit dated but my sister’s next door was very nice (ask for pictures of your unit). The pool was great, not heated, and there was a nice workout facility and neat playground areas. We stayed on a ground level near the pool with 3 bedrooms and two baths for $650. We left mid-week and returned home mid-week. Perfect for driving and flying. Flights were much cheaper for my sister's family and traffic was much less congested for our drive home. Also, our condo was ready for us ealier then what the normal check-in time would be since no one had used it since the weekend and was cleaned days before.
Universal Studios does a great job entertaining you at their parks. We visited “Island of Adventures” in 2010 for a day and my kids wanted to go back, so I bought a two day pass base ticket. We went to “Island of Adventures” the first day and Universal Studios the following day. What I learned:
1. Do not visit a park you already have been to in the past. My kids loved “Island of Adventures” BUT the magic of seeing it for the first time had passed and the money would have been better spent seeing another new park like SeaWorld. Do not pay the extra $ for the park-to-park pass. There is enough to do at one park to consume your entire day. Waste of $.
2. We bought the $20.99 all you can eat food pass for everyone. Six adults (9 and under are considered kids, mine were all 12 and over) X $20.99 = $136 after tax. You will spend about $12/person each meal. We only ate twice and they didn’t really want the second meal. It would have been cheaper to pack snacks and only have eaten once. Do buy the souvenir cups. They are buy two get one free and are $8 each. Then you pay $1 for refills. Only buy these if you are addicted to soda and will be in the parks more than one day. You can bring the cup back each day for $1 refills. Do NOT buy online with your tickets, they are cheaper inside the park.
3. DO NOT buy the line hopper passes. $20 each at Universal and $35 each at Disney. Use the single rider line. You will bypass even the line hopper people. There is no sense in waiting in line for an hour just to be able to sit together. Most of the time, we got to sit with or near each other using the single riders line. The big rides like Harry Potter doesn’t have a single rider’s line nor does it allow line hoppers to be used. Ride the Harry Potter ride last, later in the afternoon. The parks start to clear out around 4 – 5 p.m. and the lines are much shorter! Also making the line hopper pass a waste of money.
4. Take a lightweight backpack with a poncho, large bottle of frozen ice (it will thaw throughout the hot day and provide drinking water), Band-Aids, small deodorant, ibuprofen, Benadryl, ponytail holder, sunglasses, and a water bottle fan. They sell these in the parks for $15 but you can buy one at the Walgreens for $8. You only need one to pass around and share. Not everybody needs a backpack since you have to get a locker while on rides. Just mom and dad should have one.
5. If there is going to be a rainy day in your week, use it on Universal Studios. Almost all the rides are indoors. Very awesome place but I would not take children under 8 – 9 to either park. There are things for them to do but not many and it may jolt them to experience some of the bigger rides. Universal Studios is awesome for a couple who loves rides and experiences!
My sister, husband and two boys (5 & 8) visited Lego Land; the newest park in Orlando. They did not like it. They said it was a waste of $ ($75 per adult) and they stated Disney’s Lego store in Downtown Disney was better than anything Lego Land offered, and it is free. Downtown Disney is open to the public for free.
We went to Disney’s Animal Kingdom our last day and we loved it. However, it offers few rides and I wouldn’t recommend for kids under the age of 7. They do have Dinoland for little ones but that’s about an hour’s worth of fun. They offer two great mini-Broadway plays: The Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo. You MUST see both to get your money’s worth! They are truly AWESOME! The rest of the park is basically a zoo. The animals are very healthy and beautiful. The gifts shops and landscape and gorgeous and Disney provides great street band entertainment and parades at their parks. However, they do not offer online discounts on tickets like Universal Studios does. We saved $10 per person by purchasing online and picking up tickets at Will Call for Universal.
Small children should be taken to Magic Kingdom. That’s an entire day of fun for them.
If you plan to visit many parks in Orlando that do not include Disney, I recommend getting online at SeaWorld or Universal and buying what is called a Flex Ticket. You can pay a base price of around $275 per person and have 14 consecutive days of fun at SeaWorld, Aquatica Water Park, Universal Studios, Island of Adventures, Wet-N-Wild Water Park and City Walk. The best deal in town.
Happy vacation to ya! Hope this helps any future Orlando planners! I am headed to sell something valuable to pay off my vacation debt.