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Disney trip advice

I am planning to do one of the Disney Performing Arts workshops next June (2015). I've never planned a big trip. I wanted advice on the following:
--is it better to hire a tour planner/agency, or book hotel and charter bus myself?
--if you recommend hiring a planner service, can you recommend one to me?
Replies (12): Threaded | Chronological
on October 1, 2013 4:39pm
Well, congratulations, Angie!  I am sure you will love the experience!
A few questions to begin:  
1) does your district have a travel agent that might score you any discount or give you any leverage? Our district REQUIRES certain ones to use that have a vendor relationship with us. 
2) if NO, who do other groups at your school use?   Athletics?
3) How big is your ensemble?
I would most certainly use an agency -- let THOSE pros do their work while YOU do your work.  They can iron out all the details and anticipate issues you've not encountered or considered.  I've done two separate Disney trips in the past year with two different groups -- junior high band and high school choir; band was a recording session and choir was a concert -- LOTS of options and exciting times ahead!
Paul Townsend
National Board Teacher Certification candidate – EMC Music
General Music K-5
on October 1, 2013 8:17pm
1)No, I asked earlier and was told we do not.
2)Other groups have not taken such a trip, so I'm not sure they've used anyone, but I will ask.
3)Ensemble has 30 kids; about 8 adults will be coming along.
on October 2, 2013 12:34pm
I have taken only small ensembles, so I agree that the pros might handle things better for you.
I would:
1. Gather them for a very short warm-up/rehearsal - just about 10 minutres - before breakfast.  That way if they tend to scream on the rides, [we all know they should not, but, at that particular moment, how can we stop it?] their voices will be more ready for it.  (But I would not share this as the reason; they might take it as a ticket to scream louder! ;))  It can also be good publicity.
2. Have plenty of chaperones.  If there is an urgent situation, you can lead the majority, and let the chap take them to hospital (which hopefully, would never be necessary!)
3. Be sure that each child has medical permission to ride everything.  Rides like the Space Mountain are great fun, but can be traumatic for some (it moves very quickly in the dark)  or really cause whiplash and other serious symptoms - especially if a person has been in an accident, or has neck/shoulder issues in their history.  (Disney posts definite warnings about this, but often people ignore them in favor of the thrill of the ride, and emerge with serious pain.  Mea culpa!)
4. Avoid long lines and/or stomach issues by visiting the most popular/active  attractions early in the day, and/or while other tourists are eating.
Best Wishes; Enjoy!
on October 4, 2013 12:22pm
I have brought groups to Walt Disney World on numerous occasions. We have performed our own concerts "on property" and participated in the major Epcot production, Christmas Candlelight Procession, with full professional orchestra and celebrity narrator. Each trip has been very positive. My college students love the whole experience.
I would recommend that you charter your own bus, and do the rest with Disney. The so-called budget resorts are themed and quite nice. Each has large appropriately themed swimming pools and other amenities. We always stay at the Music Resort for obvious reasons.
The last time we went was in 2010. At that time we were given reasonable group rates at the budget resorts, which holds true as long as it isn't at peak times, such as the two weeks around Christmas and New Years or Thanksgiving. The best thing about staying on property is the Disney Transportation System. You can go anywhere in WDW free and efficiently. Performing group tickets are discounted quite a bit, and a meal ticket, that is an excellent value, is also available.
Here's hoping you and your students have a fabulous experience.
Kenneth S. Klaus
Nicholls State University
on October 5, 2013 8:42am
Just one item of clarification to add to Kenneth Klaus' remarks above (and he's right, the Candlelight Processional is an incredible experience, highly recommend).
While you can stay on property and use the Disney Transportation System, remember that the DTS will not take you to the locations backstage where the Disney Performing Arts clinic will be, or where you would need to report backstage for a Disney Performing Arts performance (if you are doing one). If doing a performance, you will need some kind of vehicle for storing uniforms, etc. for your performance. The one way that you could get by without a bus transfer for a DPA clinic would be if your clinic is mid-day and you are entering from the park, and IF your clinic is backstage at one of the parks and not at one of the other sites like Saratoga Springs or the Disney Event Group building. 
However, if you're driving a charter bus from home, that's all not a problem as you'll have the bus there with you already. 
- Tom
on December 15, 2013 10:29am
Hi Angie,
I am taking my high school select choir to Disney in April 2014. We will be performing at Downtown Disney. We are NOT staying on Disney property as they were going to put us in the mid size property and our price went up. Plus we have to pay for breakfast. So we decided to go 1 mile away at a hotel for a better price and breakfast is included. The bus takes us to the parks, we can use Disney transportation all day, and our bus will take us back to the hotel at the end of the day. The hotel and bus ended up being cheaper than the Disney property. But the travel agent did all the work, I just OKed or said no to all of the options. Good Luck, This trip your students will remember forever!
on December 15, 2013 2:38pm
I agree with the others that say let the pros do their job of handling the arrangements for you.  Pay close attention to the deadlines that they give you!
Wherever you stay, ask if the doors are outside or on an inside hallway.  I took 200 High Schoolers and we stayed at the All-Star Music Resort, not knowing that the doors to each room were outside.  Can you guess how difficult security was???  Ugh!  I always ask now!  I also ask for a security person at the hotel - a local person or agency that we hire as part of our package.  Well worth it, depending on the size of your group, age of your group, and how many chaperones you are taking.  You'll want to sleep, too!
If you'll message me, I will give you the name of our person that handled our last trip to Chicago.  She is wonderful.  I don't know where you are or how far away from home she might plan a trip, but I can give you her information if you need it.
Good luck.  It really is the happiest place on earth!
on January 6, 2014 5:21am
Hi There -
I took my choir to Disney 2 years ago and had an amazing time!
As a cost-savings measure, we decided to stay off site and we rented 4 homes in a subdivision about a 5-10 minute drive from all of the Disney Parks.  These proved to be extremely cost effective for a number of reasons, PLUS the accommodations were much more comfortable than staying in a hotel room.  (It was also safer in our opinion to have kids under one roof as opposed to running wild through hallways in Disney!
We rented four 5 bedroom, 5 bathroom houses and they were next door to each other, which made it really convenient.  We also made our own breakfasts at the homes, which was great - and also was a nice cost-savings.  Dinners were often at local restaurants (that was our splurge) but we did order pizza to the houses one time and also did Subway one night as well.  The kids had time in the private pools or living rooms to unwind after our busy days at the parks... So I would highly recommend that route....  Each home had 2 or 3 chaperones.
We found an excellent bus company who picked us up and dropped us off daily... they were reasonable and excellent to deal with.
If you have any questions, just ask!
Also - are you doing the workshop at Disney as well?  If you aren't, you's such a great experience. My kids LOVED it....  We also did the "Illuminations Dinner" at Epcot one night, and that was quite nice too.  Food was decent (not amazing, but ok), but being right there to watch the fireworks was pretty special!
Good luck with your planning!
on January 7, 2014 7:39am
This is great advice, regardless of the size of your group.  The hotel can give you the name of their security, and you can have that guard go with you to do room check st lights out.  (Have a female chaperon to help with girls rooms.)
on January 7, 2014 8:07am
Lots of good advice here.  Along with hiring a security person at the hotel, assign small groups to specific sponsors.  In fact, meet with your sponsors and give them all specific responsibilities such as luggage, snacks, instrument loading, so on.  You want to be free to handle emergencies and the music.
Always have breakfast at the hotel. It may cost more, but can save you up to an hour.  Have the students check in with their small group chaperones and MAKE THEM EAT BREAKFAST.  While some are eating, some are in their rooms getting dressed.  When we've given out lunch money or meal tickets, this was when students got them from their chaperons.
Assign rooms in advance, and have them ride the same bus with their room mates and their luggage, in case the busses get separated, so they can check in whenever they arrive, or in case Suzy needs her inhaler from her suitcase.  NEVER EVER allow room changes at the hotel.  Just don't do it.
They will want snacks at bedtime or whenever.  Put some of your chaperons in charge, and bring them with you.
I know lots of groups ride through the night and arrive at Disney when the park opens.  I don't think that's a good idea.  It guarantees a big group of tired grouchy kids and sponsors.  Have them ride through the night at the end of the trip, so they can sleep it off at home.
And, of course, have release forms.  Keep them with you at all times.  They will get sick at the park, not at the hotel.
on January 8, 2014 9:50am
Lots of great advise here.  I would just add that before you go, you should make it very clear to the students and their parents that if any one is found with drugs, alchohol, etc., what exactly you intend to do about it. What would be the immediate and follow-up consequences?  At my high school, a girl had her much older boyfriend meet her in New York and she snuck out of the hotel room to meet him.  She was on the first plane home at her parent's expense.  Try to deter any inappropriate behavior ahead of time so you hopefully won't have to deal with it on your trip.
When my own kids went on HS band tours, the adults would put tape on the outside of the doors so they could tell if a door had been opened.  May have to check with secturity on this... and what type of tape could be safely/easily removed.
In the park, it's a good idea to use some kind of buddy system with the kids themselves.  Other responses here may have mentioned that or may have a good system they've used.
Best wishes for a fun and successful trip!
Applauded by an audience of 2
on January 8, 2014 11:01am
All great advice given so far.
If you are doing California, I can recommend two organizations: (Eric Spiddell) who I have used for a few years now. However, he doesn't accept payments directly from students. Due to recent policy changes at our site, we have to use a vendor that accepts payments directly from the students.  It's actuallly a big relief, as we don't have worry about counting money, they do all the accounting for us. We are using Music America this year, but there are many organizations out there that will do the same. A google (or your favorite browser) search will give you a lot of information.
Depending on the age of your students, you may or may not want them chaperoned at all times. If they won't be chaperoned at all times, I recommend having specific check in times or a check in window.
Additionally, consider a per diem option for students (either included in the total cost or above and beyond the cost) to cover meals in the park. My students get an envelope each morning with the money for that days meals and spending money. This is given to me the morning we depart for the park.
Again, consider their age, whether they hold on to their tickets or if a chaperone holds on to their tickets. If students have their tickets get their ticket number (a picture works well), it will make getting it replaced much easier they they loose it.
Asa Stern
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