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Spring Getaway on the Grand Canyon Railway

Looking for a March destination that isn't crowded with rowdy spring breakers? Consider a national park, such as the Grand Canyon, where spring crowds are much thinner than you'd find in summer. You're more likely to find deals this time of year, too. The Grand Canyon Railway is offering spring break deals that bundle a train tour to the South Rim, a hotel stay, and breakfast and dinner each day.

Choose from one-, two- or three-night stays at the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel in Williams, Arizona, just east of Flagstaff. The 287-room hotel, which neighbors the train depot, has an indoor pool, a hot tub, and a game room. The three-night deal also includes a night in the Maswik Lodge, inside the Grand Canyon National Park, as well as a bus tour of the South Rim.

The 65-mile train ride -- which uses vintage, restored train cars and travels through ponderosa pine forests and high-desert landscapes -- even includes a historic reenactment with onboard musicians and a Wild West Shootout before you board the train.

But how much money do you save? For a one-night getaway, prices start at $424 for a family of four ($306 per couple and $59 for each child). The offer includes:

  • One, two, or three nights' lodging (the Grand Canyon Railway Hotel is usually $129 per night this time of year, while the Maswik is $110)
  • Round-trip transportation for four on the Grand Canyon Railway ($75 per adult x 2 + $45 per child under 12 x 2 = $240)
  • Breakfast and dinner buffets at the Grand Depot CafĂ© (worth $92 per day)

If booked without the special offer, an overnight getaway would cost a family of four about $461. So this package shaves off $37 from your total, or just a little under 10%.

Deal or No Deal? The only huge drop is the one you'll see over the Rim. The 10% savings holds up on the 2- and 3-night deals, too -- so the only big advantage here seems to be the lack of crowds. If you want to bring down the price tag more, you can book the trips without the meals, which may be a better deal if you're not big breakfast eaters.

The offer is good for travel through March 29. You don't need a promotion code to book online, or you can call reservations at tel. 800/843-8724 (800/THE-TRAIN).

Field Museum Package at Days Inn Chicago

The Days Inn Chicago, about two miles north of downtown in the bustling Lincoln Park neighborhood, is within walking distance from both Wrigley Field and Lincoln Park Zoo. Its convenient location, combined with a variety of room options, free breakfast, and Wi-Fi, make it a popular hotel choice for families.

The hotel has rolled out a package tied to the Field Museum, the Windy City's legendary science and natural-history museum. The Field boasts plenty of kid-friendly attractions (think family playlab and a 42-foot-tall T. Rex skeleton), plus a rotating line-up of special exhibits. The latest, "Opening the Vaults: Mummies," runs through April 27. The exhibit features more than 20 mummies, some of which have not been on display for more than a century. Visitors can virtually navigate into a sarcophagus, unwrap the outer wrappings, and explore the interior.

The Field Museum Package bundles passes to the museum and a few other extras, with advertised nightly rates starting at $129. To find out if it's really a good deal for families, we did the math for a Saturday stay. The package includes:

  • Overnight accommodations (worth $111 for a double room)
  • VIP All-Access passes for two adults to the Field Museum that include the museum's special exhibits and 3-D theater, plus a 10% discount in the museum's gift shops ($29 per adult x 2 = $58)
  • Continental breakfast (always free)
  • Wi-Fi (always free)
  • Kids stay free (they always stay free)

The package includes two adult VIP all-access tickets worth $29 each. But you don't need that high-end ticket to visit the Opening the Vaults exhibition. A less expensive entry ticket that allows admission to the exhibition costs just $22 per adult and $15 per child. Without the package, a family could spend $111 for the room and $74 for museum tickets ($22 per adult x 2 + $15 per child x 2), or a total of $185.

With the package, a family of two adults and two kids would pay a nightly room rate of $145. Since the package doesn't include kids' VIP museum passes, the hotel suggests purchasing them separately for $23 each. Note that this price includes a mark-up, as the VIP all-access kids' passes are available at the museum for just $20 each. Yet unless you need all the bells and whistles of the VIP pass, your best bet would be to buy the less-pricey admission children's tickets directly from the museum, thus bringing your total spend to $175 ($145 for the package + $30 for children's tickets). The net result is a somewhat unimpressive savings of $10.

Deal or No Deal? Here's a good example of a package that seems to give you a lot of bang for your buck, but closer scrutiny leaves you feeling deflated. You don't need the package to get the free breakfast and Wi-Fi, and kids always stay free at this hotel. So it comes down to this: How many and what type of museum ticket do you really need? It's not necessary to buy the VIP all-access pass to visit the Opening the Vaults exhibition, so in our minds, this package delivers negligible real value.

Book online (look for the Field Museum package after entering dates), or call tel. 888/576-3297 and ask for the Field Museum package.

4th Night Free at Orlando's Villas of Grand Cypress

Family vacations can be expensive, but some destinations are trying to help out in meaningful ways. One such spot is Orlando's Villas of Grand Cypress, boasting a lineup of on-site action to keep everyone in the family happy. For starters, there's a 21-acre lake with boating, swimming and fishing, a 45-hole golf course and a 9-hole pitch 'n putt course, two swimming pools, a rock-climbing wall, biking and nature trails, and plenty of kids' activities.

The resort's Family Funcation promotion (valid from April 8 through Sept. 30) offers families a few ways to reduce the cost of a family vacation. The first: stay three nights, and you'll get a fourth night free. When we price-checked some dates, we found that room rates were the same with and without the offer. (That's important, because some resorts hike the promo rate to cover the cost of the free night -- not the case here.) For a four-night stay in July, the nightly rate for a club suite double is $201. With the offer, the fourth night is subtracted from the bill, dropping the total from $804 to $603. That translates to a nightly rate of $150, and a straightforward savings of 25%. Score!

The real value, though, is in all the extras that come with the promo: Kids under 17 eat free at resort dining outlets, plus they can play golf free (a value of $120 per person) and share a golf lesson with Mom or Dad for no additional charge. So if you're planning on staying put on the resort for dining and golf, you could rack up some very sizable savings.

Deal or No Deal? Start packing! You get a solid 25% savings off the rack rate plus extras that will further reduce your overall spend. Can't argue with that!

The fine print: Dining and golfing are free for one child per paying adult; resort fees and taxes are not included; and there are some blackout dates and restrictions. Book online or call 407/239-4700 and ask for the "Family Funcation" offer.

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