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Nothing can kill a good vacation vibe faster than paying more at check-out than you'd expected.

So how can you tell a great deal from a dud? Do the math. We take a hard look at three hotel packages aimed at families and answer the age-old question: Deal or no deal?

Legoland package at Hilton Garden Inn in Carlsbad, CA

Oh, how we love a hotel package that bundles in theme park admissions -- as long as the package doesn't take us for a ride.

The Hilton Garden Inn Carlsbad Beach, north of San Diego, is offering two packages combining admission to Legoland California, located in the suburb of Carlsbad. The 161-room hotel -- about five minutes from Legoland -- is across the street from Carlsbad beach and has a pool, seasonal dive-in movies, and gear (lawn chairs, sand toys, umbrellas) to tote over to the beach. Carlsbad is well-located for a SoCal theme park trip: It's on the northern side of San Diego County, but you're only about 30 minutes or so from SeaWorld and the San Diego, and a little over an hour from Disneyland.

We were more intrigued by the package with a lower rate: The Summer Legoland Resort Hopper package, which starts at $331 per night. The package includes:

  • A room for at least two nights (in June, regular rates start at $229/night x 2 nights = $458)
  • Two-day hopper tickets for a family of four to Legoland and its adjoining Water Park and Aquarium (worth $99/adult x 2 + $89/child x 2 = $376)
  • Breakfast for four daily (worth about $50 x 2 days = $100)
  • Free transportation to and from Legoland (always included, but it saves you $12/day compared to driving and parking yourself = $24)

Deal or No Deal? Stay just two nights and the package is worth its weight in Legos. When we test-booked some June dates, we found a $391 package rate, which easily beats out what it would cost if you booked the components separately. Not only do you save 18% by booking the package, but it includes things you know you'll use. The catch: The deal becomes worse the longer you stay; book three nights instead of two, and your savings go down to a piddling $14 in total.

The Legoland Hopper deal is good for a stay of at least two nights through Sept. 5. You can book online -- look for the two packages after entering dates -- or by calling tel. 760/476-0800.

Waikiki Embassy Suites' Family Fun Package

All-inclusive hotels aren't common in Hawaii, but any deal that includes breakfast and potentially even a light supper gets our attention. Honolulu's Embassy Suites Waikiki Beach Walk offers such perks regularly, but the hotel is upping the ante with its new Family Fun package.

Located a short walk from famous Waikiki Beach, the all-suites hotel is also near the trolley line, which can take you for shopping at Waikiki and Ala Moana Center or on historic sightseeing tours. Suites come with a fridge and microwave, and the hotel offers two other big freebies: free hot breakfasts and a nightly Manager's Reception of snacks (which, for some picky-eating kids, could almost count as dinner). The package, which starts at $289 per night, includes:

  • A four-night stay (best available rate in June is $289 a night)
  • 2 days of unlimited rides on three trolley lines for a family of four (worth at least $120 for a family of four)
  • one full day of beach gear: two chairs, umbrella, boogie boards and inflatables (usually $65)
  • one in-room pizza dinner plus an in-room movie (worth about $30)

Deal or No deal? Maholo! When we test-booked some June dates, we found nightly rates that started at $309 per night for a one-bedroom suite with the package, compared to the $289 regular rates -- so the package would cost an extra $80 over the course of four nights. The extras in the package add up to $215, so you definitely get your money's worth if your family uses that trolley pass to explore for a couple of days. What if you only want to play on the beach and then eat some pizza back in the room? You'll still save -- but only $15.

The deal is good for stays through Dec. 21. There is a four-night minimum stay with the package, and taxes are not included. Use the promotional code PK4 when booking online, or mention the Family Fun package when calling tel. 800/362-2779 (EMBASSY).

Save up to 30% at Fairmont Maya Riviera

Looking for a posh getaway for an affordable price tag? The upscale Fairmont chain is offering discounts at all of its global hotels -- most lasting through fall or even the end of the year. We were especially intrigued by the Bed & Breakfast Escapes promotion at the very family-friendly Fairmont Mayakoba in Mexico's Riviera Maya, which promises a savings of up to 30% off regular rates.

The 400-room resort, built around a system of waterways, sits on Mexico's Caribbean coastline, just 45 miles from the giant hub of Cancun. Enjoy five pools, a spa, and easy beach access with a lot of freebies that would add up fast at other hotels: kids 5 and under always eat free from the kids' menu when dining with their parents, and the kids' club is complimentary for ages 4 to 12 for up to three hours per day per child. The Bed & Breakfast package, which starts at $229 a night, includes:

  • lodging (regular rates start at $256/night for the June and August dates we checked)
  • buffet breakfast for two adults in La Laguna restaurant (worth $40/day; according to the concierge, kids can enjoy the buffet for free)
  • on-property boat tour (always free anyway)
  • one child can golf for free after 2:30 pm for each adult paying a full greens fee (usually $56 in summer)

Deal or No Deal? Let's call this one tibio -- that's Spanish for "lukewarm." It turns out that you get a 20% discount with this package after factoring in the breakfast savings. But in this case, the promised 30% savings only holds up if you compare it to a rack rate you'd never pay anyway. Even so, this is a great price point for this level of property, and we can't badmouth three free hours a day at the kids' club.

The package is available until Dec. 17, 2011. Rates do not include taxes or the $15-a-day resort fee. You can book the package online; look for the Bed and Breakfast Escapes after entering dates -- or ask for the package when calling tel. 800/441-1414.

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