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.
The Peril of Disney Packages
Disney lures you into overpurchasing. Anytime you call it and ask for reservations, operators will suggest adding perks. You’ll ask for tickets, and they’ll suggest they throw in, say, the meal plan. The instant you accept, you’re purchasing a “package,” and that will often force you to pay more than you would have a la carte. Always, always know what everything would cost separately before agreeing to a Disney-suggested package. If you must, hang up the phone and do some math before deciding to accept or reject the offer. That’s the only way to ensure you’re not paying more. Yes, I know that means you’ll have to do lots of advance research, but this is the reality of visiting Walt Disney World today.
Here’s a hidden loophole that works against you: Disney “length of stay” ticket packages will begin the moment you arrive on the property and end the day you leave. Think about that. If you’ve just flown from a distant place, you are unlikely to rush to the Magic Kingdom on the same day. Likewise, on the day you’re due at the airport to fly home, you may not to be able to visit a theme park. Yet Disney will schedule your package that way. In effect, you will lose 2 days that you’ve paid for—at the start and at the finish of your vacation, when you’ll be resting or packing. Disney will do everything it can to sell you theme park tickets for every day that you’re on its property, regardless of if you plan to go across town to its competitors to see Harry Potter, the Space Shuttle, or some manatees.
How can you avoid this? You could 1) stay entirely at non-Disney hotels and just buy Magic Your Way tickets. You could 2) stay at a Disney hotel for your ticket days and stay off-site for the others. Or you could 3) insist on making one reservation per phone call. Arrange your tickets. Hang up. Call back and arrange your hotel as “room only.” It’s vital that you do not link your two reservations if you want the best price and the best cancellation policies. If you don’t plan on seeing anything but Disney, of course, then you won’t have to go through these lengths. But many people aren’t satisfied by only visiting the Mouse.
Disney’s reservationists are friendly but they’re sales-driven, and they are trained to answer only the questions that you pose. If you’re not sure about the terms of what you’re about to purchase, corner them and ask. Grill them about deposit and cancellation policies—they get stiffer if you’re on a package. And always ask if there is a less expensive option. They won’t lie and tell you there isn’t, but they will neglect to volunteer the information. TheMouseForLess.com, MouseSavers.com, and the messages at DISBoards.com will let you know about current deals that Disney won’t.
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.