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Disney quiet as a mouse on extending military discount

May. 17, 2012 - 05:03PM   |   Last Updated: May. 17, 2012 - 05:03PM  |  
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Military families will need to wish upon a star if they're hoping for discounted rates at Disney resorts this fall.

Disney's deep discounts for military families are set to expire Sept. 30. Dubbed "Armed Forces Salute," the program lops 30 percent to 40 percent off the cost of stays at Disney resorts while also providing discounted theme park tickets.

Disney began Armed Forces Salute in 2009 but tweaks the details periodically. In 2010, the program expired but started up again about a month later.

Military MWR officials are hopeful the program will be renewed again but don't expect to know for sure until the 11th hour.

"They won't tell us, if we're lucky, until 48 hours prior," says Dawn Smith, a program manager for the Navy's leisure travel offices.

Disney spokeswoman Angela Bliss says the company doesn't know when it will have more details, but "hopefully we'll have something to announce by early this summer."

Of course, that doesn't do much good for those looking to book vacations now.

"In my office, we're advising people to hold out and see what they come back with, because I can't refund a Disney ticket. Disney doesn't do that," says Jane Weixelbaum, who manages the leisure travel office at Fort Leonard Wood, Mo. Disney officials later said military travel agents can rebook stays without penalty, just as individuals and civilian travel agents can.

Travel experts say even rates at the military-run Shades of Green resort at Disney World are being affected by the uncertainty.

Often, Shades of Green offers discounts off its own low rates, says Disney travel expert Steve Bell, a retired Air Force chief master sergeant who runs http://www.militarydisneytips.com">the Military Disney Trips website.

"But for now, there are no [special] offers past Sept. 30 at Shades, either, because the staff is waiting to see if Disney will renew the Armed Forces Salute," Bell says.

Shades of Green will not adjust a booked price. Instead, you'd have to cancel your reservation and then call back to rebook, while crossing your fingers that the fast-moving rooms are still available.

For those willing to stay off the Disney campus, you can find plenty of other discount options.

"There're thousands of hotels and private homes and condos that we book on a daily basis that lots of times are less expensive than Shades of Green," says Darcy Cunningham, a travel agent for the Navy.

Five-bedroom houses, for example, often rent "as low as $132 a night, tax-free and within 10 minutes of the [Disney] front gate. And with a private pool."

The Walt Disney Co. — which includes brands such as Pixar, Marvel, ESPN and ABC — reported earnings of $1.1 billion in the first three months of 2012, up 21 percent over the same time last year.

Revenues from its parks and resorts division saw a 10 percent jump, according to the company's quarterly earnings report.

Company officials said they were optimistic that the growth would continue.

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