The Best Disney Travel Agents Share Their Booking Secrets
Disney World is the size of San Francisco. Disneyland accommodated 18.7 capital-M million visitors in 2019.1 It’s no wonder that travelers search high and low for the best Disney travel agents to help plan and book their Disney vacations!
HAR had some incredibly smart and resourceful travel agents share golden nuggets (more like a goldmine) of wisdom for booking Disney trips.
Whether you’re a veteran agent or newbie, booking a Disney Cruise, Disneyland, Disney World, or an Adventures by Disney vacation, we’re here to give you a few more resources to add to your bag of tricks. Thanks to these stellar agents, you’ll have the equivalent of a Lightning Lane pass when it comes to insider info on booking Disney.
Here's what to expect!
⭐️ HAR HIGHLIGHTS⭐️
- Should you book Disney?
- Disney Early Reservation Date Calculator
- Getting past the 10% commission thing
- Putting together a Disney price quote
- Communicating about Disney trips with your clients
- Disney with toddlers (tips for your care-taking clients)
- Disney travel agents on booking direct vs. tour operator
- Keeping up with Disney news
- [FREE DOWNLOAD] HAR's Disney Booking Cheatsheet
Should You Book Disney Vacations?
Frankly, some of the travel agents I spoke with and emailed are die-hard fans of Disney vacations. Nikki Miller of Travel With Nikki told me she has visited Disney World a total of 42 times and got married there.
However, while booking Disney may not be for the faint of heart, the secret is that you don’t necessarily have to be a fanatic yourself to book Disney.
If you think Disney doesn’t mesh with your niche, you might be surprised. Disney has their hands in a lot of different travel markets including adventure travel, adult-only experiences, weddings, honeymoons, and more.
Sarah Bergman’s agency is a perfect example of how Disney might intersect with your current niche. Her agency tailors her Disney vacations to runners. Last year, 90% of her business was specific to race.
Here’s what Sarah’s had to say about coordinating runDisney event weekends, “We’ve worked very hard to form a great relationship with the team at runDisney, and are able to send hundreds of runners to each coast to participate in these events. We contract bibs and rooms in advance and build custom packages for our runners. This has opened up a huge world of clients for us, and these clients keep coming back!”
Because Sarah’s niche has generated repeat clients, now her runDisney sales make up approximately 75% of her sales. So whether you do cruise, romance travel, golf, spa, or adventure (the list goes on, my friend), opening your door to Disney might help you tap into a broader client base.
Disney Early Reservation Date Calculator
Since things fill up fast, it’s important to prioritize bookings in the order you need to book them. Don't know what those cut-off dates are? Well dang, do we have something amazing for you: a Disney Advanced Reservations Timeline Cheatsheet. All you need to do is choose which Disney product you're booking and enter your client's arrival date at the top, then you'll see the earliest date you can book accommodations, activities, and add-ons for your chosen Disney product!
Getting Past the 10% Commission Thing
“Disney vacations are never a budget vacation, so it’s certainly worth my time to be a Disney expert.”
It’s no secret in the travel agent community that Disney vacations require a lot of work to plan. But, at 10% commission, Disneyland and Disney World packages are at the lowest end of the commission spectrum. For some agents, that’s a huge turn-off. (Read more on travel agent commissions here)
Agent Crystal Smith discussed the advantages of selling Disney regardless of lower commissions, “When I first started my business, I thought Disney wasn't worth the effort because of the lower commission levels for Disney Resorts. Now, I realize, Disney vacations are never budget vacations so it's certainly worth my time to be a Disney expert. Plus, some of those initial Disney visits turn into annual visits and sometimes Disney cruises.”
“When I first started my business, I thought Disney wasn't worth the effort because of the lower commission levels for Disney Resorts. Now, I realize, Disney vacations are never budget vacations so it's certainly worth my time to be a Disney expert. Plus, some of those initial Disney visits turn into annual visits and sometimes Disney cruises.
Now, more than ever Disney is a best seller for families. Domestic travel is much more attractive after the past 2 years so families are spending more and taking larger vacations."
Putting together a Disney price quote:
I use the compare tool on the Disney Travel Agent site. It allows you to compare 3 different properties and print a nice PDF.
Crystal offered some great details to consider when giving your client a Disney vacation quote. So the first four points below I'm basically quoting Crystal's awesome advice, word for word! Credit where credit's due!!!
1. Be Honest! Disney isn't cheap
It will never be cheap. That's just fact. Don't allow them to go down there with unrealistic budgets, thinking they are going to eat breakfast in their room, pack a lunch every day and not spend any money in the park. Money will be spent, so be prepared!"
2. I never give a bare-bones quote.
Even if they seem to want the absolute cheapest, I still give them options. I start by getting detailed feedback from my client on what they want to experience. The children's ages, likes, and dislikes, or all the family members, adults included. I ask if they are the type that opens the park, closes the park, or sneak out after lunch for a nap at the resort? etc. Then based on that feedback, I start preparing my quote. I always quote Disney resorts, never off the property. Unless my clients are very specific, I usually quote a Deluxe resort, a moderate, and a value resort. That seems like a lot, but for families that are shopping, they can quickly see there's not always a huge difference. Many times, they choose the more expensive resort. I use the compare tool on the Disney travel agent site, it allows you to compare 3 different properties and print a nice PDF."
3. The moving parts of a Disney vacation quote:
Here’s what Crystal keeps in mind when putting together a Disney quote:
- Ticket package (maybe Park Hopper)
- Disney Dining Reservations
- Memory Maker Photo Package
- Ground Transportation
4. Break it Down
Putting together a Disney package isn’t a one-and-done deal when it comes to hashing it out with a client. When discussing a Disney package with a client, you want to avoid sticker shock or a deer-in-headlights stare. Planning and booking Disney is complicated enough for a Disney expert, so imagine how confusing it must be for clients.
Nikki offered a great strategy for how to parse out information to clients, “I try to only talk about the most upcoming cut-off dates for dining, park passes, etc.” Since dining reservations, magical extras, and specialty experiences be made up to 60 days before, she’ll discuss those add-ons before park strategies and Lightning Lane reservation processes.
Tips on how to communicate with a Disney client
“My best tip for selling Disney World (or any Disney vacation) is to sell them on the magic.’ I indulge them in how they will feel when they first see the castle or that first time their little ones hug Mickey."
The Disney Client:
Regarding the Disney client, Nikki told me, “[When] working with Disney, you’re working with a lot of emotions. It’s almost like you’re working with someone’s wedding. It might be only one or two trips they take with their family, so they really want to create an amazing experience.” So whether a client is going to Disney for the first time or wants to pass along childhood Disney memories to their own children, the stakes for booking a Disney trip can run high.
Selling the Magic
Disney Specialist, Denise Lorentzen, owner and travel consultant at Dreams Travel Consulting, elaborated on highlighting the magic of Disney when talking to a client, “My best tip for selling Disney World (or any Disney vacation) is to sell them on the ‘magic.’ I indulge them in how they will feel when they first see the castle or that first time their little ones hug Mickey. Selling the experience is the best way to connect with them and makes this an emotional decision. They don't want to buy a package, they want to have a special personalized travel experience.”
Get to Know your client
Tip to selling the magic-start with understanding if this is the first visit or have they been before. I like to find out what type of lodging they are used to staying in (Best Western, Hyatt, etc). That way I can match them to a few resorts. Then I like to explain the resorts I recommend to show them how amazing they are. Show them the magic in the resorts. When I discuss the parks with them, I like to pull out a few things in each that will draw them in and excite them.
When you're booking with kiddos, they need to be qualified as well! Denise recommends, "Make sure you know the ages of kids, and I like to ask about favorite characters."
Read on for more tips to share with clients on tackling Disney with toddlers!
Disney with toddlers (tips for your care-taking clients)
If you're working with clients who will have toddlers or kiddos in tow, you will need to take the communication piece one step further. For example, if you're client will need to return to their resort or hotel for a midday break (or two), you'll want to consider the location of their lodging in relation to the theme parks they plan to visit. Will they have enough time to re-enter the theme park? Are they okay with a half-day lounge by the resort pool? How do their scheduling desires align with their lodging needs?
So much to think about when it comes to Disney with toddlers! I decided to reach out to Disney family travel expert, Dina Farmer. She talks about how to manage expectations, offers tips on how to find quiet corners of theme parks, and warns against skipping naps (don't skip the nap!).
When visiting the parks it can be really sensory overload for your baby or toddler so fully expect your days to be short or punched with lots of breaks.
- When traveling with a toddler to Walt Disney World try as much as you can to stick to their schedule. If your baby or toddler naps every day don't skip that nap. Pencil it in!
- You may have to leave the parks be sure to head out of the parks BEFORE your child's nap time to get them ready to go down for a nap. Take this time to nap yourself or take a shower after a wonderful morning at the parks.
- If your baby or toddler will nap anywhere then do more relaxing things like getting a cup of Jeofrries Coffee. Enjoying a quiet meal with a baby or toddler napping or just hanging out until your little one wakes up in one of Disney's Quiet areas such as Hotel du Canada in the Canada Pavillion in EPCOT or Tomorrowland Terrance in The Magic Kingdom.
- If your toddler or baby has a strict eating routine make sure to download the Disney Genie app and use the mobile order app to get food at traditional meal times for your family.
- Disney has a Baby Care center in all 4 of its theme parks. This is a place to unwind and get away from all the noise! They offer private nursing rooms for breastfeeding moms, changing tables with a women's restroom, microwaves and highchairs, a main room with a TV, AC, and a table and chairs to sit at, and finally, an on-site shop offering formula, baby food, juice, diapers, wipes, sunscreen, over-the-counter medications and clothing for purchase. If you happen to forget anything or have an accident Disney has you covered!
- Keep your expectations low, when visiting the parks it can be really sensory overload for your baby or toddler so fully expect your days to be short or punched with lots of breaks.
- Remember to have fun. This is why you are at the parks. While you can easily get caught up in wanting to see and do everything it's okay to not! Enjoy your time there and create memories that will last a lifetime and then book another trip!
Disney travel agents on booking direct vs. tour operator
We have so much love for tour operators and the value they bring to agents. But when it comes to booking Disney, all the agents I spoke with recommended booking directly through Disney. Here are two main reasons why:
- Pricing Control: A Disney travel agent knows it's not your average destination. Disney is such a behemoth in the travel industry, and they have complete control over its branding and pricing. This means that promotions come directly from Disney. So the Disney travel agent will always get the bottom line when booking Disney directly.
- Handling Client Concerns: If a Disney travel agent books through a tour operator and things go south for your client, Disney will not work with you. So another advantage to booking directly through Disney is that you'll be better able to field customer concerns should they arise during your client's Disney vacation.
Do you book Disney through tour operators? We'd love for you to play devil's advocate. Let us know in the comments below!
Keeping up with the Disneys
“One of my clients had seen the Mainstreet Electrical Parade with her family many years ago and was excited to repeat that experience with her kids. But they stopped showing it two weeks before her trip. When that happens, I explain all the other magical moments that they’ll have.”
Disney is constantly changing, so since you’ll be booking trips (especially cruises) eons in advance, you’ll really want to make sure you’re staying up to date on Disney news. In addition to following Disney's press releases, you'll want to keep your fingers on the pulse of Disney blogs to make sure you're in the know.
Maybe news like swapping out the Wishes Firework Show is no biggie to the average Joe, but for a Disney specialist, it's a big deal. If you have a client that is expecting to see that firework show, you’ll need to let them know. Take it from the pros:
Nikki offered a few strategies to make sure you’re keeping your finger on the pulse of Disney’s constant evolution.
1. College of Disney Knowledge: A Disney Education
While the CDK isn’t mandatory to sell Disney, travel agents who do complete it will have access to special Disney perks
College of Disney Knowledge is a free online training program that's administered through Disney Destinations. Most (if not all) of the Disney travel agents I spoke to “attended” College of Disney Knowledge (CDK) via Disney’s agent portal.
While the CDK isn’t mandatory to sell Disney, travel agents who do complete it will have access to special Disney perks including agent resort rates and access to selective Agent Experience Programs (AEP).
While College of Disney Knowledge may provide a great foundation for knowledge, Nikki emphasized the importance of having your own personal Disney travel experience(s)—*ahem* coming from an agent who's been to Disney 42 times—to get a handle on insider info such as what rides to go on when which rides you’ll definitely want to use a Lightning Lane and other nitty-gritty trip details.
2. Tap into a community of other Disney Advisors:
Nikki is a part of multiple Facebook groups that focus on Disney. Some are open to the public, and some are private with more rigorous eligibility requirements.
You can hunt around for a disney-specific travel advisor group on your own. But since so many advisors books Disney, it's a welcome topic in general advisor groups as well.
3. Read Disney News:
Nikki offered a few resources she subscribes to stay on the pulse of Disney changes.
4. Keeping Clients in the Loop
Nikki offered an ingenious way to keep clients in the fold of these up-to-the-minute changes. She creates a Facebook group just for her Disney clients to inform them of any changes that might impact them. Having a segmented Disney group on her Facebook page helps in a few ways:
- Save time notifying a group of clients rather than contacting them one by one.
- Since Nikki sells more than Disney, posting these updates in a group (rather than on her travel agency page) prevents visitors from thinking she only books Disney.
It’s dang fun to have a community of people who share a love of Disney magic!
5. DISNEY DINING
Disney dining is yet another major detail that is constantly changing. New restaurants crop up. Some close. Nikki contributed to HAR's Disney Dining Resource that tackles this topic specifically!
The article will help you stay abreast to changes in Disney's dining program and help you make informed suggestions to your clients.
HAR's Disney Booking Cheatsheet [PDF Download]
This cheatsheet is a synopsis of many items in this article! A one-pager for all the great info in this very article. Want a copy for your desktop? Easy. Just download it below!
Thank You! Thank You! Thank You!
Thank you so much to our travel agent Disney experts. Crystal Hurley, Denise Lorentzen, and Dina Farmer . . . thank you for weighing in to make this resource tops! A very special thank you to Nikki Miller, who carefully reviewed and edited this article to make sure everything is up to date. (Because did I know that FastPass+ became Lightning Lane? Of course not!)
Didn't find your answer here? Well don't fret, this article is not the end all be all. In fact, you can consider this the rope drop to booking Disney. Though I may not dress up in lavish Princess costumes2 to lead you deeper into Disney territory, there is definitely more to come.
Check out our other resources including Disney Cruise, Disneyland, and Disney World—and we have a few magic tricks up our sleeves of our own, so stay tuned.
Do you have a few tricks of your own? Blogs you like to follow? Facebook groups you like to join? Marketing Secrets to getting clients on board with Disney magic? Don't be shy! Weigh in below!