Top Tips for Travel Agents Booking Disneyland
A few weeks ago (back in my youth 😉), I thought I could write a comprehensive article on all things Disney. Oh, those tender naive days! After talking to a few agents, I quickly realized that would entail a book-length project and decided to break it down into 4 parts so you, dear reader, don’t get carpal tunnel scrolling through a ten billion page blog (our insurance doesn’t cover that, I checked). If you missed our first article on Disney Travel Agents Share their Booking Secrets, don't forget to take a look!
Today we’re going to chat about Disneyland.
While a Disney World trip can (literally) take years of planning, folks close to Anaheim, CA could pack a bag and hit up Disneyland for a spontaneous weekend excursion. At the end of the day, traveling to (and booking) Disneyland is like training wheels for Disney World.
Disneyland has fewer moving parts and the planning is much more relaxed than the hustle required for a travel agent to coordinate a Disney World trip.
Repeat after me: Disneyland is not Disney World (and that’s okay).
Here’s a few things other things that make Disneyland different from Disney World:
- Size: Okay, let’s talk economies of scale: Disneyland has two theme parks (Disneyland and California Adventures) whereas Disney World has four. Needless to say, Disneyland is a fraction of the size of Disney World—500 acres compared to 43 square miles (and this is where my math ends, friends). Disneyland’s activities, dining, events and resort options also operate on a much smaller scale (think 100 Disneyland restaurants to Disney World’s 300, or 3 on-property Disneyland lodging options compared to 25+ at Disney World). There’s no dining plan at Disneyland, and the FastPass system has not caught up Disney World’s high-tech online reservation system (yet . . . stay tuned!).
- Location, Location, Location: Disney World is pretty much in the middle of nowhere. It’s like a biodome of magic and fun and tourism and all things Disney. But once you leave Disney World, you’re literally stepping off the grid. Located in Anaheim, CA, Disneyland offers the advantages of an urban location. There’s a ton of opportunities for activities outside the park including shopping, beaches, zoo, or Oscar-crashing (thanks to Jimmy Kimmel who flagged down a tour bus!). This also means you can buy knock-off Princess dresses and wands at Walmart instead of having your clients pay beaucoup bucks on Disneyland property. Even if Disneyland might not always be a destination trip for some clients, it can make a great add-on for travelers who might be in the area for other reasons and want to extend their stay (stay tuned for more on that).
- Budget range: Because of the smaller size, Disneyland does not cater to as many different travel budgets for on-property lodging.
- Packages: Disney World has all-inclusive options, but it ain’t so in Disneyland. Whereas a Disney World package includes transfers and dining packages, Disneyland trips are more a la carte style.
Why do I go on about this? Because you don’t want to send a client to Disneyland expecting a Disney World experience (or vice versa).
First, let's meet our agents (and begin with some of their stellar insights).
Believe me when I say that travel agents know more than Google when it comes to insider Disneyland info. Here are three agents who loaded my brain with amazing Disneyland insights. (I am merely a scribe). Here's a little visual primer on booking Disney from our esteemed Disney agents:
This hardly scratches the surface. Before, we dig in, why don't we give them a round of applause? ??????
Qualifying the Disneyland client
“When you have a client that’s trying to determine between the Disneyland and Disney World, you have to really qualify your client when you’re giving your recommendation. I make sure they understand up front exactly what they’re getting.” - Jennifer Lloyd
Jennifer Lloyd is a Texas-based agent, so most of her clients will have to fly regardless of which Disney destination they choose. But California agent, Dana Okamura, typically books Disneyland for CA residents.
Since each of them work with a different client base, they face different considerations when qualifying a client. Below, I paraphrase their tips on who’s a great candidate for Disneyland:
- Parents with younger kiddos (1-5 years): Dana believes that Disneyland is made for babies. Like Disney World, Disneyland offers character dining (which is less competitive to reserve), and it can be reeeally easy to just skip toddler meltdown blues by zooming back to your on-site resort for an afternoon nap. Also, there’s tons of amenities for little ones at Disneyland—(psst! check out Dana’s guide below for details!) But if kids are much older than that, Jennifer feels that Disney World may be the more engaging experience.
- Teens and teen groups: Even though Disneyland is a baby paradise, Dana doesn’t think that Disneyland is just for kiddos. “My kids are so mad because they haven’t been Disneyland for a long time. I’m bringing my 21 and 23 year-old daughters and their boyfriends.” Dana also plans trips for high school senior groups and sport teams. With its smaller scale, Dana mentioned that she feels more comfortable letting groups romp around more independently.
- Clients who only have 3-4 days of travel: A client can see everything Disneyland has to offer in a few days. So if a client has less available time to travel, Disneyland might be a good bet.
>>> Pro Hint: Both Dana and Jennifer recommend the 3-day Park Hopper for clients. Clients can see everything Disneyland has to offer within that time frame.
- Clients who want the So Cal experience: Why stop at Disneyland? Denise discussed the importance of selling the whole SoCal experience, “Once they’re at Disneyland, you can add-on packages with Disneyland, and you can’t do this at Disney World. You can do a SoCal experience or San Diego. We booked a client’s Disneyland portion with room, hotel, tickets, dining, transfers and rental so they drove to San Diego.”
- People who want to “test the waters” before going to Disney World: Jennifer mentioned that some Disney first-timers want to check it out before going whole hog. A Disneyland trip is a great gauge for a client to determine if Disney World is for them. (Like I said: training wheels for Disney World.)
- CA residents: Why fly to Florida when SoCal residents and annual Passholders get discounts to Disneyland? At the time of writing this, SoCal residents stand to save $126 on a 3-day Park Hopper (according to Disneyland site). In general, Disneyland Passholders can receive 10-15% discounts on different restaurants, shops, events and tours (depending on the passport level).
Still not sure? Well we made it fun by creating a quiz that you can’t fail! Yay! Check it out and see whether Disneyland or Disney World might be a better fit for your client.
Planning & booking tips for Disneyland
“For a client that’s in another state—sell them that whole SoCal experience. It’s not just Disneyland. It’s in Orange County. You’ve got beaches and the Santa Monica Pier . . . Get them to the downtown Staples Center. Also add on Universal Studios the package.” - Denise Lorentzen
Quite frankly, there’s less planning for a travel agent to do with a Disneyland trip. FassPasses must be picked up on-site and are issued at each ride old-school style (rather than reserving time slots online in advance like at Disney World).
But you don’t get off that easy. There are still many tips and tricks for planning and booking a stellar Disneyland trip. Here's just a few things to consider:
1. On property vs neighboring hotels: pros and cons
Since Disneyland only has three lodging options, it doesn’t have the budget range as Disney World (which has ~25 on property options). Even without loads of options, staying on property at DL has its advantages:
- Extra magic hours: For every day you stay at an on-site resort, you can have access to magic mornings, 1 hour before the park is open to the public. (With a conventional 3-day Park Hopper pass, you can pick one day for extra magic hours.)
- Convenience: You’re in the center of the action and a nap is just a monorail away.
- Package service: When you make purchases at Disneyland, you can have them sent directly to your room.
- Preferred reservations: Disneyland sets aside a few slots for their more popular restaurants and the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique (forever known as BBB because I simply cannot type that again!) and the Anna and Elsa Boutique (Frozen) for guests staying on property (however, if you make reservations far enough in advance, this is probably a moot point).
- The Full Disney Experience: All the on-property hotels are deeply immersed in the Disney magic with themed rooms. You can even schedule a wake-up call from a Disney character for your little one.
- Amenities: You can use hotel amenities (such as the pool) at any of the Disneyland properties, regardless of where you're staying.
There’s not a ton of cons to staying on property at Disneyland, but a big one to consider is that moolah. Your client can plan on dropping more cash if they stay on property. With off-site neighboring hotels, there will be a greater range of budget options, discounts (literally non-existent on property), and amenities.
2. Early reservations at Disneyland
Early reservations at Disneyland are not as competitive as they are at Disney World, but there’s still a few tricks to let your mind rest easy knowing that you’ll have Disney experience staples like World of Color, BBB, character dining (especially princesses) or some of their more popular restaurants at the ready.
There’s a few things that can be reserved early (many them, however, you cannot pay earlier). Regardless of where your client is staying, restaurants, character dining, activities (such as Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique), and events can be booked 60 days in advance.
The only thing that can be booked sooner than that are the on property hotels (499 days out, like Disney World).
In case you missed it in our previous article, here’s our trusty Early Reservation Date Calculator all updated to include Disneyland timelines as well. All you need to do is enter your client’s arrival date at the top, then see the earliest date you can book accommodations and activities and add-ons (in red). You can check under the Disneyland category to see what applies.
3. More Disneyland resources & a downloadable cheatsheet
Both Jennifer and Dana mentioned they prefer Disney-designated sites for sources of information. Disney’s main travel agent portal, DisneyTravelAgents.com is a staple for Jennifer: “They send emails every time something’s about to happen or introduce something. Every so often they’ll add more classes to the Disney agent site. Agents can educate themselves in becoming certified and taking courses so you can know what’s a rumor and what’s not a rumor.”
Jennifer added that in the Disney portal, agents also have access to marketing resources “to maximize your marketing resources for free, travel agent booklets that gives instructions on how to book Disneyland, how to book Disney World.” In order to maintain your Disney agent status, agents need to take three courses annually. (Jennifer was able to complete her courses in a couple of hours.)
One site that I humbly recommend is Casey Starnes’s blog, DLR Prep School. It's dang organized, and has a major resource to help clients strategize their time and make the most of their Disneyland experience once they're there. One of my favorites so far was her resource on how clients can get 3 FastPasses in the first ten minutes of being open!
Dana also mentioned that the Disneyland app is a must-have for a client’s trip. With the app, clients can track characters, see wait times for rides, and make restaurant reservations and check menus. So don’t forget to make sure your client is hooked up!
Thanks to Dana, you can also set your client up with this cheatsheet to help them find their way around the park. All you need to do is download the sheet and you can your agency's logo at the top! Behold!
Are you tired? Do you feel like you've gone on dozens of theme parks rides and ate an entire bouquet of corndogs? Well rest up, weary park hopper, because there's going to be more Disney magic happening on the site.
But magic doesn't happen without magicians. So THANK YOU, once again, to travel agents Jennifer Lloyd, Denise Lorentzen, and Dana Okamura for sharing their insights on booking Disneyland trips.
Do you have insights of your own? Share them below in the comment section!