A Peek Backstage: Free Dining

10460293_10152982198023020_3956102047226499294_nI know many of you Walt Disney World aficionados probably know your way around planning a WDW vacation enough to where you do not need a travel specialist. Some of you still use one because you know there are certain perks that come with it but I am not going to attempt to convince you to start using one. In light of the recent release of the 2015 Free Dining promotion, I wanted to give you a behind-the-scenes look at what often goes on in the travel specialist world when this promo is release every year (this year in particular).

People that don’t book during free dining often know when they want to go and where they want to stay. When free dining is released those wanting to take advantage of it often become “flexible” with their vacation.  People become more open to when to go to Walt Disney World and where to stay on property.  Free dining often means running numerous quotes for potential clients because free dining is one of the few times many would be willing to sacrifice their home or preferred resort.

11070664_1094360777244860_4107912827787235126_nThe word “modifications” always comes with “free dining” in a travel specialist’s world. Many are proactive, making modifications without client’s even having to request it.  Some will create spreadsheets listing all of the already booked reservations that will need modifying to apply free dining to as soon as it is released as well as new reservations that need to be booked with free dining. Luckily this year Disney introduced the ability to modify reservations on their online booking engine which means specialists did not have to call and sit on hold for 4 hours (no exaggeration). This left many with the choice to either stay up late or wake up very early in anticipation of the ability to modify and book online as soon as the promo went live.

Unfortunately there are times when reservations cannot be modified online, for instance, the online booking is overloaded with inquiries and doesn’t work quite right so this requires a specialist to call for modifications or new bookings. Disney’s travel agent line opens at 7am EST and when free dining is released you want to hit “dial” the second your phone shows 7:00AM. Hopefully your practicing going through the automated prompts at the beginning of the call pays off and you make it in with a hold time of 30 minutes or less (if you are lucky). I have to give a shout out to the poor travel specialists living on the west coast because that means they must be dialing at 4AM to get in right when the lines open!

11196341_10207005506921117_6144305192922290308_nMost travel specialists have a knack for multitasking and couldn’t survive without it.  It’s common for them to be on the phone about one reservation while working on the computer for a different reservation.  It is not an uncommon practice to use multiple phones and computers.  If you know a travel specialist and are lucky enough to see one out in public the week free dining was released you will probably see them talking, texting, checking emails, or even looking for new availabilities on their phone.  Travel specialists specializing in Disney travel consider themselves to be “on call” during free dining season.

Travel specialists that book Disney have a love-hate relationship with the free dining promotion.  They love it because it increases business and often comes with a wave of new clients but it also means little sleep, a distraction from family in friends at times, and sometimes the disappointment of delivering bad news.

The great travel specialists get up in the middle of the night to make online modifications, wake up at 4am to get you a dining reservation at Cinderella’s Royal Table, or wait on hold for 4 hours to apply free dining to your already paid for trip.   The great travel specialists do what they do because they love helping people.  They know what it’s like on the other side.  They know what it’s like to have someone great on their side fighting and planning for them to have the most magical vacation possible and how much that means to people.  For the great travel specialists, making people’s vacation before they ever leave their house and hearing about the great time they had when they return home is worth more than what they are paid.  Most will tell you they were helping people with their vacations long before they ever thought to get paid for it.  I wrote all this to say: Go hug your travel specialist.  I am dubbing this day (whatever day you’re reading this) Travel Specialist Appreciation Day!  Send them a thank you card or email.  It will make their day.

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