I love researching, planning and prepping for vacation. For me all of the prep work is part of the fun, and Disney World/Universal is a vacation prepper's dream.
Due to time and money restraints, it has been almost five years since we have been on a real, full vacation, so I was pretty excited. Okay if you could physically burst with joy, that would have most likely happened.
One of the best sources of information that I found this time around, is podcasts. There are numerous Disney and Universal podcasts. I tried out quite a few before whittling down to my favorties...
-Make Mine Magic
-The DIS Unplugged-Disney World Edition
and for Universal, The DIS Unplugged Universal Edition
I also visited websites like tripadvisor, but mostly to ogle at the pictures. Oh, and I enjoyed one YouTube series called Eating My Ears. It's all eating reviews of Disney World. The female host is fun and quirky. She reminded me of me.
When we went on our trip to Costa Rica I did a lot of research on packing. Since we were only using public transportation we knew we couldn't have a lot of luggage. That was when we discovered the wonders of the duffle bag.
I know everyone likes their wheelie suitcases, and I can understand why, but we prefer the duffle with a cross-body strap. We can zip through the airport, up and down stairs and escalators faster and with ease. I also think you can stuff a lot more into all the nooks and crannies around the edges.
Also while researching for Costa Rica I discovered the cube method of packing. You can read a lot more about that on all of the cube packing specific websites, but how I utilize it is that I fold my pants into squares, then I fold shirts around the squares. Then you can easily stack your squares in your bag and fit lots of stuff around them.
I purchased a small cross-body hip purse (because it is shaped to rest on your hip) specifically for this trip. It was easy to carry around and to take on the rides that you could take your belongings on.
We don't have kids, so we don't need to carry around tons of snacks or extra things with us. You can go up to any quick service at Disney or Universal and ask for ice water and they will give you a cup of it for free, so we didn't need drink bottles. I did want to carry my phone, my sunglasses, a small tube of sunblock, and our rain ponchos. I also carried two ziploc bags. I punched a hole at the top (above where you seal it) and tied an elastic hair tie through the hole (so you could secure it to your wrist) in case we needed to keep our things dry on a ride (this actually ended up coming most in handy when it down poured and we wanted to get wet because it was hot, but wanted our stuff to stay dry).
We keep a change jar in our house that we dispense our change into at the end of the day. We then use the extra change for when we go on vacation. We normally use it for things like souvenirs, snacks, and little extras. Since we haven't been on vacation in years, we had a decent amount of change. We were quite an attraction the day we took it to the bank to cash it in.
If you want to know the exact amount you can ask me in person, but I'll just say here that it was twice what we thought it would be, so save your change kids!
We used some of the change money to purchase Disney World gift cards at our warehouse club store (you have to make sure they are the cards that can be used at Disney World and not just the Disney Store, there is a difference). The gift cards were useful for buying snacks, quick service meals, and paying for parking.
I also brought a $50.00 American Express gift card that I won for a picture caption contest from The DIS Unplugged Universal Edition.
This went towards Harry Potter souvenirs.
A couple of other tips
-I found using the My Disney Experience App very helpful. You can use this to book dinning reservations and fast passes before your trip and check wait times for rides before your trip and while at the park. I didn't like the actual Universal Park App and preferred to use an App that is kept up by an employee. That app was only useful for looking up ride wait times however.
-Bring sunblock and wear it!
-I would suggest wearing light weight cargo pants/shorts, especially to Universal (I did this and was extremely happy that I did). Pick cargo pants that have a pocket on the side that securely buttons closed. Universal is very particular about not bringing any bags or loose items with you on rides (more on that later), but some of the queues, the Harry Potter ones in-particular, are impressive and you may want to take pictures (you may also want to take a picture of your locker number-more on that later). If you have pants with a secure pocket you can take your pictures and then before you get on the ride you can secure your phone in the cargo pocket and it should be safe.