My question is do we say on site at Disney or rent a condo or house off site?
I think there is free dining plan during the dates that we are planing to be at WDW.
Also, is it worth doing the meal plan at Universal?
Personally, I think 8-10 days in WDW is a bit of overkill, even for first timers. You will start getting sick of the place after day 6, even if you do expand out to the water parks, Disney Quest, and the golf courses. The parks are not very crowded in October, and you can expect to be able to see all of the major shows and attractions in each park in a single day. I highly reommend using some of those extra days at Sea World, Busch Gardens Tampa (an hour west of Orlando), Kennedy Space Center (an hour east of Orlando), and/or an extra day at Universal. Expecting to spend one day in each park and having an extra day to "float" is more than enough when the parks are not crowded unless you plan on doing some of the special events (EPCOT F&W Festival or Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party) or tours (Key's to the Kingdom, Around the World Showcase, Backstage Magic, etc...---honestly if you haven't booked one of those tours yet, they're probably already sold out) that can disupt a normal touring day.
The Universal Meal Plan can be a bit of a rip off. It limits you to certain restuarants within the park and only provides minimal savings unless you're a big eater (it's an all-you-can-eat plan). It's probably a little nicer in the summer when the parks are open longer and the temperatures are warmer and the need for unlimited lemonade is much greater. I've considered it in previous trips, but I just can never figure how I can eat $30+ ($23 for the one-day/one park pass and $9 for the drink) of bottom-of-the-barrel theme park food in a day. However, if you know you're going to eat 3 full meals in the park over the course of a day, it might be worth it. Both Universal parks have some really nice restaurants that don't participate in the Meal Plan that are far nicer and more desireable to eat at (Mythos, Finnegan's, Lombard's, and Three Broomsticks) than the Meal Plan locations (Mel's Drive-in, Monster's Cafe, International Food and Film, Louie's, Cirucs McGurkus, Comic Strip Cafe, Captain America Diner, and Burger Digs).
I can't offer much advice on staying onsite at Disney (having never done it myself in 21 years of visits!) but wondered - would you consider splitting your stay? Stay onsite for half the time to do the Disney parks and take advantage of extra magic hours, and then stay perhaps in the 'International Drive' area (just off the main drive may be better - it is for me). This will make you much more accessible to Universal/Seaworld/getting on the I4 to Busch/Kennedy. It may be a bit much with 3 kids - having to pack up etc.
Just a thought....
We enjoy several resorts in Orlando area. The Sheraton Vistana Resort and the Sheraton Vistana Villages are great.
The Sheraton Vistana Resort on the RT 535- Vineland RD – Lush resort, 7 pools - the rooms have full kitchen, 2 bedrooms with 3 beds, 2 full bathrooms..
Sheraton Vistana Villages on International drive is newer, really nice rooms but the resort is smaller than the Sheraton Resort on RT 535.
Disclaimer - I do not own stock in Starwood hotels..
Have a Great Vacation..
Years ago my wife and I, and her two brothers all rented a house near downtown Disney. It was a great home with an in ground pool and hot tub. Sometimes that can be a lot cheaper than a hotel. You can still visit all of the Disney hotels too if you still want to check them out. Hotel hopping is a great free thing to do. Nothing like checking out hotels, snooping around and grabbing a meal at their restaurants.
A few years ago, my in-laws bought a vacation home (future retirement home) about 10 miles from Downtown Disney. So we just stay there whenever we go.
There is a "magic never stops" feeling of staying on-site that is extremely different then when you stay off-site. This may not be a big deal to every family or guest, but it is to mine. It encompasses everything from meals at the hotel, shopping, swimming pools, odd-and-end stuff like arcades, and sometimes even your room or the TV channels and promos (ex: my kids love "Stacy's 7 Must-Do Disney Attractions, and recorded a lot of it onto their iPods to "remember the magic", etc.).
We have stayed at the All-Stars and Pop Century many times (value), Coronado Springs and Port Orleans (moderate), and also Grand Floridian and Dolphin once each (deluxe). Even in the Dolphin which is not a WDW-run hotel, there was still a consistent feeling that you were always "in the magic". And though the hotels aren't as nice or luxurious, the All-Stars are super-fun and immersed "in the magic".
Last time we were there we had some non-Disney stuff to do off-site -- and there is clearly an immediate disconnect for our family once you drive beyond the outer WDW gates.
The other perks are also nice -- extra magic hours, free parking at the parks, transportation if you want it (which is particularly useful when going to Magic Kingdom), shorter commute to the parks than from most off-site hotels, etc.
Yes, the cost of staying on-site is higher for this than in most off-site hotels. But for our family it is definitely worth it. For others it's not.
You'll have to figure out if this is something that seems important to your family.
(BTW -- so jealous, 8 days in WDW!! :-)
After reading all of your different comments I'm leaning towards renting a condo or house for the 12 days that we will be in Florida. I know this means that we will be missing out on the Magic Hours but I'm sure we will still enjoy our trip.
If anyone has recommendations for places they have stayed at I would love to hear them :)
BTW, October rooms are really filling up. We were checking around after making our reservations for October, and found many of the resorts completely booked during the last 2 weeks of October.
From a cost standpoint, I have done the numbers every year to calculate Disney deals against Flying, renting a car, and staying at the condo. Even with a free meal plan, the cost for a family of five to stay on site has always made Disney more expensive than staying at the condo. We get an amazing deal on ours. If you click the link below and let them know I sent you, they will be sure to give you a great deal as well.
For food, we eat breakfast at the condo, then do counter service for lunch, $4 for a snack, and then do a moderately priced table service meal. And then we do one really nice Table Service meal while there at one of the nicer more expensive places.
We have stayed as long as 11 days before and let me tell you...you definitely want to break it up a bit. Go to the beach, visit one of the natural springs, sleep in one day, go to the pool, go do putt-putt. If you spend every day at the parks for that long, it will definitely detract from the experience as amazing as Disney is.