By Mary Shah
I will be the first to admit, I am a tiny bit of a travel snob. So when my sister-in-law wanted to plan a trip (compliments of Grandpa and Nana) to Disney World, I was a little skeptical. We did the Disney thing in 2016 and we did the Disney Cruise eleven months after that. My feeling was really, how many times can you go to Disney? Well, according to my sister-in-law, an endless amount of times. But since we really didn’t have to do anything but book airfare and show up, of course we agreed (I said I was skeptical, not stupid).
When I booked a trip for my own family to Disney in 2016, I used a travel agent who specializes in Disney (I honestly can’t remember how we found her) and I was completely underwhelmed with her services. She was nice at first but as soon as our trip was locked in I felt like she was uninterested in helping us, advising us or giving us any additional service. There was zero relationship and I never recommended her to a single person. Fast forward to our trip in May of 2019, when my sister-in-law found Mary Shah at Magic Plus Travel. Mary was so helpful and full of advice I only wish I had known about her when I booked my first trip three years prior. Mary understood we were traveling with a group that included one set of grandparents and two families with children ranging from 15 to 4 years of age. She was ripe with advice and suggestions and as a result of working with our needs and desires, we wound up having an experience that equally satisfied everyone. To me, this is what separates a mediocre travel agent from a great one.
For all of us, I think the most standout thing about the trip was that we literally never waited on one line because Mary suggested upgrading my in-laws to the Club Level at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. With only their room upgraded, all thirteen of us were able to each gain 3 additional fast passes per day (in addition to the 3 you normally get) and we were also able to access booking those passes sooner than a normal booking. This meant we were able to get on rides that almost are impossible to even get fast passes for, such as Avatar, Flight of Passage in Animal Kingdom. Easily the best ride I’ve ever been on, hands down, and I’ve never even seen Avatar!
We also opted for the Deluxe Dining Plan which included three sit down meals a day and free adult drink at each of those three meals. I will admit that it’s a lot of sitting down and eating (and even I have difficulty sucking down alcohol at 7:30 am) but we were able to combine a few of those meals to have experiences like Hoop Dee Doo Musical Review and Cinderella’s Castle, each which require using two sit down meal credits per person.
Other highlights included a behind the scenes VIP tour for the Dads in the group and a pirate, fireworks boat ride which I thought was going to be really schlocky but in true Disney fashion, was terrific. All of these suggestions were at the advice of Mary Shah so I reached out to her to get her top Disney tips as a jumping off point for anyone looking to go to Disney.
Q&A with Mary Shah of Magic Plus Travel
Jen: Is it possible to do Disney on all different budgets and still get the full experience?
Mary: Absolutely! Disney offers a variety of resorts, tickets and dining plans to meet the needs of everyone. As a travel agent, I take the time to get to know my clients and search for the best vacation package that meets their budget.
Jen: If budget were no object, what would be your top recommendations?
Mary: I would say a Club Level Room at a Deluxe Resort with Park Hopper tickets and the Deluxe Disney dining plan. I would also attend one of the special events or party, a VIP tour of each park and then head over to Port Canaveral for a quick Disney Cruise over to the Bahamas to relax after my days at the parks.
Jen: If you had to recommend one splurge when booking Disney, what would you say is totally worth the extra money?
Mary: A VIP tour is a splurge that will give you the opportunity to see Disney in a different light. It is a great way to maximize your time at the parks and learn about the history behind it all.VIP Tour Guides plan the perfect itinerary for you and your family. You also get VIP viewing areas for parades, select stage shows and nighttime spectaculars.
Jen: Are there any commonly held misconceptions you have to dispel for your clients about visiting Disney?
Mary: The biggest misconception is that Disney is just for kids. That couldn’t be farther from the truth! My husband and I enjoyed our Honeymoon in Disney pre kids and had the time of our lives! Epcot has festivals throughout the year that cater to adults, there are signature dining options and spas where adults can sit back and be pampered, “Disney style”. There are also activities at the various hotels, like Carriage Rides, Golf, fishing, Archery, Horseback riding and several great water sports. It’s not just the parks. Disney Spring is one of our favorite places to go. There are great restaurants and bars, with live music and shows. There really is something for everyone.
Jen: What time of year can visitors get the best deals? When are the parks the least crowded for those that like to avoid crowds?
Mary: Disney offers discounts several times throughout the year and they vary from year to year. When you book with a travel agent such as me they will be continuously looking out for any discounts that Disney puts out and will work hard to modify your vacation to be sure you are receiving the best deal. Although Disney has seen an increase in guests due to their ever-expanding parks and resorts, we tend to see the lowest crowds during the end of the summer as well as early Fall and a few other weeks throughout the year. It is important to remember that when crowd levels are the lowest, popular shows may not be shown all the time, and this is when Disney tends to do maintenance on the Resorts and Parks. With the Fast Pass system, it is possible to still enjoy your vacation with some shorter lines even during the most crowded days.
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