How to put on a successful Disney World travel event in your hometown

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Author Bob Sehlinger

 Event planning is an emerging interest of mine. It goes hand-in-hand with my interest in social media — get to know people online, then get to know people in person. Event planning is something I’m practicing as executive director of the Alabama Social Media Association, especially as we move toward our annual conference this fall.

So it all came together this past weekend, as I coordinated the Magic City, Magic Kingdom Disney World travel event at AAA Alabama headquarters.

Want to do a similar event in your hometown? Just follow these simple steps:

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Disney World Mom’s Panelist Andi Sims

1. Get to know your local Disney World travel experts. Surely you have a Disney World Mom’s Panel member or renowned guidebook author in your hometown. No? Well, keep searching, until you find someone. Or just use yourself, silly.

2. Find an awesome travel agency to host your event. Surely your local AAA branch has a huge TV playing Disney travel video, plus lots of neat Disney decorations, activities for kids, and a conference room. No? Well, then use a public library meeting space, or the YMCA, or a restaurant, whatever you gotta do.

3. Find an awesome restaurant to provide food free of charge. Oh, so you don’t have an awesome chain based in your hometown, like Zoës Kitchen, that has such a sound commitment to community events? Well, then arrange for a discount for a large party at a local restaurant.

And so, voila! You have yourself an event.

In reality, it’s not always as easy as it was for me in this case to put on a Disney travel event. Not only am I lucky to know two great local experts – author Bob Sehlinger and Disney World Mom’s Panelist (and Disney cruise specialist) Andi Sims — but they were happy to take part. AAA Alabama headquarters was more than equipped to handle our crowd, and Zoës Kitchen provided a great spread for the guests.

Several families came out on Saturday to hear from Bob and Andi — we had DVC member families and complete Disney newbie families. It was the perfect mix. A Disney Mom Beth came down from north Alabama. Hi, Beth! And I look forward to hopefully having more events and meet-ups for Alabama Disney fans in the future. Mouse of Zen suggests a beach meet-up. I could definitely go for that!

I’ve compiled a Twitter list of Disney fans in Alabama. Let me know if you or someone you know should be added.I can’t wait for more Disney events in the future!

(I apologize for the photo quality – we had some technical Nikon issues. AND! video forthcoming as soon as my videographer returns from out of town)

Magic City, Magic Kingdom: Tracing the ties between Birmingham and Walt Disney World

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As you may know, I’m a big fan of Disney World. I’m also a big fan of social media. Through my interactions with other Disney World fans through social media, I realized that there are a lot of Disney World fans right here in Alabama. (By the way, here’s my Twitter! @KristenHeptin).

If you think about it, this does make sense, considering that besides Georgia, we have the shortest travel distance to the World. Most families in Alabama have been to Disney World at one time or another because of the proximity — from our home, it’s just a hair under 600 miles and about 9.5 hours to the World. For those in southeast Alabama, it’s only about 6 hours’ drive.

In my interactions with fellow Disney World fans on Twitter, Facebook and through blogs, I was able to meet two very special Alabamians who are serious “VIPs” in the world of Disney. And what’s so great is they’re both right here in Birmingham!

First, there’s Andi Sims. She’s a busy mom of four here in the Birmingham area, and she is a member of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel, and the 2011 Disney Cruise Line Specialist Mom. She is a former marketing and PR executive, and with her bright smile and Southern charm, Andi is the perfect fit for Disney World as she helps spread the word about the magic of Disney World and Disney Cruise Lines.

Then there’s the renowned author Bob Sehlinger, creator of the Unofficial Guide travel series of books, including a cult Disney World “Bible” of sorts, the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. Bob is also founder and publisher of Menasha Ridge Press in Birmingham. Bob is not big on social media himself, but his coauthor Len Testa is, and Len is the force behind touringplans.com, the official home of the Unofficial Guide on the Web.

This all got me to thinking, and I decided to take all this great local Disney magic public. Bob, Andi and others here in the state, such as Dr. Chad Emerson, author of Project Future and Four Decades of Magic, were my inspiration for my Ignite Birmingham talk, titled “Magic City: Magic Kingdom,” in which I shared why I love Disney World; introduced folks to these local Disney VIPs; and challenged folks to take a Disney World vacation of their own. (video below)

But I didn’t want the magic to stop there. I took it a step further and I’m now planning Magic City, Magic Kingdom: the event!It will take place at AAA Alabama Headquarters in Birmingham on Saturday, May 21 from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., with lunch provided by Zoes Kitchen. Starting at noon, Bob and Andi will both speak about their Disney World expertise. Then we’ll have a Q&A and meet-and-greet with the Disney experts. If you’re in the Birmingham area, I hope you can attend — and bring the kids, too! You can get full info and RSVP at a disneyinbham.eventbrite.com. Oh, and afterward, for those who want, we’ll be going as a group to see Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides at 2:10 p.m. at the Patton Creek Rave in Hoover. I hope to see you there! Let the Memories Begin!

Disney World writing round-up, 4/4-4/10

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I haven’t blogged about this much over here at Southern Web Girl, but since summer 2010, I’ve been writing about Disney World at several Disney World fan sites in my spare time. It’s a lot of fun, and a big reason why I haven’t blogged as much over here in the past several months.

The sites I write for are:

WDW For Grownups – It’s a site geared toward adults who love Disney World, with or without the kids. It also has a very active message board and a lot of nice people – check it out!

Disney World Basics – A great site for Disney World beginners.

I also maintain the blogs for 5 Disney resort fan sites. I’ve been lucky enough to stay at 3 of these on our recent trips:

PopCenturySite – Pop Century is a popular Value resort with really fun themeing spanning the 1950s to 1990s. Oftentimes you can score a room there for less than $100 a night. We stayed here in April 2010 and will return here this fall!

DisneyCaribbeanBeach – Caribbean Beach Resort is a Moderate resort with a tropical vibe and a great theme pool. We stayed here on our latest trip in October 2010.

AKLResort - What can I say about the Deluxe resort Animal Kingdom Lodge? We stayed here for our honeymoon in April 2009, and it has some of the best themeing and dining you’ll find on Disney World property. I’d stay here again in a heartbeat.

WildernessLodgeSite – Haven’t yet had the pleasure of staying at this Deluxe resort, but I’ve eaten there and marveled at its themeing. Plus, it’s close to the Magic Kingdom!

DisneyContemporary – I have to admit, writing about the Deluxe Contemporary Resort can be intimidating, seeing as it’s one of the original resorts at Disney World — you know, the one that you drive through on the Monorail! It also has my very favorite Disney World restaurant, California Grill, which I’ve eaten at twice so far.

For those of you who are interested in Disney World, I thought I’d start to do a weekly round-up of my writing so you can see what I’ve been up to.

At PopCenturySite.com, I cover Pop Century Resort Discounts. A lot of Disney World die-hards make it a game to find the best discounts possible for their vacations – as they should!

Over at Disney World Basics, I discuss Best Disney World Rides for Teens. Hint: lots and lots of thrill rides.

Over at AKLResort.com, I’ve covered What’s Your Animal Kingdom Lodge Top Tip? with tips from AKLResort’s Facebook fans.

And over at Walt Disney World for Grownups, here’s a round-up of my posts there for the last two weeks:

When to go to Disney World - What time of year is best to travel to Disney World? It’s a personal decision, but I have some tips to share on times of year with lower crowd levels, and some special events you should look at, too.

Wishes dessert party Um yeah, so… take the Magic Kingdom Wishes fireworks spectacular, add a dessert buffet, and BANG! – you’ve got a fantabulous experience.

History of Horizons at EPCOT Center Do you remember this classic attraction? Housed where Mission: SPACE stands today, Horizons closed for good in 1999.

Most romantic times of year at Disney World Anniversaries and honeymoons can take place any time of the year. But consider other times of the year, too, for a special couples-only vacation.

Vote for me! I’m a DDL Academy Award Nominee!

Quick plug and a request for you to vote for me!

I’ve been nominated for an Academy Award as ‘Most Active Neurotic Disney Wife’ over at The Disney Driven Life. Certainly, I qualify for this.

I would really, really appreciate your vote. I never win stuff like this, and just to be nominated is a great honor.

Go over here to cast your vote. My nomination is No. 11 on the form. If you don’t know much about all the Disney websites and podcasts, just vote for my favorites: Disney Food Blog, WDW Today Podcast, Studiocentrals.com, and Touringplans.com!

Thanks in advance!

My Real-Life Land

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Sometimes other adults ask me why I love Disney World so much. Sometimes, they get it — they’re Disney enthusiasts too and want to talk about their favorite things there, or ask for travel advice.

But more often than not, they’re just not theme park people, or they view going to somewhere like WDW as a kid’s thing, or as cheesy, hokey or even redneck. Some think my husband and I are strange for going to Disney World without kids, though they might not express it. To those, I say, “pish-posh.”

I read a great guest column in the AllEars.net newsletter a couple weeks ago that I truly identify with. It was written by another woman within a few years of my age.

After returning from a trip to Disney World, the author writes:

When I arrived to work, my boss bit my head off. Multiple times. Then I had to fight downtown traffic to retrieve a very heavy box, that I then had to haul back to my car, which was several blocks away. By the time I got back into my car, I was ready to cry. My re-entry into the world from the Most Magical Place on Earth had been very rough. Why, I wondered, couldn’t everyday life be more like Disney World?

The author goes on to lists all the magical things that happen at Disney World, such as At Disney, you get to wear pins on your shirt declaring a special moment: ‘Just engaged!’ ‘Anniversary!’ ‘First trip!’ and everyone congratulates you. (One of my favorites, too)

Then, she goes on to say:

As I was driving back to my office (and calming down), it occurred to me that perhaps I needed to look at things a different way. Maybe the kick-start everyone needed was for someone to be nice to them. Since then, I’ve been trying to incorporate that Disney feeling into my everyday happenings. While it is impractical to wear mouse ears to work, or to expect your house to be clean whenever you come home, I have found a few little things that make a big difference. … While I might not have a chance to have breakfast with Mickey and Pluto every morning, Real Life Land does come with some pretty good perks.

Disney World is an escape from reality, a place to get away from all your adult responsibilities and revert back to childhood.

And I, like the author, have started thinking of my life here as Real-Life Land. There’s no need for fun ONLY at Disney World — you can incorporate that into your daily life, too. So I’m trying.

I’m trying to release a lot of that worry that I have here in Real-Life Land, and to be nice, and positive, and optimistic, and take charge, and make plans — and prepare for Real-Life Land just as much as I plan our Disney World itineraries.

Some crappy things have happened lately — an emergency trip to the vet with our dog Mango (she’s OK, and more to come on that later); the loss of a child for one of my coworkers; and of course all the normal stress of everyday life. But if I can learn to make Real Life just as great as a trip to Disney World, then my life will be all the richer for it.

My new hair and our upcoming Disney trip

I am shamed. It has been more than a month since my last blog post.

I left off where I got my hair chopped. I LOVE the result. Here’s a photo I took the day it was done:

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So cute and easy to style! Of course it’s about an inch longer now, but I am going back to my new favorite hairstylist at the end of this month for a cut and highlight before we leave for Disney World!

Husband and I have been busy planning for our upcoming WDW trip. We have changed out minds a million times, but it appears that our dinner reservations are now set in stone: Via Napoli in Epcot, Teppan Edo in Epcot, Boma at Animal Kingdom Lodge, Cat Cora’s Kouzzina at Boardwalk, and Artist Point at Wilderness Lodge. Via Napoli, Kouzzina and Artist Point will be new experiences for us.

We also have booked 5 low-cost wine and culinary demonstrations at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival. Sufficed to say, we will be spending a lot of time in Epcot. And, we have 6 table-service meals and 6 snack credits apiece throughout the week too. I definitely want to try Captain Cook’s at the Polynesian for sure. The rest will be determined upon lunchtime hunger. (:

Aside from planning for our trip, we also traveled to my cousin’s wedding in Kentucky the last weekend of August. And my sorority at Alabama took about a zillion new members during Recruitment — so proud of them!

I must confess that I’ve also been very busy with my full-time job, as well as my new part-time job, which is writing for a family of Disney travel-related websites. I struck an alliance with a super awesome, semi-famous Disney blogger through social media, and it turns out they were looking for someone to write a bit. So, I partook, and it’s keeping me busy outside of my full-time job hours. So I just don’t have a lot of time to blog for myself. But for that I truly cannot complain!

I also just applied to be a member of the WDW Mom’s Panel, even though I’m not a mom. But I do feel that I have a good slant as a young newlywed who honeymooned and 1st anniversary-ed there. So we shall see!

I can’t believe that summer is drawling to a close already.

How-to Disney cooking videos

Just wanted to share the first 3 how-to cooking videos that my husband Brian has created for some of our favorite Disney World dishes.

I apologize in advance if some of the embeds are cut off — if you’re having trouble seeing them, just click through to YouTube.

First, pot roast from Liberty Tree Tavern at the Magic Kingdom:

Then, Tonga Toast from Kona Cafe at the Polynesian Resort. YUM.

And finally, the Italian Breakfast from the former Spoodles (now Kouzzina) at the Boardwalk Resort.

What do you think? Brian has been having a lot of fun playing around with iMovie.

Disney World, Part 3: FOOD! DINING! YUM!

So, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, one of the reasons I am so excited about returning to Disney World for our first anniversary is for the amazing dining experiences. Before our honeymoon last year, I had not experienced fine dining at Disney. But getting on the Deluxe Dining Plan last year truly opened my eyes to a world beyond burgers and hot dogs at Disney World. It was so much fun to pick out exactly what I wanted on every menu without worrying about price!

If you are a foodie traveling without children, I highly recommend the Deluxe Dining plan! It’s the highest tier available. It includes 3 sit-down meals per day (you can also opt for walk-up quick-serve, but we don’t do that — we prefer sit-down restaurants!) and 2 snack credits per day. Be warned, it is a LOT of food. Each lunch and dinner includes an appetizer, an entree and a dessert per person. Click here for more on the plan.

So without further ado, here is our Disney Food Plan 2010!

Restaurants in *BOLD WITH STARS* are those that we are returning to because we LOVED THEM so much last year. Restaurants in +BOLD WITH PLUS SIGNS+ are restaurants that we are trying for the first time. Links go to menus.

Day 1:

Check-in at Pop Century Resort
Lunch at *Kona Cafe* at Polynesian
Afternoon at Animal Kingdom
Dinner at +Boma+ at Animal Kingdom Lodge

Day 2 — Our First Anniversary!:

All Day at Magic Kingdom
Lunch at *Liberty Tree Tavern* at MK
Dinner at *California Grill* (premium 2-credit restaurant) at Contemporary with a view of Wishes fireworks.

Day 3:

All day at Epcot
Lunch at +Teppan Edo+ (Japan) in Epcot World Showcase
Dinner at *San Angel Inn* (Mexico) in Epcot World Showcase followed by IllumiNations.

Day 4:

All day at Hollywood Studios
Lunch at *Hollywood Brown Derby* (premium 2-credit restaurant) at HS
Dinner at +Ohana+ at Polynesian with a view of Wishes fireworks.

Day 5:
All day at Animal Kingdom
Lunch at *Yak & Yeti* in AK
Dinner at +Jiko+ (premium 2-credit restaurant) at Animal Kingdom Lodge

Day 6:
All day at Epcot
Breakfast at +Whispering Canyon Cafe+ at Wilderness Lodge
Lunch at +Chefs de France+ in Epcot World Showcase
Dinner at *Le Cellier Steakhouse* (Canada) in Epcot World Showcase followed by IllumiNations.

Day 7:
All day at Magic Kingdom
Breakfast at *Kona Cafe* at Polynesian
Lunch at +The Wave+ at Contemporary
Dinner at +Narcoossee’s+ (premium 2-credit restaurant) at Grand Floridian (Sadly, no Wishes that night, sad face.)

Day 8:
Check-out from Pop Century
Lunch at +Everything Pop Food Court+

So, all in all, we will return to 8 restaurants and are trying 9 more. All 8 of the ones we are returning to were absolutely OUTSTANDING last year. My absolute favorite experiences from last year that we are returning to again are California Grill (I had ostrich, but this menu changes all the time), Kona Cafe (for breakfast — Tonga Toast!), Le Cellier (Pretzel bread and steak. Nuff said.), San Angel Inn (filete moltuleno, amazing!), and Yak & Yeti (Shaoxing Steak & Shrimp).

Looking at our itinerary, you’ll see that we’re only scheduled for breakfast twice. We prefer to save some of our breakfast credits and use them toward 2-credit premium dining experiences at restaurants that would normally be at least $60/head. We’re visiting 4 of those restaurants on this trip — California Grill, Hollywood Brown Derby, Jiko and Narcoossee’s. After this trip, there are 4 remaining premium restaurants that I hope to eat at on subsequent visits.

Lastly, may I point out that all of our meals and days at the parks are planned out? If you don’t make reservations beforehand, it can be nearly impossible to walk up at a lot of these restaurants hoping for a table, especially during peak dining hours with a larger party. If you’re planning a trip to Disney World, you can book your reservations up to 180 days in advance.

I’m also looking forward to certain snacks at Disney World. Some of my favorites from last year were apples and caramel dip at carts and restaurants throughout WDW and the cream cheese-filled pretzel at Tomorrowland’s Lunching Pad in Magic Kingdom.

And for the first time this year, I will experience the magic that is the Dole Whip (thanks Wikipedia!).

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These can be found only at Aloha Isle at Adventureland in Magic Kingdom and at Captain Cook’s at the Polynesian. They come in a cup or as a float with pineapple juice — YUM!

Planning resources:

Allears.net menus – comprehensive and amazing!
The Disney Food Blog – wonderful coverage of all things food at Disney! It’s hard to believe this is a one-woman show. You can also follow the Disney Food Blog on Twitter.

I plan on documenting all our wonderful dining experiences this year and putting them here.