The easy guide to your first Walt Disney World Visit (2016 Edition) Review

the easy guide to your first Walt Disney World Visit
the easy guide to your first Walt Disney World Visit

With the holidays quickly approaching, it seems appropriate to review a book that you may want to consider putting under the tree of your favorite Disney World fan (or, in your own stocking): the easy guide to your first Walt Disney World Visit

Though have I have been fans of both Josh’s work at easyWDW and Dave’s work at yourfirstvisit.net for some time, I initially avoided a book that (by its title) appeared targeted to people who were not Disney World veterans. After getting getting asked “I’m going to Disney World, what should I know?” for the thirty-eighth time, however, I decided I should check and see if the easy guide might be my default answer to that question going forward.

Structure and Organization

NOTE: If you want a complete, super-detailed breakdown of the book, I will refer you to this post by Josh. If you’ve ever read his work on easyWDW you can probably guess what level of detail he goes into.

The easy guide is set up to walk a first time Disney World Vistor through the key decisions that any Disney World Vistor (first time or otherwise) would have to make when planning a Disney vacations, including: when to go, how long to visit, where to stay, how to tour, etc… Each one of those decisions is receives a dedicated chapter that contains a combination of reviews, recommendations, and tips on how to make the decision, and how to execute on that decision once it has been made. For example, Chapter 5, “Where to Stay”, starts by giving criteria you may wish to evaluate when making a decision about which restort to stay in, follows that up with recommendations by Josh and Dave on where they think you should stay, and then provides detailed reviews of all of the Disney World resorts. This structure means the book can be used in two different ways: as a step-by-step “how-to” for first time or inexperienced Disney World guests, or as reference for more experienced people who just want to look up certain information.

The easy guide as a Tool for First Time or Inexperienced Disney World Guests

The easy guide excels as a step-by-step guide for how to visit Disney World. It walks potential guests through the entire sequence of decisions that they will have to make as they are planning their trip, including key decisions such as when to visit Disney World and how long they should stay. The format of the book is great for first time visitors, since each chapter starts with either specific recommendations from authors Dave and Josh about their preferred choices and why they made those choices, or with an explanation of how one should evaluate various options in order to make her own decisions. (For example, Chapter 5, “Where to Stay” features a section entitled “How to Pick Your Disney Resort Hotel” that walks you through how to evaluate the various hotel options against your available budget.) Basically, it allows a first time Disney World guest to start a chapter, make the decision that chapter discusses, and then move on to the next chapter / decision, all in the order that Josh and Dave recommend.

Though first time Disney World visitors might not need to read all of the reference material available near the end of each chapter, the “cheat sheets” found in Chapter 6, “How to Spend Your Time”, are a must read. Anyone who’s ever used Josh’s easyWDW cheat sheets knows that they offer high quality advice on how to plan your day at a given Disney World park. By providing them in a book designed for first time Disney World guests, Dave and Josh have put their readers in a great position to efficiently and enjoyably see all the attractions and other entertainment available at Disney World, even if it’s their first visit.

My biggest complaint with the easy guide as a complete, go-to resource for first time Disney World guests is the sparse explanation on how to setup and use the various functionality found in Disney’s websites and mobile apps. For example, the section on making ADRs (Chapter 7, Where to Eat – Advance Dining Reservations) is only about a page and half of explanation, and does not fully convey the stressful,  6am, mad rush that takes place when trying to secure reservations at certain restaurants. Instead, that information is relegated to a “Disney World To-Do List” at the end of the book (where it could easily be missed by the book’s readers.) Relatedly, the second-to-last chapter of the book (Chapter 9, “How to Setup Everything Up and Get Everything Done”) dedicates only 3 pages to setting up a My Disney Experience account and booking Fastpass+ in advance of a trip. Though there are some very detailed descriptions of how to complete that process, some more in-depth discussion of how to use these systems (e.g., explaining that your My Disney Experience account needs to have reservations and tickets added in order to make Fastpass+ reservations) might be necessary for Disney World novices.

In summary, the easy guide is almost the perfect book to hand to someone who says “I’m thinking about going to Disney World, what should I know?” It will walk her through all the of the decisions she has to make in order to plan and enjoy her vacation. That said, if you are recommending this book to a first time Disney World vistor, you still might want to point out the importance of certain 180-day and 60-day deadlines, and don’t be surprised if you get a call or two asking for a little help when it comes time to the setup and use some of the My Disney Experience-related stuff.

The easy guide for Experienced Disney Veterans

I made a joke once when friend of the site Dutch Lombrowski was on the WDW 4 Families podcast: “Too much discussion about how various attractions matter to families, 1 star.” If you listen to a podcast named “WDW 4 Families,” you can’t really knock it when it focuses on planning a vacation for families. Here, we have a book entitled the easy guide to your first visit to Walt Disney World. You can’t really knock the book if it’s strength is in helping people plan their first Disney World vacation.

Still, I assume people who visit a site dedicated to Disney World might have some experience visiting the resort, and I want to assure those readers that they will still probably find value in the easy guide. First, as mentioned above, this book makes a great resource to hand to people who ask you what they should know when planning their first Disney World vacation, and, if you’re a Disney World veteran, you probably get that question every so often. Second, the book provides a nice collection of reviews of resorts and dining that you can reference when you need to make decisions in your trip planning. If you like Dave’s and Josh’s work on their respective sites, it’s pretty likely that you are going to like their work in the book. (You might also like the little insights from Disney historian Jim Korkis that are sprinkled throughout the book.)

Lastly, even the most veteran Disney World guest may benefit from seeing how two experts in Disney World vacations recommend planning a trip. After years and years of Disney World visits, us veteran guests might be so set in our ways that we never stop to see if someone has come up with a better way to do certain things. For example, take a look at Dave’s recommendations about which weeks to visit Disney World, or at Josh’s most recent theme park cheat sheets, and see if there’s something new you might want to integrate into your next Disney World trip.

The 864-Page Gorilla

Any review of a Disney World guide book must deal (at least to some degree) with how that book compares to the massive Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. As readers of this site are probably aware, the Unofficial Guide is an almost 900 page (three times the size of the easy guide) book that gives its readers a ton of information about Disney World and its surrounding area. Much like the easy guide, it contains reviews of hotels, restaurants, and strategies for touring the Disney World theme parks. It also adds in tons of information about off-site options, transportation (including airport and rental car information), and other Orlando area theme parks (e.g., Universal Studios Florida, SeaWorld, etc…) that you will not find in the easy guide.

After spending time with both books, I think there is room on a Disney Fan’s bookshelf (on in her Kindle) for both of them. They both contain valuable information (though Josh might have an opinion as to which set of touring tips is better) and I have used both of them as a reference at various points since I purchased them. That said, the easy guide is much more focused on presenting the author’s recommendations than providing the huge dump of information that the Unofficial Guide does. Depending on how knowledgable about Disney World you are, you might see that as a benefit or a negative.

If I was picking a book to give to someone who has never visited Disney World before, I’d probably pick the easy guide. If I was picking a book for a Disney veteran, I’d have to know a little bit more about what kind of Disney guest the person was before making a recommendation.

Don’t These Guys Already Have Websites with this Information?

Yes. Dave runs yourfirstvisit.net, and Josh runs easyWDW.com You could almost certainly get all of the information in the book by digging through these sites and putting together your own “guide to a first Disney World visit.” My question is: Why would you? Dave and Josh have put together the information from both of their sites in a convenient, easy to follow structure, that allows first time Disney World guests to walk through all the important decisions necessary to plan their vacations. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of that?

For people like me who read Dave’s and Josh’s sites on a regular basis, I partially look at my purchase of the book as a way to support people who do good work that I find helpful. I’m not saying I would have bought the book if it was literally cow feces, but knowing that I’m supporting these guys doesn’t hurt.

Summary

The easy guide is a great book for first time (or inexperienced) Disney World guests, since it walks those guests through all of the important decisions they will have to make as they plan their Disney World vacation. Disney World veterans, though not explicitly targeted by the book, will probably also benefit from the information found in the easy guide. In the end, if you’re looking for a Disney World guide book, I recommend giving the the easy guide to your first Walt Disney World Visit a shot.

The the easy guide to your first Walt Disney World Visit is available from Amazon in: * Paperback (which actually includes a free Kindle version); and * Kindle formats. You can also purchase a PDF version of the book directly from Dave and Josh.

Rope Drop [dot] Net Interview – Brian Perkins

Podcasts were my gateway into online Disney fandom. The influx of quality new shows over the past couple of years, however, has has made the space hard for even me to keep up with. Thankfully, Brian Perkins, along with James Francis, created the Disney Podcast Awards to help recognize excellence in Disney podcasting, and to provide potential podcast listeners with a place to find new shows.

Brian and his Family in Norway (Pavilion)
Brian and his Family in Norway (Pavilion)

I recently reached out to Brian to do an interview for the site about Disney podcasts, and he graciously accepted. (As always, my questions are bolded and Brian’s answers immediately follow. Minor edits were made for readability, but all efforts were made to keep the content of the questions and answer as is.)

How did you first get into listening to Disney podcasts?

I think I first got into Disney podcasts back in 2013 when I was at a job where I was commuting a lot, up to 16 hours a week, and I had been listening to audio books.  My family had a Disney Vacation scheduled and I started to do some searching on the internet about what had been changed since the last time I was there.  I began to notice the large internet community that was out there for Walt Disney World fans, but the blogs and message boards weren’t really working for me.  So, I decided to try out podcasts for the first time.  I hadn’t listened to any podcasts before at all, and I had a Windows phone at the time, so I had a limited availability to what was out there.  The big ones were there though.  I am pretty sure that WDW Radio was the first show I ever had the pleasure to listen to.  With all of that travel time I had to make use of, I quickly started filling up my feed with others that I could find.  I got onto some other shows pretty early into their existence, and it was great to watch them develop.  Then I started to find some podcast catching apps and found more and more shows.

What are some of the shows that you got in on the “ground floor” with (so to speak)? Have you noticed any difference in the way new shows debut now as opposed to back in 2013?

A couple of the shows that were just coming out as I started listening were the WDW Happy Place podcast and the Resortloop.com podcast.  I connected with those shows and still listen to them constantly.  There were some other shows that I picked up from their first show and followed along as they developed, but there really have been so many of those lately that it wouldn’t be fair to name just a few.  One thing I have noticed lately is that there seems to be more shows starting from people who see it as a business opportunity.  I think you can just feel it when someone has an angle.  They are pushing merchandise and a bunch of links or commercials.  I am more of a fan of shows that are done by people who are just fans and want to connect with other fans.  Don’t get me wrong, I know it can’t be cheap to get the podcasting equipment and there are internet fees and things involved, but if it feels like you are trying too hard to make money off of your show, you probably lost me.  Shows by travel agents are fine, get your name out there, I am good with that.  But, make them feel natural.

In 2014, you launched the Disney Podcast Awards. What motivated you to start something like that?

'Ohana means Family
‘Ohana means Family

Towards the end of 2013 I had tried to do a few little awards on twitter, but I didn’t have a whole lot of followers to my account yet and they really didn’t go anywhere.  Then in the spring of 2014 I heard about the podcast awards, the big ones that encompass all of the podcasts that are out there on all subjects.  I got to thinking that there really needed to be something specifically for the Disney podcasts, because there were so many great shows out there that didn’t crack the list for travel podcasts in the big awards.  I still didn’t really have a plan on how I was going to make it happen, but luckily I got some help when James, who goes by @travel2disneyme, contacted me on twitter and asked if I had thought about doing awards and if we wanted to work together to get them going.  So, after a few emails back and forth about what the categories were going to be, we launched surveys to people we knew listened to podcasts and asked them to be our panel for selecting nominees.  We tried to make several categories to get as much recognition for different shows as possible.  They seemed to be received well, and we did it again this year and got some more responses.  Its really just meant to be a fun thing for some shows to get bragging rights and for all other shows to get some more exposure.  Even my list of shows, which I think is pretty comprehensive, gets some added to it when we go through the process.

What changes did you notice between the 2014 and 2015 awards?

I think I definitely noticed some changes in the awards from our first year to this year.  In 2014, there was definitely some more representation from the longer running, more established, podcasts.  This year’s awards had a larger number of unique nominees, and winners.  I think the reasoning for this is kind of two fold.  One reason is definitely that the quality of the newer shows just keeps getting better and with them gaining some more exposure and traction in the online Disney communities, they were getting more votes.  The other reason for this type of increase I think has to do with the participants of the awards process.  We had more members on our panel this year and they are the more of the social media participatory type people.  These type of people, I feel, tend to favor the newer shows and have their favorites that fit what they look for in a podcast.  I have noticed that there does seem to be a shifting landscape of sorts in the Disney podcasts.  Fans are looking for specific types of shows that talk about what they are interested in.  For instance, I listen to the informational shows to make sure I know what’s going on, and some of them present it better than others.  But I look forward to my favorite shows that don’t just report what is going on, they give a perspective on what it means that lines up with what is important to me.  What’s important to me though, may not be important to someone else.  So, they are going to want to listen to some other type of show.  The good news is, that other show is out there, they will just need to find it.

How do you see Disney podcasts continuing to evolve? Are there any areas or Disney-related topics that you think aren’t currently being covered by the existing shows?

I think the era of Disney podcasts that just report the news is coming to an end.  I have noticed more and more shows that bring a focus to a particular area, or look at it through a specific lens.  The Disney Hipsters were some of the forerunners in this movement with their views and then Radio Harambe launching with their focus on Disney’s Animal Kingdom pushed things along even more.  There are plenty of areas out there to be targeted.  There are shows out there already focusing on families, or bringing an adult view, and shows that bring their regionalized views to the forefront.  I am predicting that those trends will continue, although there will still be a need for news shows.  The shows that help people find someone who thinks like them feel like they are at the park, and/or help them plan their next trip are the shows that I see being successful in the future.  Some of the bigger named shows are starting to step back a little bit, and this will allow more room for someone to come in with the next great idea, or one of the existing shows to take over the lead.  I am looking forward to see what type of show could be next.  Until then, I will keep my earbuds in and searching my Stitcher feed for anything new.

Wrap Up

A huge thank you to Brian for sharing his insights on Disney podcasts. I always think it’s beneficial to get opinions about a particular area from someone who is an expert in that area (and Brian clearly fits that description.) If you want to hear more from Brian, you can find him on Twitter @WDWPodReview and on the Disney Podcast Awards site.

On a related note, I also wanted to do something to help recognize all the great Disney podcasts out there. So, contemporaneously with this interview, I am launching the Rope Drop [dot] Net Disney Podcast Directory. I’ve spent some time over the past couple of weeks putting together a list of Disney podcasts (including getting input from Rope Drop [dot] Net readers on what shows I’m missing) and have now added a Disney Podcasts link to the top bar of this website to allow easy access to it. Long term, I have some additional plans for how this directory might evolve, but this first iteration is designed to make sure people are aware of wide range of Disney-related shows available to them. I’d encourage everyone reading this to take a look at the directory, pick a show you’ve never listened to, and give it a shot. Who knows, it might end up being one of your new favorites.

Disney World Schedule Changes for November, December (2015), and February (2016) at easyWDW

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth mentioning again: Josh at easyWDW is almost always one of the first people to post information about Disney World Schedule changes.

Here are his updates for:

Personally, I’m most excited to see some hours extended for Princess Half-Marathon Weekend.

John’s Guest Appearance on Mighty Men of Mouse Episode 229

The gang at the Mighty Men of Mouse podcast were kind enough to invite me on the show. You can find the episode here.

Here are links to some of the things we talked about:

Disney Annual Pass Price Increase.

Trip Planning – Segmenting

RopeDrop.net

Listener Questions

As always, thank you to the Mighty Men of Mouse guys for having me on the show. Please don’t blame them when I bring the overall quality of the show down.

runDisney has Released its Race Schedule for Late 2016 and Early 2017 (Along with Registration Dates)

Earlier today, runDisney tweeted out its late 2016 through early 2017 race schedule, including related registration dates:

It looks like Elyssa and I will have to decide whether we’re going to do the Princess Half Marathon over Feb. 23-26, 2017 (which we did last year and are doing this year), or the Star Wars Half Marathon – The Dark Side April 20-23, 2017. In a vacuum, we’d probably go for the Star Wars half (since we love Star Wars), but April 20-23 falls right in prime wedding season for Kivus & Camera, so that could be an issue.

Elyssa at this year's Princess Half Marathon Weekend
Elyssa at this year’s Princess Half Marathon Weekend

Reacting to Disney World’s Annual Pass Price Increase

On an upcoming episode of the Mighty Men of Mouse podcast, I briefly discuss my thoughts on the price increase of Disney World annual passes. I frame those thoughts on the idea that they impact “people in Florida” at a much higher level than they impact Disney World guests at large. Thinking things through a bit more, I think my explanation on the podcast lacked some of the nuance that I intended to convey.

When people listen to my reasoning tomorrow, I would anticipate that one major criticism of my opinion is that I fail to account for the impact the price increase has on DVC members. Ultimately, I think is more a failure in my word choice than an actual point against my position. I should have said that the changes in annual pass pricing impact “people in Florida AND DVC MEMBERS” at a different level than it impacts other people who may purchase annual passes. My thoughts are the same for both groups.

The Yacht Club Lighthouse at Dusk
There’s a not of text on this page. I just kind of wanted to break it up. This is a picture of the Lighthouse at the Yacht Club.

My position (which I share with various other theme park commentators) is that Disney World has a certain, definitive capacity that, at peak times, is actually reached. Disney, therefore, has determined that if people who have the “option” of attending the park other times during the year (such as Florida residents and DVC members) want to attend at peak times, those people will pay a premium to do so. Basically, Disney is saying “if you want to take the spots that could go to a family making their only Disney World trip in 2 or 3 years, then you’re going to have to compensate us for that privilege.” I’m not saying thats “right” or “fair”, but it’s the decision that Disney appears to have made. (And it shouldn’t really be a surprise to DVC members who sometimes have to spend almost twice as many points to stay during Christmas as during September.)

A common attack on this pricing approach by Disney has been the idea that “Disney World is punishing its best customers.” I understand that position (and frankly, I would much rather pay the previous $535 to renew my annual pass than the new $635 (before tax)), but Disney has determined that attempting to funnel these “best” customers into non-peak seasons is a better economic strategy than trying to preserve the “loyalty” of certain repeat guests. Only time will tell if this strategy pays off, but I think it’s clear that the strategy is in place.

Lastly, I want to show some of the math that fueled my position that these prices had a disproportional impact on Florida residents and DVC members. As a non-Florida resident, non-DC member, it will cost me $676.28 (including tax) to renew my annual pass next year. Here are a couple of possible trip plans that Elyssa and I have for 2016, along with their combined prices for a Park Hopper pass:

  • Five Day Trip ($367.50) + 2 Two Day Trips ($257.30 * 2) = $882.10
  • Five Day Trip ($367.50) + Three Day Trip ($325) + Two Day Trip ($257.30) = $949.80
  • Five Day Trip ($367.50) + Four Day Trip ($367.50) = $735.00

Buying individual tickets for these trips still comes out to be more expensive than buying an annual pass, even without including the benefits like free parking, photopass downloads, and restaurant discounts that an annual pass provides. (Also, these ticket prices are almost surely going to go up next year, probably in February. At that point, these numbers will look even better.)

NOTE: All ticket prices were found using the lowest price available from the TouringPlans Ticket Calculator (And, yes, the 4 day and 5 day passes do cost the same according to that calculator)

In other words, as someone who is purchasing an annual pass as a way make multiple trips a year, I am still saving money versus buying individual trip tickets. (And also getting some benefits I’ve questioned the value of in the past.) That said, there’s a good chance that I “make up” some of the difference in my annual pass renewal price by having an extra meal or two offsite during those visits (Always feel free to let me know if you want to meet up with Elyssa and me for some G-Mac and Cheese).

In summary, I stand by my position that the annual price increase impacts certain types of guests (Floridian residents and DVC members) more than it impacts regular Disney World travelers, but I wanted to “show my work” a little more than I did when I made those statements on the (soon to be released) podcast.

New TouringPlans Article – Managing Disney Gift Cards

My latest TouringPlans article, Paying Your Way – Managing Disney Gift Cards is now up. It’s not as “high concept” as some of my other posts, but contains some practical advice on how to manage your Disney gift cards. Here’s the intro:

With Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival underway, you are almost guaranteed to see various articles and message board threads suggesting you buy a Disney gift card to purchase your items (Food & Wine even offers special, smaller gift cards that come with an elastic wristlet so the card is always available for easy payment). That makes now the perfect time to discuss how to best manage your Disney gift cards and add a bit of an update to Laurel’s write-up about gift cards from last year.

You can find the whole article over on the TouringPlans blog.

Kivus Family Magic Box
Kivus Family Magic Box

Changes to Disney World’s Annual Pass, Parking, and Tables in Wonderland Pricing

As first reported by WDW News Today, Disney World has changed the Annual Pass pricing structure, effective immediately.

Annual Pass Box
Annual Pass Box

For Non-Florida residents, the Annual Passes now come in two options: “Platinum Plus” and “Platinum”. Both passes include admission to all 4 parks (with park hopper privileges), free parking (which has been raised from $17 to $20 per day) and photopass downloads (a new addition this year). The Platinum Plus option also includes admission to Disney’s waterparks, ESPN Wide World of Sports, and the Oak Trail golf course. There are also a number of changes to the Florida resident pass options ,which can be seen at WDW News Today and TouringPlans. These changes include new “Gold” and “Silver” options that include certain blackout dates, and could possibly point to the tiered pricing structure that we have seen hints of over the past couple of months.

Looking at the numbers, renewing my annual pass as a new “Platinum Pass” is going to cost $102.24 more this year than it did last year (including tax). I had assumed that the amount would be closer to a $50 increase, but I can (kind of) stomach the larger increase because of the inclusion of Photopass downloads as part of the pass (especially since I have previously said that I don’t think Memory Maker is worth its cost.)

In a related move, Disney has increased the cost of Tables in Wonderland by $50 for annual pass and DVC members. Translated, this means that you have to spend $750 in food at Disney World in a given year to break even on your Tables in Wonderland purchase (up from $500 a year.) Based on Elyssa’s and my eating habits on our Disney World visits, this price increase might mean we will no longer be purchasing Tables in Wonderland.

Rope Drop [dot] Net Interview – Sharla Manglass

I like to think of myself as a “knowledgeable” Disney fan. That said, I don’t mind a little help when I’m planning my Disney vacations. For the past fews years, my vacation planner of choice has been Sharla Manglass of MEI-Travel.

A couple of the people Sharla works with to help make your vacation magical (Photo courtesy of Sharla)
A couple of the people Sharla works with to help make your vacation magical (Photo courtesy of Sharla)

I will get into more details about how I’ve worked with Sharla in the wrap-up section of this post, but, first, let’s get to the good part: (As always, my questions are bolded and Sharla’s answers immediately follow. Minor edits were made for readability, but all efforts were made to keep the content of the questions and answer as is.)

How did you become a Disney travel planner?

Growing up I was always a Disney fan. I went to Walt Disney World a couple of times and Disneyland once in college, but it wasn’t until my honeymoon in 2004 (where we did a cruise and the parks) that I truly fell in love with all things Disney. I was working in a non-profit job and loved it, and had a lot of flexibility with vacations to visit as often as possible.

After several more years I decided to leave my job and pursue a career with Disney in some aspect. For me, it seemed the best thing to do was to become a travel planner. After researching several travel agencies it seemed that Mouse Fan Travel would be the best fit; what I liked most about it was that we were free to book Disney as well as non-Disney travel and that seemed to appeal to most people. Six years later here I am. It’s by far the most rewarding job I’ve ever had in terms of seeing the magic. I love helping people’s dreams come true!

With all those trips to Disney World and Disneyland before you became a travel agent, did you find that you had to learn many “new” things in order to help your clients?

She's not just a planner, she's also a fan (Photo Courtesy of Sharla)
She’s not just a planner, she’s also a fan (Photo Courtesy of Sharla)

There is a big difference in being a Disney fan vs. being a salesperson. The Disney fan in me is what got me started, but the salesperson is something I had to learn about (and still learn) as I go. Just because you know a lot about Disney doesn’t mean you know how to sell. And, of course, you have to know the rules and regulations Disney puts forth. That meant I needed to learn both Disney’s sales techniques and their various policies (especially when it came to cruises and Adventures by Disney trips).

How do you keep up to date on the new developments at Disney parks, cruises, etc…?

I keep up with the products in several ways- one, the College of Disney Knowledge has refresher courses that we have to take yearly, and, two, as often as I can I do an Agent Education Program (I just did one at Disneyland in August).

I am also a big fan of several Disney Fan sites (blog.touringplans.com is my current favorite) and I rely on various social media pages as well.

How do you leverage your Disney-related knowledge to help your clients? I assume you can help people who are unfamiliar with taking Disney vacations, but how do you help someone who already reads TouringPlans or is otherwise “well versed” in Disney trips?

I like to think I help my clients as much as they need it. For people who know little to nothing about planning a Disney vacation, I might walk them through the whole process. This could include making suggestions on where to eat and securing ADRs for those places, setting up and configuring My Disney Experience (especially linking together reservations for multiple families), suggesting and securing FastPass+ reservations, etc…

Sometimes, dealing with clients can be a bear (Sharla's picture, John's joke)
Sometimes, dealing with clients can be a bear (Sharla’s picture, John’s joke)

For people who have more experience, it’s a balance between doing what my clients ask me and making sure that that they have the right information. Even though there’s a lot of information about Disney available, some of it might be out of date or just plain wrong. I try to, at a minimum, direct people to the right information so that they can plan their vacation. Even with people who know pretty much what they want, I still suggest special ideas that they may not have done, such as a tour or celebration (like a carriage ride for an anniversary couple.) (Ed. Note: John, take me on a carriage ride!) I also review the latest discounts to make sure there isn’t a better rate for someone’s existing reservation (often this means checking daily for different deals and configurations based on what exactly Disney is offering.) For example, we have special “group rates” for events (including most runDisney races, as well as other various group events throughout the year), and, in general, our group prices are quite a bit lower than what Disney has available.

I also handle last minute travel issues. This is one of the toughest tasks, because I am limited to what Disney’s currently has available, however, Disney is amazing at working with people. It’s sometimes a matter of who you talk to and what they can do, but in most cases my main job is to reassure the client.

Is there any aspect of your job that surprised you?

I’m not sure how to phrase it, but sometimes I end up playing things like a marriage counselor or a shoulder to cry on. Again, I don’t know how exactly to say it, but it’s been the most surprising thing of this job. Clients will call me because they are trying to “save” their marriage with one last trip, or because they can no longer go on the trip because of legal issues with custody… It can be difficult, but I have always thought that my job is about listening to what it is that my clients need.

Wrap-up

First, I want to thank Sharla for taking time out of her day to talk to me. One of my goals in starting this site was to be able to point people to good resources for Disney information and Sharla is nothing if not that.

Second, I’ll address a question that you may have: this interview was something I requested of Sharla. I don’t get any commission, kick back, or anything of that nature if you use her, MEI, or any other Disney vacation planner. I use her because I think she’s good at her job and, frankly, I’d prefer to email her and say “Book me the best rate you can find for dates x-y at a a Crescent Lake hotel” than do all that stuff myself. She may come back with “I can do the Beach CLub at this amount” or she may say “I know you wanted Crescent Lake, but there’s a super good discount right now at this other place, do you want to try that?”. She gives me exactly what I want from someone booking my vacation.

Third, a question I get a lot when I say that I use a Disney travel agent is “how much does that cost?” It’s difficult to explain, but (most) Disney vacation planners cost nothing (at least the ones I’ve used, including Sharla.) Basically, Disney bakes a “planner commission” into its rates. If you book your travel through an outside travel planner like Sharla, then the person gets the commission part of the rate. If you book your travel through Disney, then Disney keeps the “commission” part of the rate. You pay the same rate whichever way you go, though I’ve found that third-party vacation planners are much better about looking for the “best” rate for you than the people you speak with when you call Disney directly.

Finally, I’ll end with story about why I’ve continued to use Sharla for my travel. When Elyssa and I had a life changing experience last year, we were literally on our way to Disney World to run in a runDisney race. At one point, in between doctor conversations and MRIs, I emailed Sharla and said “I’m in a hospital in South Carolina, we’re going to have to turn around. Cancel everything as best you can.” Though I didn’t see her email response until much later, Sharla handled everything. She cancelled my reservation (including getting a refund of my deposit, even though it was a “day of” check-in), cancelled my ADRs and other bookings, and, generally, helped me clear something off my plate so I could be with Elyssa. Again, it was the exact kind of help I needed at that moment. Why would I book my Disney vacations any other way?

If you want to get in touch with Sharla, her email address is [email protected]. You can also find her full contact information at MEItravel.com

Your First Visit’s 2017 Walt Disney World Season Projections

For those of us who like to plan far, far in advance, Dave Shute of Your First Visit has posted his projections for Disney World’s 2017 pricing “seasons”. If you’ve been following Walt Disney World pricing for any length of time, you know that Disney World’s seasons don’t really parallel the traditional “spring, summer, fall, winter” calendar. Thankfully, Dave’s post gives us some early indications about when prices at Disney World might be at their highest and lowest.

This information might be especially interesting if there is a Mighty Men of Mouse Listener Vacation in October 2017. According to Dave’s analysis, the end of October (starting with October 15th) might end up having Deluxe Resort prices only 6% higher than the lowest prices of the year.