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Disney helps travel agents get to know the World better through on-site training

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Disney helps travel agents get to know the World better through on-site training

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So you're on the phone with your travel agent. And you're in the process of planning out your family's next Walt Disney World vacation. And because your kids really love to swim, you're then asking this agent about the various themed pools that can be found around the Resort.

Which is when your travel agent launches into this detailed description of how the Mardi Gras-theme pool at Disney's Port Orleans (which can be found in the French Quarter section of this WDW Resort) compares to the Luna Park Pool at Disney's BoardWalk Inn.

Mind you, if your family is fans of Disney's "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies, this travel agent then tells you that you should definitely consider staying at the Caribbean Beach Resort. Which has recently reimagined Old Port Royale's central pool complex as the sort of Spanish Fort that Captain Jack Sparrow and his crew would love to lay siege to. Complete with crumbling towers, antique cannons and a waterslide  ...

The newly rethemed pool area at Disney's Caribbean Beach Resort.
Photo by Steve Griswold

As you sit there on the phone, listening to these hyper-detailed descriptions of various aspects of the Walt Disney World Resort, do you ever wonder how it is exactly that your travel agent knows all this? Has such an intimate, encyclopedic knowledge of Disney's WDW's four theme parks and 24 resorts?

I wondered the same thing myself. Which is why I recently reached out to Steve Griswold of Pixie Vacations. Who then told me about the travel agent education program that the Walt Disney World Resort runs.

"Last month, a bunch of our agents flew down to Orlando to take part in this 5-day-long program," Steve explained. "It's pretty extensive training. Mixing hours of classwork with site inspections of virtually every Disney hotel on property. By the time they graduate from this program, these agents have an in-depth knowledge when it comes to which resorts would be really best for the type of Disney vacation that you're looking to have, the various vacation packages and admissions media. "

The classwork portion of WDW's Agent Education Program gets underway as
Cast Member Rita welcomes her latest class. Photo by Steve Griswold

So in the tradition of Disney's Cast Members (i.e. "We work while others play"), these travel agents flew into Central Florida and immediately put on their walking shoes. As they then began trooping down resort corridors to check out the various categories of rooms found at the Disney Resorts.

"Take - for instance - our trip to Disney's Coronado Springs Resort. The Agent Education Program facilitators who were handling this on-site tour made sure that the agents who were taking part in last month's training program got a good sense of what this WDW hotel was really all about. So we toured the convention center not to mention this resort's Mayan Grill restaurant as well as its Pepper Market food court. We also visited one of the suites and did a site inspection of the lobby. Just so we could then get a sense of how all the pieces fit together," Griswold continued.

And this pattern repeated over the course of that week. With the 40 or so agents (8 of which worked for Pixie Vacations) visiting hotel after hotel. Touring different room categories that are available for booking and getting a sense of the sorts of amenities that each WDW resort offered. Not to mention the specific vibe that each of these hotels gave off.

Rita explains some of the features of the rooms at Disney's Contemporary Resort.
Photo by Steve Griswold

"I have to admit that I was really impressed with what I saw of the Bay Lake Tower. That new DVC property is so sleek and modern. It's a wonderful addition to Disney World's roster of resorts. Not to mention being a great companion for the Contemporary, which is really looking great these days following its most recent reinvention." Steve said.

Now please keep in mind that not every travel agent gets to take part in the Agent Education Programs. Disney only offers these classes a couple of times a year. More to the point, they keep the class size small and then work these travel agents really hard - cramming their heads with Disney World-related info - while they're on property.

Mind you, it wasn't all classwork and walking tours. Steve and his co-workers from Pixie Vacations did manage to have a little fun while they were down at Walt Disney World.

Guests at Epcot's World Showcase wait for Reflections of Earth to get underway.
Photo by Steve Griswold

"They treated the agents who were taking part in this round of agent education training to a performance of La Nouba at Downtown Disney. Though - to be honest - that probably wasn't so much to entertain us as it was so that we could then speak knowledgably about this Cirque du Soleil show should our clients ask about it," Griswold stated. "We also got to experience a dessert party along the shores of World Showcase Lagoon while we watched 'Illuminations: Reflections of Earth' at EPCOT one night."

But in-between these brief bits of play, it was back to learning about all the Walt Disney World Resort  has to offer for the crew taking part in this training. This included getting up early, early  one morning so that these agents could then drive out to Port Canaveral and then tour the latest addition to the Disney Cruise Line fleet, the Dream.

"We actually got on board the ship before they started loading the next group of passengers.  So as we were touring the Dream, we were able to see many of the different state rooms," Steve said. "But we also got to visit a lot of the public areas - the kids' club, the teens-only area at the front of the ship. We even got to have lunch in one of the ship's restaurants before we then headed back for Walt Disney World."

Getting to tour the Disney Dream before the next group of passengers came on the ship
was one of the highlights of this round of WDW Travel Agent Education.
Photo by Steve Griswold

Does that sound like it's an awful lot to take in in a single 5-day span? Not to worry. Disney World provides these travel agents with lots of Web support. So that - through exclusive use of online tutorials & assets - they can then keep on top of recent changes at the Resort, new vacation packages and travel incentives like Disney Dining.

 "Mind you, we'd seen some of the characters early in the week when they'd taken us all over the Cape May Café at Disney's Beach Club Resort so that this group of travel agents could then experience character dining," Griswold laughed. "But it's just not a trip to Disney World unless you get to see Mickey Mouse. Which was why it was nice to see Mickey before we then all got our graduation certificates."

Dina is presented with Walt Disney World Agent Education Program diploma
by Mickey Mouse. Photo by Steve Griswold

So there you have it, folks. If the travel agent that you're talking with as you book your next Walt Disney World vacation sound like a real expect when it comes to the Resort, there's probably a reason. Mostly likely they just went through what Steve Griswold and the team from Pixie Vacations did.

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  • EXCELLENT post Jim! Thanks for the plug for ALL agencies that specialize in Disney travel.  The other critical thing for people to know is that most travel agencies don't charge for their services, because Disney pays them after you travel.

  • Very good article Jim. I really enjoyed the insights into the disney organization. My wife and I love Disney World, especially Epcot. I always take loads of pictures when we go. We have a annual season pass. I created a special website called Tour of Epcot that has all of our photos on it. Stop by and visit.

  • 5 day seminar seems very long. It would seem like many travel agents only have superficial knowledge of the parks. They merely sell the package based on what you're willing to pay. No one really asks the travel agent about the minute details of every location. Somehow people find out based on their income level. I wonder who foots the bill for the trip and course. They will have to sell many packages to make up for the time and resources spent on this trip.

  • Interesting post, Jim - I'd always been curious what was involved in being "earmarked" by Disney as a certified Disney travel planner, and I have to admit I'm a big enough geek that I'd probably enjoy taking a course like that. :)  

    I wonder how this compares to the orientation training that Disney provides to the WDTC operators - ideally, Disney would provide that same level of training to all their reservations agents, but I kinda doubt it...

  • My wife is a Disney travel agent for Glass Slipper Concierge (Cara Goldsbury's company) and I have to say I'm constantly impressed by all that Disney does to support their travel specialists. It's really awesome all the information and training they provide.

    Of course, the biggest thing my wife has going for her is that she's married at a Disney nerd and has been to the parks over 50 times ... no training can replace that kind of personal experience!

  • Disney offers trainings to earmarked and non earmarked agencies.  I don't think the agency in this piece is Earmarked.  My cousin used to be a planner and she said the training was not very expensive and worth the time.

  • Jim, thanks so much for doing this piece on our AEP. I was on that trip and we could not have asked for a better experience from Disney. The course is taught so that both newbies and Disney experts alike get a lot out of it. I know that I and all the other Pixies have clients who ask very detailed questions about the parks and resorts every day and I found the experience added a great deal to my understanding.  I'd recommend it to any travel agent who sells Disney World.

    PS:  Thank you for coming on the podcast last month--hopefully we can get you back on when I don't have a cold and I can actually talk to you. I loved hearing all your stories.

  • Jim,

    Great article! I think this shows the level of dedication that many agents have for the job and the training does provide insight into the parks and resorts that the agents can then use to help their clients plan even more magical vacations!

    And I echo what Chris says about coming on the MouseChat podcast -we got a lot of positive feedback on the show and your stories and information were excellent. I do hope we have the opportunity to do it again in the future!

  • Great article. I was on this trip as well. I found it very helpful. First time in my life where I didn't care that "class" ran long. I enjoyed touring the resorts. I have stayed on property 5 times (4 at Pop Century), but this trip was the first time I tried out new resorts ( All Star Movies and Yacht Club) Seeing all the resorts we toured has made it much easier to visualize and help clients find what resort fits their families best needs. Many clients are looking for something to fit them as a family and something I may like may not be what they like. This helped me see the other side of things.

    Note to Gimbo.... We the agents were charged a fee to participate, and it was well worth it. I gained a lot of knowledge and made new friends as well.

  • I was at this AEP and I can say I thought I knew alot about Disney before I attended, but having experienced this I can really say I know ALOT about Disney now.  We had the chance to ask the questions that a guest would ask, see all of the amazing offerings that WDW has, not to mention meet some great fellow agents. This is exactly why using an agent to book your Disney travel is so important. Don't leave your vacation to chance build a memory with someone who knows what you are looking for.

  • Hi Jim, I hope yopu can help me with the next; I am a refered travel agent by Travel One Services located in Miami, I am actually living in my original country Ecuador, I was working like a free lancey for this company, but they never pay me the agent fees of all Disney packages that I sold, so, I would like to work as a Disney travel agent, is it possible? to work as a free lancey directly with them?

  • I thank you as a Disney only agency to give a high regard to travel agents for the expertise they have required through programs offered by Disney.  But they are just that, educational programs and it's better than nothing but there is nothing better than actual  numerous vacations.  It's one thing to visit but to experience is so much more.  Let's look at it this way.  You go to a restaurant, look in the restaurant and take in the aroma.  Looks good and smells good but did you taste the food?  So how can you offer expertise on something you really didn't experience?

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