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:
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.
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!Tweet
I also hear that you can get a meal plan for free if you book your next Disney World Vacation while you are down there. Anybody hear that?
When you add in the gift card the net on the 7 days is 1175 for a family of 4. That further breaks down to about $42 per person/day for resort and park tickets.
While USF has soem beautiful resorts on property, there isn't enough to make me want to stay there a week. Three days is about my limit, but I am not a night club person. If that is what you crave it may well draw you there for a week.
As for the Universal VS Disney debate, I consider staying on property at Universal Orlando a must. Their three hotels are up to Disney Deluxe standards and the included Universal Express pass just adds so much value to the package that there is nothing else quite like it at any other theme park. Not to mention the convenience of being in walking distance to everything you care about doing! I cannot stress enough just how relaxing our Universal vacation was when we stayed on property for a week in 2007. It was the best part of our two week Orlando vacation. One last point to consider for later this year: when you combine Universal with a day or two at SeaWorld/Aquatica (free shuttle from the Universal hotels to SeaWorld, btw) then you will be able to take in both Rip, Ride, Rockit and Manta, the two newest coasters in town. That offer is a tough one for Disney to beat this year, imho.
As much as I love Disney, I just don't feel the need to stay on property unless the deal is too good to pass up (like when they offer free dining as part of the package). Furthermore, Disney is not offering anything new at their parks this year (American Idol does NOT count), and in fact, they are shutting down a premiere attraction in Space Mountain from April thru December. If ever there was a time to take a break form the annual Disney vacation, it is 2009. Disney knows this, which is why I think the deepest discounts are yet to come....
I would throw in a SeaWorld visit if I were doing the Universal week. But with the amenities at the hotels, CityWalk and the two parks, I could easily fill a week without leaving Universal property. How? I'd spend time at the pool, walk around, watch a movie, sleep in. You know, relax. Plus wander over the parks when I left like riding or watching something.
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"40% off your stay at select Disney Value Resorts in a standard room for stays most Sunday–Thursday nights.
Jan. 4–Jan. 15, 2009
Jan. 25–Feb. 12, 2009
Mar. 1–Mar. 12, 2009
May 31–Jun. 4, 2009
For stays most nights
Aug. 23–Oct. 3, 2009
Oct. 25–Oct. 31, 2009
Nov. 15–Nov. 21, 2009
Nov. 29–Dec. 5, 2009
Dec. 13–Dec. 24, 2009
Ask about packages and other room types including Moderate, Deluxe and Disney Deluxe Villa Resorts, at varying rates when you call to book."
Again, this deal is not available to the general public and the PIN numbers are tied to a specific user/email, so if you have not received an email with the offer, then it may not be available to you. Also keep in mind that there are about a dozen different PIN-related offers floating around out there right now, so your deal may be different than mine. It might be better too - Disney is teaching me envy!! ;)