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.
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?
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…
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.
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?