There's something about Disney World that inspires repeat visits and a fervor among its devotees; there are people who have marked many milestones in its fantasyland -- engagements, weddings, birthday parties and, of course, yearly pilgrimages. To encourage visitors, Walt Disney World in Orlando Florida has put together a new promotion that's aimed at saving you money -- it's called "Magic Your Way." They advertise a family of four can spend six nights there and receive passes to the parks for under $1,500 (not including airfare). The $1,500 figure they quote is for their least expensive accommodations, called "value" hotels; they're strictly Spartan. While you can indeed book your trip on the Disney website, and we've included it here, there is no shortage of websites offering travel deals to this very popular destination. We've rounded up some of the best, available now through late spring. Keep in mind, that the peak season runs from now until April 16 and the regular season starts April 17 and runs through August 27, so the rates for March and early April will be higher.
Orlando/Orange County Convention and Visitors Bureau
The Orlando Visitors (tel. 866-MYORLANDO; www.orlandoinfo.com) site offers easy, unfussy, one-stop shopping that's strong on package deals; there are four of them currently offered. All calculations are based on two adults and two children under the age of six staying at a selected Orlando hotel, arriving on a Saturday in late March for a six-night stay.
The most comprehensive is the "Disney Family" package, which requires a minimum four-night stay. A quick check reveals a price range of $1123.20 at the Heritage Hotel to the Hampton Inn Suites (with pool and exercise room). Each member of your party gets a Magic Your Way Park Hopper Pass, good for admission to Disney-MGM Studios, Magic Kingdom, Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park and Epcot.
The "Family Spring Break" package runs from March 13 until April 30 and is the only deal with date restrictions. Otherwise, it requires a minimum two-night stay and includes a one day/one park pass at Universal Orlando Resort, one day admission to Sea World, and one day admission to Gatorland; the price range begins around $758 for hotels a couple of miles from the parks and climbs to $2,100 or more for hotels that bill themselves as "resorts."
The "SeaWorld Package" is cheaper still -- six nights at a hotel start at a mere $453 all the way up to $1,900.You don't have to stay six nights though -- the minimum is two -- and this package includes a one-day admission to SeaWorld Orlando and a choice of an additional discounted park tickets.
Finally, the "Universal Family Package" requires a minimum of two nights at selected Orlando hotels, one day/one park admission to either Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure and additional discount tickets. Starting in mid-March the rates begin at $502 and run up to $1,959.
All Rates are based on availability and demand and are subject to change. There is a $25 cancel room fee. Tickets are not refundable but you can use them at a future visit. Once you've booked, sign up for the Orlando Magicard (www.orlandoinfo.com/magicard/offers.cfm)through the site to obtain a visitor's guide and up to $500 in savings, redeemable at various attractions, restaurants, dinner theater events, golf, clothing outlets, hotels and rental cars.
Insider Tips, Tricks, and Deals with Mousesavers
Mousesavers (e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org; www.mousesavers.com) is all about a more renegade, do-it-yourself approach to booking a vacation in any Disney location -- not just Disney World. It breaks down the various seasons and offers specific information and tips on when is the best time to go and why, and it's a fantastic insider source for Disney-related codes and discounts and other tips.
If you want to tinker around and you're truly looking for the best deal, you can click on their Disney world vacation packages and click on "Magic Your Way." Their reservation system allows a more nuanced and exacting look at what's available, and you can opt out of the Park Hopper option if, for example, you already have your tickets for the various parks and attractions. You can simply opt for the Magic Your Way Base Ticket, which includes admission to one theme park per day. If you're there for four days, for example, one adult base ticket, good for admission to one park per day for four days, costs $197; you can become a park hopper for an additional $35, not including tax.
The folks at Mousesavers have corralled a list of various resorts in different price ranges for accommodations, from motel-like stay in the value ($109-$121) category to moderate ($168-$199 in peak; no frills except a pool and some food/dining options in-house) to deluxe ($289-$404 per night during peak) to home-away-from-home resorts such as beach club villas (as much as $404/night during peak). These rates don't include tax and are based upon two adults; at most resorts there is an additional charge for more than two persons staying in a room. There's an extensive list under "preferred hotels near Disney" that includes deals for Mousesavers readers; a room in the Buena Vista Suites, with breakfast, sleeping up to six people, is $109 until April 9 and goes back down to $89 from April 10-June 10. Parking at the hotel here is free. If you want to stay in the newly created town Celebration, just minutes from Orlando, rooms run from $170 to $225, depending on room size and view (lake or town), until May 31.
In any case, the Mousesavers site seems perfect for people who have the time, patience, and inclination to cobble together the most inexpensive, tip-laden deal possible.
All-Inclusive Air & Hotel Package with Southwest Vacations
If an all-inclusive vacation package is more your speed, with airfare and other transportation accounted for, try the airlines that service Orlando most frequently for the best bet. Southwest Vacations (tel. 800/243-8372; www.swavacations.com) is running a special called Disney Play More, Stay More, now through June 2, as long as you book by March 17, for a limited number of departure cities. The package requires a minimum three-night stay and includes airfare, accommodations, and Magic Your Way two-day base tickets and accommodations at the very colorful, kid-friendly Disney's Pop Century Resort or Disney's Port Orleans (three nights from $454, if you're flying from Ft. Lauderdale). The easy-to-search site offers prices for a range of departure locations, dates and stay lengths. Disney's Pop Century Resort is advertised from $349, but only if you're flying from Ft. Lauderdale; three nights, from Chicago, for example, is $439, to the Pop Century Resort. Both the Pop Century and Port Orleans departure destinations include Chicago, Providence, Baltimore, Kansas City and Manchester. If you opt for a four night stay you'll receive three days' worth of Magic Your Way tickets; five nights nets you four days' worth of tickets.
Straight to the Mouse Himself: Walt Disney World
Use Disney World's own reservation service (tel. 407-WDW-MAGIC; http://disneyworld.disney.go.com) and see your options in the most colorful -- this is Disney after all -- and musical way. Perhaps a Disney World resort stay, then, would be the most magical? If you're going this route, however, there are many advantages, but you're going to pay for them. It is not always immediately evident how much the many permutations of deals and add-ons cost; much of this is mysteriously built-in. For example, if you stay at the Walt Disney World Swan or Dolphin Hotel, you can take advantage of extra playtime; each day a different park stays open an extra three hours and opens an hour earlier.
Disney begins the yearlong Happiest Celebration on Earth on May 5th, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Disney theme parks. As part of that party, Disney introduces the Magical Express, a complimentary transportation service that allows your vacation to begin the minute you leave Orlando International Airport, but only if you book certain resorts. You'll be transported in a themed, air-conditioned you to the Disney resort you've booked and your bags will go straight from the plane to your room. Also, you can have free access to the monorail, motor coach and water taxis. There are customization options too numerous and dizzying to detail here, but you can select the vacation you want "based on the budget you want," the website says. You have the choice to book vacation packages, tickets and Disney resorts with every level of luxury through their website.
For a "value" stay, try the Disney All-Star Movies resort with the gigantic Buzz Lightyear, or the Jazz Inn Music resort. The rate range from $77-$131 per night for a family of four with two children under the age of six, based on a late March, peak-season stay. The moderate category starts as low as $134 and climbs as high as $209 per night. Base your stay on the number of days, add the Park Hopper Option (previously detailed), which allows you to go through many parks on one day throughout the course of your vacation. Disney's advertising the mantra "the more you stay, the more you play;" basically, the longer you're there, the more bang you get for your buck. Tickets are not cheap -- they're $64 per day per adult (and children ten and up are considered adults here), and $52 for children ages 3-9; children; kids under three are free. Your tickets must be used within 14 days of your first use, unless you choose the no expiration option, which allows you to use them in the future.
Cheap, Inclusive, Limited-Time-Only Deals
Finally, check out one of our favorite warm weather packagers, Eleisurelink (tel. 888/801-8808; www.eleisurelink.com) where they're currently offering a three-night stay with round-trip airfare at the Seralago Hotel and Suities, in Kissimmee, Florida, from $215. They are close to Orlando, and offer a free shuttle service to Disney World three miles away. The $215 rate is from New York-JFK to Orlando; other departure cities listed are mostly on the East Coast and include Boston ($219), Philadelphia ($245), Chicago ($285), Hartford ($245) and Baltimore/Washington ($245). The terms and conditions state that you must depart between Monday and Thursday, and you must book by March 4 for travel until March 17. There is a Budget Travel magazine special as well -- five nights airfare included at Sleep Inn Maingate, near Disney World from $343 per person; the departure cities at this price are Chicago or New York but others are available for a surcharge. The deal includes free shuttle service to Disney parks, breakfast, and five-day rental car with unlimited mileage, plus extras such as an Orlando attractions coupon booklet and options to purchase discounted park tickets, and the booking is good through December 31, 2005.
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