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Disney's dreams on your budget

The fantastical Cinderella Castle Suite at Walt Disney World has a wide-screen television that can look just like a portrait. The fantastical Cinderella Castle Suite at Walt Disney World has a wide-screen television that can look just like a portrait. (WALT DISNEY CO.)
By Richard P. Carpenter
Globe Correspondent / February 11, 2007
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Walt Disney World has officially launched its Year of a Million Dreams, with new attractions and oodles of daily giveaways, including the ultimate dream for a Disney fan -- an overnight stay in a suite at Cinderella Castle. But dreams can't come true if you don't have the means to visit the central Florida resort in the first place, so these days Disney is also talking affordability.

Disney says that a family of four (two adults and two children) can book a six-night stay in an on-site resort, complete with theme park tickets, for about $1,600, or $58 a day. And such prices, Disney notes, are available most days, not only in the off-season. "We're trying to show that these are year-round offerings," says Al Weiss , president for worldwide operations for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts. (The price is for a Value Resort, Disney's lowest-priced lodging, and the fine print does note that " rooms allocated for this package may be limited," but a check of the website showed several economy plans available.)

Along with a stay at a Disney resort comes the Magical Express, which saves money and a bit of confusion, especially for first-time visitors. Instead of waiting for your bags at the carousel, you will "magically" find them delivered to your room within three hours. Transportation to your lodging place is included, and once there you can take complimentary buses, boats, or monorails to and from the theme parks or Downtown Disney entertainment district, and you are eligible to visit selected park attractions before the general public arrives and to stay later. The return trip to the airport is also included.

There are other expenses, of course, such as air fare and food, although Disney says adding its dining plan ($38.99 daily for ages 10 and older, $10.99 for children 3-9) to a package will save up to 40 percent on meals. You can still spend even less at some non-Disney properties off -site, but without much of the convenience and perks. And you can spend a great deal more by upgrading accommodations, participating in extra-cost activities, and piling on the souvenirs. The important thing about accenting the affordability packages is that they represent at least a partial return to the dream of a man who envisioned a place filled with entertainment, escape -- and, yes, dreams -- that everyone could enjoy and afford.

Visit disneyworld.com/afford , call 407-939-7774 , or see a travel agent. To customize a vacation and get free color maps that outline your plan, visit disneyworld.disney.go.com and click on My Disney Vacation.

Now about those "dreams come true." Dozens of times a day in both Disney World and Disneyland in California, people are randomly selected to receive a gift or an honor, ranging from mouse ears and collector pins to a shopping spree to traveling around the world as a parade grand marshal in each Disney destination. For the overnight stay in the Cinderella Castle suite, a guest is selected randomly in early afternoon and, with up to five members of his or her party, will dine at Cinderella's Royal Table in the castle and then spend the night in the amenity-filled, 650-square-foot suite, which Disney will not rent out at any price. If you're not going to the parks, you can still vie for many of the prizes (but not the suite stay) with a mail-in entry. Go to disneyparks.com/rules . Sounds like fun for theme park buffs, as do these new Disney World attractions:

"Finding Nemo -- the Musical" -- This half-hour Broadway-style musical at the Animal Kingdom park features original songs, special effects, and brightly colored puppets from the movie.

"The Seas With Nemo & Friends" -- The curious clownfish is at Epcot, too, in an attraction in which riders sit in "clamobiles " to view the movie characters while they appear to be swimming with the fish in the park's 5.7-million-gallon saltwater aquarium.

"Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor Comedy Club " -- In a display of gee-whiz technology, the animated characters from the movie "Monsters Inc." interact with audience members in a theater at the Magic Kingdom, telling jokes and trading barbs. The official opening will be sometime in spring, but the same technology is on display in " Turtle Talk With Crush " at Epcot.

"Dream Along With Mickey " -- The Mouse and friends throw a musical party several times daily on the forecourt stage of Cinderella Castle. There is a villain in the 20-minute show , but you just know who will triumph in the end.

"Disney's Pirate and Princess Party " -- This event takes place after regular park hours on several dates this month and part of next, and carries a separate admission of $42.95 for those 10 and older, $35.95 for children 3-9. For that you see an exclusive parade with a 39-foot pirate ship, see a special fireworks show, meet characters, go on many of the regular attractions, and participate in a variety of activities featuring the ferocious and the fair. Visit disneyworld.com/pirateandprincess .

Meanwhile , at Universal
Universal Orlando is also quoting prices. In an online-only offer, $85 per person of any age gets you unlimited admission for seven consecutive days to Universal Studios Florida , Islands of Adventure, and the Universal CityWalk entertainment district. Three-night hotel packages with admissions and transportation to the parks begin at $195 per adult.

Visit universalorlando.com . The site even has a "Compare to Disney" page highlighting Universal's value and attractions.

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. Check boston.com Monday-Friday for a Web-only New England Real Deal. Contact Richard P. Carpenter at carpenter@globe.com.

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