I woke up a little late on Friday morning and then ran around like a crazy person because I had failed to adequately plan conference attire. This is classic Carly behavior and while I can’t explain why it happens, I can tell you that I’ve attended many a blog conference spontaneously dressed in maternity nightgowns or former bridesmaid gowns because I just seem to suck at life. On this occasion, I managed to pull something together only to have Kyle tell me after the conference that my skirt was transparent when the light hit it a certain way. So there’s that. Luckily (hopefully) everyone else was worried enough about their own outfit to worry about what I was or wasn’t wearing.
The conference day started early with a buffet breakfast and a short presentation from Chef Gary who talked to us about the Disney Magic of Healthy Living, which is the umbrella for Disney’s efforts toward promoting a heathy lifestyle. This covers everything from the healthy options inside the parks to the Disney-branded healthy foods available at your local grocery store, but the part that really stood out to me was when he talked about how responsive Disney has been to guests with food allergies and how the restaurants are rolling out allergy-friendly menus at property restaurants that clearly spell out which foods are and are not safe.
Guests will still have the option to pull the chefs out of the kitchen to chat with them (and I’m sure nervous patrons like us will continue to take advantage of that) but the allergy menus give you a starting point and allow guests who don’t want to draw the extra attention a way to order safely without visiting with the chef. I love that not only are they creating safe menu items intentionally, they are also thinking out the dining experience that these guests are facing and trying to make it as pleasant and stress-free as possible. As an allergy mom, I honestly get a little tearful when I think about how much empathy is built into that company policy.
After breakfast we moved into the main room for the conference, which was huge and overwhelming and exciting and awesome. Our day was hosted by Leanne O’Regan, who is the Director of Social Media for Disney Parks and Resorts, and Mark Daniel. They kept things rolling all day, introducing the speakers and doing random giveaways (sooo many Dooney and Bourke bags!), and at one point Leanne was kidnapped by Storm Troopers who invaded the conference room and inspired a thousand tweets.
The speakers were a mix of Disney people and people related to social media, like Chris Brogan. Eva Smith from Pinterest gave a surprisingly interesting look at best practices and even though I’ve seen a Pinterest-focused talk at three different blog conferences this year alone, I took some good notes from her and actually came home with information that I’ve already been able to use. My favorite speakers were Vivienne Harr, an amazing eleven year old who is creating social change (and who everyone wanted to adopt), and Jonas Rivera, a Pixar producer who gave us a pull-your-eyeballs-out-awesome look at Inside Out, the new Pixar movie.
Honestly, I wasn’t too thrilled about Inside Out when I first saw the teaser trailer because I didn’t think the characters looked relatable and I thought Pixar might be pulling a Black Cauldron with this one, but I am seriously stoked now. I think it’s going to be a great way for kids and families to start talking about emotions and all of the back story about why they decided to make the film and where they got their ideas showed how much heart they’ve put into it. I was just sad that Kyle didn’t get to hear him speak because there so many things that he would have found fascinating. (Kyle was enjoying his free day at the parks, though, so nobody feel bad for him.)
There were some sponsorship-type things scattered throughout the day, including a short presentation from Alamo (who gave us all Disney gift cards!), and lunchtime brought really nice swag bags from Hanes along with a lunch presentation from Jessica Shyba who gifted us all with her book. I know that part of the purpose of the whole event is to introduce us to things in the hopes that we’ll write about them, but I was surprised again and again at how generous everyone was and the quality of the things we were receiving. It definitely did not go unnoticed – everyone was buzzing with excitement for most of the day!
By the time the conference day was over, my head was swimming and I was on information overload, so it was nice to get out for a couple of hours and walk over to Epcot with Kyle. He wanted to try Via Napoli Ristorante e Pizzeria in the Italy pavilion, but I was pretty stuffed from all of the food we were spoiled with during the conference day so I kept him company while he ate. I did steal a few forkfuls of everything, however, and can vouch that the food there is really really good. Unfortunately, it was just too hot out after I’d been in the air conditioning all day so we had to head back to the hotel room so I could rest a bit before the big family dinner hosted for Disney Social Media Moms.
We had seen some of the party prep on the way to and from Epcot so we sort of knew what we were expecting, but I was still really impressed with Friday night’s family event. It was a private party held on the beach in front of the Beach Club resort so there were tables in the sand and tons of food stations scattered around. They also brought luau-themed characters in for photo opps, had a pit for roasting marshmallows, and featured live music that started out kind of scary-cheesy but melted into a really nice beach party atmosphere (think covers of Jack Johnson and Bob Marley). They also had an open bar for this event, which once again helped the dance floor fill up, but Kyle and I occupied ourselves with the food stations and left the dancing to everyone else.
The first food station I hit was a Make Your Own Chowder bar which gave you little cups of hot chowder that you could then top with shrimp, crab, lobster, bacon, etc. There was an interesting sounding pork station in the middle, but the line was long and I accidentally got into the wrong one so I created a new dish I like to call steak-mac-and-cheese-tater-tot pyramids which is exactly what it sounds like and of which I was very very proud. My pyramid filled me up, but Kyle found space for peach gelato with white chocolate cream puffs, which in turn inspired me to find space for roasted marshmallows until too many kids were running around with flaming sticks.
We waited too long and the lines to get photos with the characters got really long, so we headed to the other side of the beach with our glasses of wine and found chairs in the quiet part of the party so we could watch the lights of the BoardWalk across the water. We ended up just settling and chatting until the party ended and the fireworks from Illuminations started exploding behind us.
Mindy came and found us as things were wrapping up and we realized that she had still never been to a Walt Disney World park so we all took advantage of the extra magic hours at Epcot and introduced her to the wonder that is Spaceship Earth. Yes, it’s a little dated but it’s such a classic and is, in my opinion, the ultimate choice for a person’s first WDW attraction.
Kyle wanted to keep the fun rolling by introducing Mindy to El Rio del Tiempo, but I like Mindy so we skipped it and headed back to the resort. Saturday was bringing another early morning (exclusive filming opportunities before the park opened!) and it was time for beauty sleep…
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