Trip Coach: November 27, 2007
Mary Waring of mousesavers.com answered your questions on Disney vacations in Orlando and Anaheim.
Mary Waring: I would advise taking a "wait and see" approach. For the past three years, Disney has offered a "Free Dining" vacation package during that time of year. You receive the Disney Dining Plan (two meals and a snack every day for everyone in your party) for free when you book a full-price package that includes your Disney hotel room and park tickets.
The "Free Dining" package has only been offered for stays in late August and early September. It is an enticement to get people to visit the parks during the slowest time of year, and it is a phenomenal deal for most people. It usually becomes available for booking in April. If it meets your needs, just change your existing "room only" reservation to the special package.
If you end up deciding against the "Free Dining" package, or if for some reason it isn't offered in 2008, the cheapest place to buy tickets is usually through a reputable ticket broker. I recommend a very good one on my site.
Swarthmore, Pa.: We enjoy the convenience of staying on Disney property. Could you tell us if there are any bonus offers being considered by Disney in the near future? —Barb
Mary Waring: For Disney World, you can currently book discounted vacation packages for stays January 1 through March 15, and room discounts are available for Annual Passholders and Florida residents through February 13.
For Disneyland in California, there are package discounts available January 7 through April 24, and Annual Passholder/Southern California resident room discounts for stays January 6 through March 6.
Beyond that, only Disney knows when (or if) more discounts will come out. However, if you're planning a Disney World trip, you can get a general idea of the historical trends by consulting a chart I maintain on MouseSavers.com that lists the past release dates for room and vacation package discounts.
In addition, I can give you some general guidelines. When they are offered, the biggest discounts are usually rolled out about 2 to 4 months in advance. Of course Disney only offers discounts in order to fill empty rooms, so the most popular dates, room types and/or resorts are not discounted. For instance, I can virtually guarantee you'll never get a discount between December 26 and 31, which is the busiest week of the year at Disney World and Disneyland. Major holiday periods like Easter week and Thanksgiving week are also usually "blacked out," meaning most discounts don't apply at that time. Suites are almost never discounted.
AAA (Auto Club) offers Disney room discounts year-round for its members. They are not usually the biggest discounts, but they can be booked way in advance (currently through the end of 2008) and they sometimes are available for dates that are otherwise not discounted. You can book AAA room discounts directly with Disney or through any travel agent.
Mohnton, Pa: I think the Swan and Dolphin are mucher better then a lot of the other Deluxe hotels especially when the various discounts they are offfer are used. My question is will they ever become Disney-owned? If not, will we ever see more hotels not Disney-owned/run inside Disney property—that are at the fringe of Downtown Disney?
Mary Waring: I agree that the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin hotels, which are operated by Starwood (Westin/Sheraton), can be a very good value at times. You don't get all of the same privileges offered by the Disney owned-and-operated resorts, such as free transportation to and from the airport, but the location of the Swan and Dolphin is excellent. They are within walking distance of two of the theme parks.
Likewise the seven hotels in the Downtown Disney area, which are located on Disney property but not owned and operated by Disney, can offer some excellent deals. Some of them are closer to the theme parks than certain Disney resorts.
I don't believe the Swan and Dolphin will become Disney-owned in the foreseeable future, since Starwood has a very long lease on the property. I also don't anticipate that Disney will lease any more land to outside hotel companies. Disney's hotel operations are extremely successful and lucrative. There is no incentive to give away those profits to another company. Reportedly the former CEO of Disney, Michael Eisner, very much regretted that Disney had ever allowed outside hotels to be built on the property.
Thatcher, Ariz.: When deciding on a hotel for our Disneyland vacation, we're debating on whether we should stay at a Disneyland property or whether we should save the money and use a Good Neighbor Hotel. Are the benefits really that much greater by staying there at Disneyland?