Advice from A Disney Planner

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Planning a trip to Disney World or Disneyland is fun and exciting, but it can also feel overwhelming and a bit stressful. These trips are not cheap, and you want to make sure you use your time wisely while visiting a Disney property. I get a lot of questions from friends about Disney (since I’m literally obsessed and we go way too often), and I love offering my advice, but I thought hearing from a professional Disney planner would be helpful to many of you. 

Audra Owens is an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. She has planned several trips for my family, and she is an absolute joy to work with. Below she shares some insight regarding how best to plan a Disney vacation. She can be contacted at audra@atimetotreasuretravel.com, and she is on Facebook at Audra Travel-Planner Owens and instagram at audraotravels.

Q: I know you plan all kinds of vacations, but tell us about your role as a Disney Planner. How long have you been doing this and how did you get started?

I became a Disney vacation planner just a little over four years ago. The owner of my travel agency, A Time to Treasure Travel, was actually my family’s Disney planner for several years. I asked Tammy (our owner) how she began, and knowing my Disney experience first-hand, she offered me a job! It has been such a wonderful gift to learn from her and grow my love for family travel into this business.

Q: How many times have you been to Disney World? Have you been to other Disney properties?

I have been on 10 memorable trips to Walt Disney World. I don’t count in that number the day trips, where my family has stopped to spend a day in one of the parks before moving on to another Florida destination. I have also been to Disneyland, on two Disney cruise ships, and to Aulani on Oahu. An Adventures by Disney tour is on my bucket list.

Q: As you know, I planned several trips for our family myself, but now I LOVE having your help. Tell us some of the advantages of using a Disney planner.

I offer concierge travel planning services free of charge. I help find the perfect resort package to fit your family’s needs and budget. If discounts become available after you book your vacation, I work to apply the savings to your current reservation. I rise early to secure dining reservations and FastPass+, arrange transportation to and from the airport if you need it, help customize Magic Bands, and I am a valuable resource for asking questions as you prepare for your trip. Many of my clients are first-time Disney travelers. I also have quite a lot of clients who have planned their own Disney vacation in the past, who love handing over the stress of planning to me, so all they have to worry about is enjoying themselves

Q: When you’re helping someone plan their Disney vacation, what is the ideal time for them to contact you to start the process? What are the big dates that people should be aware of?

I love when new clients contact me early – at least 7 to 8 months in advance – so that I am able to reserve the best dining experiences for them 180 days prior to travel. Everyone’s job and circumstances don’t allow for that. I have planned fantastic trips with much less advance notice. The next big planning milestone is FastPass+. If you are a Disney resort guest, these can be reserved 60 days prior to travel. If you are staying elsewhere in Orlando, FastPass+ can be planned 30 days before each of your park days.

Q: If you could give people three tips about their Disney vacation, what would you say?

  1. Have a plan, but be flexible. Lines can be longer (or shorter) than expected. Timing doesn’t always work out exactly as you may hope, but if you can be flexible and adjust on the go, you will still have a wonderful time.
  2. Have realistic expectations. Don’t assume you can do everything in just a couple of days. With four theme parks, that’s a nearly impossible feat. Every time I visit Walt Disney World, I experience something new. In all my visits, I have still not seen it all!
  3. Enjoy yourself! Walt Disney created Disneyland (and Walt Disney World) as a place where imagination comes to life, and where families can spend time together. It’s easy to get wrapped up in where you “need” to be next as you tour the parks. Slow down. Let your kids linger and play. Skip down Main Street, U.S.A. Ride *it’s a small world* 16 times if that’s what your little one wants. Treasure your time together.

Q: One question I get a lot is what the advantages are to staying on property. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Staying on property is the best! If it fits your budget, I highly recommend it. All Walt Disney World resort packages include Disney’s Magical Express service to and from the airport and luggage delivery service (if you are flying), transportation to and from the parks, complimentary WiFi, online check-in, free parking at all four parks (if you bring a car), Extra Magic Hours, and Magic Bands for each member of your party. When you stay on property, we are able to make dining reservations for your entire stay 180 days prior to your arrival. (Off-site guests can make a reservation 180 days in advance, but they have make the reservations for each day separately, as 180 days before each day of the trip pops up on the calendar.) On-site guests are also able to reserve FastPass+ for their entire stay 60 days prior to arrival. (Off-site guests can reserve these 30 days before each day of the trip.)

Beyond all that, I adore being surrounded by Disney magic during my entire vacation. The magical experience from the resort to the parks to the restaurants…it is seamless.

Q: We took our middle child on his first Disney trip at 6 months, and our youngest first went at 9 months. In your opinion, are kids ever too young for Disney?

I do not think anyone is too young (or too old!) for Disney. There are many attractions and shows that children of all ages (and sizes) can enjoy. Your 9-month-old baby may not remember their first visit, but those will be memories that you cherish forever. There is nothing sweeter than a little one meeting or discovering their favorite character for the first time. A client recently shared a video of her baby boy cooing and grinning at Tigger as they dined at The Crystal Palace. I don’t think they had any idea he would enjoy Tigger so much. I know they will never forget it.

Plus, kids are free at Disney until they turn three! Why not take them young and take advantage of the fact that you won’t have to buy an extra ticket?

Q: What’s your favorite thing about a Disney vacation (I know it’s hard to pick just one)? Any favorite family memories you want to share?

I love the nostalgia and magic I feel when I visit Disney World or Disneyland. I feel like a kid again. My worries melt away. I love that I can spend time with my family and be silly, something I don’t always remember to do when “real life” gets busy. I have many family memories that I could share, but my greatest wish is for you to make your own!

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