The first time I planned a Disney World trip on my own was in 2008. The two trips I'd taken prior had been planned by my then husband, Chris. My first was in 2001. I still have all the paperwork for it, and all the receipts. He did everything, and booked our flights using AOL Travel. Does that even exist anymore?
The second trip happened in 2005. Again, Chris planned the entire thing. I didn't see any of the financials or paperwork for that trip. I might have it all buried in my Precious Things bin. Maybe I'll hunt for it someday.
In 2008, I got remarried and Adam and I decided to take our honeymoon at Disney World. We got married in July of 2008, but decided to take our trip in September because we wanted cooler weather, lower crowds, and lower prices. We got all three. I planned that trip on my own. I know, isn't it the husband who is supposed to plan the honeymoon? Whatever. I had fun. Plus, he's the one who paid for a good chunk of it, so I'm not complaining. (The rest was funded by our friends and family and well wishers who contributed to our Disney Honeymoon Registry.)
The night I finally got online to book, the site was acting weird and not loading. A quick trip to some message boards confirmed that Disney was indeed having issues and that calling would be easier. Now, I'm not a phone person. I would much rather communicate by e-mail/blog/text message/Facebook/whatever. But this was my honeymoon and it was Disney World so I sucked it up and made the call. The agent couldn't have been nicer. I felt like I was talking to an old friend. I called again a few days later to make my dining reservations (no online system yet) and even though I was kind of annoying, the rep was pretty patient considering that I was indecisive, was calling well into the 180 or 90 day window they had going on at the time (because I'd booked the trip so late) and having a hard time finding replacements as my first choices were not always available. I guess that wasn't too painful, but man was I glad when Disney came out with their online reservation system a few years later!
For the trip I planned in 2009, I decided to click on one of the many Disney-oriented travel agencies to see what I could see. I happened to click on Mouse Fan Travel. I think I was at work, waiting for something to do, and browsing All Ears, and they had a link. I clicked it. Decided to get a free quote because I'd just gotten an e-mail about a free dining promotion. Not even 24 hours later, I got a response from Suzy. She was able to put the package I wanted on hold while I waited for my boss to approve the days off I'd requested. Once he approved them, I gave Suzy the green light to charge my card for the deposit, and I booked our flights with Southwest.
Over the next few months, Suzy was my go-to person for anything I needed to ask for my upcoming trip. She made all our ADRs (YAY, I didn't have to get on the phone!), scheduled our Magical Express information, and when it came time for me to make the final payment, I actually had to call her because my bank changed my card and I needed to update the information on file.
I don't ever dread talking to Suzy. She is amazingly personable and sweet. Again, it was like talking to an old friend.
Suzy got our trip documents first. You know what I am talking about! That magic package from Disney World with all of your information, perks, goodies, Magical Express tags, and assorted good stuff. She sent them to us using expedited delivery, but also included some surprises! There was a Peter Pan slap bracelet, a lanyard (that I still use), and a Minnie Mouse antennae ball (that I do not use because some wack job would just steal it). I was not expecting the extra stuff, but that cinched it for me. If I was ever going to plan another Disney trip, I was definitely going to use Mouse Fan Travel.
When I went to plan my 2011 trip, I didn't even hesitate. I e-mailed Suzy right away and she usually got back to me within hours if not minutes, even if I e-mailed her at 2:30am. She priced many different packages and options for me, helped me when I wanted to change a few things around, and again offered to call in my ADRs, but now they have the online system, and I had fun doing those myself!
So, to agent or not to agent? It's totally up to you. Some people would rather have complete control, especially if they have to make modifications to their vacation plans. Also, if you book by yourself, you get a Disney confirmation number and you can go on the site and play around with things. As for me, I find the services and help that Suzy provides for me to be beneficial and valuable. I am not a fan of math, but she's good at figuring out the best deals for me. She handles all the paperwork, and I can ask her anything because she's a Disney expert and a fan of the parks herself. She gets back to me quickly, and she's always fun to communicate with.
A good agent will try to get the best possible deal for your upcoming vacation. Mouse Fan Travel checks for discounts and automatically applies them if your vacation is eligible. There are many other services they provide as well. And did I mention how patient Suzy is with my questions? On top of all this, Mouse Fan Travel's services are free.
I'm sure that many of the other Disney-oriented agencies are just as great. I know a lot of people like Dreams Unlimited. There is also Small World Vacations. There are many agencies out there, but you want to make sure you book with an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner.
I can't see not using Suzy for future Disney trips. She's been such a help, and I trust her 100% with my vacation planning needs.