Separate the Summer Vacation Deals from the Duds

There's a lot for families to do here in the summer, beyond just finding a shady spot next to one of eight swimming pools. There's a 92-foot waterslide, golf, tennis, basketball, spa treatments, and -- a nice desert touch -- a canopy-covered playground. There are marshmallow roasts, cowboy balladeer sing-alongs and dive-in movies, and a Kids Korral program that offers supervised sports, games, and arts and crafts for children 4 to 12 years old. For grownups, there are wine tastings, cigar-rolling lessions, and live concerts.

From May 23 through September 10, the 740-room hotel is offering two packages that include three square meals and more per day: the All-Inclusive Package with Classic Room accommodations in the main hotel or the Exclusive All-Inclusive Package at the hotel's Ocatilla concierge-level area, which has its own private pool and a VIP lounge outfitted with unlimited snacks and drinks. Guest privileges even include wines by the glass and chair massages. We priced a three-day stay in June. The basic All-Inclusive Package includes:

Classic accommodations (standard room with two queen beds, regularly $249/night or $747 for three nights)

Breakfast, lunch and dinner for two (worth $193/day per couple x 3 days= $579 for three days)

50 percent off spa a la carte services (at least a $70 value; 50-minute massages start at $135)

Free self-parking (usually $12/day x 3 days = $36)

Resort charge ($28/day, but factored into regular rates too)

For the June dates we tested, the all-inclusive package is priced at $359 per night, bringing the cost of a three-night stay to $1,077. Meanwhile, the regular rate for a classic room with two queen beds is $249 per night, including resort fee. By opting for the regular room rate and paying à la carte for adult meals and parking, the total for a three-night stay would come to $1,362. In other words, the special offers deliver a 20-percent savings -- but keep in mind that you'd still have to pay for kids' meals.

Though more expensive, the "exclusive" package -- which includes everything above plus additional concierge-level perks -- gives you better value. The regular rate for an Ocatilla room on the VIP floor is $329 per night, so if you opted for the VIP floor and paid a la carte for adult meals and parking, your total for a three-day stay would come to $1,602. In comparison, the package rate starts at $409 per night, or $1,227 for the same three-night stay in June. The exclusive package translates into a 23 percent discount, plus -- here's the kicker -- you and the kids get unlimited access to free snacks and beverages, which could conceivably keep the cost of kids' meals down to a bare-bones minimum.

Deal or no deal? Both packages offer very good value, but we recommend upgrading to the exclusive package and taking full advantage of the free snacks and beverages.

The packages are available for stays through September 10. To book online, enter your travel dates then look for the all-inclusive deals in the list of rates. Alternatively, mention the All-Inclusive Package or Exclusive All-Inclusive Package when calling 800/950-0086.

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