I’ve been deep into the Disney Destinations niche for close to two decades, and have been honored to be a part of planning many special trips for clients. There’s one, though, that always stands out for me.
I’d been booking an annual Walt Disney World trip for an adult brother and sister and their families for years. The wives did a great job of keeping me up to date between trips on what the families were up to, and I came to consider them friends as much as clients. I even drove to Orlando to meet up with them in person one year!
The youngest of the children had long wanted to ride Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster with his dad, but there was a 48” minimum height requirement so the families used Rider Switch to allow everyone else to ride while the little boy watched – and waited. He knew he’d be tall enough eventually, but the wait sure seemed like forever! When the child stood by the ride’s measuring stick one year and realized he was only an inch or so away, he knew the next trip would be the one. He could hardly wait.
Very shortly before that trip though, the boy’s father had been diagnosed with an aggressive form of brain cancer. The children hadn’t been told (lest the vacation be overshadowed by the news), but the adults knew that once they got home from the trip, treatment would start and the outcome was uncertain. The families went ahead later that year with booking the next vacation, but made it clear that they weren’t sure they’d be able to do it. Treatment wasn’t going well.
Just a couple months later, I got an email saying that the father had died. The families requested that I cancel their next trip since they weren’t sure they could bring themselves to go one person short. But they still had a few months before final payment was due, so I suggested they not make the decision until that time. When the time arrived, the moms said that they were just one vote shy of a unanimous decision to go ahead with the trip.
The single hold-out was the little boy, now nearly eight years old and finally tall enough to ride. His dad wasn’t there to do it with him though, and the child couldn’t bear the thought of doing it without him. Of course, the family vote meant they were going regardless, but the boy’s mother knew that the child’s sadness would make it extra-hard on the whole group.
I gave the problem some thought, did some web searches and made a few phone calls, then suggested a plan to the two moms. The day after the families arrived at Walt Disney World, a package arrived at the front desk for them. The family made sure it was the little boy who opened the box. In it, he found a t-shirt for each member of the family with a big headshot of his dad on the front, and the words ROCK ‘n’ ROLLER COASTER with the next day’s date on the back.
The next morning they all put on their shirts and headed to Disney’s Hollywood Studios to be there at park opening. They speed-walked to the attraction and waited nearly 20 minutes before finally boarding. The moms later told me that the boy was strangely silent that morning. He wasn’t sad or excited…just deep in thought. They were actually afraid he might not get on the ride when the time came, but he did!
At the start of that attraction, riders accelerate to nearly 60 miles per hour in less than three seconds, pinning them to the backs of their seats. Riders are held in place by a shoulder bar that comes down over the top of them – and, in this case, perfectly framed the face on each of those t-shirts! As the ride blasts off, a camera takes a photo which riders can purchase on their way out of the attraction. This family bought several copies of that special photo, of course, and also managed to capture a shot of the HUGE smile on that little boy’s face when he saw the picture for the first time, and realized that he and his dad were on the ride together
But the story isn’t quite over. The family left the building and headed down Sunset Boulevard in search of someone selling balloons (one never has to go very far before locating them). As we’d planned, the boy’s mother purchased a balloon while his aunt produced paper and a pen from her purse and asked the boy to write a note to his father telling him about the ride. The rest of the family shopped patiently while the boy wrote his letter.
The aunt and mother then taped the note to one side of the balloon and one of those precious photos to the other, then handed the string to the boy – and he knew exactly what to do. He walked back down Sunset Boulevard with that balloon, the rest of the family trailing behind, and when he reached the front of Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster he took one more look up at that photo before letting go of the string.
From what they tell me, as they all stood there watching that photo and letter being delivered to heaven, they were healed. They spent the rest of the trip celebrating all their wonderful memories and the life of the person they loved so much.
Technically, our job as travel agents is to get people from Point A to Point B. It’s all too easy to fall into the rut of letting that be the whole job. But if you try hard enough, you can almost always find a way to insert what I now call a “balloon moment” into every vacation; a single, transformative activity that creates lasting memories for the clients. It’s that extra effort that makes the difference between a travel agent and a travel professional.
Elizabeth’s travels were pretty limited until a trip to Europe the summer after high school graduation – she was hooked. After college she took a position with the Delta Queen Steamboat Company, stepping down from her job as chief purser of the Mississippi Queen five years later. The desire to start a family is what finally made Elizabeth dial it back a bit on her travels, and she got her feet wet in the agency business. That eventually grew into her own agency which now has five divisions and 26 of the most wonderful agents sprinkled all across the country! While all the divisions are expanding rapidly, MTE Vacations (specializing in Disney Destinations and Universal Orlando Resort) continues to provide the bulk of their sales activity.
Have a story about a client interaction worth sharing? TRO wants to gather these stories into a book for publication on how travel professionals contribute to their clients’ lives. I would love to publish your story. Sent it with the subject “Travel Agent Diaires” to firstname.lastname@example.org