The number and diversity of package tours to Orlando is staggering. If Disney is on your agenda, head to www.disneyworld.com (where you'll find loads of information and can book a package as well). Disney's array of choices can include airfare, accommodations on or off Disney property, theme-park passes, a rental car, meals, a Disney cruise, and/or a stay at Disney's beach resorts in Vero Beach or Hilton Head, South Carolina. Some packages are tied to a season, while others are for special-interest vacationers, including golfers, honeymooners, or spa aficionados. For more information, or to book a Disney vacation package, call tel. 407/939-6244.
Although not on the same scale as Disney's options, Universal Orlando packages have improved greatly with the addition of the Islands of Adventure theme park, the CityWalk food-and-club district, and Universal's Loews-run hotels (along with several off-site hotel partners added in recent years). The options include lodging, VIP access to Universal's theme parks, and discounts to other non-Disney attractions. Some include round-trip airfare. Contact Universal Vacations at tel. 877/801-9720, or go to www.universalorlando.com.
SeaWorld also offers packages that include rooms from a choice of a handful of SeaWorld-area hotels, car rental, and tickets to SeaWorld. Call tel. 800/557-4268, or go to www.seaworldvacations.com.
For linksters, Golf Getaways (tel. 800/800-4028; www.golfgetaways.com) and Golfpac Vacations (tel. 800/327-0878; www.golfpacinc.com) offer play-and-stay packages.
For more information on package tours and for tips on booking your trip, visit www.frommers.com/planning.
Package Deals -- Just about everybody seems to be in the business of package deals these days. Although Disney itself offers a handful of package options, the discounts aren't usually that considerable. However, do ask reservations clerks about the latest and greatest promotion, or what may be running at the time you intend to visit. Promotions tend to run for a limited time, so be sure to get all the details -- when it runs, what it includes, what it doesn't, and so on. You should also search the Disney website (www.disneyworld.com) for special deals and promotions.
For up-to-date coverage of promotional offerings and discount codes good at Disney World, check out www.mousesavers.com. The site also offers its own slate of Disney specials.
Disney Cruise Packages
There's hardly a Florida tourist market that WDW hasn't successfully tapped. Ocean-going vacations are no exception. Disney Cruise Line (tel. 800/951-3532; www.disneycruise.com) launched the Magic, Wonder, and Dream in 1998, 1999, and 2011, respectively, and will debut the Fantasy in 2012. It didn't take long before the line made it all the way to the top of the family cruising market.
The Magic is Art Deco in style, with Mickey in the three-level lobby and a Beauty and the Beast mural in its top restaurant, Lumiere's. The Wonder's decor is Art Nouveau. Ariel commands its lobby, and its featured eatery, Triton's, sports a mural from The Little Mermaid.
Subtle differences aside, these are nearly identical twins. Both are 83,000 tons with 12 decks, 875 cabins, and room for 2,400 guests. There are some adults-only areas, including Palo, an intimate and romantic Italian restaurant; however, both ships have extensive kids' and teens' programs that take up almost an entire deck. They're broken into four age groups: the Flounder's Reef Nursery for ages 3 months to 3 years; Disney's Oceaneer Club and Disney's Oceaneer Lab for ages 3 to 12 (on the Wonder) and 3 to 10 (on the Magic). Ocean Quest (on the Magic) is the newest addition; filled with activities for almost every age, it features video games, plasma TVs, and a simulator that allows kids to steer the ship in and out of ports of call. Additional children's activities are now offered by interest rather than by age -- allowing your kids to choose exactly which activities they wish to participate in.
Restaurants, shows, and other onboard activities are extremely family-oriented. One of the line's unique features is a dine-around option that lets you move among main restaurants (each ship has four) from night to night while keeping the same servers.
Debuting in January 2011, the Dream is reminiscent of the grand ocean liners that sailed in the 1920s and '30s, oozing elegance and stylish sophistication, accented by whimsical Disneyesque touches. Practically dwarfing the Magic and Wonder, the Dream stands two decks taller and features 1,250 staterooms (and a capacity for up to 4,000 guests). Innovations on board include a first-of-its-kind water coaster (located on the upper deck), along with imaginative tech-y touches such as virtual portholes, an interactive play-floor, living characters, and enchanted art (think real-time animation). Like its older siblings, the Dream offers numerous dining options and an extensive array of onboard activities (including supervised childcare); the difference here, however, is that activities are arranged by interest rather than by age. The Dream sails out of Port Canaveral (at least for the next few years), with cruises to The Bahamas and the Caribbean.
In 2012, the Fantasy will set sail, bringing with it even more innovative touches and experiences than the Dream -- an AquaDuck water coaster, magic portholes, and enchanted artwork (all on the Dream as well) will be complemented by unique dinner shows and dining experiences, an adult entertainment district with chic clubs and lounges, and even a Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (among plenty of other kid-friendly entertainment options and activities).
Sailing out of Port Canaveral, which is about an hour east of Orlando by car, 3-night voyages visit Nassau, Bahamas, and Castaway Cay, Disney's own private island; 5-night cruises add Key West. There are also 7-night eastern Caribbean (St. Thomas, Tortola, and Castaway Cay) and 7-night western Caribbean (Key West, Grand Cayman, Cozumel, and Castaway Cay) itineraries. If you buy a land-sea package, transportation to and from Orlando is included; 7-night land-sea packages include 3 or 4 days afloat, with the rest of the week at a WDW resort. Prices depend on your choice of stateroom and resort. Packages are available that add round-trip air and unlimited admission to the WDW parks and other Disney attractions. You can get discounted fares if you book well in advance and go during nonpeak periods; specials or "Magic Rates" run periodically as well. Call for details and rates, or check with a travel agent.
From other ports, Alaskan cruises (5-, 6-, and 7-day), cruises to the Mexican Riviera (7-, 8-, and 10-day), and transatlantic Mediterranean cruises (8-, 10-, 11-, and 14-day) are offered as well. Mediterranean cruises (aboard the Magic) feature stops in such ports of call as Ajaccio, Corsica; Barcelona, Spain; Naples, Italy; Madeira, Portugal; and Gibraltar, U.K., among several others. Northern European cruises (8- to 14-night cruises aboard the Magic) feature stops in such ports as Cherbourg, France; Oslo, Norway; Helsinki, Finland; and St. Petersburg, Russia, among others. For more information on these and other sailings, call tel. 888/325-2500.
Beginning in 2012, the Disney Cruise Line will set sail from three new ports (in addition to its existing ports): New York, Seattle, and Galveston, Texas.
The Disney Magic, once repositioned from Port Canaveral to New York, will sail 20 cruises from New York -- including 8-night cruises to The Bahamas and 5-night cruises along the New England coast to Canada. It will also include 2-night cruises for those wanting to cruise for only a short time (with rates starting at $370 per person). Cruises to The Bahamas will, as always, include a day at Disney's private island, Castaway Cay; Nassau, Bahamas; and a stop at Port Canaveral (all guests receiving a 1-day Park Hopper ticket and round-trip transportation between the ship and their Disney resort). Rates for the new 8-night Bahamian cruise (departing from New York) start at $1,240 per person. Five-night cruises up the New England coast will stop at Halifax, Nova Scotia, and Saint John, New Brunswick. Rates start at $715 per person. Seven-night cruises from the Port of Galveston to the western Caribbean will also be offered. Ports of call include Grand Cayman and Mexico's Costa Maya and Cozumel. Rates start at $840 per person.
The Disney Wonder will sail a total of 14 7-night cruises from the Port of Seattle to Tracy Arm, Skagway, Juneau, and Ketchikan, Alaska, as well as Victoria, British Columbia. Rates start at $917 per person. The Wonder will continue sailing Mexican Riviera cruises from the Port of Los Angeles, as well as 7-night Pacific Coast cruises that stop in San Francisco, San Diego, and Ensenada, Mexico. Rates start at $707 per person on either route. In addition, the Wonder will set sail on a 15-night voyage to Hawaii (departing from Los Angeles) that stops in Hilo, on the Big Island; Kahului, Maui; Honolulu, Oahu; Nawiliwili, Kauai; and Ensenada, Mexico. Rates start at $1,800 per person.
The Disney Dream will sail 3-, 4- and 5-night cruises from Port Canaveral to The Bahamas and Disney's private island, Castaway Cay. Five-night itineraries include two stops at Castaway Cay. Rates start at $471 per person.
The Disney Fantasy will make her maiden voyage in March 2012, sailing out of Port Canaveral on 7-night Caribbean itineraries (alternating eastern and western routes). Rates start at $959 per person.
For more information, call Disney Cruise Line or check out its very informative website, which also allows you to plan and reserve shore excursions before you go. Another excellent source of detailed information on both cruising and the Disney line is Frommer's Cruises & Ports of Call.
Avoid the Ups & Downs -- Nothing spoils a cruise like a storm -- or worse. In the first case, consider avoiding hurricane season altogether (June-Nov, though the peak is July to mid-Oct). These unpredictable storms can both spoil your fun and upset the strongest of stomachs. The stormy seasons aside, pack a few motion-sickness pills or patches just in case.
Speaking of spoiling a cruise, several cruise ships, including the Disney Magic, have had outbreaks of a virus that caused stomach flu-like symptoms in the past. This is no ill reflection on any one line: Cruise ships are closed environments, and sometimes a passenger brings the illness on board. For an Internet rating by the Centers for Disease Control, go to www.cdc.gov/nceh/vsp/default.htm. Note, however, that the site is often weeks out of date.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.