A Dream Trip, With Time for a Few Naps

Sunday, January 13, 2008

WHO: Beth and Paul Rabatin and daughters Briget, 8, and Delia, 4, of Fredericksburg.

DREAM TRIP: Six nights in Orlando.

BACKGROUND: Shhh . . . Dad doesn't know about this trip. He works for the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency, part of the Department of Defense, and since Oct. 8 he has been deployed in Iraq. When he arrives home Feb. 5, Beth Rabatin wants to surprise him (and his daughters, for that matter) with a trip to Disney World, ideally staying in a Mouse resort.

"I'm discovering that, after homework, violin and piano lessons, church, Brownies, play dates, gymnastics and even more homework," Rabatin wrote in an e-mail, "I don't have the time or the energy to do the research online to find a good deal."

Her budget is $3,000, including airfare, and the window of opportunity is Feb. 8-23. (Paul is going back to work after that, though not in Iraq.)

GETTING THERE: The Rabatins would prefer to fly nonstop out of Richmond, followed by Dulles, Reagan National and BWI. For flights leaving Richmond, we found a total fare of $964, including taxes, for the four on AirTran and Delta. But from Dulles, Southwest was quoting a total of $516 for its Wanna Get Away fares; check http://www.southwest.com. We'd advise the family to head to Dulles.

THE PLAN: With Disney spokesman Dave Herbst's assistance, we confirmed that the Rabatins are eligible to stay at the Shades of Green resort, which is reserved for U.S. military personnel and certain Defense Department employees (go to http://www.shadesofgreen.org/eligibility for requirements). The resort, with more than 575 rooms and two heated pools, is on the Disney campus but is an independently run Armed Forces Recreation Center. When we contacted the resort (888-593-2242, http://www.shadesofgreen.org) this week, we found space for $129 a night for a pool-view room. (Herbst says the units are among the largest in Disney World.) Bonus: no taxes on rooms.

Discounted Park Hopper tickets are available through the Shades of Green ticket desk. But that doesn't mean it's going to be cheap: A five-day Park Hopper, which includes unlimited visits to any park and the ability to visit multiple parks on the same day, are $255 each for Mom and Dad, $220 for each of the kids.

Transportation is not provided from the airport, and when we checked car rentals last week, we couldn't find anything less than $200 for the Rabatins' stay. So we'd suggest hopping on an airport shuttle and using Disney transportation on-site. Mears Transportation (407-423-5566, http://www.mearstransportation.com), for example, quoted us a round-trip total of $112 for a van ride from the airport to Shades of Green. For $145 round trip, the Rabatins could book a Mears town car and be greeted at the airport with one of those nifty little signs, plus the ride is quicker since there are no other passengers to drop off.

BUT WAIT . . . Beth Rabatin told us in a follow-up e-mail that, if possible, she'd like to take the girls to SeaWorld, because Briget "is crazy for animals and that seems like it would be fun. Plus any little thing I can do to stave off getting a pet is worth it." Then again, she also told us she'd like her husband to relax a little.

We'd still buy the five-day passes to Disney, as they're only a few dollars more than the four-day passes. Depending on when they settle into the resort, they can hit one of the parks that night or spend an extra day at Disney if they decide to forgo the Shamu route.

SeaWorld (800-327-2424, http://www.seaworld.com) is accessible by bus or taxi from Shades of Green. According to the resort's guest services (407-824-2437), it's $10 for each adult and $5 for each child for a round-trip shuttle. Discounted park tickets are available through Shades of Green for $62 per adult and $52 per child.

TIPS: The Rabatins should keep a few things in mind while they're traipsing around Disney World.

* Pack some snacks and breakfast foods to save money. Rooms at Shades of Green have fridges.

* Get to the parks early (some open early for guests staying on Disney property) and take a breather midday, when the crowds are thickest. Weather in Orlando in mid-February can be brisk, but it's one of the area's driest times and temperatures hover in the 70s. Let Dad nap by the pool, okay?

* Become masters of the Fastpass, timed tickets that allow guests to skip to the head of the lines at top attractions. You can spend more time doing things that don't require long waits.

* Try to hit all the nighttime shows, particularly the wonderful "Wishes" at the Magic Kingdom's Cinderella Castle.

* If you can pry yourself away when the parades are underway, it's an excellent time to jump on popular rides without a Fastpass.

ONE SPLURGE: We were going to suggest the Storybook Princess Breakfast at the Norway Pavilion in Epcot (407-939-3463 for details; $22.99 adults, $12.99 children), but then we discovered the Pirate and Princess Party, a special event held on nine nights in January and February.

Taking over the Magic Kingdom after regular closing hours, the party features princess courts, a treasure hunt, Disney characters on the prowl, the Enchanted Adventures Parade and the Magic, Music and Mayhem fireworks display. Plus, numerous attractions remain open. If the Rabatins can stretch their budget a bit, the price is $45.95 for the adults, $39.95 each for the girls. (They can save a few bucks if they book online.) Info: 407-939-2469, http://www.disneyworld.com/pirateandprincess.

TOTAL COST: Shades of Green and that airfare from Dulles makes this trip a possibility for the Rabatins. At press time, total airfare was $516, and the poolside room was $774. The Disney Park Hopper passes are $950. That would leave about $750 for food, transfers, airport parking, souvenirs, SeaWorld side trips and Princess Party splurges. The Rabatins have some choices to make, but at the very least they'll have those heated pools.

-- John Deiner

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