When Should You Use an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner?

Written by Jessica Ma'ilo. Posted in Disney, Disney Parks, Features, Park Wise

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Published on September 12, 2013 at 2:00 am with 27 Comments

A trip to any Disney resort can be a big undertaking.  Lots of decisions to make, deadlines to remember and tricks and tips to memorize.  This is where an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner agent comes in to save the day!  Or not.  When should you consider calling in the professionals for your next vacation?

Consider Calling a Travel Agent if…

…this is your first trip.  Navigating through on-site, off-site, Good Neighbors, theme parks, tickets, dining, FastPass, PhotoPass and more is enough to make even a seasoned traveler throw up his hands when planning that first trip to Disney.  While tons of great information can be found online when planning, sometimes it’s nice to talk to a human who knows the ins and outs of Disney and has a passion for it.  Chances are your agent will be able to make recommendations based on personal experiences to add to the magic of your vacation.

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…you’re planning for a group.  Planning a great vacation for your immediate family may be like second nature, but when you start adding in grandmas and grandpas, uncles, aunts, neighbors, 5th cousins and their friends, the game changes quickly.  An agent can help corral everyone’s opinions and make impartial decisions when asked.  I know I’ve been able to squelch a few lodging issues recently simply by interjecting a little firsthand Disney knowledge.  If traveling with a large group like a team or church, your agent may be able to work with Disney on getting a group package that might even feature some discounts.

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…you want your vacation to be waiting for you.  Several of my guests book their reservation, throw out a few preferences and leave everything else up to me.  Truth be told, these are kind of my favorite trips to plan because this is how I plan for my family.  I love sprinkling a little magic here or there: California Grill reservations during fireworks, sending a family down an empty Main Street USA, planning park days around special events.  If you’re the type who doesn’t want to sweat the details that go into a Disney vacation, an agent can be your best friend!

Get Agent Wise: Make sure you’re very up front with your agent about likes, dislikes and budget.  This will help him or her make the best possible recommendations for you and your vacation.

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Do-It-Yourself if…

…you’re detail-oriented and can’t bear to hand over the reigns.  This is me.  100%.  I thought about using a travel agent once, and my control-freak little heart just couldn’t do it.  I wanted to be up at the crack of dawn 180 days before our vacation to make sure we were eating the first available breakfast at Cinderella Castle.  I couldn’t wait to hear back from an agent about a question when I knew I could call Disney myself and figure it out within minutes.  I flip-flopped over resort reservations several times, mulling over everything from location to theme to pool amenities to decor.  If this is you, do yourself and your possible agent a favor…DIY.  You’ll be much happier during the planning process and know that your vacation is completely in your hands.

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…you’re paranoid.  You’ve no doubt heard the recent story about the unscrupulous travel agents who bilked a young dance team out of thousands of dollars.  That’s enough to make anyone leery about handing over your precious vacation funds to a relative stranger.  Let me interject that these losers are bad apples and by no means represent the great people I’ve met and worked with during my time as an agent.  Additionally, most reputable agents do not take cash or checks directly and instead take credit card information and make your payments directly to Disney.  I do understand that credit card information is sensitive, as well, so if you’re going to be worrying about what your agent may be doing with that information, avoid the stress and book directly.

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Get Agent Wise: If you’re considering booking with an agent, do your research before handing over your credit card information.  While word of mouth is my favorite way to reach new guests, there are a few other ways to make sure you’re using a great agent or agency.  Check social media, chat with their guests, take a look at their affiliations (like, are they the official agency of your favorite Disney site?).  If there’s not much out there or what’s out there makes you uncomfortable, look elsewhere or book yourself.

…you enjoy the planning.  In addition to being a bit of a control freak like I mentioned earlier, I also just like the planning aspect of a Disney vacation.  Obviously, you can still be in charge of the planning when going through an agent, but when you’ve booked on your own, you have more immediate access to your reservation.  In the months leading up to a Disney vacation, I love adding this or tweaking that and planning small surprises so our family and friends enjoy a plussed experience at the parks and resorts.  Once we arrive, it’s great to see all of the planning in motion and playing out in front of me.

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So, what’s your trip planning strategy?  Do you use an agent or are you a DIYer and why?

About Jessica Ma'ilo

Jessica is a special education teacher by day and blogger and Fairy Godmother Travel agent by evening. When not supervising play dates or sleepovers, she can be found creating, sewing or singing. She loves hitting the Disney Parks, and she and her family escape to the World and Land as often as they can. She can be contacted at [email protected], and you can also check out her family blog, Magic, Memories, Mayhem.

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  • Tielo

    You gave some great advise. When we rented out our home in Davenport our guests almost never ever had been to the US and weren’t knowledgeable about the huge theme parks, malls, airport, anything. Some of them where even a bit scared and intimidated so we always asked them over to my house to help them plan what to do and see.
    For every park I had an information sheet. For Disney I explained fast pass (lots of people think it costs money and leave the machines alone. For Epcot I advised them to go get some tickets for TT, miss space ship earth and head straight to the living seas to have the aquarium all by themselves. Also tips on taking the right road back to the home. As soon as they started using these tips and they saw it worked they felt more at ease and could do more on a day in a slower pace. But I always gave them more then enough space so be free and explore because that is the best thing of new theme parks and I would never, ever take that away from anyone.
    I, myself would never ever consult a planner. I do (and love doing) research myself and when I’m on vacation I want to be free. I’ll never book a ride, show or restaurant in advance. Vacation and freedom are synonyms for me.

    • I can definitely see why you prefer to go it on your own. I love doing the research, too!

  • I’m a Disney parks expert, but don’t have time to keep up on the latest deals and discounts. Since it doesn’t cost anything extra to use a travel agent, I use MiceChat’s official travel agency every time.

    • Knowledge of promotions is a great reason to go with the pros!

  • Lord Alfred

    When planning my trips to WDW, I’ve both used TAs and done it myself. While I had a good experience with my TA, I don’t see any reason to use one if you are tech-savvy at all. It didn’t save me much trouble, and Disney’s online vacation planning site is pretty well done. All of the current specials and promotions are listed, and if you ever do run into a problem or have a question they’ve always been super helpful on the phone. If you are the type of person that hates computers or can’t use the Internet, then the TA is a good option, but those types of people are getting harder to find.

    • There is so much information online these days that it’s super easy to get all the need-to-knows from the comfort of your laptop. Sometimes all of that information can be overwhelming, outdated or even flat-out wrong. I was constantly on the phone with Disney when I’d find conflicting information. I can see where that would steer some people towards an agent, but, like I said, I enjoyed all of that. Haha!

  • Oregonmom2

    I am an annual pass holder at DL, and am the unofficial travel agent for many of my friends. But, a trip to disney world? I am a control freak, but it is also OVERWHELMING!!! Dinner at California grill during fireworks? I never would have known that! I am definitely using a travel agent when our family makes this trip next year. I get one shot at a great disney world experience, and I want to make sure I don’t miss out on something special! Nice article! Thanks!

    • DobbysCloset

      I sorta feel this way about Disney World. I can arrange a trip to DLR in twenty minutes; I grew up in Orange County and stayed in Southern California for the next thirty years, but Disney World might as well be the moon. Also, the Disney Planners themselves are really geared toward families and not Chihuahuas. So I look forward to having my “some day” trip orchestrated by a pro.

      • That’s definitely a misconception that tends to go along with the thought that Disney itself is just for families. I, along with other agents I’ve spoken with, have booked and planned for many types of guests. Families, young couples, empty nesters, special needs children and adults, guests with service animals, guests with mobility issues, etc., etc., etc. There’s definitely an agent out there who knows exactly what to do when presented with your situation.

    • The East and West coast resorts are definitely two very different yet similar experiences. Haha!! Remember to tell your agent about Cali Grill before that 180 day mark! It’s a tough one to snag.

  • BradyNBradleysMom

    I always have thought that travel agents are only for rich people…but I’ve been reading all of Jessica’s columns on this site for a year or so now and I think I’m going to get in touch with her to book our family’s next Disney trip. Probably for fall of 2014. I didn’t know that a travel agent can handle the dinner reservations too. The Disney reservation system is so stressful to me. I hate that people have to wake up at the crack of dawn 180 days before they want to eat and make a mad dash for a reservation. That’s insane. It feels like being in high school calling into a radio show to win a contest. I am too old and too stressed to have to go through that. If a travel agent can take care of this for me, then it is worth whatever extra I need to pay to get an agent.

    • Most Authorized Disney Vacation Planners offer their services at NO CHARGE, so if you can afford to go to Disney, you can afford a travel agent! Services may vary by agency/agent, but I’ve made dining reservations, specialty cruise reservations, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and Pirates League reservations. We can book golf tee times, spa appointments, set up an itinerary and offer advice about any and every aspect of a Disney vacation!
      Seriously, though, there are so many great agents who offer their services at no additional cost that if an agent asks for money, run the other way!!

    • DobbysCloset

      I get that same feeling every time I read one of Jessica’s columns, even when they’re focused on kids. I figure kids and Service Dogs have a lot in common when visiting theme parks. There’s rides they can’t go on, we have to think constantly about their food and toileting needs. At least they don’t ask for souvenirs and Character Meals.

  • bhb007

    We visited WDW this summer. It was my wife’s first trip to a Disney park. I knew it HAD to go well or she would never want to go back (and Disney is core value for me). I used a TA to make sure all the pieces were in place for a great vacation. A freak tropical storm laid waste to part of the program we’d set up, but the framework was excellent and the trip was magical. Could I have done it on my own? Sure… I grew up a Disney parks and am an avid online reader. BUT there are so many little things someone in the know can leverage in terms of wait times, money saving, park selection by attendance projection, and dining reservations. Well worth it considering the cost of such a trip…

    That said, if Disney has become so complicated as to require expert assistance for a great visit… is that a good thing? Probably a different discussion…

    • Would you say the same for other destinations? Travel agents have been around for decades helping vacationers plan trips and make reservations at all sorts of locations around the world. It’s not that Disney planning requires expert assistance, it’s that some guests prefer to have someone do the planning for them. Just as many people are happy to take on the planning themselves.

      • DobbysCloset

        I have always planned my travel on my own but I have no qualms about making the exception for Disney World.

        I know from my experience with Disneyland that the more help I can get in tailoring my vacation to my heart’s desire at a place the size of Walt Disney World, the more likely it is that I’ll spend less time commuting and more time enjoying WDW on my feet.

        Back in the day when there really were Nigerians trying to hide money from the government, a Nigerian came to visit Southern California to get his money from one of our banks. He had one request — that I be given a day off work to take him to Disneyland and then to the airport before his flight. I would be free to spend the rest of the day along with my two step-sons at the park on his dime.

        I walked him in the gate, put him on the train, took him to POTC and back on the train to let him choose his next three hours We stopped on Main Street for ice cream (my older stepson got a root beer float dumped on him) and souvenirs. The kids lived in Fullerton so we dropped him off and went back to Disneyland.

        His amazement that I could make the visit actually happen for him was tangible. Having a professional make that happen for me would be delightful.

        But given that I may be researching a WDW trip on line for several years (not going until after the elderly dog passes away — WDW isn’t going anywhere but Snoop is :(

  • Asylim

    Seeing as our first trip to Florida will be using our Vacation Club points I’ll probably end up doing most of the planning. I am probably an oddity in that I prefer to plan my own vacations and sometimes spend months in advance doing the research to figure it all out.

    Even though we probably won’t be going until 2017 or 2018 (Have to figure out how our points play out after our 2015 trip to Disneyland) I’ve already spent several weeks researching things.

    • Seeing the amount of planning information and Disney-centric sites available, you’re not an oddity at all. Just one of the mouse-eared crowd. ;)

    • DobbysCloset

      You are not an oddity, you are an Adventurer in Mickey’s Safari Club. I spend years figuring it all out. In my youth I was spontaneous because they didn’t have the Internet, but real Adventurers go to clubs and plan explorations.

      I also find reading Disney Guide Books quite soothing…

      …but I grew up with Disney and believe that we find our Magic at Disneyland and can bring it home with us. Dreaming of a visit to a Magic Kingdom is an age-old human fantasy; ours has a Mouse in a wizard’s hat as our guide..

  • DobbysCloset

    Jessica hits another one out of the ball park with this column.

    Do I date myself with that metaphor?

    How-a-bout “Jessica puts the hops in the IPA with this column!” Thanks.

    • DobbysCloset

      Oops, I forgot — My answer to “When should one use an authorized Disney Planner?” Why not right now! M-I-C U Real Soon! Y? Because we like you! And y’all know the rest.

  • JediPrincess

    How do travel agents make any money if they are working for free? That doesn’t make sense to me. I’m pretty sure where I come from they build in fees.

    • That may be true for some agents, I suppose, but the Fairy Godmothers get paid by Mickey, not our guests. ;) We work for a commission from Disney.

      • chjalmarson

        I want to get paid by Mickey! How did you get into this line of work?

      • Again, research is key! Contact some reputable agencies to see if they’re taking on new agents. Each agency will have their own set of criteria an agent needs to meet and training. Good luck!

      • JediPrincess

        That makes sense and is very cool! Thanks for the explanation Jessica!

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