Royal Oak mom turns dream vacation into dream job

Retired teacher now works to make the Disney dreams of metro Detroit families come true

DETROIT - With her kitchen table as her desk, Juli Russ goes to work, making Disney dreams come true for metro Detroit families.

"I have loved Disney for a really long time," she said.

Russ got engaged at Walt Disney World and she has taken her two children, Morgan and Kyle, on several Disney vacations, including two cruises.

"My husband surprised me with a 40th birthday trip to Disney World, and my birthday (is) in August. He told me in March that we were going so that I could plan it because he knows how much I enjoy the planning part," Russ said.

Others knew, too, and asked her for help.

"Friends would come to me and say, 'We're going, can you help us? Where do we need to go? Where should we go eat? Where should we stay?'" Russ said.

Russ realized she could make money planning Disney vacations for others and became a concierge agent for Wishes Family Travel. The agency is an authorized Disney vacation planner, and Disney is Russ' specialty.

"Planning a Disney vacation can be really overwhelming. You go online and there's all these hotels, and there's dining plans, and there's rides, and there's fast passes," Russ said.

"It was pretty stressful," said Jackie, another area mom of two.

Jackie planned her family's first Disney World vacation on her own.

"I had never been with children before, so it was really all new to me and I spent a lot of time researching, trying to figure out what the girls would like to do," said Jackie.

Her daughters, Ashley and Liv, loved their time at "the happiest place on Earth," so the family is planning a second trip. Only this time, Russ is doing all the work.

"My parents are going. My mother-in-law is going. We all really wanted to all be together, but we still wanted to be at a hotel near the park, ideally would overlook the park, because the girls are so young that we missed fireworks the entire time we were there last," said Jackie.

Russ booked them in a Disney hotel where they can watch the fireworks from their room and is taking care of their meal reservations and fast passes.

"Dining reservations are made 180 days prior to arrival and you can start making them at 6 a.m., so I get out of bed around 5:30 and I get a cup of coffee and I get everything all set and I get that taken care of before I even have to get my kids out of bed," Russ said.

"Fast passes are made around midnight, depending on when the park closes, so I stay up a little late in my pajamas," she said.

This new job fulfills Russ' passion and gives her the flexibility to be a mom to her kids. And you don't pay her a cent to help you plan your Disney vacation.

"We get commission from Disney, and it's built into the cost of a vacation. It's no extra cost," Russ said.

With Russ doing all the legwork, Jackie can focus on her family and the fun they'll have. She can get excited about a few experiences Russ is booking for them that they couldn't get reservations for last time.

"The girls want to eat at a princess dinner and for Cinderella's royal table we got a breakfast. So she booked us a princess dinner at the Grand Floridian, and we're going to do the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique before that and go do the dinner there, and I had no idea there was that option," Jackie said.

Right now, it's Disney dreams for Jackie's girls, but soon they'll be coming true.

"It's so cliché, but it's really a magical place," said Jackie.

A Disney representative said the authorized Disney vacation planner designation is awarded to travel agencies as a symbol of their dedication to planning and customizing Disney vacations.

The agencies must have a higher level of knowledge, service and expertise when it comes to planning Disney trips, but they said it's up to consumers to decide which travel professional meets their needs.

For travelers looking to work with an authorized Disney vacation planner, Disney said to look for the Authorized Disney Vacation Planner logo at their local travel agency.

For more information Russ and her services, click here.

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