Planning for my family's Disney World trip was completely overwhelming at first. And, I'll admit, I was completely clueless.
I'd been to Disney as a child - before Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom were even open. And I'd spent a day in Magic Kingdom during a brief trip to Orlando with my future in-laws 20 years ago. But now we were talking about visiting four parks with two kids. I didn't even know where to start. What were these MagicBands? What should I schedule the FastPasses for and when? Would my kids really enjoy a character dinner?
When I pulled up a 10-point plan online for what every Disney visitor must pack (including bubbles and walkie talkies), my husband and I decided to turn to a professional - Lori Potter, a Disney travel agent with TMC Travel and a Morrisville mom of four kids, ages 7 to 12.
Potter is a Disney expert. She's visited the various Disney parks about 25 times and been on 10 Disney cruises, so far. (She is a co-author of the Sail Disney blog). In fact, when I contacted her last fall, she actually was at a conference at Disneyland, but provided feedback at all hours to get my trip scheduled.
As soon as I handed my trip planning to her, my anxiety level dropped about a million notches. Thanks to Lori, I learned what a MagicBand was, had FastPasses for all of the best rides and had reservations at some great restaurants. Best of all, her services are entirely free. She saved us money!
Lori, a Raleigh native, was a lifesaver and amazing resource for me as I planned my family's first vacation. So I thought I'd check in with her to share some of her expertise and knowledge with Go Ask Mom readers. Here's a Q&A:
Go Ask Mom: When was your first trip to Disney World? What do you remember about it?
Lori Potter: My first trip to Disney World was when I was five years old. My mom and I went with my best friend and her mom. I remember loving it! I also remember being scared to death on Space Mountain! Magic Kingdom was the only park in operation during my first trip. I love to look at pictures from that trip now and show my kids how much has changed.
GAM: How long have you been a Disney travel agent? How did you start? What do you love about it?
LP: I have been a travel agent specializing in Disney destinations for almost 5 1/2 years. Ever since that first trip, when I was 5, I have been a big Disney fan. A friend of mine from high school had started the travel company. By then, I had visited Walt Disney World several times with my family and loved the vacation. I was looking for a job I could do from home and I thought my friend's job sounded really interesting and like something I would enjoy. I asked if they would be interested in having an agent in the Raleigh area and thankfully they said yes!
There are so many things I love about my job! I really feel incredibly lucky and blessed to get to do something I love - planning, talking Disney all day long and meeting such great families. I’m passionate about family vacations. I want families to be able to get away from everyday life, spend quality time together and make special memories! And the “research” trips I get to take aren’t so bad either!
GAM: What can a Disney agent do for somebody planning a trip there? What are the advantages?
LP: I think one of the biggest things that a travel agent does for your family is care. We want you to have a great vacation. We are going to go the extra mile to answer your questions, give you recommendations and help you with all aspects of planning your trip. We can help you navigate the overwhelming amount of information out there to help you make the best choices for your family.
There are so many advantages to booking with a travel agent who specializes in Disney, like me. First, our services are free and it’s exactly the same as booking with Disney directly in terms of your reservation. We watch for discounts and apply them automatically to your reservation so you don’t have to worry about that. If a discount comes out that doesn’t fit your travel dates, we’ll talk to you about your options, i.e. changing resorts or dates. We help with dining reservations, give you recommendations on FastPasses and make sure you don’t miss important planning dates!
GAM: Do you help set up vacations at all of Disney's various properties?
LP: I do! I plan vacations for all of Disney’s destinations including Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney’s Hilton Head Island Resort, Disney’s Aulani Resort & Spa and Disney Cruise Line. I also help many other family vacation destinations including cruises, like Royal Caribbean and all inclusive resorts in the Caribbean.
GAM: What is your favorite ride, show and thing to eat at Disney World and why?
LP: My favorite ride at Disney World is the Flight of Peter Pan at Magic Kingdom. I know it’s not a thrill ride, but there is something so classic, nostalgic and special about riding it! It's one of the first things we do at Magic Kingdom every trip. My favorite show is Festival of the Lion King at Animal Kingdom. I think it’s amazing and I just love the music and acrobatics! Another can’t miss is Wishes, the fireworks show at Magic Kingdom. It’s my absolute favorite way to end my day at Disney. Sometimes we’ll see it from the Magic Kingdom, but we also like to see it from the resort areas too. I never get tired of it! And my favorite food at Disney World is probably a Dole Whip, though I could go on and on about food at Disney! My favorite meal at Disney is at Ohana for dinner.
GAM: What big tips do you have for families planning their first trip to Disney World?
LP: Some of my best tips include: 1. Wear comfortable shoes!! This may seem like a no-brainer to many, but you would not believe the footwear choices people make at Disney World. You’ll be putting a lot of miles on those feet over the course of your vacation. Wear comfortable shoes! 2. Plan ahead and have realistic expectations - the parks are so big, you won’t get to see and do everything, but with some good planning you’ll hit all your must dos! Also, know that at some point someone is going to have a minor meltdown, could be your child, your husband or even you yourself, but it will be a small blip in the big picture and you’ll have a great vacation and 3. Build in some rest! You want to build in some down into your vacation. Whether that’s an afternoon nap time or an early night one day, plan some rest, you will be thankful you did.
You can contact Lori at email@example.com. (Big thank you to Cary Heise of Vend Raleigh for connecting us!).