I'm planning on taking my German friend to Orlando sometime in the future (earliest date would probably be fall 2012). I'm from New York and have been to Orlando multiple times before, so I know a thing or two about vacationing there, but this is the first time I'm the sole planner of the trip. I'm quite familiar with the parks themselves, but could use some help with planning other aspects of the vacation. I've decided to split up my questions into separate discussion posts. First, I want to tackle the issue that is most giving me a headache, and that is basic travel logistics.
I have different ideas about whether he should fly to Orlando to meet me, or whether he should go to NY and then we go down together. I may ask about that in a separate thread.
My main dilemma is this, though: Since I am under the age of 25, renting a car is very expensive (at least an extra $100 for the week just because I'm young and more "at risk for an accident"!) Not to mention the rental car companies have to tack on almost another $100 in extra fees, which they don't exactly mention up front on the website. I know my friend and I would probably split the cost (around $500 for the week just on the car, not to mention gas), but I'm trying to make this trip as affordable as possible. So I'm trying to figure out whether a rental car is my best bet. My hotel plans will definitely be affected by whether or not we get a rental car.
Ideally, since my parents are Marriott/Interval International timeshare owners, I would stay at a villa at a timeshare resort, probably in the I-4/International Drive corridor. The timeshares are great because they are spacious and have many home amenities, like kitchens, which cut down on food bills. They can be an overall good value and, for me, would probably cost just as much as staying at a regular hotel, since my parents usually get good deals. However, not having a rental car would put a limit on going to the supermarkets ourselves (I know we can get groceries delivered, so that's not too much of a concern) as well as when we want to go to the parks.
With regards to accommodations, my options are this:
1) We stay at a Disney resort and get the Magical Express bus. We would also get a Disney dining plan. When we go to Universal, we'll look into a shuttle, possibly through Dreams Unlimited or Mears, or even mass transit.
2) We stay at an Interval resort that has a shuttle and lose a lot of flexibility with our plans. (If anyone has any recommendations about that, I would sincerely appreciate it. I know Floridays Resort has a shuttle in the mornings and evenings.)
3) We cough up the money, get a rental car, and stay wherever we want to.
Sorry for the long post, but I wanted to be as detailed as possible. I will probably be posting more questions in the future as travel plans progress. Thanks in advance!
On the hotels/transportation. I can't offer much help as my dad has paid for all my WDW trips (I'm 20). I would try to avoid option 2 on your list, however, unless it is an absolute dealbreaker as offsite shuttles are, from what I hear, horrible. Plus, I would think the Disney value resorts can't be much more expensive anyway. The offsite hotel buses operate on a limited fixed schedule, unlike the Disney shuttles which come every 20 minutes. Basically, by picking option 2, you are eliminating any sponteneity (what if you're tired, there is bad weather, etc.). I would go with option 1/3 depending on how the math works out.
I'm not sure how much this helps but that's my 2 cents.
I would say take a taxi and the Magical Express if you are staying at a Disney resort. Its a good deal, IMO
If anybody else has anything they'd like to add, feel free. I'll probably be asking more questions as the vacation planning progresses, so stay tuned for that.
I'd say the same if you were planning just for Universal. Staying on-site is so crucial there if it's a first visit since you never have to use a car and get express pass access on all rides, with the exception of Forbidden Journey and Rip-Ride-Rocket, all day.
The dining plan sort of works like a college dining plan, you get so much food credits per day. But you also can underuse it one day and use the saved food credits the next day.
I've used the Disney dining plan once before (in 2005) and found it to be a pretty good deal. From my understanding, the number of restaurants participating in that plan has decreased since then, but a good number still participate. I figured we'd probably go for the one that gives one snack, quick-service, and table service meal per day... for the days that we go to Universal, we could combine table service credits and use them to go to a signature restaurant.
I briefly looked at Dreams Unlimited's website one day and saw that they had a 2-day Universal pass for sale that included transportation. The more I look into this trip, the more it would probably make sense to just stay at Disney property, given the Magical Express shuttle, the dining plan, extra magic hours, etc. I might look into staying at a Universal on-site hotel too, but I'd try to schedule this trip during the off-season so not getting complimentary Express passes and early admission is not that big of a concern for me. I think if DU got us to the park early enough and we planned our days well, we could see most, if not all of what we want to see at Universal.
Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom
Disney's Animal Kingdom
Disney's Hollywood Studios
Disney California Adventure
Universal's Islands of Adventure
Universal Studios Florida
Universal Studios Hollywood