Some packages include meet and greets with characters. // © 2014 Disney
VIP theme park tours
at Disney and Universal Studios offer family groups priority access and other special perks.
As the weather warms up, many travelers turn their attention to spring and summer vacation planning. For families, this often includes theme parks.
With tickets, transportation, hotels and countless add-ons to consider, theme park vacations can be daunting for the average traveler to navigate. The sheer volume of information required to plan a theme park vacation can be confusing, and it seems the more time spent surfing the Web for information, the more questions arise. When is the best time to travel? What type of park tickets do we need? Should we stay on- or off-property? Where should we eat?
Luckily, travelers who don’t have the time — or the fortitude — for all that research and planning can turn to travel agents to explain the options and to guide them through the process from start to finish.
Defining a Theme Park Package
Bundling components under the umbrella of a theme park package can simplify the booking process for agents, but what actually constitutes a theme park package?
Theme parks consider many combinations of components to be a “package,” but at the very least, it must include accommodations and admission tickets. Beyond that, there are unlimited variations including activities, entertainment, dining and transportation. And, with the exception of some specific add-ons, most are commissionable for agents. Because of this, it is not only important for agents to be familiar with the various theme park package options for their clients’ sake, it is financially beneficial for agents to know about these additional package components as well.
“Our guests really like the Disney Table Service Dining Plan,” said Sue Pisaturo, owner and founder of Small World Vacations in Washington Township, N.J., and an authorized Disney Vacation Planner. “It provides them with up-front costs for their resort tickets and meals, so they can truly immerse themselves in the full experience and enjoy their vacation without thinking about the cost of food.”
According to Pisaturo, these decisions keep agents involved in the overall vacation-planning process as well.
“Our agents like being engaged in the process of helping their guests plan their days, choose dining locations and maximize their time and meal credits,” Pisaturo said.
Universal Orlando has a similar dining package called the Universal Dining Plan, and it is commissionable for agents. With this plan, guests can select the number of days they would like to dine at participating restaurants.
While many theme park packages can be booked through outside wholesalers, Disney packages can also be booked directly through the Walt Disney Travel Company. Most of the key elements of packages at Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort are commissionable to travel agents, including hotel accommodations, theme park tickets and even air transportation when purchased with the package. For Disneyland Resort packages, the commission rates are generally 10 percent of the room rate, ticket and airfare. At Walt Disney World, however, the commission can vary based on accommodations and the type of ticket, so it’s best to check with the Walt Disney Travel Company directly for the most current commission structure.
Theme park packages may include special park souvenirs, discounts or experiences.
The Extra Magic Hours perk for guests of select Walt Disney Resort hotels, for example, offers exclusive admission to one of the four Walt Disney World theme parks either one hour early or up to two hours after regular closing time each day. Similarly, Magic Morning at Disneyland park offers guests who purchase valid three-, four- or five-day admission tickets one early admission to select attractions, stores, entertainment and dining locations in Disneyland park for one full hour before the park opens to the general public.
At Universal Studios and Universal’s Islands of Adventure in Orlando, guests who stay at select on-site hotels receive complimentary Express Unlimited Ride Access that lets them skip lines for certain rides and attractions. This expedited access to attractions can cost up to $89 per person, so even if the nightly rate at those properties is higher than the price of staying off-site, it may be worth the added cost to get this particular perk — especially for families traveling with young children, or for travelers with physical limitations. In addition, Universal Resort hotel guests receive free water taxi service, priority seating at select restaurants and admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter one hour before the theme park opens.
Guests who book other Universal packages also get early admission to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter — however, the ability to make a reservation for breakfast at The Three Broomsticks is only available to those who book the Exclusive Harry Potter package. The Three Broomsticks is described as the most detailed set in the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, so clients who are Hogwarts fans should not miss it. Agents should note, however, that due to the popularity of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (which will most likely increase with the addition of Diagon Alley and the Hogwarts Express this June), Universal often requires a four-night stay to book this package.
In some cases, booking through a travel agent can be a cost effective method for arranging even the basic elements of a trip.
“Guests can save money on park admission by booking tickets in advance with a travel agent,” said Becky Helms, a travel industry sales specialist with Legoland Florida.
Legoland Florida tickets are commissionable through all major wholesale accounts, but the discount depends on which wholesale company the agent uses to purchase the tickets.
SeaWorld offers a whole range of special perks for guests as well.
“In Orlando, booking a package that includes one of our official hotels will give clients exclusive benefits,” said Thomas Valley, director of national sales for SeaWorld Parks. “These perks include complimentary Quick Queue — front of the line access to rides and reserved seats at shows — early entry hours, complimentary behind-the-scenes tours, discounts on food and merchandise and free transportation from their hotel to our Orlando parks.”
Some theme parks offer special or seasonal packages to commemorate an occasion or a new attraction or to celebrate a particular holiday. These special packages usually offer an additional perk such as a complimentary character photograph or access to an otherwise private activity. For example, to mark its 50th Celebration, SeaWorld is offering a special Sea of Surprises Package, which includes a surprise gift upon arrival.
For guests who prefer to visit after the summer travel season, Disneyland Resort occasionally offers discounts and specials on its Resort Magic Packages during the fall and winter months that may include free nights in a resort hotel, a free kid’s admission ticket with a paying adult or resort gift cards.
Universal’s Gory Getaway, the special vacation package offered during Halloween Horror Nights, provides early admission to the Halloween Horror Nights event (between 4 and 6 p.m.) and a “Capture the Fear” photograph taken at one of the park’s attractions. Even some individual special event tickets at Universal Orlando are commissionable for agents, including Halloween Horror Nights, CityWalk special events and select resort activities such as the Wantilian Luau at Loews Royal Pacific Resort.
Theme Parks 'Like' Technology
When booking theme park vacations, agents should recommend that clients become familiar with the website and Facebook page for the theme park (or parks) they are visiting because many are using the Internet and social media to provide special perks to their guests.
One example of this is SeaWorld. As a reward for becoming a “Friend of Shamu” and liking SeaWorld on Facebook, guests to the park can receive perks by showing SeaWorld’s Facebook status to a cashier, checking in using the Facebook Places feature or posting a photo. In addition, a wide variety of apps helps guests navigate wait times, keep up with show schedules and make dining reservations.
Many theme parks have also launched dedicated travel agent websites that enable agents to book every component of a theme park vacation in one place. For example, through SeaWorld’s travel trade website, SeaWorldParks.com/TravelAgents, agents can earn 10 percent commission on admission tickets, exclusive experiences, hotels and vacation packages, as well as receiving continuing education credits through the SeaWorld Parks Travel Academy.
“SeaWorld offers travel agents very competitive commissions on our website,” said SeaWorld’s Valley. “On this website, we pay commissions on virtually everything our company sells, and agents can find wonderful values on vacation packages and ticket offers for SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Sesame Place and Discovery Cove, which is one of the most exclusive experiences agents can sell in Orlando and is the top-rated attraction by TripAdvisor.”
Legoland Florida also offers an online training program for agents (Legoland.com/Training), which allows agents to sign up for park updates and earn two free tickets to Legoland Florida.
Other dedicated travel agent websites include UniversalTravelAgents.com and DisneyTravelAgents.com.
Planning a theme park vacation can be fun and exciting, but also overwhelming. When travelers turn to agents to book their theme park vacations, it takes much of the stress out of the equation. And, when travel agents are knowledgeable about the many commissionable components a theme park vacation package can offer their clients, everybody wins.