Also, when you plan too much in a stay you cannot really enjoy it the way you should. You might feel cheated at the end!
We progressed up to the Embassy Suites on I-Drive. It was closer to everything and the property was significantly better than where we stayed before. It was, however, significantly more expensive.
It took us about four or five trips down before we stayed on property at Universal. We stayed at the Hard Rock just after it opened. While being more expensive than the Embassy (not a lot more) it opened our eyes to the "Time vs Money" concept. Most people think they have more time than money when it comes to vacations and to a certain extent that is true, however, by staying on property wherever you go (Disney or USF for us) you have the ability to do more with less time and you can do it at a slower pace.
If you come down and plan on just a weekend at USF, staying on site will allow you to have front of the line access to the attractions at both parks. With that you can easily get your fill in 1.5 days. That allows you time to lounge at the pool (something we never had time for before because we were always on the go) or see a movie or enjoy some nightlife!
At Disney, staying on property cuts the travel time down to each park dramatically! I am not sold on using the Disney bus line for getting around all the time though. If you don't mind paying for parking at one park for the day it might be better to take a car, or pay for a cab.
Guests at Disney parks get the advantage of "extra hours" as well and that is a big bonus!
I have had family visit and stay in a rental house in Davenport which is about 20-30 minutes from Disney property. The houses were nice and much less expensive than staying on property! They actually ranged between the "$29.95" joints and the middle range I-Drive establishments. Most have pools, nice kitchens, laundry, etc. Pretty good for a stay of 7 days or more.
In the end, it was cheaper to move here! Seriously, when the opportunity presented itself that was actually a factor for us.
To conclude, cheap doesn't equal good when staying in Orlando! For us the real value was quality of stay and in the end that is a big part of "vacation memories".
This is a main decision as to where we will go on vacation this year: If the place we want to go actually has on-site hotels or not.
I stayed on property in 2006 and it was the best thing to do. While we could have taken Disney transportation it still worked out that we had our own vehical. The best thing about staying on property was being able to use the meal plan in the parks.
Look, I'm not a "sit around the pool" kinda guy. The only use I have for a hotel is a place to cover the three S's: Shower, sleep, and defecate. All I really care about is that I don't have to wear shoes in the shower. We never linger in a hotel room any longer than we need to, since there's just so much else to do everywhere else. Since we're spending oh, at least a hundred dollars less per night, that's extra money in the "having fun" pile.
I'm sure my attitude would be entirely different if we had kids or if going to parks was a special event situation. If we didn't have our own transport, staying on site would be a serious consideration. But we'll drive pretty much anywhere east of the Mississippi so we tend to have our own car with us (and there's no rush to procreate, so that helps).
We normally visit for three weeks. The 1st week we go to the Royal Pacific at Universal. I can't say enough good things about this hotel and it's staff and being on site has so many advantages like being able to have a beer in the evening because you don't have to drive and , of course , the fastpass room key. The car only comes out for those occaisional days out and visiting Seaworld.
Then we move on down to one of the hotels on Plaza Blvd for a week or so because of the close proximity to Downtown and the bus network. We've stayed at the Courtyard a couple of times ( good ) , the Grosvenor ( so-so ) and the Wyndham ( good).
Then if we've saved enough money by staying at one of these it funds a few days at the Grand Floridian for that extra special touch at Disney.
So if you play your cards right you can have it all without it costing the Earth.