The VIP (Very Important Princess) Treatment

A princess is born at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique
A princess is born at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique

Six years ago, New York Family sent me on assignment to Walt Disney World with my then 9-year-old son. We conquered Splash Mountain, shot Buzz Lightyear’s odd green space monsters 11 times in a row, raced cars, and went around Space Mountain in the dark screaming like little babies. I actually remember, in the midst of that terror, feeling sufficient inner calm to start composing my will and testament.

Fast forward to the present and a recent pilgrimage to Walt Disney World with my 4-year-old daughter. She already knew the lives of the Saints: Cinderella, Rapunzel, Elsa and Anna, Belle, Tinker Bell, and Merida. Not to mention Minnie, Mickey, Donald, and Goofy. She had been talking for weeks about meeting them at their shrines and what she was going to tell them and wanted to know from them. And I realized that I was in for a treat. As much as a trip to Walt Disney World revolves around a kid’s sense of wonderment, awe, and engagement, the trip for a parent is about empathy and reliving childhood through a child’s eyes. Yes, I am going to be transformed into a princess.

But first, a few words about making the most of Walt Disney World from a journalist and dad who’s now been hosted by the property twice.

Use a special guide service, known as visitor VIP Services, in Walt Disney World—without hesitation and without doubt. You’ll look at the hourly prices and shudder for the first two minutes, but it’ll be the smartest thing you do. More detail on that in a minute.

Plan wisely in advance. Especially if you’ve decided to visit Walt Disney World during “peak season,” or during a holiday. Dining with the princesses or getting a slot on popular rides not only can be booked in advance, but as much as two months in advance for rides, and six months in advance for restaurant and event happenings (mydisneyexperience.com).

Pre-bookings take place via the FastPass+ system. When you buy your tickets to visit Walt Disney World, each pass comes with the ability to reserve three FastPass+ experiences (like a specific ride or attraction) per day in advance (60 days in advance if you’re staying at a Disney property; 30 days if you’re not). Or you can consult with your VIP service, and it’s likely that they’ll be able to do the booking for you.

I encourage folks looking for the Walt Disney World experience to consider a Disney-themed property. We stayed, courtesy of Disney, for two of our nights at the Art of Animation Hotel. We enjoyed a family suite with one bedroom, two bathrooms, a fold-out couch, and Murphy bed, which worked well for us. The buildings had figures and themes from movies like “Finding Nemo,” “Cars,” and “The Lion King.” The hotel also had a very large, fun swimming pool (one of its claims to fame is that you can actually, as per “The Little Mermaid,” hear music while swimming underwater).

Now, back to the VIP Services. Walt Disney World has its own VIP Services, which can be reached by phone at 407-560-4033. They organize group tours three days a week, but it’s the customized version you’ll likely want to use (for up to 10 people so families can combine). The cost is $400-600 per hour with a six hour minimum. But here’s what you get: Pretty much everything. Virtually no standing in line, impossible-to-get reservations at restaurants and events, and direct access into the heart of each park. The last one seems trivial unless you’ve walked the long distances from the car park or taxi drop-off into a Disney park. As Kaitlyn, our Walt Disney World guide, described, it’s “a walking, talking FastPass and guide map, together with an in-park concierge.” Well put.

There are other non-Disney VIP services, too. They are not officially sanctioned by Walt Disney World, but are most often founded and run by ex-Walt Disney World cast and staff members. The most established is Michael’s VIPs (michaelsvips.com), although I can also recommend World Class VIP (worldclassvip.com), both experienced on this trip. The prices here run more like $150-250 per hour with 4-6 hour minimums. While they can’t drive you right into the Walt Disney World lot and can’t crack the very difficult, last-minute classics, they do have a lot of unusual and unique tricks up their sleeves. In a town where there are networks and favors, we were incredibly impressed that Ben, the manager of Michael’s VIPs, was able to pull off not just front row seats for the “Beauty and the Beast” show at Walt Disney World’s Hollywood Studios at a day’s notice, but also a unique private meeting with the cast’s three lead actors after the show. Obviously, the non-Disney services can also be your guides in non-Disney Orlando properties like SeaWorld and Universal Studios.

If you think about how much a Walt Disney World trip is going to cost for a week for four, including flights and incidentals, a VIP Service looks a lot more sensible once you’ve recovered from sticker shock. You don’t need to use it for the whole trip (unless it’s one or two days, in which case it’s vital). And you can mix and match between Walt Disney World and non-Disney experiences (a day of one, a day or two of another).

Still need persuading? Here are a couple of nice stats. The average waiting time for a meet-and-greet with Disney Royalty like Anna and Elsa (which then lasts about two minutes)? One-hundred and five minutes, or up to three hours during peak season! Hitching the Peter Pan ride? A 70 minute wait for a two minute jaunt. In both cases, VIP services can have you up to first in line in five minutes or less.

This takes us to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique in the Grand Castle in Magic Kingdom, the epicenter of princesses everywhere. The sanctum sanctorum was opened to us, of course, by Walt Disney World VIP. A makeover room for little princesses attended by fairy godmothers comes to life as costumes are donned, hair gel and sparkles applied liberally, and makeup and nail polish applied gently. Every other ride or experience in Walt Disney World averages 2-5 minutes; the boutique is a very personal half an hour. I am in 3-8-year-old girl heaven. When the fairy godmothers order a good old sing along from everyone in the salon to begin—“Salagadoola mechicka boola bibbidi-bobbidi-boo! Put ‘em together and what have you got?”—it’s like listening to the Kyrie Eleison. It doesn’t take long in the wonderfully girly salon to see what a glorious thing it is to be a 4-year-old princess.

“Daddy,” says my little girl, who has been transformed into Snow White. “This is awesome. This is Princessland. This is the best day of my life. Can we live here?”

All you need is faith, trust, and a little pixie dust…and VIP services.

Richard Burns writes regularly about traveling with children for New York Family

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