Keep your eyes open for Buy 2 or 3 days and get 2 free! It’s a pretty common promotion
If you really are set on getting Express, do it as early as possible. The rate goes up as the date gets closer. It is priced on a “on demand” scale
The shuttles from most off-site hotels suck. They typically only go to the parks 3 - 4 times in the morning and pick-up 3 - 4 times in the evening. (Often by 8pm)
Plus, you have to sign-up the day before, or very early that morning, to get a space on the shuttle.
Renting a car / van means you have to pay for hotel & Universal parking, but with that many people it’s probably the most logical option.
I would genuinely consider staying on-site at CBBR. You can find rates for $109 - $144 / night if you book far in advance. Off-site hotels are not much higher. The price for a rental car with trying to go back-and-forth makes on-site worth it.
I often book my nights to make sure I get my availability then keep checking habitually to see if I can get a better rate. You are allowed to change your booking if the rate goes down.
I’m going this weekend and staying at CBBR and Dockside. When I started booking the rate at CBBR was over $200 / night and Dockside was $114. I’ve booked it for $144 for 3 night at CBBR then Dockside for $95 / night for the rest of the trip. By checking every day for weeks I knocked a couple hundred dollars off my total!
The best tips you probably already know… break up into smaller groups, take rest breaks, prioritize Hagrid’s and VelociCoaster and WWOHP. (You can spend a whole day just doing WWOHP with 7 kids and not get it all done if they want to play with the interactive wands!)
July is the busiest month. Go slow, prepare for the heat, be patient and don’t make it a forced “march”.
You’ve got plenty of time, so watch YouTube for ideas and keep asking questions!!