Experts

Disney introduces its panel of experts . . . moms and dads with plenty of park time

A Disney vacation can have as many moving parts and opinionated participants as a wedding. If only you could wish upon a star for a fairy godplanner — or a knowledgeable Disneyphile — to help with the arrangements and niggling details. You could try throwing some pixie dust in the air and see what materializes, or simply turn on your computer and summon the Disney Parks Moms.

A decade ago, Disney created what then was called the Walt Disney Worlds Moms Panel, an online vacation-planning forum featuring a dozen parents with serious park cred. The format was basic Q&A, with regular Joes asking and regular Janes answering. They all “worked” from home, carving out a time to reply between their real jobs, family obligations and their own vacations.

“The panelists are real, everyday people. Think of them as your next-door neighbors, your fellow colleagues and your good friends who also happen to be seasoned Disney vacationers eager to share their intel with others,” said Leanne O’Regan, director of public relations for Disney Parks.

Over the years, the online help line changed its name to the Disney Parks Moms Panel, to better represent the widening scope of Disney attractions, and more than doubled its number of experts. The current class of pros includes Thiana, a chiropractor and professor in Brazil who first visited Walt Disney World when she was 10, and Emille, a singer who relocated from Nashville to Orlando so that her family could enjoy the park year-round as annual passholders. There is also Marc L., a single dad and Fortune 500 tech company employee who has stayed at every Disney World property at least once, and Kay, an Indiana grandmother who has sailed aboard 15 Disney cruises and logged 130 trips to Disney World.

“I have been fortunate to have had many great experiences at the Disney locations, but most of the people we hear from are often coming for their first time or for their first time in years,” said Kay, who has answered nearly 7,000 questions since joining the panel in 2009. “No question is a silly question. I take each one seriously.”

Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is among the many lodging options available to Walt Disney World visitors. (Matt Stroshane/Disney)

The Moms Panel receives hundreds of queries per week. To help with the deluge, Disney holds an open call each September seeking 10 to 15 new voices to join the 20 or so returning panelists. This year, the company is accepting online applications from Sept. 6 to 13. The one résumé essential: Depending on your specialty, you must have visited Disney World or Disneyland at least once in the past year or taken a trip with Disney Cruise Line or Disney Vacation Club within the past 24 months. Applicants who make the first cut will advance to subsequent rounds entailing short-answer questions, a brief video and a phone interview. Successful candidates will attend a training session in Orlando from Nov. 29 to Dec. 3. And, hang on to your Goofy hat, because they go live in January.

“We are looking for passionate Disney vacationers from all different backgrounds and life experiences who can lend diverse trip-planning insights to our guests,” O’Regan said. “It’s also important that they are able to communicate their experiences in ways that are relatable and easy to understand.”

The experts can serve for up to two years. During that time, they must respond to 10 to 20 questions per week, and some research might be required. For each year of service, they receive a free holiday for themselves and up to three guests at any domestic Disney destination.

Curious about the panelists’ work behind the Cinderella Castle walls, we reached out to several experts with some of our own questions. Here are their answers (which were edited for space):

Q: How many questions do you answer per week and how long does it take?

Thiana S. (Walt Disney World Resort/Portuguese expert): I answer an average of 15 questions per week, and the time it takes to answer each question varies, because they are all very unique. Our main focus is to provide personalized answers based on our experiences, but sometimes we need to double check information, especially when they ask specific questions about current or upcoming events and offers. I recently answered a question about Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. The guest asked about locations for special photo opportunities during the event.

Beth S. (Disney Cruise Line expert): I answer a minimum of 15 questions per week. When I first began on the Disney Parks Moms Panel, one question used to take quite a long time! Now that I’ve answered more than 500 questions, I typically spend 20 to 30 minutes answering each question.

Panelists say they have answered numerous questions about the new Pandora — The World of Avatar attraction in Animal Kingdom park. (Kent Phillips)

Q: What are the most common questions?

Thiana: We receive a lot of questions from guests who would like to celebrate a special occasion. Birthdays are the number one celebration, but we also receive questions about how to commemorate wedding anniversaries, graduations, sweet 16 celebrations, quinceañeras, first visits. Guests also have many questions about how to use Disney Dining Plans and the complimentary Disney transportation, like how to get to a certain restaurant from their resort hotel, especially for early breakfast reservations.

Beth: We receive questions regarding the proper documentation needed to cruise and if guests can bring bottled water or food onboard.

Linda M. (Disneyland): The two most common questions are whether you can bring outside snacks and water bottles into the park (you can) and what special things can be done on birthdays (it’s up to your imagination). We also see a lot of questions about whether there are attractions that infants and young children can ride. I think most parents are surprised to learn that there are over 40 attractions and entertainment options without height restrictions at Disneyland. You can even take your baby on Pirates of the Caribbean!

Kay B. (Disney World): This year, we have answered numerous questions about the new Pandora — The World of Avatar in Animal Kingdom park. I am sure as it gets closer we will answer many about the new Star Wars lands opening in Hollywood Studios. We are already seeing many about the new Pixar area opening within a year.

Donyell R. (Disney World): The most common questions are about what to do with little ones (i.e. which rides should they experience), which character meals to do, should I buy a dining plan, should I buy Memory Maker, how does Memory Maker work, how do I make dining reservations for a large group, how do I get from one location to another (i.e. best transportation method) and other general questions about the parks. We always get questions about Fast Pass+ but, lately, we are getting lots of questions about Fast Pass+ for Avatar Flight of Passage.

Q: What are the most memorable questions you have fielded?

Thiana: A Brazilian guest asked if the oil used to prepare popcorn at the parks contained soy.

Lindsey P. (Disney World): The most difficult question I ever tended required a very specific answer: the kind of detangler spray used by the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. A true fairy godmother-in-training guided me to the exact strawberry spray I was looking for.

Linda: I answered a question from a parent who had recently lost her child to leukemia but was still going to Disneyland to celebrate his memory. That question was extremely difficult for me to answer as I kept tearing up with every sentence, but it was so important that I help this parent find magical and meaningful ways to honor her child.

One funny question had to do with whether shouting “Andy’s coming!” to the characters from “Toy Story” would make them fall to ground and act like real toys. I had to let the guest down gently that this would not happen.

Kay: The most difficult question was from a family of four who were on a very tight budget. The father was very anxious to finally get his teenage children to Disney after so many years of trying. I worked for hours juggling numbers and options until I found a way for them to visit for three days and four nights at their budget.

Probably the funniest question was about bringing a pet to Disney World. The person wanted to know if they could bring their pet hermit crab along for vacation. Disney does not allow pets with the exception of service animals in all resorts except for the Fort Wilderness Campground.

Donyell: A guest wanted to know if she could buy Evian water anywhere on property. The guest was asking for a medical reason, so I really wanted to find the answer. The funniest question I have received has been asked by several guests who apparently like to live on the edge. Folks always want to know if they can do two nighttime shows in the same evening. The standard answer is “no,” but I told her that I wished she could use the Millennium Falcon to get from one place to another. Unfortunately, that is not an option until Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens in 2019.

Q: Any advice for people interested in applying to the panel?

Thiana: Be yourself. If you don’t make it this time, don’t give up! The search happens every year, and some of my fellow panelists were selected on their 10th try!

Beth: Pay careful consideration to your spelling, punctuation and nomenclature!

Marc L.: Be aware of your specialty and what sets you apart from other applicants (for example, I am a single father with a passion for all things Disney and my main area of knowledge is the Walt Disney World Resort). Be a storyteller.

Lindsey: Bone up on your grammar and short-answer skills. Subscribing to the Disney Parks Blog will keep you on top of all announcements from the parks as well as feed your Dis-nerd side.

Kay: Applicants must have a wide range of Disney experience. With so many changes taking place, an applicant must visit the parks often to be able to give guests personal answers to their questions.

Q: What have you learned about Disney parks and visitors since joining the panel?

Emille C. (Disney World/Spanish): Guests visiting Disney World are not one-size-fits-all. But I think that’s what makes Disney so magical and what makes our diverse panel so important.

Beth: I’ve learned that each person plans their Disney vacation differently and not one way is right or wrong!

Donyell: Even though Disney has phenomenal planning tools, the process can be overwhelming. All of us have been there planning that first trip. We remember the panic, and we are committed to easing as much of that worry as we can.

Marc: Disney parkgoers share the same love for the Disney Parks that I have and this love for Disney Parks serves as a uniting force that brings us all together and proves that “It’s a small world after all.”

More from Travel:

There are already four-hour lines at Walt Disney World’s new ‘Avatar’-themed attraction. Does Pandora live up to the hype?

10 tips for travel bliss with kids — from a dad who spent 300 days on the road with his

Hogwarts, West Coast edition: New Harry Potter theme park set to open in California

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