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Monday, Aug. 29, 2016

Why Disney's still destination 1 for SL travelers

Monday, January 21, 2013

When it comes to travel planning in Storm Lake, the House of Mouse is still the king.

"I think Disney will be popular forever. They just know how to deliver," says Jean Paterson, owner of Nomad Travel in Storm Lake, where booking travel to the Orlando and Anaheim theme parks is a daily part of life.

"Once a Disney person, always a Disney person," she smiles. "They go back and back. These days they are pairing a Disney cruise ship with a stay at the parks to get the best of both worlds.

"The glory of Disney is that even if you went every year there would be something new to see. It's safe, it's clean, it's family oriented. They are so in tune with whatever it is people are looking for in a getaway."

Disney World isn't just for families, the local travel agents note. Retired couples, honeymooners, singles of all ages, people with their adult children flock to the world's largest theme park area.

"People will want to do the Magic Kingdom on a holiday - I warn them the lines will be incredible, but they just want to be there. And Disney is pretty adept with their Fast Pass systems and utilizing different attractions so that if a line for a certain ride is too long, there will still be something fun to do."

Local traveler Liz says she's booked Disney trips three times because her family appreciates the flexibility and no-worry nature of the Orlando destination. The central Florida weather means the parks almost never shut down. With Magic Express, visitors board a Disney bus at the airport for the half-hour ride to the resort, their bags are spirited away to show up again in their rooms, arrangements already made for their return trip to the airport.

With 23 hotels and 32,000 hotel rooms on property, visitors can customize their trip to suit their needs - from value resorts with over-the-top theming and kid-friendly cafeteria style restaurants to moderates with romantic views and lots of recreation to deluxe properties for a once-in-a-lifetime storybook stay with all the luxuries and five-star restaurants.

Disney's internal bus system lets those who stay on property get to all the parks and attractions easily at no extra charge, so guests need not pay for a rental car (and Disney has you and your wallet for your entire vacation!)

While Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney Studios and Animal Kingdom parks pack in the crowds, Disney also offers a shopping and entertainment center, two expansive waterparks, two elaborate mini golf courses, an arcade of epic proportions, and special behind-the-scenes tour opportunities. You can stay for a week, even two, and scarcely see it all.

Whether it's a Disney getaway you are longing for, or a vacation to some exotic getaway, the secret is to start planning earlier than ever before, Paterson says.

"The airlines discovered that supply and demand works to their advantage, and they started pulling flights. That means less seats, and when those seats are getting filled up, they can demand higher and higher prices."

Last-minute flight deals have nearly disappeared.

Anyone planning a spring break needs to be planning now, Paterson says, and for certain summer vacations, the clock is already ticking.

"Alaska is somewhat popular for Storm Lake people, and if you want to look at that, you need to get going," she says.

What's trending for local travelers? In most cases, nothing too outrageous, she finds. In a still-recovering economy and an unsettled world, few are venturing off the well-beated vacation routes.

"We used to have people come in saying, 'Anywhere but Mexico.' Now, once I compare the cost with a lot of the Caribbean hotspots and elsewhere, they decide Mexico isn't such a bad idea after all. The travel industry in Mexico was smart enough to know it was developing a bad rap a couple of years ago. Now you can find some very nice resorts for a fairly nice price."

Hawaii remains popular with locals, as do cruises, mostly to the Caribbean.

"One thing to look out for is that cruise companies will offer a good price up front, but when you start to add in all the little extra things they charge, you can end up paying a lot more than you expected," Paterson warns.

Brand new this year, several cruise lines are offering "up front" pricing. You can book a trip priced with the outings, drinks and perks - everything included.

"They knew they were starting to lose people to vacation spots offering all-inclusive packages. The economy still isn't great, and it helps out to know up front exactly what this vacation is going to end up costing you."

As winter tightens its grip, customers charge into the travel agency with the iconic phrase, "Anywhere warm!"

"We do a few trips to Costa Rica. Local people head out for Florida or California for a few days, just to break up the long winter here a little bit."

Vegas, once among the most popular attractions for local travelers, is down. "People have plenty of casinos right around here these days," Paterson says.

As people begin planning spring trips, temperatures are less crucial. Spots up and down the coasts come into play, as well as Europe and other destinations.

"Spring basically opens everything up," Paterson says. "People may be a little more adventurous about where they plan to go, but they still want to make sure that wherever it is, their money is being used wisely."

What's new at Walt Disney World for 2013?

* A new resort, Disney's Art of Animation, featuring theming from some of the newer animated films, and family suites.

* A major Fantasyland expansion, including the Enchanted Tales With Belle and Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid attractions and new restaurants Gaston's Tavern and Be Our Guest banquet hall.

* The Seven Dwarves Mine Train thrill ride, now under construction inside Disney's latest "mountain." To open by 2014. (See concept art below.)

* Princess Fairytale Hall. Snow White's Scary Adventures ride was retired to allow for this stone-and-stained-glass edifice where guests can meet all the Disney Princesses.

* Limited Time Magic - week long special celebrations, some to be announced, others to be secret surprises.

* In Epcot, a totally renovated Test Track ride.

* Some of the plans for a new Avatar Land in Animal Kingdom are expected to be announced.

* Fast Pass Plus, new systems that will allow people to advance-book some rides and events to avoid lines are likely to be tested this year.