BUCKHANNON – Walt Disney World Resort is the most magical place on Earth, according to its advertising literature.
But it can also be one of the most stressful vacation destinations to plan for.
With four theme parks, two water parks and more than 25 resort hotels, the prospect of coordinating dining, travel and lodging plans can seem overwhelming to people – especially to those going for the first time, says local resident Leah Ripley.
Luckily, Ripley, a travel agent, is here to help.
Although she’s had planning input into trips to Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, for more than two decades – she was 4 when she took her inaugural trip – she began planning vacations for Disney-bound people professionally in October 2018.
Ripley now works for Magical Vacation Planner, an authorized Disney vacation planner, which means the agency must meet certain standards.
“I’ve been going to Disney World since I was 4 years old,” Ripley recently told My Buckhannon. “I went as a teenager, I went in high school, I went after my college graduation, I’ve been with my parents, with friends and with my spouse, and now, I have two small children I’ve taken.
“One of the driving things that pushed me to look into this was I kept seeing people post on Facebook about going to Disney World, and saying, ‘I don’t know where to start,’” Ripley explained. “It can be extremely overwhelming for people.”
So, where does one start when planning a trip to the iconic U.S. resort?
The answer to that question usually depends on the people with whom you’re traveling, Ripley said.
“That’s one of the points I like to make when I start working with clients is to think about the party they’re going to be traveling with,” she said. “I’ve done it in so many different capacities, so I know traveling with two little girls is going to be somewhat different from traveling with two little boys. Once they share that information, we can work out some of the logistical things.”
Ripley said she also takes into consideration a client’s budget.
“We have a conversation to kind of narrow down their options by considering their budget and who they’re traveling with,” she said. “One of the biggest hurdles is trying to figure out where to stay. There’s over 25 resorts, and they’re in three tier levels – value, moderate and deluxe resorts.”
In addition to selecting from myriad dining options, travelers to Walt Disney World can spend time in four theme parks, including the original Magic Kingdom as well as EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and two water parks: Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach.
But wading through those options are well worth it.
“There’s nowhere else like it, in my opinion,” Ripley said. “There’s nowhere else where you’re going to get that immersive experience. You’re treated the best everywhere you go, and it’s just a holistic and magical experience. You’re in the magic, you truly are – and that’s what makes it different, and that’s what makes it special.”
Ripley says her favorite part of the planning process is ensuring her clients’ Disney vacations progress as smoothly as possible.
“I like making the process less stressful for people,” she said. “That’s kind of been one of my taglines – I say, ‘let me do all the work and take away the stress so you can just enjoy the trip.’”
Ripley even gives her cellphone number to clients while they’re on vacation and tells them not to be afraid to use it.
“They have my cellphone number while they’re on the trip, so if something comes up, and they need help, I’m accessible,” she said, “because it’s not like just going to the beach for vacation. I think that’s my favorite part – taking all of that uncertainty and stress away.”
But at what cost?
None, it turns out.
“It costs absolutely $0, and that’s my favorite part,” Ripley said, noting she receives commission that would otherwise simply stay in the hands of the Walt Disney World Resort.
In addition to planning, another service Ripley offers is promotion watching.
“One of the big things in terms of services I provide is promotion watching,” she said. “Recently, I helped two local families who had booked their Disney vacations several months ago, but a promotion on rooms came out about three weeks ago that was going to apply for when those people were traveling, and I saw it, and it saved them several hundred dollars, and that’s something that you wouldn’t necessarily have if you planned it yourself.”
But last-minute promotions shouldn’t stop people from planning ahead. In fact, the sooner Disney-bound vacationers begin planning, the better, Ripley says.
“You can still book far out like that (several months in advance) and still have the promotion applied because of my promotion watching services,” she said. “The sooner you book, the better with Disney World specifically. Dining reservations can be made 180 days out, and there are popular restaurants that fill up within weeks of that 180-day mark.
“You also want to do it sooner because traveling to Disney is not cheap, and you may be able to make more manageable payments that way,” Ripley added.
In addition to Disney World, Ripley offers vacation planning services for Disneyland, Disney Cruise, Carnival Cruise and Royal Caribbean Cruise.
Ready to experience the magic for yourself? Ripley provides free, no-obligation quotes and can be reached via cellphone at 304-669-0028 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find her on Facebook by searching for “Magical Vacation Planner by Leah Ripley.”