Seeing Walt Disney World at Christmas with a VIP Tour Guide
BY SARAH STONE
If you are a regular visitor to Walt Disney World or Disneyland, you may have seen groups of people being escorted around by a Disney Cast Member in a plaid vest. Perhaps you caught a brief glimpse as they were getting onto a ride from the FastPass line. What’s going on? Those lucky people are on a private VIP Tour!
Disney VIP Tour Guides can lead any group of up to 10 people around the parks. Their job is to get their guests around the parks and onto attractions as quickly as possible. You can tell them exactly what you want to do, let them plan your complete itinerary, or go for something in between. We decided to find out what it was like.
The Challenge: A Three Family Trip to Walt Disney World for Christmas
In 2013, we were able to convince my brother’s family and my parents to take a trip with us to Walt Disney World for Christmas. “Insanity!” most experienced Disney visitors would say, “MouseSavers specifically says that Christmas is the most crowded and most expensive time of year!”
But sometimes work, school and other travel plans and commitments mean that your scheduling options for a big family trip are limited. Fortunately we had two things working in our favor:
#1) Our family of 4 are experienced Disney travelers. We are used to forcing ourselves to get up much earlier than seems possible, weaving our way through the park crowds, maximizing our FastPasses and getting out of the parks for a mid-day break. We had also visited Walt Disney World recently enough that we knew there weren’t any rides that we HAD to do. And, our kids were old enough (13 and 16 at the time) that we knew they would be willing to put other’s people’s preferences first, especially their 8 year old cousin’s.
#2) My family (mom, dad, brother, sister-in-law and nephew) are not experienced Disney travelers and my nephew had never been to any theme park at all! So, when they agreed to go, they had no idea how crazy Walt Disney World could be at Christmas time or what kinds of crowds they might encounter. They were nothing but excited at the idea of spending Christmas together where nobody had to cook or clean and they were excited to see Walt Disney World in all its Christmas finery. So there was no dread or worry on their end – which made our job easier.
To VIP or Not to VIP?
As Don and I began putting together the trip, several factors influenced our planning. First and foremost, we wanted to be sure that everyone had a great time. That meant finding out what attractions everyone was most interested in. As this was our nephew’s very first trip to a Disney park, he didn’t really know what to expect, but we had a few things we wanted to be sure that he experienced – and many of the items on that list were in Magic Kingdom – probably THE busiest park at Christmas.
Another big factor was the length of our trip. My brother and sister-in-law don’t get a lot of vacation time, so already their visit was shorter than we recommend. Within this trip they were going to take one day to visit some family members in Florida. In addition, we made a group decision to spend Christmas Day outside the parks and have a traditional Christmas – i.e. wake up, open presents at a leisurely pace, go for a swim (okay, not completely traditional!!) and just generally spend the day relaxing together. So, that only gave us four days to show our nephew “the world.”
As we looked at the dates of our trip and the number of days we had in the parks, hiring a VIP Tour Guide for one day started to make a certain amount of sense. We had a large group, so that would spread out the cost. We knew how to maximize our dollars on other aspects of the trip (hotel, tickets, etc.). But the biggest factor was how much we wanted to do and the available time we had to do it. We could either resign ourselves to seeing a fraction of what we wanted my nephew and family to see or, by splurging a little (OK, kind of a lot), we could get to everything that was a must-see for our nephew. After weighing our options, we took the plunge and hired a VIP Tour Guide for 6 hours on one day to take us around Magic Kingdom (and a little Hollywood Studios, as you’ll see).
So, How Was It?
Not only does having a VIP Tour Guide minimize your wait time for rides, they also coordinate getting you between parks, sometimes through a back door. We were dropped us off right at the park entrance, or sometimes at a Cast Member entrance. In particular, this allowed us to leave Magic Kingdom in the middle of the day, head to Hollywood Studios, enter via a Cast Member entrance right next to Toy Story Mania, ride it, and then zip back to the Magic Kingdom. Normally during a busy time, you wouldn’t dream of going from one park to another just to do one ride (well, you might dream of it, but you probably wouldn’t do it!). But in this case, it worked and didn’t add much walking at all.
One of the unexpected benefits was actually for us, the experienced Disney park visitors. Normally when we visit a park, the four of us have a system. Don is in charge of managing FastPasses (both fetching them (in the “old” paper days), reserving them in advance and creating our schedule based on what we all want to do). Once we are in the park he is the leader, if the original plan calls for going to Peter Pan’s Flight, but he can see that the wait is unexpectedly long, he can confer with us about the best alternatives, or just decide what’s best to do next given what he knows about our preferences and then head in that direction. Our job is to follow – with me (Sarah) bringing up the rear to make sure we don’t lose track of the kids. (Or, when they were younger, push the stroller.) Having one person be the decider has always worked well for us. If we need to talk over a change in plans we try to do it while we are in line and standing around anyway. This minimizes the time we spend discussing what to do next and coming to a consensus; instead we spend more time enjoying ourselves and the attractions.
But it does mean that Don is under more pressure to be thinking ahead. By hiring a VIP Tour Guide, we basically paid someone to do what Don normally does. And given the bigger crowds and the size of our group – it made that day a LOT more relaxing for Don. For that day, Don was free to chat and visit with family and enjoy the Christmas decorations and not worry about where we needed to be next.
A Few Provisos, Uh, a Couple of Quid Pro Quos…
A few things that might not be obvious about a VIP Tour Guide – their main job is to get you to the attractions, rides and shows that you want to see. They do not narrate as you are walking through the parks, they are walking as quickly as the group will allow. Of course, you can ask questions, but they are not a tour guide in the typical sense of someone who tells you about the history of what you are walking past. Their main job is to get you around the parks as efficiently as possible.
Six hours, the minimum time for a tour guide at the time, is a pretty long time. You can see a lot in 6 hours, especially given how quickly and smoothly you are able to get around. You have the option to have a tour guide for longer than 6 hours; you then pay by the hour. And you can make that decision on the fly, provided your VIP Tour Guide is available. We arranged it so that our 6 hours ended with our lunch reservation. At that point our nephew, and frankly all of us, were ready for a break – mentally and physically. But during our 6 hours we experienced a huge number of attractions, and we hadn’t felt rushed at all.
So – do we recommend it? Would we hire a VIP Tour Guide again? The answer is – it really depends. It definitely made sense given the particulars of this trip. But for most of our trips, we don’t have such a big group, we have more time at the parks and we aren’t traveling at a peak time. But it was a nice treat for this particular trip. We really wanted my family to have a memorable and relaxing Christmas together and that’s just what we did!