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Some magic you need before Disney

By Richard P. Carpenter
Globe Correspondent / November 6, 2005
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For many American children, a visit to Walt Disney World is almost a rite of passage. For their parents, however, it can be a pain in the pocketbook.

Even with a good package -- and there are lots of them -- expenses can add up: meals, souvenirs, excursions, etc. When it is all over, parents have been known to say that they had a good time but spent more than they had planned.

That's where Chris and Kristal Carlson come in. They are the authors of the newly published ''Disney on a Dime: Money-Saving Secrets for Your Walt Disney World Vacation" (Intrepid Traveler). They and their four children visit the Florida theme park-resort complex several times a year from their home in Arkansas.

''Sure, you can spend a bundle," Kristal says in a news release, ''but we're living proof you don't have to."

To bolster their case, they compare a five-night Disney World vacation package costing $3,546 with their expenses of $1,312. You may not want to do everything they did to save, especially driving instead of flying, but there are lessons to be learned in their budget and in the other options on travel, lodging, tickets, and food that the book presents. Yes, making budgets can be b-o-r-i-n-g, but it is also worthwhile.

The book contains advice on other ways to save, such as:

Make a checklist of things to bring. The Carlsons say, for instance, that children love those glow-in-the-dark toys that vendors sell in the parks at night. ''We buy similar souvenirs ahead of time on the Internet or at dollar stores," says Chris. Even simple things like remembering to pack the sunblock can mean savings. ''We know someone who had to spend $13 for a small tube at a Disney resort," says Kristal.

Take advantage of activities that are fun and free. Ride a boat from the Magic Kingdom to Wilderness Lodge, then hike to Fort Wilderness Campground for the nightly campfire. Ride the inner monorail loop to visit the deluxe Magic Kingdom Resorts. Play at the LEGO Imagination Center in Downtown Disney. Don't have the kind of ticket that lets you visit all the parks? Watch the Magic Kingdom fireworks from the Ticket & Transportation Center or from the beach at Disney's Polynesian Resort. View the Epcot fireworks from the second-floor patio of the BoardWalk Inn.

The book also discusses ways to save for a trip, where to stay and eat, and how to find low-cost souvenirs. While some families may find such efforts unnecessary or more trouble than they are worth, for others they may mean the difference between going or not.

Says Chris: ''It really hurts me to know that some kids never get to experience the joy of a Disney World vacation, just because their parents think they can't swing it financially." The Carlsons are hoping their book might convince them otherwise.

For more information on the book and other guides to the Orlando area, visit www.theotherorlando.com.

On safari
Orlando's Sheraton Safari Hotel and Suites Lake Buena Vista has a Safari Escape offer that will put you in a newly renovated suite for $99 a night. The offer, good through Dec. 22, represents a savings of almost 40 percent. You can also save 35 percent off regular room rates by choosing hotel-style accommodations for $69 a night. In either case, the Safari Escape must be requested when making reservations. The Africa-themed hotel is less than a quarter-mile from Disney World.

Call 800-423-3297 or visit www.sheratonsafari.com.

Gift-wrapped
The Orlando travel planning website, orlandoinfo.com, is featuring a holiday package that will arrive gift-wrapped. Inside, the recipient will find a personalized scroll explaining that the contents are for an Orlando vacation that includes a minimum of five nights in a hotel, a three-day Walt Disney World Park Magic Your Way Base Ticket for everyone in your party, a one-day SeaWorld Orlando Park Pass for everyone in your party, a one-day-one-park Universal Studios or Islands of Adventure Park Pass for everyone in your party, guides to those parks, one Orlando T-shirt, and a 90-minute vacation-planning DVD. Prices vary according to dates, number of participants, length of stay, and choice of hotels. For instance, I pretended to book a five-night vacation for two adults beginning Dec. 5. Prices, including tax, ranged from $834 to $1,308.

The website, presented by the Orlando-Orange County Convention & Visitors Bureau, contains a variety of deals and tips. Book on the site or call 800-972-3304.

Nip and tuck
Plastic surgery is oh-so-common among the beautiful people of Miami's South Beach, which is why the stylish Loews Miami Beach is offering a Nip & Tuck Package starting at $325 a night single or $455 double. Along with access to disguises to go incognito, you get Art Deco or contemporary accommodations, a day in a cabana, extra pillows for elevation, an in-room massage, and breakfast in bed each morning. A two-night stay is required, and the offer is valid through Dec. 21.

Call 800-23-LOEWS or visit www.loewshotels.com.

Royal treatment
King Tut is coming to Florida, specifically the Museum of Art, Fort Lauderdale, Dec. 15-April 23. The Harbor Beach Marriott Resort & Spa in Fort Lauderdale is partnering with the exhibition (officially titled ''Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs") by offering an exclusive King Tut Package beginning at $199 per room per night. You get two VIP tickets to the exhibit, which provide front-of-the-line access; two complimentary audio tours; and 10 percent off any museum gift shop purchase. King Tut guests also get a 20 percent discount on spa package rates.

Call 800-222-6543 or visit www.marriottharborbeach.com. For more information on the exhibit, visit www.kingtut.org.

For golfers
Edgewater Beach Resort in Panama City Beach, Fla., is wooing golfers with a Breakfast and Birdies Package, including accommodations, breakfast, 18 holes of golf, shoe and club cleaning, a cart and bucket of balls, and transportation to the course. Rates start at $99 per person a night, quadruple occupancy, through Dec. 31.

Call 800-874-8686 or visit www.edgewaterbeachresort.com.

For golf widows
The Stadium Revenge package at the new spa at the Sawgrass Marriott Resort & Spa in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., provides a whole lot of pampering for the nongolfer. Available through March 31 and costing $375, the package includes these treatments, all lasting 50 minutes each: an Aroma Body Glow treatment, a customized massage, a European cleansing facial, and a pedicure. Lunch is also included. Room rates begin at $125 a night.

Call 800-457-4653 or visit www.sawgrassmarriott.com. Ponte Vedra Beach is between Jacksonville and St. Augustine.

Runway package
Because Bal Harbour Village is minutes from both Fort Lauderdale and Miami international airports, it is offering a Hot Off the Runway Package through Dec. 14, featuring a $50 resort credit per room, a daily breakfast buffet for two, and a booklet with as much as $800 in shopping savings at Bal Harbour Shops and dining perks throughout the village, which includes the Sheraton Bal Harbour Beach Resort and the Sea View Bal Harbour Hotel. Rates begin at $195 per room. Both hotels are fully operational in the wake of Hurricane Wilma.

Call 888-627-7079 or visit www.sheraton.com/balharbourvillage.

When not included, hotel taxes, airport fees, and port charges can add significantly to the price of a trip. Most prices quoted are for double occupancy; solo travelers will usually pay more. Offers are subject to availability and there may be blackout dates. RichardP. Carpenter can be reached atcarpenter@globe.com.

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