Disney World Tips and Tricks: Travel Agents Tell All
When it comes to Disney vacations, booking Disney World requires Jedi-level travel planning for travel agents. Booking Disneyland may have some flexibility, but it ain’t so with Disney World. Booking a magical Disney World trip requires serious focus. But you’re in luck, because a few Yoda-level travel agents have shared their Disney World wisdom, which I am about to impart to you. Patience you must have, my young padawan.
But Wait. There’s More.
I know how it is. You start eating cake, and just as you take your first bite, you’re already thinking about where your next cake is coming from.
Well, we have more cake, my friend. So much cake. Don’t forget to check out our two other Disney articles from our series:
- The Best Disney Travel Agents Share Their Booking Secrets: Read this first if you haven’t yet. Seriously. You can consider it your warm up lap.
- Top Tips for Travel Agents Booking Disneyland: Disneyland is the original Disney, so we have to pay our respects. If you want to tout yourself as a true Disney guru, then knowing Disneyland inside-out is a must do, too.
Are we cool? We’re cool. So imagine, if you will, the Star Wars theme song as go into hyperdrive into Disney World territory . . . because Traveling through hyperspace ain't like dusting crops, farm boy.
Sit Down. We Need to Have a Talk:
Within Disney World, there are 10,000 Disney World experiences to be had. Selling Disney pretty much fell into Crystal’s lap. Why? “Everybody wants to go to Disney. Young, old, married single. It’s the ultimate family vacation,” said Crystal.
But Disney also creates loyal customers, “You’ve got a lot of people that start when their kids are really young. About every 5 years is a good time to go back. If you go under 3, they’re free. When they’re 5-8, it’s just magical because they’re just kids. The preteen years is fun because you can give them a little independence, and then in high school they’re going for band trips or something. It’s not like a one and done thing.”
Before you do anything, you’ll need to have a chat with your client regarding their expectations for the trip. Who’s going? How many? What is the group makeup?
Like Laurie Zeller said in our previous article, your role is truly to zip it and listen. While your Disney client fantasizes about their perfect Disney World vacation, you have the less fun (or, geeky fun) task of tallying logistics, taking notes, and asking them questions to help fill in the gaps.
Will there be kids? Seniors? Foodies? Mobility considerations? Do the kids/ adults have character experiences they MUST have? Do they like thrill rides? Is their resort a sanctuary where they hope to recharge or is it just place to crash until their next thrill ride? Are they morning people? These are all important details and can make or break a trip.
In particular, you’ll want to be sensitive to clients who’ve never been there before, and may benefit from a little more hand-holding.
The FAB Five of Booking Disney World:
First, you’ll want to make sure your clients are signed up for the Disney Experience App. Okay, here are the cogs to a great Disney World trip, in no particular order:
1. Resort & Magical Express Transfers:
Every agent I spoke with books their clients on-property unless their client specifically requests off-site lodging or they have a timeshare. Why stay on-property?
- Convenience. Beeline into the park—don’t start of day of standing in lines standing in a line to process your ticket. Enough said.
- Eligible for Magical Express: No scrambling for their baggage or stressing over shuttle service, and you can go headfirst into the fun because your checked luggage will be sent directly to your on-property resort.
- Eligible for Disney Dining Packages: Basically must-have (see below for more details on that).
- First dibs at FastPasses: on-property clients get the jump on FastPasses, which can be a huge advantage to trimming down how much time your client will in lines versus on rides.
- Get the full “Disney Experience.” Part of the magic for travel agents is booking a Disney World first-timer and knowing they will wowed by the Disney Magic. Part of the benefit of staying on property to be immersed in that magic 24/7.
Staying on property caters to a wide range of budget. Resort options range from campsites to Deluxe hotels and villas. Between that are “value” and “moderate” lodging options. Here’s a few pro tips when it comes to choosing properties from Lisa and Crystal:
- “Pop Century is one of the newer value resorts. I love it personally because it has it’s own dedicated bus line, as opposed to the All-Star value resorts. It’s just quicker to your destination in the morning and it doesn’t stop at a lot of other places.”
- “Port Orleans French Quarter is the first stop, the last thing you want is for a full bus to pass you by. Port Orleans Resort (French Quarter) is a smaller and more compact resort and has a smaller intimate feel for it. It’s a guest favorite for that reason.”
- “I kind of have two extremes: There’s the budget travelers who really want the hotel rooms and value resorts. They want to Experience Disney World in the least expensive way possible. The opposite extreme that I have is those who know that they want a deluxe resort—they want to feel the resort is where they come back to refresh and relax, without having to venture out to find that. I have very few [clients] at moderate level, except for families of 5. They have more options for suites and family rooms.”
- “It truly depends on the week, but if you’re looking at a value resort, there might be a moderate resort that will price the same . . . When I first do the [price] quote, I try to give them a value, moderate and deluxe quote. They might see that the moderate might not be much more.”
- “On-site [Disney] training is so valuable to me. Those on site training programs, you tour 3-4 properties each day. It’s exhausting, but you get to see so many things--it’s really nice to be able to say, ‘I’ve seen this family suite, it’s wonderful.’ or, ‘It might be a little crowded.’”
You can do this OR the client can do it on their own. Clients can use 3 Fast Passes in a day—but in after they use those three, they can try to get a fourth or even a fifth Fastpass.
Planning Fastpasses is literally like a logic puzzle, and it’s likely that Disney World newbies will need a little guidance planning them out. Lisa has an ambitious goal of making sure her clients never wait more than 20-30min in line at Disney World, and she’s often successful (I don’t use the word “Jedi” lightly, okay). Impossible, say you? Well her experience makes it possible. Here’s a few of her winning Fastpass strategies:
- “My general strategy that I use is that I have them use the first 2 or 3 hours in the morning without Fastpasses—going to attractions that don’t offer Fastpass+. Then later—early afternoon after lunch—use those passes on the popular attractions when the crowds have build. Then the early/ late evenings do rides and activities that don’t have long lines (parades etc).”
- “If you’re [an agent who’s] not booking a lot of Disney, there’s a program called RideMax where you put in the attractions [clients] want to do in one day, and it shows the order to maximize ride time. It makes you look like a rock star.” (>>> Note: An annual subscription to RideMax is $19.95 for Disney World and $24.95 for Disneyland. I swear HAR gets no kickback from them :) ).
3. Disney Dining Package (DDP)/ Character Experiences (etc):
After you’ve had your Disney World talk and have qualified your client and their hopes and dreams for Disney, you’ll have an good idea of what character experiences they might like best and what DDP will work best for them.
There’s three levels of dining plans: Quick Service Dining Plan (to go, counter service only), Disney Dining Plan, and Deluxe Dining Plan. The agents I spoke with encourage the DDPs for clients’ ease.
Lisa mentioned her clients, “like the ease and convenience of having meals prepaid” rather than paying for meals out of pocket. “If meals aren’t prepaid, when I’m walking up to the window to order then I’m thinking about saving money, rather than just getting the food I want. With Disney Dining Plans you can enjoy it all and know that it’s all taken care of already. It gives you the feeling of truly feeling you’re on vacation.”
Laurie Zeller also mentioned she thinks that the Deluxe Dining Plan is often overlooked (and here comes the part where I drool):
“If you have some foodies looking to book a Walt Disney World vacation, then the Deluxe Dining Plan is perfect for them. . . . There are some amazing breakfast options that are all too often overlooked such as Banana Bread French Toast at Whispering Canyon Cafe and the infamous Tonga Toast at Kona Cafe. Use the two snack options in the afternoon for a variety of tasty options such as bakery items and the beloved Dole Whip. For dinner, book one of Disney's Signature Restaurants for a truly exceptional meal that will soak up your remaining meal credit allowance. These restaurants are some of the very best that Walt Disney World has to offer. Filet-Mignon at Le Cellier, Andouille-crusted Chicken Breast at the Hollywood Brown Derby, or Flying Fish Cafe's Wood-fired Skull Island Prawns, Chilean Sea Bass, and Key West Pink Shrimp."
But Lisa mentioned that many of her clients don’t want to spend quality rollercoaster time eating, “typically my clients don’t want to spend that much time in restaurants because they want to be on the go experiencing attractions.”
Reservations for restaurants (for those that accept them) can be made 180 days in advance. Character dining like Be Our Guest and Cinderella’s Royal Table are very popular, as is Victoria and Albert’s fine dining (read: dress code). In general, newer restaurants will also be popular, so for these locations in particular, you’ll want to make sure you make advanced reservations to the second. No dilly dallying. (Keep reading—your patience will be rewarded with our Advanced Reservation Calculator Below)
4. Memory Maker:
This is a photography service that will let all the parents be in the pics (and a pretty good insurance policy for your fancy camera). It depends if your clients want it. They’ll get a $20 kickback if they buy Memory-Maker more than 3 days before their arrival, but can purchase it at anytime at the park.
5. Final Payment:
This is due 30 days before they land at Disney World. Not to be missed because that would be an epic-level, dream-shattering, unicorn-killing bummer.
Travel agent Denise Lorentzen makes sure she keeps that info organized. Here’s her advice: “I have created a checklist for each Disney Destination I book. I list every single step of the planning/booking process from start to finish. Everything on the list will be entered, checked off and done before they travel. I use this list also to educate my clients on each of the components of their vacation. By using the checklist I am able to bring up parts of their package in steps/stages versus all at once.”
We’re going to go ahead and steal Denise’s idea. And, I really hate to do this to you, but I'm gonna leave you with a teaser. This Planning Checklist and Cheatsheet is going to be so big, that's it gonna be it's own thing with bells and whistles and rainbows. So STAY TUNED my dear friend—your patience will be rewarded. I swear.
>>> 04/11/17 UPDATE!: Yay it's here! Our ginormous Disney Planning and Booking Cheatsheet. Seriously don't miss out. We went whole hog: a video, a gif, a long explanation and (of course) the cheatsheet itself, which is 8 pages and runs through all resort, Dining Plan and Event options, as well as help you track your travel party's info and plan FastPass+ agendas.
Timing Is Of the Essence
Okay, real talk time: When you book Disney World, you’re going to need to tell your procrastinating self to take a hike. Clients are oftentimes 10,000% serious about their trip to Disney World. This means that stellar Disney travel agents really go to bat for their clients, and sometimes this includes waking up at wee hours to book a popular character meal.
Are you cringing a little bit? I feel for you. I really do. And I’m here to help. If you’re reading this, there’s a good chance that you’ve already seen our Disney Calculator, but I’m going to go ahead and post it here too because it’s that dang important (save the unicorns, people).
Here’s what you’re gonna do: You have already chatted with your client so you know their arrival date. Plug that puppy into the calculator below and check out when you can reserve resorts (and Magical Express), FastPasses, Events, and Dining—draw giant stars and exclamation points on your calendar for these day, because you’ll be rising and shining real early to make sure your client is among the first in line.
All done? Well, not quite. Now that you have the dates when you’ll need to book those parts of the trip on your calendar, you’ll also want to star the dates one week before those times so you talk about/confirm with your clients what resorts, dining plans and character experiences they want.
Guess what. You’re still not done. Because once in a blue moon, Disney likes to throw a wrench into your plan and offer some promotions . . .
A Word on Promotions:
To put it politely, the Disney empire has complete price control over everything Disney. Crystal pointed out the silver lining of this pricing structure, “One of the joys of working with Disney is that [every travel agent’s] price is the same.” This means that travel agents don’t have to worry so much about cutthroat competition among other travel agents. Can’t we all just be friends? Yay! Warm fuzzies.
But Disney’s unyielding pricing structure also means that a Disney promotions won’t come around on the daily. But when they do, you’ll need to pounce. Crystal pointed out that “as long as you’re still in the booking window, you can change [reservations] to the promotional rate. You’ll be on hold for hours, but it can be done.”
But a Disney World promotion stands to make more work and possibly reduce your commissions? So why do that to yourself? Travel agent, Laurie Zeller says it perfectly here:
“Be on top of Walt Disney World's promotions. Disney only allows so many rooms at any given Walt Disney World Resort hotel to be sold under a promotional rate. So when the promotions are released, immediately see what you can do to get your existing clients booked under the new promotional rate. It will cut your commission a bit, but you will look like a hero to your client. Which means they will come back to you again and again. They will give your name to their friends and family who are looking to book a Disney vacation which means more commissions in the long run. But don't wait until a week after the promotions are announced to rebook your existing clients. Availability is limited!”
Well stated, Laurie. Dang these travel agents are smart.
The tough thing about Disney Promotions is that they're somewhat erratic in terms of when they're released and what they offer. So if you want to really really stay on top of them, you'll need to check out the Disney Agent Portal obsessively.
Well for now. We have so many more ideas what to do Disney that you can bet that we'll have more articles and resources for you down the pipeline.
You can do it. I know you can. Repeat after me, I am one with the Force. The force is with me. (Okay, you might be able to tell by now that I am REALLY excited for the rumored Star Wars Land to open in 2019—OMG!)
But I want to hear from you too, dear agent. What are your secrets, hangups, and challenges in booking Disney trips? More importantly, what are your huge juicy secrets in making Disney magic for your clients? Let us know in the comments below!