Using an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner (travel agent) can take the stress out of planning a Walt Disney World or Disneyland vacation, which can be a complicated and overwhelming task for the first-timer. Heck, even for a regular visitor, a Disney TA can make things a lot easier.
This is something we regulars often forget once we’ve learned the ropes. Thanks to years of experience, many of us veterans know all of the basics of planning–from where we should book ADRs, to the best FastPass+, to leveraging discounts and more–inside and out. However, the whole process is foreign and often daunting to newbies, which is why there’s serious value in using an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner.
If you’ve read other posts on the blog, you might be aware that we recommend Be Our Guest Vacations as our preferred Authorized Disney Vacation Planners. However, this isn’t merely a sales pitch for them. (In fact, we encourage you to recommend your favorite TAs in the comments.) My advice holds true irrespective of which travel agency you’re choosing. While some agencies and agents definitely do a better job and have more thorough knowledge of Disney than others, the vast majority of them are helpful. If you are overwhelmed planning, a Disney TA can help.
The first and biggest reason to use an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner is the service. Imagine the knowledge-base of this blog (assuming you think I’m knowledgeable), but in a form that can apply the tips here to your particular circumstances, preferences, and needs. That’s what a good Authorized Disney Vacation Planner provides. It’s a back-and-forth dialogue, and they’re there to hold your hand and give you personalized advice.
Unlike traditional, large-scale travel agencies, most Disney-specializing agents got into it not due to a desire to build some highly profitable business empire, but because they love Disney and really enjoyed planning their own trip. This is why I distinguish between “Authorized Disney Vacation Planner” (the words you want to look for) and traditional travel agents. The latter are professionals who book trips to myriad destinations, but don’t have a Disney focus. This usually means they don’t have the expertise to provide high-quality service for Disney destinations. (Which is a big reason I don’t recommend national, non-Disneycentric travel agencies when booking Disney vacations.)
Authorized Disney Vacation Planners are usually Disney fans who exclusively plan Disney travel. Most I’ve encountered over the years are good people. They’re mom and pop start-ups who are passionate about what they do. I’d say this is true 95% of the time, at least. And, because they’re passionate about Disney, they actually know about Disney. A traditional travel agent faces obsolescence because they were (basically) just someone to outsource the booking of vacations and had no firsthand knowledge of destinations to which they booked trips.
On the other hand, Authorized Disney Vacation Planners are only becoming more relevant thanks to the service and answers they provide in response to Disney vacations becoming increasingly complex. They know Disney inside and out (they are literally tested on it!) and have lots of first-hand experience. They will be up at the 180-day mark to make your ADRs, prepared to score you the prime FastPass+ selections, constantly monitoring new discount offers to see if they can reduce the cost of your trip, and generally able to assist with other facets of trip planning.
Beyond that, there’s no cost to you. Authorized Disney Vacation Planners are paid commission by Disney on the trips they book, so you’re not paying anything extra. I don’t know why Disney pays them, but my educated guess is because it’s essentially Disney ‘outsourcing’ the planning resources they’d otherwise need to provide. If you’re calling your travel agent, you aren’t calling Disney directly, tying up their guest services or other Cast Members.
This is win-win-win. Disney doesn’t have to deal with your questions, the Authorized Disney Vacation Planner is able to make money doing what they love, and you’re able to get free advice and help planning your trip. The biggest ‘winner’ there is arguably you. You have one contact who gets to know you, is responsive to your requests & questions, and feels a vested interest in making sure you have a great trip. You don’t call Disney, wait on hold for an interminable amount of time, and receive inconsistent answers from random Cast Members.
This is especially true in the era of My Disney Experience, MagicBands, FastPass+, etc. The Authorized Disney Vacation Planner is a liaison (or buffer!) between you and Disney, putting out fires and fixing problems as they arise. They save you headaches and stress in solving these problems. (Again, I speak from the experience of having to deal with these headaches myself–although things are getting better with these systems. I love Disney Cast Members in the parks, but my experiences have not been overwhelmingly positive on the phone.)
With all of that said, using a travel agent isn’t for everyone. Some people have obsessive personalities and like total control over their vacations, or actually enjoy spending hours reading blogs like this one (and thank you to those of you who tolerate all of my corny jokes! 😉 ). Although we used Authorized Disney Vacation Planners years ago, I’ll admit that this now describes me. I love figuring this all out for myself, and I’m a total control freak.
Even if you are a control freak like me, it might make sense to book through a vacation planner so they monitor discounts and be your liaison with Disney in the event My Disney Experience issues arise, while you can do the “fun” stuff like planning ADRs and FastPass+. Most vacation planners are as hands on or off as you specify, and it’s pretty easy to let them know what expect of them and what you’d like to do yourself.
You can find the exact same prices as a travel agent. I don’t know why there’s this mistaken belief out there that some travel agents find better or worse prices when it comes to Disney–any variance in pricing is a result of games Disney plays with its inventory and special offers at different times. All you do by ‘comparison shopping’ with vacation planners is waste their time and yours.
The advantage they do provide when it comes to price is that they are knowledgeable and diligent about discounts, and are more likely to get the best discount applied to your package. Take Free Dining, for example. I know several Authorized Disney Vacation Planners who were up all night Sunday into Monday morning, getting Free Dining applied to existing packages by 5 a.m. By contrast, if you waited until 7 a.m. to call Disney to book Free Dining–or found out about it days later–a lot of availability was already gone. So, in that sense, they are finding better prices for many of their clients, but it’s indirectly as a result of that knowledge and diligence.
If you’re convinced that a travel agent is for you, there are a few things to consider when choosing one. First, while I think it’s poor form to comparison shop or seek information without actual intent to book through them–as this is their job and they’re only paid on bookings they actually make–I do think it’s a goodidea to make sure you “click” with an agent after requesting a quote.
It should be pretty easy to tell based on their first email or two whether they’re someone you want to work with, but if you’re still unsure, request a quick phone call. You are trusting this person with your vacation and (potentially) will communicate with them a lot, so you should make sure they aren’t impersonal or will treat you like a number. This is typically a total non-issue, as most vacation planners I’ve encountered are incredibly pleasant and enthusiastic, but it’s good to double-check if things don’t seem right from the get-go.
Second, make sure they’re providing the level of service detailed here. If you want someone to make your ADRs, FastPass+ bookings, or make recommendations with things like stroller rental, make sure those are things they do. Not all agencies offer the same services, so be sure the one you’re considering will help in the areas you’d like assistance.
Finally, they have to know their stuff. Confirm they’ve been to whichever Disney destination you’re considering (and have been there recently). If you’re planning a Walt Disney World trip, you don’t want a Disneyland regular–they’re totally different destinations from a planning perspective. If you’re taking a Disney cruise, your travel agent having stayed at every Walt Disney World resort hotel is meaningless. You get the idea. I’m not saying they need to spend 50+ days per year in the parks, but you want them to know their stuff.
Most of the time, this is a non-issue. As mentioned above, the majority of Authorized Disney Vacation Planners are doing this because they are fans who are passionate about planning vacations. Failing that, Disney actually tests them on their Disney knowledge.
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If you’ve used an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner, how was your experience? Which Disney TAs do you recommend? Any other tips you’d like for choosing a vacation planner? Share your thoughts and questions in the comments below!