We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again – Walt Disney World (WDW) is HUGE. It encompasses 4 huge theme parks, 2 water parks, 2 miniature golf courses, a large shopping district, 19 hotels in 3 prices categories, options for 11 Disneyesque timeshares, over 200 places to get food (including 90 full service restaurants, over 30 of which are inside the parks), literally hundreds of hotels outside WDW property to choose from, from cheap mom & pop places to the Four Seasons, and the list goes on and on. On top of all this, in order to get your first choices in terms of hotels, restaurants or Fast Pass + (so you don’t have to stand on lines for certain attractions), you have to be ready to make those reservations however many days out, and the day(s) they’re available to you to make those reservations. And you may also want to think about going to places besides WDW, whether or not you want to rent a car, how to plan your days, etc.
There are so many things to know and do – do you need a travel agent to help you with all of this? Well, maybe. Read on…
First, let’s get into the basic basics…
What does a travel agent do?
From Sokanu: Travel agents (TAs) simplify the “planning a trip” process for their customers in addition to providing consultation services and entire travel packages. They may book flights, cruises, rental cars and hotels, as well as resort stays and events. Agents cater to a wide demographic, serving both individuals and corporations. They may also concentrate on a special segment of the field; many agents specialize in leisure travel, business trips, or location-specific journeys to Europe, Africa, Asia [ETA: or WDW].
How much do travel agents charge their customers?
Usually nothing. TAs typically get a commission from airlines and hotels for booking customers for them. So, typically you’ll just pay for the cost of your trip. The most common fee customers sometimes pay covers the multiple hours the TA spends in researching and building an itinerary, but it’s rarely more than a couple hundred dollars.
Do I need a travel agent to plan my trip to WDW?
If you’ve gone to WDW one or a hundred times before, or even if you haven’t but are willing to do all the legwork yourself (and if so, read this to get you started), you might not need a TA. And there’s nothing wrong with planning the trip all on your own – lots and lots of people have a “DIY” approach to planning even the largest of vacations. Just know that planning a WDW vacation will probably be more time consuming than you’re used to in comparison to putting together other vacations and will sometimes require you to be “at the ready” to sign up for the things you want to do on the days you’re allowed to sign up for them (that will depend on where you’re staying and when you arrive). Plus be ready to realize that you may miss something really cool (anything from a special event to a short lived sale or discount) because you didn’t know about it ahead of time.
If you do decide to use a TA to help you plan your WDW vacation, make sure to use an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. These special TAs have been personally trained by Disney to plan Disney vacations. Disney has a bajillion policies and procedures that are different from just about everywhere else; problems can arise when “regular” travel agents make incorrect assumptions that are based on their usual experiences because those experiences might not apply to WDW vacations.
What are the pros and cons of using a TA for my WDW vacation?
- Money savings – besides their services usually being free, TAs will know about current and upcoming packages and promotions for hotels, dining plans, etc. that you may not know about. A good TA will also let you know if a better opportunity comes about that you can switch to.
- Special opportunities – WDW could have activities or special events that you might not know about…but your TA will! (well, definitely should!)
- Time savings – A TA will be available at the exact time that’s needed to make that dinner reservation at Cinderella’s Royal Table or to get those Fast Passes to Flight of Passage, so you don’t have to.
- The control issue – Letting someone else make your vacation plans, even with getting input from you for certain aspects might be more difficult for some people than others.
- You can’t make changes – this kind of goes hand in hand with the control thing but if a TA makes your WDW reservation, only (s)he can make changes to the said reservation; you can’t. That shouldn’t be too bad but if a TA is not available, say, on weekends, and the change you make is time sensitive, that could cause an issue.
- Your vacation planning is only as good as your TA – most Authorized Disney Vacation Planners are awesome, but a few are not. (S)he may not call you back in a timely manner, doesn’t look for better packages, etc.
When can’t I use a TA?
- If you’re renting DVC points – Some members of Disney Vacation Club (DVC) rent their points out to people for hotel stays and it usually costs less than if you paid for the same room with cash. TAs can’t have anything to do with that kind of transaction.
- If you live in one country, you wouldn’t want to use a TA who is based in another country (i.e. if you live in the U.K., don’t use a TA from the U.S.). The reason is simple – different countries have different deals for WDW tickets, hotels and even parking charges!, and a TA from another country wouldn’t normally know about those deals.
How can I find a reputable TA?
Most TAs get more clients by word of mouth. In fact, it’s been said that one of the best “thank-yous” you can give a TA is to point clients his/her way. So the best way to find a good, recommended TA is by asking friends or family who have used one (remember it’s highly recommended that you only use an Authorized Disney Vacation planner – preferably one with lots of experience and knowledge – for a WDW trip). Of course, you may not have a friend/family member who has a TA to recommend…that’s why so many people use the internet to get info (and there’s nothing wrong with that, either). Heads up that several Disney-themed forums and Facebook groups are either run by TAs or have exclusivity with a particular TA or TA company – which doesn’t mean said TA is necessarily awesome or awful – but it’s just something to be aware of in terms of the pool of TAs to choose from (i.e. some of the aforementioned groups don’t allow other TAs to try to get clients in their groups. Which makes sense).
Whether you decide to use a TA or to plan your trip on your own, I hope you have a MARVELOUS trip!
***Huge thank-you to Darlene K. for her assistance in writing this post!
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary