Using an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner can take the stress out of planning a Walt Disney World vacation, which is complicated and overwhelming for first-timer tourists. Travel agent can make the process easier by booking reservations, making itineraries, securing discounts, and more. (Updated April 11, 2023.)
One thing that regulars often forget once we’ve learned the ropes is just how convoluted it is to plan and take a trip to Walt Disney World. Thanks to years of experience and research, WDW veterans know the basics of planning–from tricks for booking Advance Dining Reservations to leveraging discounts, using Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, navigating virtual queues, making ideal itineraries to beat the crowds, and more–inside and out. However, the whole process is foreign and daunting to newbies, which is why there’s huge value in using an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner.
If all you’re looking for is a travel agent recommendation, Be Our Guest Vacations is our preferred Authorized Disney Vacation Planners. They offer no-cost planning, their agents have years of experience and visit the parks multiple times per year, and their team is talented and tight-knit. However, this is not simply a sales pitch for Be Our Guest Vacations…
Our advice to use a travel agent holds true regardless of which agency you end up choosing. The point here is more broadly that it’s incredibly advantageous to use Authorized Disney Vacation Planners–any of them! While some agencies and agents do a better job and have more thorough knowledge of Disney than others (more on these pitfalls in a minute), the vast majority are helpful. Suffice to say, if you’re overwhelmed by planning, a Disney TA can help.
More importantly, there’s no shame in needing help or being overwhelmed! We travel around the globe, and nowhere that we visit is as complicated or intimidating for first-timers as Walt Disney World. It’s literally the size of a city, and Walt Disney World has its own quirks, policies, and unwritten rules that are not easily understood. It’s a bit like learning Na’vi, a language without much real world value but that will endear you with a hardcore community of fellow-fans!
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.
For this reason, we do not recommend national, non-Disney travel agencies when booking Disney vacations. No offense to Costco or AAA, but they simply cannot compete with the ‘mom and pop shops’ in terms of quality service and knowledge. Agents at the big companies are booking myriad destinations with little experience at many of them.
It’s entirely possible that the agents at Costco, AAA, or other big box travel agencies have never visited Walt Disney World, or at least not within the last year. The best Authorized Disney Vacation Planners visit the parks multiple times per year and keep abreast of all the latest changes. They are Disney specialists, not travel industry generalists.
Unfortunately, big box agencies aren’t the only ones to avoid. In recent years, there has also been a proliferation of Disney travel agencies that are thinly-veiled multi-level marketing schemes (MLMs). These are agencies that exist not to provide exceptional service to clients, but primarily to recruit more agents and grow by charging initiation and training fees. The problem with these agencies is similar to the big box ones–a lack of quality control and subject matter expertise. They will hire any agent who expresses an interest in joining (because that’s their actual business, not helping clients) and don’t care about the caliber of client service or knowledge of their agents.
There’s no easy way to identify which Disney travel agencies are primarily MLMs. An obvious indicator would be if they recruit you despite your lack of knowledge, but it’s not always that obvious. To each their own, but my rule of thumb is avoiding agencies with hundreds of agents. When it comes to Authorized Disney Vacation Planners, size is a liability and not an asset. Go for a boutique business and get better service.
The second biggest reason to use an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner is the time-savings. This has become a particularly pronounced advantage in the last couple of years, and is arguably the biggest reason to use a travel agent now–especially if you’re already knowledgeable about Disney.
Currently, Walt Disney World and Disneyland both have staffing shortages. This is a problem throughout the parks and resorts, but nowhere is it more pronounced than the call centers. It used to be the case that you’d wait on hold for a long time only on the days that discounts, special event tickets went on sale, or something else major and new was released.
Long hold times have become the rule rather than the exception. You might think that this is no big deal, as you’ll simply book everything online. That’s a good plan…until something goes wrong.
Disney IT also isn’t the most reliable; between that and problems with reservations, there’s a strong probability that you’ll need assistance via a call center representative at some point during the planning process. Having an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner deal with this and advocate on your behalf will save you headaches and time waiting on hold, and the benefit of that cannot be overstated.
The third biggest reason to use an Authorized Disney Vacation Planners is saving money. This is not to say travel agents have access to better discounts than you or anyone else–they don’t. (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.)
The advantage they do provide when it comes to price is that they are knowledgeable and diligent about discounts, and continue monitoring your reservation even after booking. This can be particularly beneficial if you book far in advance before discounts are released–relevant right now as 2024 Walt Disney World Vacation Packages will be released in June 2023.
I know several Authorized Disney Vacation Planners who get up at 3 a.m. every time Walt Disney World releases a new discount in order to quickly apply the deal to all eligible reservations they’re managing. By contrast, if you learned about the deal a few days later and called Disney to book, a lot of availability would already be gone.
They also know the ins and outs of tweaking reservations so they fall within Disney’s eligibility parameters and are less likely the be excluded from promotions. (All too often, we hear from readers who technically qualify for a discount to be applied to their existing reservation, but Disney finds a way to exclude them due to lack of availability under the promotion or something else.)
So, in that sense, Authorized Disney Vacation Planners are finding better prices for many of their clients, but it’s indirectly as a result of that knowledge and diligence.
The fourth biggest reason to use an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner is for booking Advance Dining Reservations or ADRs–Disney’s term for restaurant reservations. Guests staying in Walt Disney World resorts can make reservations up to 60 days in advance plus the length of their stay (up to 10 days). This little 60+ days rule quirk is something that can be difficult to explain and comprehend, but knowledgeable travel agents know it well–and exactly how to leverage it.
Using the length of stay + 60 day rule, a skilled travel agent will book your ADRs in order of difficulty, so you’re more likely to get the most elusive reservations. And with many restaurants still operating at reduced capacity, ADRs are more competitive than ever–by the time the 60 day mark hits, some will already be fully booked. So if you want character meals or other popular restaurants, your best bet is having an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner make your ADRs.
Beyond that, there are some generalized reasons to use Authorized Disney Vacation Planners. For one thing, they are almost always fans themselves who exclusively plan Disney travel. Most I’ve encountered over the years are good people. The overwhelming majority became travel agents because they’re passionate about planning vacations and became the go-to resource for their friends and family, and just decided to turn it into a job. Out of the Disney TAs I’ve encountered, this is true at least 95% of the time.
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 60-day mark to make your Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs), come up with plans to help you score the prime Lightning Lane selections, constantly monitor 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 for most travel agents specializing in Walt Disney World or Disneyland. Authorized Disney Vacation Planners are paid commission by Disney on the trips they book, so you’re usually 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 you. One point person 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.
With that said, an increasing number of Authorized Disney Vacation Planners are charging an additional flat fee or hourly rate for their booking and/or planning services. This comes at a time when Walt Disney World vacations are more complicated than ever, and dealing with Disney (due to the aforementioned staffing shortages) is more time-consuming.
Without question, travel agents are worth these extra fees, as their professional expertise and experience is valuable. Whether you want to pay such a fee when free alternatives exist is a matter of personal preference. (Be Our Guest Vacations, the agency we recommend, currently does not charge any consulting fees.)
The added value and expertise offered by Authorized Disney Vacation Planners is especially true in the era of My Disney Experience, MagicBands, Genie+, 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 Genie+. 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.
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 good idea 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 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.
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!