It's No Mickey Mouse Operation

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BY HENRY MAGENHEIM

Reed Travel Features

ORLANDO -- Agents and others booking a stay or a meal at a restaurant at the Walt Disney World destination resort take their reservations handling for granted.

But reservations handling is a gigantic task for Disney, according to the man with overall responsibility, former Amtrak executive Bob Gall.

As vice president of the Disney Central Reservations Office and the Walt Disney Travel Co. tour operation, he is charged with expanding the reservations services as the resort complex grows.

For example, a fourth theme park -- Animal Kingdom -- opens in 1998; in March 1998, Disney Magic, the first Disney Cruise Line vessel, sets sail from Port Canaveral, thereby increasing demand for a hotel-cruise combination vacation package, and conventions will be on the increase with the opening Aug. 1 of Disney's Coronado Resort.

In addition, Disney's Wide World of Sports -- practice fields, indoor gyms and stadiums -- opens in stages during the next few months, drawing thousands of athletes, both amateur and professional.

And next March, Atlanta Braves fans will come to see their team play at their new spring training facility.

On Disney real estate alone, there are some 22,000 hotel rooms, with more on the way; the bulk of these are Disney-controlled, but all are on line for Disney reservationists.

Moreover, within the past two years, the Walt Disney Travel Co. began offering bulk air space on six airlines with its land offerings, Gall said.

"Nearly overnight, it became one of the biggest sellers of airline seats into Central Florida, offering a full range of package products with all components at highly competitive prices," he said.

Growing room inventory and the physical expansion of the 43-square-mile site, coupled with Walt Disney World's 25th Anniversary Celebration, which ends Dec. 31, led to the decision to open a satellite reservations office last November in Tampa, according to Gall, who is based at the football-field-sized, unmarked reservations building in Orlando, a few miles from the theme parks.

That structure houses more than 600 workstations and employs more than 1,000 reservationists, he said.

Resort bookings are handled 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays; 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., weekends. The Walt Disney Travel Co. bookings are taken 8:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., weekdays; 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturdays.

The smaller Tampa center, he said, has 550 workstations, and in January, 312 persons were hired to work there. Similar hours apply there.

Disney World-related reservations also are handled in Celebration, the Disney community near the theme parks.

Here, however, 30 reservationists concentrate on Disney Cruise Line bookings from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekends. Virtually all of these reservations call for a land stay at Disney World first, followed by a cruise.

In Orlando and Tampa, the reservationists all have their specialties, such as handling the Walt Disney Travel Co. package calls, the Disney resort hotel rooms and the hotels' in-house packages, plus the bookings from AAA retail agency outlets and Dine Line, (407) WDW-DINE.

Because 60 of the 90 on-site restaurants require a reservation, it is not unusual to find 80 reservationists assigned to the Dine Line, according to Gall.

But Orlando and Tampa reservationists also have been trained to take over other lines if the influx becomes too heavy in one area, Gall said.

The call volume is monitored constantly, and projections are made to assure that peak periods are staffed adequately, he said.

Last year Walt Disney Travel Co. signed up more than 30 "good neighbor" hotels in Kissimmee and Orlando for Resort Magic package housing when officials realized demand for Disney on-site rooms during the 25th anniversary would outstrip supply.

By booking these hotels for agents, according to Randy Garfield, Walt Disney Attractions' senior vice president of travel operations and sales, the agent is not forced to look elsewhere for space; at the same time, Disney retains customers for the theme parks. Garfield also is president of the Walt Disney Travel Co.

Although Disney maintains its own tour operation, it also does business with more than 200 international tour operators, Garfield said, adding that domestic wholesalers and agents are serviced by 27 district sales offices.

Booking numbers for travel agents are (800) 647-7900, for resort rooms only and (800) 327-2996 for the Walt Disney Travel Co.

To book the Disney Cruise Line, retailers can call (800) 511-1333.

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