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Why I’ll Never Plan My Own Disney Vacation Again

Ashley Onadele's image
Ashley Onadele
Ashley Onadele's image

Ashley Onadele

Senior Content Contributor

Countries Visited: 15U.S. States Visited: 10

Ashley discovered a love for travel in college that’s continued as her family has grown. She loves showing parents how they can take their families on trips using points and has contributed to numerou...
Edited by: Keri Stooksbury
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Keri Stooksbury

Editor-in-Chief

Countries Visited: 44U.S. States Visited: 28

With years of experience in corporate marketing and as the Executive Director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Qatar, Keri is now Editor-in-Chief at UP, overseeing daily content operations and r...

We may be compensated when you click on product links, such as credit cards, from one or more of our advertising partners. Terms apply to the offers below. See our Advertising Policy for more about our partners, how we make money, and our rating methodology. Opinions and recommendations are ours alone.

I would consider myself a seasoned traveler. I’ve traveled with my husband and small children to Asia, Central America, the Caribbean, and Europe. I’m an advocate for families traveling with babies and toddlers. My friends think I’m brave and turn to me for all things related to travel. But I could never wrap my mind around Disney.

Sure, I can tell you a hundred ways to redeem your transferrable points, but I could not figure out Genie+.

Before becoming a full-time travel and points and miles writer, I shared my family’s travels on my own blog and social media. During that time, I made a friend who I can only describe as a Disney expert. We talked a lot about how, when I was ready, she would help me get my family to Disneyland. That time came late last summer when I realized that my kids would be home for 2 weeks at the end of the year. I thought, what’s a better time than right now to let my friend finally help me plan this trip to Disneyland?

Here’s what that experience was like and why I will never plan my own Disney trip ever again.

How To Find a Disney Travel Agent

Working with a travel agent or an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner is an amazing way to plan travel. Agent fees and structures vary from person to person, but most Disney travel agents don’t charge a fee. They almost exclusively book Disney vacations, including parks and cruises, worldwide. Travel agents receive a commission from Disney and other vendors when they arrange your travel plans.

The company that I used is aptly called Magic Managed. While this isn’t a sponsored post, the company was truly a dream come true to work with. My friend, who I mentioned earlier, is one of its agents.

There are a lot of travel companies that specialize in Disney. You can find several through a simple Google search.

My friend and I jumped on a call lasting less than 10 minutes to start the planning process. I told her again my hangups about visiting Disneyland and that I wanted it to be an extra memorable trip. We had been to Disneyland 2 years prior with family, but the kids were small and needed lots of breaks. This time, I looked forward to making the most of our days at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park. She even helped me by making dining reservations, adding Genie+ (and talking me through how to use it!), and reserving character meals.

I didn’t have to figure out anything.

Solomon Coco Disneyland 2021
We went to Disneyland 2 years ago but had to take it easy with small children. Image Credit: Ashley Onadele

How My Agent Planned My Trip

After talking with Megan, I received a proposal for our hotel and 2-day Park Hopper tickets the next day. There was no fee to work with her because we had a package that included a hotel room. Disney requires a $200 deposit to hold your reservation, with the final payment due about a month before your trip. You can make payments up until the last payment date.

Hot Tip:

Disneyland has Marriott, Hilton, Hyatt, and IHG properties nearby where you can redeem award nights and points.

Shortly after placing our deposit, I received our unique plan that included everything we discussed. The plan included a day-by-day itinerary that told me what reservations we had for which day. It also included which park we could enter first and where we had dining reservations, if any. At the bottom of our plan were important notes, such as when we could use Park Hopper and which items I could have shipped to my hotel.

All in all, here’s what my Disney agent coordinated for my family:

  • 2-day Park Hopper tickets
  • Hotel reservation for 3 nights
  • Dining reservations (available 60 days in advance), including character meals
  • Genie+ service

My Disney agent could have also reserved a stroller or scooter in advance for us if we needed her to.

As the days led up to our arrival at Disneyland, I received a few more emails reminding me of my reservation details. She also provided resources to better prepare us for our trip. Things like a video and step-by-step instructions for Genie+ were invaluable. Magic Managed also offers an additional service called a Pixie Dust Video Call, where they walk you through everything. Needless to say, I felt prepared to tackle the madness that is Disneyland.

Bottom Line:

Working with a Disney travel agent was easy. She provided everything my family and I would need to know for a trip to Disneyland and arranged our tickets and accommodations.

Our Trip to Disneyland

My husband and I kept the Disneyland trip a secret from our kids until Christmas morning. We live in the San Francisco Bay Area and decided to drive down to Anaheim, where Disneyland is. We stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn Anaheim Resort, within walking distance of the park.

The first item on our agenda was a character dinner at Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel. Minnie, Pluto, Chip, and Dale appeared during our dinner, and my kids were thrilled. The next day was our first day at Disneyland.

Onadele Disneyland 2023
My kids had no idea that Goofy and other characters would join us for dinner. Image Credit: Ashley Onadele

Now that I had the hang of Genie+, thanks to Megan, we could plan our day around busy rides. It was easy to use, and I highly recommend it if it’s in the budget for your family. You can’t reserve a ride until you’re in the park.

We had lunch and dinner reservations during our time at the park. I tried to make a reservation for dinner at the last minute on our second night because we had changed our mind about the restaurant, but it was impossible. Megan had the knowledge that I didn’t and knew that we needed to make reservations in advance.

All in all, it was a fantastic trip. I was able to be in the moment with my family as we all enjoyed the magic of Disneyland. The holidays are a lovely time to visit, thanks to the holiday parade, decorations, and fireworks.

“With our help, you can wait in short lines, eat well, beat the heat, watch your kids’ faces light up, and be a hero to your family — all without spending hours/days doing the planning necessary to avoid the most common Disney traps. We take you from overwhelmed to prepared!”

Megan Hollander, travel agent, Magic Managed

The Best Credit Cards for a Disney Vacation

There is no best way to pay for a Disney vacation, whether with a particular card, through a travel agent, or DIY. However, there are ways to make the most of your investment in your vacation. Here’s how.

Disney Credit Cards

Disney® Premier Visa® Card

Disney® Premier Visa® Card

U.P. Rating
The rating for this card has been determined by our own industry experts who know the in's and out's of credit card products. Bonuses, rewards as well as rates and fees are all taken into account. Compensation from the issuer does not affect our rating. We only recommend products we either use ourselves or endorse.

2% back Disney Rewards Dollars at Disney, gas stations, grocery stories, and restaurants means more rewards dollars for Disney fans.

Learn More(at Chase's secure site)

Disney® Premier Visa® Card

2% back Disney Rewards Dollars at Disney, gas stations, grocery stories, and restaurants means more rewards dollars for Disney fans.
Earn $300 Statement Credit after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening
$300
$49

Mickey and his friends are like part of the family. Your kids can recite the words to everything from Aladdin to Toy Story. And there’s no question where you’re going on Spring Break (Space Mountain, anyone?).

As a premier Disney fan, you always have the Disney® Premier Visa® Card on hand. It earns you cash back and discounts at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and more.

Pros

  • Get 15% off the non-discounted price of select guided tours at the Disneyland® and Walt Disney World® Resorts when you use your Disney Premier Visa card
  • Save 10% on select purchases at shopDisney.com when you use your card
  • Receive 10% off select purchases at select locations at the Disneyland® and Walt Disney World® Resorts when you use your card
  • Earn 5% in Disney Rewards Dollars on purchases at DisneyPlus.com, Hulu.com, or ESPNPlus.com
  • Earn 2% in Disney Rewards Dollars on card purchases at gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, and most Disney U.S. locations
  • Earn 1% on all other card purchases
  • Redeem Rewards Dollars for a statement credit towards airline travel
  • Get a one-year complimentary DashPass if activated by 12/31/24

Cons

  • Does not earn transferrable rewards
  • Has a foreign transaction fee
  • Earn a $300 Statement Credit after you spend $1,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn 5% in Disney Rewards Dollars on card purchases made directly at DisneyPlus.com, Hulu.com or ESPNPlus.com. Earn 2% in Disney Rewards Dollars on card purchases at gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants and most Disney U.S. locations. Earn 1% on all your other card purchases. There are no limits to the number of Rewards Dollars you can earn.
  • Redeem Rewards Dollars for a statement credit toward airline travel.
  • 0% promo APR for 6 months on select Disney vacation packages from the date of purchase, after that a variable APR of 19.24% - 28.24%
  • 10% off select merchandise purchases at select locations and 10% off at select dining locations most days at the Disneyland® and Walt Disney World® Resorts.
  • Save 10% on select purchases at shopDisney.com
  • Member FDIC

Financial Snapshot

  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None

Card Categories

Rewards Center

Disney Rewards

Disney® Visa® Card

Disney® Visa® Card

U.P. Rating
The rating for this card has been determined by our own industry experts who know the in's and out's of credit card products. Bonuses, rewards as well as rates and fees are all taken into account. Compensation from the issuer does not affect our rating. We only recommend products we either use ourselves or endorse.

A straight 1% in Disney Rewards Dollars that can be redeemed for Disney tickets, merchandise, and other offerings makes this a Mickey fan's go-to card.

Learn More(at Chase's secure site)

Disney® Visa® Card

A straight 1% in Disney Rewards Dollars that can be redeemed for Disney tickets, merchandise, and other offerings makes this a Mickey fan's go-to card.
Earn a $150 Statement Credit after you spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
$150
$0

For you and your family, vacation time is Disney time. In fact, Disney is #1 for you and your brood all year-round. You have the Mickey ears to prove it!

Lucky for you, the Disney® Visa® Card makes it simple to earn Disney Rewards Dollars that you can spend at Walt Disney World®, Disneyland®, shopDisney.com, and more.

Pros

  • Save 10% on select purchases at shopDisney.com when you use your Disney Visa Card
  • Receive 10% off select merchandise purchases at select locations at the Disneyland® and Walt Disney World® Resorts when you use your Disney Visa Card
  • Earn 1% in Disney Rewards Dollars on all your card purchases with no limits to the amount you can earn
  • No annual fee
  • Get 15% off the non-discounted price of select guided tours at the Disneyland® and Walt Disney World® Resorts when you use your card to purchase
  • Pose for special photos at private Cardmember locations at both parks and receive complimentary downloads of your photos
  • Receive a one-year complimentary DoorDash DashPash if activated by 12/31/24

Cons

  • Does not earn transferrable points to other travel partners
  • Has a foreign transaction fee
  • Earn a $150 Statement Credit after you spend $500 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening.
  • Earn 1% in Disney Rewards Dollars on all card purchases. There are no limits to the number of Rewards Dollars you can earn.
  • 0% promo APR for 6 months on select Disney vacation packages from the date of purchase, after that a variable APR of 19.24% - 28.24%
  • 10% off select merchandise purchases at select locations and 10% off select dining locations most days at the Disneyland® and Walt Disney World® Resorts.
  • Save 10% on select purchases at shopDisney.com
  • Member FDIC

Financial Snapshot

  • Foreign Transaction Fees: None

Card Categories

Rewards Center

Disney Rewards

The Disney® Premier Visa® card earns 2% back in Disney Rewards Dollars at gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, and most Disney U.S. locations, while the Disney® Visa® Card earns a flat 1% on all purchases. Disney credit cards also offer merchandise and dining discounts.

Disney Rewards Dollars can be redeemed for statement credits on airfare, Disney shopping, and Disney parks purchases. A single Disney Rewards Dollar is equal to $1. You must have at least 20 Disney Rewards Dollars to redeem them.

If you earn 2% Disney Rewards Dollars, you must spend $1,000 to get the 20 Disney Rewards Dollars ($20) to redeem as a statement credit. $20 on anything Disney won’t get you that far. There are better ways to maximize a Disney vacation.

Hot Tip:

Disney credit cards offer a welcome bonus offer for new cardholders and other perks that might seem small to a non-Disney fanatic. However, if you primarily vacation at Disney, you might see value in making one of these cards your primary credit card.

Earn Bonus Points or Cash-Back From Select Credit Cards

One way to get bonus points on your Disney purchases is to buy Disney gift cards with a credit card that rewards gift card purchases. Gift cards can be purchased at grocery stores or office supply stores (check which stores your card has the highest bonus at). The American Express® Gold Card earns 4x points at grocery stores up to $25,000 a year. You can also take advantage of occasional discounts on Disney gift cards from places like Costco, which might have them for 10% to 20% off.

A simple way to reduce the cost of a Disney vacation is to use a credit card that offers cash-back. The Citi Double Cash® Card offers 2% cash-back on all purchases: an unlimited 1% back when you buy and another 1% back when you pay your bill.

If you prefer travel rewards, the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card might be the card for you. The Capital One Venture X card earns unlimited 2x miles on every purchase.

Other Ways To Save on Your Disney Vacation

If you have to fly to your Disney vacation, you can always redeem airline miles to save money. You can also use a card with an annual travel credit to save on airfare or other travel-related purchases. Regarding a hotel, you can always redeem hotel points instead of booking a package.

I learned that Disney periodically offers reduced rates for children at less busy times of the year. For example, from January 8 through March 10, 2024, you can find 1-day, 1-park tickets for children ages 3 to 9 for as low as $50 per ticket. Children under 3 years old are always free.

And lastly, when you work with a Disney travel agent (and probably if you DIY the trip yourself), your agent can get you better rates as they become available. That means that even after you book your vacation, you could get money back if you qualify for a promotion.

Hot Tip:

Final Thoughts

Planning a trip to Disneyland has intimidated me for years. Everyone I saw visiting the parks on social media seemed to speak a foreign language I could never understand. However, working with a professional to help plan my trip took all the guesswork out of wondering if I was missing out. I genuinely enjoyed our Disneyland vacation and am so thankful that people like Megan and Magic Managed can help us non-Disney families figure it out.

The information regarding the Capital One Venture X Rewards Credit Card was independently collected by Upgraded Points and not provided nor reviewed by the issuer.

For rates and fees of the American Express® Gold Card, click here.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much does the average trip to Disneyland cost?

The average cost of a trip to Disneyland includes park tickets, hotel, dining, and souvenirs and can run upwards of $1,000 per day.

How many days do you really need at Disneyland?

Depending on the ages of your children and how much they can enjoyably see in a day, you should spend 2 to 4 days at Disneyland. There are 2 parks to see (Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure Park) with countless attractions, dining experiences, and more to see, assuming one opts for Park Hopper tickets.

When should I start planning a trip to Disneyland?

You can make park reservations up to 120 days in advance and dining reservations up to 60 days in advance. At particularly busy times of year, such as the holidays, it’s best to make reservations as far ahead as possible.

What is the cheapest time of year to go to Disneyland?

The cheapest times of year to go to Disneyland are when schools are in session and mid-week. For example, tickets for kids between 3 and 9 years old are as low as $50 between January 8 through March 10, 2024.

How do you you find an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner?

When searching for an Authorized Disney Vacation Planner, the company should display the Authorized Disney Vacation Planner logo and its EarMarked status (Diamond, Platinum, Gold, Silver, or Bronze). These planners specialize in Disney Destinations and have a track record of consistently meeting Disney’s standards of excellence.

Ashley Onadele's image

About Ashley Onadele

Ashley discovered a love for travel in college that’s continued as her family has grown. She loves showing parents how they can take their families on trips using points and has contributed to numerous publications and podcasts.

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