I HAVE A FRIEND WHO finds it hard to believe that a world exists in Florida beyond Boca Raton and Disney. For some reason, whenever people mention Florida, all that comes to mind are retirement communities and families flocking to theme parks. There is more to the Sunshine State than that, and think of all the people who, like my friend, have yet to experience the bounty of Florida.
Last year, California claimed the top spot among the 50 states in attracting domestic vacationers, according to a survey by the U.S. Tour Operators Association, but Florida wasn't far behind. The Visit Florida tourism agency reported that in 2006 the state welcomed 83.9 million visitors and that, on average, domestic vacationers stayed a minimum of five nights.
Rather than escorted tours, Florida products tend to be air, hotels and, occasionally, car rentals, all bundled together.
Through November 30, Delta Vacations (www.deltavacations.com) is running a "Book Early & Save" promotion on packages of three or more nights to Miami/South Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Key West, Palm Beach, Naples, Sarasota, Marco Island, Sanibel and Fort Myers. Valid travel dates and bonuses vary by package.
For example, clients can stay at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort (www.hyattregencycoconutpoint.com) in Fort Myers anytime in 2008 and get the fourth night free, saving $525. At The Ritz-Carlton, Palm Beach (www.ritzcarlton.com/en/properties/palmbeach/default.htm), guests visiting between May 28 and September 28 earn an automatic room upgrade, plus a $100 resort credit, for a total savings of $305. Such savings are based on air-inclusive bookings, so travelers must fly on Delta Air Lines (www.delta.com). Rental cars can be added on. Delta Vacations pays up to a 15 percent commission.
NWA WorldVacations (www.nwaworldvacations.com) offers a range of products throughout the state and recently added Marco Island, Naples and Orlando to the company's luxury division. With the luxury air/hotel plans, clients receive first-class check-in and seating on Northwest Airlines (www.nwa.com) and private car service between the airport and hotel (car rental options also are available); in addition, each resort features it own inclusions.
On Marco Island, for instance, clients can stay at the Marriott Beach Resort, Golf Club & Spa (www.marcoislandmarriott.com), which is currently undergoing a $187 million renovation. The resort has an all-day program of games, arts and crafts, and outdoor activities for kids, and a spa, fitness center and golf course for their parents' enjoyment. NWA WorldVacations pays commission based on an agent's volume of business.
Even those familiar with Orlando (and who isn't?) may be surprised at the variety of accommodations available there—which means it's not just a destination for families cramming in as much theme-park time as possible. There are hotels for all budgets, including deluxe; themed resorts; and properties with onsite amenities for families, such as extra-spacious accommodations, play areas or cartoon characters. Here's a sampling of Orlando packages.
Dynamic Leisure Vacations (www.dynamicleisurevacations.com) is offering a four-night stay in Orlando at the Summer Bay Resort (www.summerbayresort.com) with airfare and three-day compact car rental from Alamo (www.alamo.com) for $237 per person. Commission up to 15 percent is paid within two weeks of travel. Dynamic also pays a commission on air: 11 percent on bulk and up to 5 percent on published fares.
In December, American Airlines (www.aa.com) will launch daily nonstops between Kennedy Airport and Orlando, and Travel Impressions (www.travelimpressions.com) is offering New York area customers Orlando packages that include flights on American, three nights' hotel and a three-day car rental from Hertz (www.hertz.com). For their accommodations, clients can choose from Walt Disney World's Swan and Dolphin resorts (www.swandolphin.com) near Epcot, Nickelodeon Family Suites by Holiday Inn (www.nickhotel.com) and the Sheraton Vistana Resort (www.sheraton.com/vistanaresort), which features villas.
Special rates apply for travel between February 1 and 13, starting at $529 for the Sheraton Vistana, $639 at Nickelodeon Family Suites, and $915 at the Swan and Dolphin. All rates are per person, double. Travel Impressions pays a standard commission; agents who book online earn an additional 1 percent.
In the Midwest, Funjet Vacations (www.vaxvacationaccess.com) has bundled airfare on American from Chicago O'Hare with three nights at Orlando's Sheraton Safari Hotel & Suites (www.sheratonsafari.com) for $299 per person, double. For the high-minded, the hotel boasts a unique collection of African artwork, and there's a 79-foot-long python-shaped water slide for those craving a little adventure. Through April 30, 2009, kids under 10 score free breakfast, and all guests receive free transportation to the Disney World parks. Car rental can be added for an extra cost. Funjet pays a 10 percent commission.