Planning your theme park vacation: The best deals so far
I started our series on planning a theme park vacation on the cheap
late last year, knowing that 2009 would be a tough one for many theme park fans. With sound planning and a bit of useful advice, many people could find a way to afford a fun family vacation this year, I hoped.
Well, the big theme park companies have recognized how tough times are for many families, too, and theme park resorts are responding with aggressive discounts. Yes, you'll still need to plan and set money aside, but many more deals are available now for families that want to get away for a winter or spring theme park vacation.
I'll summarize many of those deals today. But I want to start (and hope you will to) at a nifty site I found a few weeks ago: RetailMeNot's travel page includes links to coupon codes that can be used on dozens of reservation websites, from rental cars to hotel rooms. I've found $17 off tickets at Legoland California, as well as $10 off at SeaWorld ($20 off for admission after 12 noon). You'll definitely want to click around here and search for the hotel or car rental you are considering before booking.
RetailMeNot does not offer any coupon codes for Disney or Universal (at least, not that I could find). No worries, though, because the deals are easy to find on those parks official websites. Let's start in Florida:
Disney World dealsBuy a 4-night/4-day package and get 3 extra days and nights free. This deal is available for most nights between 2/9/2009 - 6/27/2009, excluding 4/5 - 4/18 (Spring break for many families).
Rooms at Disney's Value Resort hotels are available for as low as $49 a night.
A free $200 Disney gift card for people who stay at Disney from 2/9/2009 - 3/29/2009.
Free airport transportation and baggage handling for anyone staying at Disney hotel.
Universal Orlando dealsHotel discounts available starting at 15% for three-night stay, up to 49% off for seven days. The discount works out to rates as low as $110 a night at Universal's Royal Pacific Hotel.
Free unlimited front-of-line access in Universal's theme parks for guests staying at Universal's three on-site hotels.
Kids eat free for lunch and dinner at Universal hotels on selected weeks.
A free $150 Universal Orlando savings book for families staying at Universal before 3/31/09.
A 7-day, two-park theme park ticket for $95, when you buy online at Universal's website. (You do not need to be staying at a Universal hotel to get this deal, but the tickets are good only for the seven consecutive days starting from first use.)
What's the bottom line here? You can get seven nights at Universal Orlando, in an on-site four-star hotel within walking distance of the parks, with a seven-day ticket to both parks including unlimited front-of-line access, for four people for about $1,200 (plus room tax).
At Walt Disney World, you can get seven nights in an on-site Value Resort hotel and seven days at the various Disney theme parks nights for as low as $1,375.
The difference (besides the theme parks, of course) is a higher-quality hotel and no theme park waits at Universal Orlando, while you would get free airport transportation at Disney.
In Southern California, the deals are not as aggressive, but some savings are available.
Disneyland dealsAnnual 2fer for Southern California residents. The offers is available through June 3, and gives you a free one-day ticket to California Adventure when you buy a one-day ticket to Disneyland (Or vice versa). The free ticket must used within 30 days of the first.
Kids fly free on Alaska Airlines from selected cities to Southern California when you book through Disneyland's website and stay at selected area hotels.
Room's at Disneyland's hotels are available from $135 a night.
Universal Studios Hollywood dealsGet a second day at the park free when you buy your one-day ticket online. The second day must be used with seven days of the first.
Southern California residents can get a one-day ticket for $49 (that's $18 off), when they buy online.
The Busch theme parks (SeaWorld and Busch Gardens) also have deals available on their official Worlds of Discovery website. The most common deal gets adults in at the kids' price, with a second day's ticket free. Year-long "Fun Cards" are available again at some of Busch's parks. Check the website for the deals available at the park you're considering.
So what will happen this summer? Since there's little chance of the economy getting substantially better by then, I expect more deals and discounts, including the continuation of some of these specials. That said, if you have the vacation time available and can get the money put aside, I wouldn't skip on these deals. Winter and spring can be much better times to visit theme parks, with milder weather and smaller crowds than summer.
And who knows? If the deals get better, maybe you can afford *two* theme park vacations this year!
For those on the Disney mailing list, you may be receiving a PIN coded offer for 40% off your stay at select value resorts (the higher end resorts are discounted too). The dates for this offer are extensive, covering most months of the year. Here's what the email says:
Other Positive at Disney is its four parks vs two parks.
For my money the Disney deal is the best of the two. Disney is being very aggressive in attracting vacationers to the parks this year. My wife and I actually saw the word "Sale" in Mouse Gear at Epcot and Mouse Gear at DTD! I have never seen that before.
Just a little bit of an update on Disney's 40% PIN-required offer I mentioned earlier: the 40% only applies to the cost of the lodging, so once again, your biggest bang for your buck is to utilize one of the more expensive Deluxe resorts. At a moderate resort, you'd save around $400 for a week's stay, while at a Deluxe resort you'd save around a grand. Me, I am still holding out for the free dining offer, which for my family of five is easily a $1000 in savings no matter the resort!
Front of the line is the greatest perk in the theme park industry. Until you've had it, you can't understand just how relaxing it makes your vacation. Totally changes the way you approach theme parks.
So true, Robert. Unlike most theme park excursions, when you have Universal Express Passes to every major attraction, all the time, you do not need to get up early, or have a touring plan, or anything that is unbecoming of a vacation. Just imagine sleeping in late and sitting down to a leisurely breakfast instead of waking up at the crack of dawn, going over your touring plan one more time, and eating a Go Lean bar on the run! You simply tour when you feel like it, doing what you want, and waiting a minimal amount of time at most. It is wonderful.
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