advertisement

In just about a week, we're going to enter the peak season in Disney World in Orlando, which spans roughly mid-February to mid-April. Regular season resumes after that, through early August. Now that airfares seem to be climbing a bit, it's become more imperative than usual to look into package deals that bundle your airfare in along with other incentives. Visiting the Magic Kingdom becomes a yearly pilgrimage for many enthusiasts, and because it's so popular, there is usually no shortage of packages. However, whether or not these aforementioned packages are deals is another matter entirely.

United Airlines Vacations (tel. 888/854-3899; www.unitedvacations.com) is offering a "Stay Four Nights & Play" free deal, which includes four-day, two-park passes when you stay a minimum of four nights at a Universal Orlando Resort (Royal Pacific, Hard Rock, Portofino Bay). You'll also receive a voucher for shopping and dining discounts at the Orlando Premium Outlets. The deal is priced from $574 for the Royal Pacific, based on departures from New York City, Boston, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. The advertised prices reflect standard room accommodations for travel May 4-August 10. The deal is valid now through April 3, and then April 23-December 18, with a booking deadline of December 18. Transportation to your hotel from the airport is included along with baggage handling.

United is also part of the 50th Anniversary Celebration taking place at Disney World this year, offering a variety of savings, with packages priced from $549 that include airfare, three nights standard accommodations (this one at Disney's Pop Century resort) and a three-day, "Magic Your Way" base ticket. The prices advertised reflect Monday departures from Washington, D.C., Newark and New York City, now through February 13 and April 24-July 3; other accommodations and departure cities are available for an additional fee.

Air Tran (tel. 800/AIR-TRAN; www.airtran.com) is having a fare sale good for travel through May 24. Over two dozen cities are part of it, including Atlanta and Philadelphia ($69), Washington (Dulles and Reagan) $79; New York LaGuardia and Newark ($94); Denver ($124); and Los Angeles and San Francisco ($154). Fares are one-way, no round-trip purchase is required, and they're valid for Monday, Thursday and Friday travel. The booking deadline is February 14, and you must purchase 10 days in advance.

Priceline (tel. 800/774-2354; www.priceline.com) is running a Pricebreakers deal with Delta Airlines, from $145 round-trip to Orlando, good for travel through March 31. The deal ends on February 13, with blackout dates on February 17, 18, 20, 25 and 26, and is valid for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday departures. Departures from both New York airports and Atlanta are priced at $145 and others are available, but some require a three-night minimum stay. When booked through Priceline, the fares are nonrefundable.

It seems that nearly the same deal, called "Sunshine for Less Sale" is being offered at Delta's own site (tel. 800/221-1212; www.delta.com), but the fares are not round-trip; they're priced at one-way rates based on round-trip travel. The same travel days are included, and the same travel and booking deadlines apply, but Delta's prices are slightly higher, although not by much. Their offer has no blackout dates and you can cancel your reservation up until midnight of the day before your departure with no penalty.

Jet Blue (tel. 800/JETBLUE; www.jetblue.com) is offering "Find Magic Getaway" from a pretty unbeatable $295 per person based on travel from New York-JFK, including three nights at the Courtyard Orlando Lake Buena Vista. It's a special that's not going to last forever -- the prices advertised, according to a company representative, reflect travel through roughly the second week of March. (A February 27 departure from JFK, for example, costs around $311 per person -- still a good price.) The hotel is about a mile from the resort, but there's complimentary transportation to Disney, Epcot, MGM, and Animal Kingdom.

Mousesavers (www.mousesavers.com) ought to be a required read for anyone planning a trip to any Disney resort. It's loaded with tips and deals and insight gleaned by those who have been there many times. For example, Mousesavers points out that the Magic Your Way Specials offered by Disney are more heavily discounted for longer stays (i.e. 5 to 7 days) and that it's usually not too much more expensive than staying for four days. Additionally, because booking a Disney packages can be a dizzying, confusing experience, Mousesavers recommends booking the deal with a travel agent who specializes in Disney travel.

Right now, there's a special deal for 25-percent off regular rates at the Hotel Royal Plaza for Mousesavers readers (www.mousesavers.com/royalplaza.html). The hotel was recently renovated and is within walking distance of downtown Disney and Pleasure Island. The rooms are bright and are decorated in neutral tones, and can accommodate up to five people. A quick search for an early March, weekday check-in revealed a variety of availability, most with rates $100-$200 per night.

If you like to go straight to the source, Disney World (www.disneyworld.com) has three ways -- affordable, magical and flexible -- you can plan your stay. The "Magic Your Way" offer currently advertised under "affordable" states that a "family of four can enjoy a Disney Value Resort stay and theme park tickets for less than $1500 for a six-night, seven-day vacation." This price reflects travel to February 15 and travel April 23-September 30 and is not available for all arrival dates. Airfare is not included.

Share your tips for saving money and getting the most of your Disney vacation on our Florida Message Boards today.