There are pros and cons with staying on Disney property, and depending on what type of trip you are doing and your budget I have different advice. We stayed at Fantasy World Resort only about 3 miles from Disney property. To stay at the cheapest hotel(s) on Disney (our travel agent was pricing us for the World of Sports one) it was $1,000 more than this resort. I was pleasantly surprised by how nice and clean it was. Finding a room for a family of six was a challenge, and this resort has 2 story condos 2 bedrooms/2 bathrooms and a queen size sleeper sofa. They also had a washer/dryer, a nice, updated kitchen, and water slides/lazy river/splash pad in the pool area. The negative to this place is that the shuttle times were very inconvenient. For example going to Disney we had to catch the 8:30 am shuttle and the next one wasn't until 11 and that night the pick up times were 5:45 and 8:45- the park closed at 7. So the first night we took a taxi home and after that we took our car and parked there. It is $15 to park and that is good for any of the parks all day. If you have the money the Contemporary Resort would be great b/c the monorail runs right through it. If I had a baby (and the money) I would stay there. It also takes ages to get into Magic Kingdom b/c you have to take two monorails. It's like getting in Ft. Knox. Ok, not like that, but when you have eager children awaiting Mickey and rides and princess and Disney galore it drives you a little nuts. It took us over an hour to get from our hotel shuttle stop to the actual entrance to the park. If I was dreaming up a vacation with no budget I think I would stay in the Animal Kingdom Lodge. That place looks a.maz.ing!! You also might want to check out "friends of Disney" hotels that shuttle you to the park. There was a Doubletree we passed across from Downtown Disney that looked really nice and close to everything.
The parks-- they are overwhelming! We only had one day in each park (actually only 3 of the parks) b/c we are cheap and the park hopper is not. So, my husband would like to go with no plan and just ride what you come upon. I, however, do not work this way. At least not with a mixed gender group of all different ages-- 15, 11, 8, and 3- ha! No, for me it was like a military operation- divide and conquer! So yes, we split up several times so the big kids could ride say Splash Mountain while the little princess met with the princesses. Fast passes are awesome, but they also require strategy as you can only get one during one time period. So there are some lines you are just going to have to stand in, so we tried to pick rides to stand in line for the move quickly- like Small World and the Magic Carpets. Also, I made a big mistake, and did not realize we were there on one of the day designated for Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween party so you needed an extra ticket to stay past 7 p.m. which meant no fireworks for us, and sadly that's my favorite part!
Okay a few tips if you are cheap like me. The Target in Orlando has some Disney shirts/souvenirs much cheaper than you will find in the parks. I took Natalie for her 4th birthday and she wanted a little plastic crown for $10 and I found it at Target than night for $3- that was 7 years ago but you get the picture. It's worth checking out. I also found some Minnie ears and a Minnie shirt for H at our Target a month before our trip. I bought journals in the dollar bins at the art store before we left and some stickers to decorate them for autographs. While I was there I bought a tube of glow in the dark bracelets for a dollar that the kids loved. I had envisioned them wearing those during the fireworks, but they liked wearing them just to walk around in the dark. I also read somewhere that you can order old Disney pins on Amazon for really cheap. I didn't think my kids would be very into the pin trading that you can do with Disney employees, but by the third day that's what they wanted as their souvenir and the cheapest pin is $8 at the parks (if you don't know about pin trading Google it). I also gave my kids some money before we got to the parks. I think that helped them decide if it was really something they wanted. I thought the fan/spray water bottle was a waste of money, but Natalie bought it with her money and ended up using the lanyard part of it to display her pins (a nice man walked by with a whole ziploc bag filled with pins and gave her a handful to trade with), and we were all begging to get sprayed with her water fan. It was 95 degrees that day- in October!! Something to think about.
Food-- Disney let's you bring in backpacks /snacks/ water bottles. They check your bags and there was no problem with my goldfish and sandwiches. I've heard you can't bring in juice boxes with straws to Animal Kingdom. We did not buy the Disney meal plan. We had breakfast and dinner in our condo and ate lunch in the parks. If you want to eat in the castle with the princesses or at the new Be Our Guest restaurant get reservations way ahead of time. It says on one of the Disney websites how far in advance, but one month is not nearly enough in advance. We did get reservations at the Rainforest Cafe in Animal K. I have no idea what the normal wait was, but we still had to wait about 20 mins. (with reservations a month in advance!).
What we loved-- I loved The Festival of the Lion King in Animal Kingdom. Hallie and I saw that while the others went on Everest and the Rapids rides. It was like Cirque de Soleil for kids. I so wished the others could have seen it, but it wasn't until the end of the day that I discovered it. Splash Mountain was a big hit with my older two. The characters are so great, but when my older two were little they were terrified of that sort of thing. H absolutely loved them, and some of our best memories are with them. Test Track was perfect for my son and even H loved it, but we went to get a fast pass for that about 10 a.m. and our time to come back was 7 that night! Dinosaur was much scarier than I thought, and Hallie hid under blanket and cried. Yeah. That ride is all in the dark with lots of huge dinosaurs that pop out at you. Perfect for B though, and the girls loved screaming the entire time. In Epcot they have a Phineas and Ferb secret agent thing you can do. Ben really loved it, and he chose to do his in Mexico. It was so busy that day, and it was very hard to maneuver around all the people. That said, it was very cool. The phone you have directs you to different places and gives directions for your clues. For instance, we had to stand at the fountain and find the pinatas. When we got to them and pressed the button some secret numbers flashed out of the pinatas for about 5 seconds. We also about jumped out of our skin when a mini skeleton started talking to us before realizing it was the clue. Anyway, the kids get way more involved in the countries when they have a mission. The girls, meanwhile, sat on the fountain waiting for him to finish up looking extremely bored. It took us about 30 mins. but you can do more than one if that's your thing and you have the time. They also have an adventure book thing you can do in Animal K if you have the time for it the kids could get into that. Once again that was more Ben's thing. In Epcot they have a place called Club Cool. It's a Coca-Cola store that has several stations set up to try sodas from around the world (for free). So we all had fun being taste-testers though some got dumped out really quickly. I think the ginger-ale ish one was the winner for them, but I loved one I think from Mexico that wasn't so sweet and was fruit tasting. I think maybe it was watermelon. Anyway. Oh, I also like the Dole pineapple ice cream booth across from the Swiss Family Robinson tree house. If it is your birthday/anniversary/first time at the parks tell them at the ticket booth and they will give you a free button to wear. That was so unexpected and nice for N's birthday b/c so many park employees (including characters) would say sweet little happy birthday type things. She even got serenaded by a little band.
Okay, I think that's all the advice I have. The first time we went I stayed with a friend and spent one day in Magic Kingdom for N's 4th birthday. I had no plan, and it was the perfect day. So really it's amazing there, everyone is so nice, and you will have a great time!!