Q&A with Cara Goldsbury, Chief Executive Concierge at Glass Slipper Concierge

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Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, a new attraction at Universal Studios in Orlando.
Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, a new attraction at Universal Studios in Orlando.

For the Orlando onsite that appears in the September family issue, we interviewed Cara Goldsbury, a travel advisor specializing in vacations to Orlando, including Walt Disney World and Universal. She is the author of “The Luxury Guide to Walt Disney World Resort,”  is Chief Executive Concierge at Glass Slipper Concierge and has appeared as a leading Disney expert on two Travel Channel specials, “Disney Splurge!” and “Disney Royalty.” 

Paloma Villaverde de Rico: What’s the perfect family client for Universal and for SeaWorld, respectively?

Cara Goldsbury: These days it’s pretty tough to categorize the perfect family. I plan Universal vacations for families that come in all shapes and sizes. You have your typical young mother and father traveling with school-age children, but then again I just planned a Universal/Walt Disney World vacation for a couple traveling with their grown daughter. I’ve had several sets of multi-generational families ensconced in luxurious 3-bedrooms suites at Universal’s Portofino Bay Hotel; and a gay couple with their two boys visiting Walt Disney World who spent the day at Universal on one of their Exclusive VIP Tours. SeaWorld tends to be easier to pin down with mostly your traditional family traveling with younger children who want to make a day trip from one of the Universal or Disney resorts.

PVR: What important tips should travel agents keep in mind before they sell Orlando and its myriad theme parks?

CG: Don’t try and plan for your clients to see everything in the Orlando area, at least not on one trip. With four Disney parks, two Universal parks, SeaWorld, Discovery Cove, several water parks, and even Legoland it’s just not possible. If it’s simply a long weekend trip then pick one area, either Universal or Walt Disney World, and give them some time to smell the roses. If they have a week or more then they can easily stay at either Universal or Walt Disney World or even both with a day trip or two to visit other parks of interest.

Lay out a day-by-day plan for your clients. Orlando can be totally overwhelming and there’s nothing worse than arriving with no set plan. For instance, make dining reservations for your clients at the Disney parks or they probably won’t have much of a choice for full-service restaurants. At Universal let them know about special dining opportunities such as the Cinematic Spectacular Dining Experience at Lombard’s Seafood Grille that includes an exclusive area where they can watch the nighttime show. Take care of the details for them so they can relax and just enjoy while in Orlando.

Sell the benefits of an onsite Universal Resort, the most important being the super close proximity to the Universal parks, unlimited Universal Express access whereby they can skip the regular lines at both parks, and one hour early park entrance to the super popular Wizarding World of Harry Potter which translates into no wait in lines.

PVR: Traveling to Orlando and going to the myriad theme parks, plus hotel stays, food, etc., can amount to a pretty penny. What do you tell clients who are on the fence about spending their money taking this type of vacation (why should they spend it on this as opposed to going to a Caribbean resort, for instance)?

CG: Orlando is just one of those vacations that is a must on a bucket list, particularly for families with children or grandchildren. Kids will drive their parents crazy until they take them so they might as well plan it now rather than later. But truly, it is a magical vacation where so many unforgettable memories are created. There’s something for everyone no matter what the age or budget.

I know that the all-inclusive Caribbean resorts and cruises are a big draw for those wanting to pre-plan their budget. But both Walt Disney World and Universal Vacations can also become all-inclusive. Packages that include accommodations, dining, park tickets, and all sorts of area attractions can easily be created.

For instance, put together an all-inclusive package with Universal Vacations by reserving a hotel stay at one of the Universal onsite resorts, adding park tickets, airport transfers, VIP tours, Meal Deal tickets with all-day at the parks for one price at counter-service locations, pre-paid table-service meals at both parks, and even admission for area attractions such as SeaWorld, Discovery Cove, and Aquatica.

With Walt Disney Travel Company you can easily pre-pay almost every aspect of your vacation. Begin with resort accommodations, park tickets, and airport transfers (which by the way are complimentary). To that add one of five preset plans, anything from a simple Quick-Service Dining Plan which includes two counter-service meals per day; to something as elaborate as the Disney Platinum Plan with almost everything imaginable included such as all meals, room service, childcare, spa treatments, golf, fishing, Richard Petty’s Driving Experience, Cirque du Soleil, a fireworks cruise…the list goes on.

PVR: Do you recommend onsite or offsite for the hotel stay and why? Is it worth paying extra for Express passes if you’re not staying onsite and why?

CG: If you want to be immersed in these incredible resort and park experiences then I cannot stress enough that you must stay on property. With only a few exceptions such as the Waldorf Astoria Orlando with a location right smack dab in the middle of Disney property and excellent transportation to the parks, staying off-property gets to be almost a tedious chore with each day spent traveling, parking in giant lots, traipsing through the parks, back to the parking lot, back to the hotel, and then doing the same thing over again the next day.

At Universal, staying on site allows the relaxation of either walking or taking a boat to the parks, easily heading back to the resort mid-afternoon for rest and pool time, having a fabulous meal at your resort or at CityWalk, and then perhaps ending the day back at the parks before closing time. At Walt Disney World where accommodations range from a Value Resort to Deluxe Resorts every budget can be taken into account. You can’t possibly feel the true magic of what is offered here by staying off site. Immersing yourself in the Disney experience is what makes for unforgettable memories. So as you can see the difference in experience can be tremendous.

If your clients choose not to stay onsite and it fits the budget, a Universal Express Pass is highly recommended to maximize time at the parks unless it just happens to be one of those rare days when crowds are low. Although they only allow one Express Pass entrance per day at each participating attraction it can make a huge difference in wait times. But remember that the biggest attraction at the parks, Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, is not included in the Express Pass.

PVR: Should travel agents recommend to their clients to take a day in between theme parks to hang out at the hotel, etc.? In other words, should families hit the theme parks on consecutive days or take a breather in between, or does this differ depending on the kids’ ages?

CG: If enough days are planned for the vacation then planning a day off for relaxation and pool time is perfect. It’s exhausting walking the parks all day and most guests like to stay up later in the evenings to see the nighttime shows and fireworks. So rather than planning for a day off in the middle of the vacation, lay out a plan for your clients to spend the morning and early afternoon in the parks, head back to their resort for pool and rest time, have a nice dinner, and then head back to one of the parks to end the day.

They can’t possibly go at breakneck speed day after day, particularly when children are in tow. Of course the younger the child the more nap and down time needs to be planned. And it goes back to my recommendation to stay on site to make it easier to return to their resort for downtime in the afternoons.