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We've said it before, and we'll say it again: you just won't know if that tempting special offer is a deal until you crunch the numbers and see the savings for yourself. Or, you could let the family travel experts at WeJustGotBack.com do the work for you. We tackled these three family travel packages and did the math so you won't have to.

Sweet Savings on Minnesota's Lake Superior

Minnesota's Lutsen Resort (www.lutsenresort.com) is celebrating its 125th year of welcoming travelers to its ruggedly beautiful setting along Lake Superior's North Shore. This rustic Great Lakes landmark is a popular spot for families, in part because it offers complimentary year-round activities from kayaking and swimming in the summer to night hikes and guided snowshoe tours in the winter.

The resort offers a year-round Minnesota Family Package that includes some free meals for the whole family. The package is valid on stays of at least two nights in any lodging style, from standard guest rooms to three-bedroom condos. Is the offer a good deal for families? We took a close look at the numbers to find out. A family booking this package for two-night October weekend would get:

  • accommodations (for an October weekend stay in a main lodge double room, worth $135/night x 2 nights = $270)
  • breakfast daily in the lakeside dining room (worth $10 x 4 people x 2 days = $80)
  • one dinner entrée per adult in either the pub or lakeside dining room (worth $40/adult x 2 = $80)
  • one kids' menu dinner per child under 12 (worth $15/child x 2 kids = $30)
  • free lodging for kids (no added value, because kids always stay free)

When we price-checked an October weekend stay for a family of two adults and two kids under 12, the package rate was quoted as $175 a night for a main lodge room with two double beds. So a two-night stay would total $350. If the package components were purchased separately, the total spend would be $460, or $110 more than the package, for a difference of 25%.

Deal or No Deal? Deal! This package delivers two free breakfasts and one free dinner --which translates to an average added value of $55 a day. Book online or call tel. 888/881-6991 and ask for the "Minnesota Family Package." Note: the package is not available during certain holiday periods.

Super Value near SeaWorld Orlando

The Renaissance Orlando at SeaWorld (www.marriott.com), located directly across from the popular marine attraction and its sister park Discovery Cove, offers guests a heated outdoor pool, spa, and five on-site eateries with SeaWorld-themed activities (think breakfast with Shamu). The hotel has announced a Family Escape! package valid through Dec. 15, with nightly rates starting at $99, free kids' meals and a few extras. But is it really a good deal for families? We crunched the numbers to find out.

A family of four booking this package would get:

  • overnight accommodations in a deluxe guest room (regularly $129/night on a September weekend)
  • welcome glass of champagne or sparkling cider for parents (worth about $10)
  • two free kids' meals daily for kids 12 and under (worth about $12/meal x 2 meals x 2 kids = $48)
  • family movie night with one large pizza, soft drinks, and an in-room movie (about $25)
  • 10% discount on spa services (the discount amounts to $11 on one-hour massage or facial)

When we price-checked a September weekend stay for a family of two adults and two kids under 12, we found a nightly rate of $129 with the package. The non-package, "leisure" rate for those dates was also $129 a night. If our hypothetical family booked the same stay without the package, the tab would total $212, which is $83 more than the package price. Room rates at this hotel vary widely during the promo period; we found nightly rates for a deluxe room ranging from $109 on an August weeknight to $369 on a Friday in early December. In all cases, when the Family Escape package was available, the package rate was identical to the regular room rate.

At first glance, the package offers savings of nearly 40%. But should all the package components be factored into our assessment? The welcome drink is just a token perk. And to take advantage of the spa discount, you have to spend money to save money. But even if you disregard those components, what's left is a package that offers savings to the tune of about $75 a night, which is 35% off the non-package price.

Deal or No Deal? For families with school-age kids who plan to eat at the hotel, this package is a deal because it offers real savings on food costs. The fine print: Availability is limited and there are some blackout dates. The "kids eat free" offer is good for a maximum of four children. Book online or call tel. 800/834-7015 and use promo code P50.

Paltry Savings in Palm Springs

The 530-room Hyatt Grand Champions Resort & Spa (www.grandchampions.hyatt.com) in Palm Springs makes for a great desert getaway (see our review), with seven pools -- including a waterslide and spray zone -- spa, tennis, golf, free bike rentals, and a Camp Hyatt kids' club. The only problem: It's so comfy that you'd be hard pressed to leave the edge of the pool, let alone venture off property and soak up the surroundings.

Yet the resort is enticing you to explore the local area for at least one day during your desert vacation. Its Living Desert Safari Package combines a stay at the desert resort with a VIP-level tour of the Living Desert, a zoo of 450-plus animals with a botanical garden, and exhibits and shows about the North American and African deserts. The package is advertised at a starting rate of $299 a night and includes:

  • a stay at Hyatt Grand Champions ($239 for a standard room)
  • three-hour private riding tour of the Living Desert, including lunch and a behind-the-scenes look at Amur leopards, giraffe feedings, a carousel ride, a tour of the wildlife hospital (VIP tour regularly $36/person, or $144 for a family of four)

This getaway is best saved for after Oct. 1, when cooler temperatures allow the Living Desert to re-open many of its shows and exhibits. If paying regular admission to the Living Desert without the VIP tour, a typical family of four would pay $41 ($12.75/adult x 2 + $7.75/child ages 3 to 12 x 2).

When we test-booked this package for a fall stay, the package rate was quoted as $379 a night for a standard room with two queen beds. To tack on additional nights, the formula turned out to be $239 x number of nights + $140 for the VIP zoo tour. The upshot: This package saves you a grand total of $4.

Deal or No Deal? A great getaway, but no real savings. Frugal families will bypass the VIP tour and simply buy regular admission, thus shaving $100 off their bill. When booking online, use the promo code LIVING. If booking by phone, call tel. 760/341-1000 and mention the package by name.

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