Disclosure: I attended the 2015 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration at Walt Disney World. I paid for my and my family’s transportation and conference admission, which included lodging at Disney’s Yacht Club resort, discounted park tickets, some meals and many special events.
Three weeks ago today, I was surrounded by nearly 200 bloggers from around the country at Walt Disney World for the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration 2015. Disney’s annual conference for parents who blog. #DisneySMMC is an invitation-only event, and exactly how one receives an invite is shrouded in Disney mystery and magic. As a blogger who loves all things Disney, I have followed other blogger friends’ coverage of the event and dreamed of the day I might (maybe!) receive an invite of my own.
In March of this year, that’s exactly what happened — my email inbox was brightened with an invitation for me and my family to attend this year’s conference! Disney’s Social Media Moms Celebration is unique in that bloggers are invited to bring their families along too. The four-day conference admission includes theme park tickets, lodging at a Disney resort, some meals, a full day of blogger education and inspiration, and many surprises.
Disney planned many events for our entire family throughout the celebration, but Friday, May 8th was all about the bloggers. While my husband and children spent that day playing at Walt Disney World, Disney hosted an information-packed day for its bloggers, giving us unprecedented access to Disney Parks insider info and inspirational speakers. This event was truly a testament to how much Disney values the power of social media, the voices of bloggers and the relationship between bloggers and their readers.
A great deal of what we learned is not only relevant to bloggers, but to anyone who loves Disney, visits the parks or uses social media! Here are some of the things we learned:
Disney’s Animal Kingdom will soon be a “nighttime” park: Walt Disney World Resort President George A. Kalogridis spoke to us and shared plans for what’s coming soon. The Animal Kingdom typically closes by 7:00pm each night, but new attractions are in development to turn this into a day-to-night park too. A new nighttime show for the park’s Discovery River is in the works, and they’re also planning a night version of the park’s popular Kilimanjaro Safaris, where guests tour the wide, open areas of the park where the animals roam freely. Disney’s plans for the Avatar-themed Pandora land and attractions are also underway, and the Avatar section of the park plans to open in early 2017.
Did you know that Disney’s Animal Kingdom is five times larger than the Magic Kingdom park? It’s just enormous! The day-to-night plans will ultimately maximize the time guests can enjoy the park too.
George said that “Social media is important, powerful, and deeply deserving of our respect. Word of Mouth has turned into Word of Mouse!” At what moment did Disney truly realize the power of social media? We heard a story about a “Frozen”-themed attraction in the parks which was attracting a long line. Disney staff, noting that the line was very long, decided to open a second entrance for guests. Once it opened, they mulled over the best way to direct people to the second line. Before they took any action to address the crowd, people had already started to head to the new line, even though it wasn’t visible from the first line. Disney wondered, how did they find it so quickly? Twitter. Someone posted it on Twitter, and the rest followed.
Love Pinterest? It’s not the “fastest growing social network.” Eva Smith, head of marketing insights for Pinterest, also spoke at the conference. She was quick to correct the often-quoted statement that Pinterest is the “fastest growing social network.” Pinterest is not a social network — it’s a me-first network where people discover, say and do what they want to do in future. Pinning is about planning the future. This was an “a-ha” moment for many of us in the room, as she’s absolutely right — it’s a place for an individual to gather ideas and create a virtual to-do, to-make, or to-try board of ideas for his or herself. (I say “his,” because we were also told that the number of men using Pinterest is growing at an exponential rate.) Women, of course, are still the most frequent users of Pinterest: 1/3 of all Millennials and 55% of women ages 18-54 are on Pinterest. 80% of Pinterest users are on mobile!
Pinterest considers utility to be its own “currency” — how useful is an idea going to be? Eva stated that when someone clicks through on a pin, there is no stronger indicator of intent to use in future, adding that 87% of people who purchase something they saw on Pinterest attribute pinning it as a deciding factor in their path to purchase.
Put Disneyland, Snow White & Star Wars in a blender, and what do you get? Pixar. Pixar’s Jonas Rivera spoke to us at length about his extensive time working at Pixar and how Pixar brings their incredibly iconic movies to life. Jonas has been working for Pixar since 1994, when he cold-called Pixar with dreams of becoming an intern. Pixar had no internship program at that time, but they hired him anyway — his story truly is a testament to Walt Disney’s classic quote, “If you can dream it, you can do it!” Since that time, Jonas has risen through Pixar’s ranks through marketing and production to becoming the producer of two Pixar films: 2009’s “Up,” and the new 2015 Pixar film, “Inside Out.”
Jonas was one of my favorite people who spoke at #DisneySMMC — he was highly engaging, extremely personable and beyond fun to listen to. The “Disneyland, Snow White and Star Wars in a blender” quote is all his — that’s his twist on the magic formula that is Pixar. The average Pixar movie takes 5 years to make, start to finish. Incredibly, Pixar animators each animate 3-4 seconds of animation per week. It is a long, laborious process. During his presentation, he shared a photograph of a pregnant Pixar employee standing in front of a whiteboard with a movie’s outline written across it. At the time the movie was complete, he took another picture — of a mother and a 4-year-old child in front of the same board!
Listening to Jonas discuss the creative process behind Pixar films was absolutely fascinating. Jonas shared a funny story about working on the dialogue for the “Anger” character in “Inside Out,” voiced by Bill Hader. Bill enjoyed the creative process so much that he often collaborated with Jonas on the character’s development on his own time — and one night, Jonas’ wife came downstairs, pulled her husband aside and said “What is Bill Hader doing in our kitchen?” Funny — and he had photographic proof to go with this story too.
Jonas also shared just how much Pixar film and character development is written on tablecloths and napkins! They’ll cover a table with paper and let everyone scribble, draw, and brainstorm — and then they save them and refer to them later. He shared photos of tablecloth drawings that became Monsters Inc. and Monsters U characters.
The next morning, all of the bloggers and families in attendance were treated to a special early screening of Pixar’s “Inside Out,” which hits theaters on June 19th. It has all the makings of yet another great Pixar classic! “Inside Out” tells the story of all of the emotions inside a child’s head and how they compete for attention — Fear, Anger, Joy, Sadness and Disgust.
Security around the screening was tight — consider how many phones, cameras, and recording devices had to be confiscated from us before entering! My children were over the moon about getting to see the movie almost two months before it opens nationally. Pixar’s feature films always open with an original short too, and the short accompanying “Inside Out” is called “Lava.” Lava, quite simply, is the story of two Hawaiian volcanoes that fall in love. Pixar has an unparalleled ability to personify inanimate objects and recreate true-to-life visuals in their animation, and by the end of this short, I’d sunk down in my seat a bit. My husband leaned over and asked “Are you crying?” Yep. Like a baby. I will be happily buying a ticket next month just to see this beautiful short once again.
Disney Infinity, Star Wars and Marvel fans will be rejoicing this fall: Janis Balgamino from Disney Infinity spoke about the new Disney 3.0 game sets and figures launching this fall for Disney’s popular video game series. The Disney Infinity 3.0 launch will bring three new Star Wars sets to the platform: Twilight of the Republic, Rise Against the Empire, & The Force Awakens. Marvel fans won’t be disappointed either, as the Marvel Play Set brings the Avengers characters to the platform and many others. There will also be a new set featuring the characters from Inside Out, as well as Mulan, Olaf, Mickey and Minnie!
Each blogger received a commemorative set of Mickey and Minnie 3.0 figures, which we were encouraged to carry around the parks and share photos of on social media. My husband was the location scout for our favorite photo during the conference:
One person can make a difference: That statement may sound cliche, but it isn’t. (The entire Disney company — films, parks, you name it — was one man’s dream!) This theme was echoed throughout the conference by speakers and guests. Consider Vivienne Harr, a young girl whose life was changed when she saw a photograph of two Nepalese boys carrying rocks on their backs. They were eight years old, and they were slaves. At the time, Vivienne herself was also eight. She wanted to make a difference, and she opened a lemonade stand to raise money to free child slaves. She ran her lemonade stand every single day, rain or shine with the goal of earning $100,000 to free 500 child slaves in Nepal. After selling very little at $2.00 per glass, she stopped puting a price on her lemonade and asked that people pay what was in their heart. On the 173rd day of running her stand, she reached her goal of $100,000. She hasn’t stopped! Vivienne, now 11, spoke at #DisneySMMC with the clarity, decisiveness and intellectualism of someone twice, perhaps three times her age. She continues her humanitarian efforts, and you can learn more about this remarkable girl at Stand With Me.
Disney did a wonderful job selecting speakers filled with inspiration. Donald Driver, former Green Bay Packer (and Dancing with the Stars champ!) spoke to us about the power of our voices too. He shared a story of fielding a racist comment someone posted about him on Twitter, noting that “It only take seconds to say harsh words, but it takes a lifetime for a person to get over it.” He urged us (and everyone) to use social media for good. He noted that blogging and sharing so much of ourselves online isn’t for everyone — people do put themselves up to a lot of public scrutiny when they share so much of themselves online. “Why do we blog? To achieve success, you have to be willing to pay the price. You will share shame and pain,” he noted.
Donald also talked about why he retired while he was still able to play — his father was very ill, and he wanted to spend more time with his children. He also said that he never wanted to wear any colors other than the green and gold. Recognizing the rivalry between the Packers and their closest neighbor, he asked “How many of you are from Chicago?” I cheered! (I was one of the few.) Donald dryly replied, “Yeah, there’s always three of you.”
Disney continues to bring the fun! This almost goes without saying, but new and fun things are always in the works at Disney:
- Disney Imagicademy gave a presentation on what’s new in the area of kids’ educational apps. When kids allow their own curious nature to drive their exploration, they’re fueling interest in all kinds of areas, even educational. Imagicademy has apps for math, science, art and shapes for kids to use, learn and explore.
- “Crazy” ideas drive innovation in the parks. “What-If” ideas often become reality. For example, someone said “”Imagine making a reservation on a ride & got a paper that told you when you could get on a ride with no wait.” That idea, of course, became Disney’s FastPass system. Another “crazy” idea? “Imagine there were no turnstiles anymore in Walt Disney World” barring you from entering the parks. Guess what — they’re gone. With the advent of Disney’s MagicBands, there are no longer turnstiles at any park entrances in Walt Disney World. (We had a chance to fully test out the new MagicBands over the course of our trip, and I’ll be writing a separate post about the bands’ features soon.)
- WiFi is FREE in all Disney parks! Not only will this give your data plan a rest when you’re sharing vacation photos on social media, it also means that guests using tablets or other non-4G devices to access Disney’s apps can do so without a data package at all.
The Disney Parks Blog crew shared many tips and tricks with bloggers during the conference too, and they are truly pros at what they do. The Disney Parks blog is one of the most entertaining things to read each week if you’re a Disney fan — they are so thorough about covering everything fun and interesting going on in the parks.
Here’s a tip straight from the Disney Parks blog crew that every single person reading this can take to heart and use: Turn your phone sideways when you’re shooting video. Just do it. There’s no reason not to do it, but our world is filled with tall, skinny videos that don’t look good anywhere simply because people don’t rotate their phones when filming.
In the event that you want to share the video you shot online, which video would you rather see? One that looks like this…
… or one that looks like this?
People simply don’t consider that vertically-shot videos will be “expanded” with sidebars to fit them to a horizontal space when they’re shared online. Think about how many viral videos show up on the news with black or colored sidebars to fill in the rest of the space on the screen.
Turn your phone around, and you’ll create better videos. Such a great, simple tip! Disney thanks you. I thank you. (I also thank these gentlemen who posed for photos after playing during the lovely lunch my family and I had in Epcot’s Morocco… but that’s another story for the “vacation” portion of our trip in a future post.)
Disney is just as much a dining destination as it is a theme-park destination. Disney’s amazing chefs were hard at work feeding us throughout the conference, and being a guest at a Disney event means dining on some innovative, delicious, and even unusual dishes. Our arrival night banquet was sponsored by Disney Citizenship, and it was held in the World ShowPlace pavilion in Epcot. (Disney geeks like me will recognize that this is the former Millennium Pavilion built behind Canada and the United Kingdom for the year 2000 celebration. It is now only used for special events, and having access to some lesser-seen areas of the parks was another treat of being a Disney guest!) Here are some of the things we dined on, buffet-style, at the World ShowPlace:
Lobster Panko Mac and Cheese Cones…
Hawaiian poke and seaweed salad… seriously? I just wanted to park my chair right next to this station and eat poke all night long. SO good.
Other stations included waffle cones that were filled with mashed potatoes, chicken, corn and a maple syrup glaze, cheeseburger egg rolls (don’t knock ’em ’til you’ve tried ’em — a bizarrely wonderful fusion food) and liquid nitrogen caramel corn:
This treat was extremely popular with the kids in attendance (and everyone else.) A Disney server deftly dunks your choice of caramel or orange-candied popcorn into a tank of liquid nitrogen. After the popcorn enjoys a brief swim in the cold stuff, the server pours it into a bamboo cone for you to carry and eat. It’s super-super cold (not wet – the nitrogen evaporates quickly) and when you eat it, you visibly exhale a cloud of cold breath. Yes, I had seconds. And thirds.
During dinner, several Disney characters visited the ShowPlace to interact with the families in attendance. My kids loved seeing Baymax and Hiro, Rapunzel, and of course, Mickey. At one point, my daughter noticed that Mickey was dancing alone, and she thought he needed a partner:
THIS. Of all of the many memorable things we did over the course of our Disney days and nights, THIS was her favorite Disney memory from this trip!
The Epcot Flower and Garden Festival was taking place during our stay, and along with seeing the resort completely decked out in gorgeous floral displays and Disney-themed topiary, Epcot also has a plethora of special food stands and carts throughout the parks offering specialty dishes for the event. Some of these food items were served at our dinner on the first night, including violet lemonade — after reading about this prior to the trip, it was the one special Flower and Garden Festival treat that we really wanted to try. The flavor of violets is unique, and pairing it with lemonade? Well, it was an earthy-sweet, slightly sour, very purple concoction. We loved it!
After dinner, our group was escorted to a fireworks viewing party at Epcot’s lagoon for the nightly IllumiNations show, and again, there were many delicious Disney treats on hand for us to enjoy. Our dessert party was sponsored by Disney’s Babble:
In addition to cookies, mini doughnuts, macaroons and other sweet things, there were also frozen treats, both traditional…
and not-so-traditional. Stationed around our dessert area were street-style hot dot carts, complete with yellow umbrellas and friendly Disney staffers willing to serve up hot dogs. I thought, “Who could possibly eat more food after the dinner we just had?” Then, my daughter strolled back, hot dog in hand…
Or was it? Upon closer inspection, her hot dog wasn’t a hot dog at all…
These Disney-style “hot dogs” were also a dessert! The server put a pink sherbet “dog” in a bun made of a split, ladyfinger-style sweet cake. All of the toppings are sweet – raspberry syrup, mango syrup, vanilla cream, sour apple relish and almonds. Only in Disney!
On our second night, we were treated to a beach bash at our resort, Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club. Again, the dining options were simply outstanding, with a variety of stations serving up deliciousness:
Only Disney would dream of serving candy-apple braised pork belly with a cotton candy chaser!
So, this is what I started with, and of course, I had to go back and try some of the other stations too — for informational purposes, of course! (As an aside, I really need to find out at which Disney restaurants they serve this seafood chowder — it was outstanding!)
All of the families in attendance had such a great time at this dinner — does anyone doubt that Disney can throw a great party? The entire dinner took place on the beach, and most of the people in attendance either kicked off their shoes or didn’t even wear them to the party to begin with.
A beachy band belted out tropical tunes, and many families were dancing in the sand. They weren’t the only ones dancing…
The evening ended with desserts, a visit from Mickey and Minnie too, and a beachside fire pit where families could roast marshmallows and watch the sunset — truly, a Disney-magical night!
On Mother’s Day, Disney Imagicademy provided the bloggers and families with a delicious breakfast. The a capella group VoicePlay treated us to a performance of many pop tunes and Disney classics.
Unbeknownst to us, during the time we spent at the conference without our children, our kids had also been visiting with a Disney camera crew creating this highly-entertaining video in which they asked the bloggers’ children to explain what their blogger moms actually do for a living…
As you can imagine, this video got BIG laughs from the moms over breakfast. My children are at the 2:52 mark!
Disney knows the power of video and how it resonates with people. Did you know that all guests have the opportunity to be filmed on rides at Disney? As part of Disney’s Memory Maker package, which I’ll blog further about soon (we tried it out for this trip!) you can receive on-ride videos of you and your family enjoying the Tower of Terror at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at the Magic Kingdom.
Disney gave bloggers and their families the opportunity to be filmed on our choice of rides in the park too, providing us with video specifically for our blogs. We selected the Aerosmith Rock & Roller Coaster for our ride video! On Saturday morning, we got up at 6:00am and were transported behind the scenes of Disney’s Hollywood Studios almost two hours before the parks opened. We boarded a coaster “limousine” that had been specially equipped with a mounted camera and rope lights so our faces would be visible on the video, as this is a dark coaster.
I love, love, love roller coasters, and I also love to scream on ’em. My youngest son had never been on this one before and was nervous about the loop. (He asked me how many loops there were, and I told him there was one. Well, that’s true — there is one — but I forgot about the corkscrews too. Still, he was of the mindset that once he got through the loop, he could relax.)
Here’s what happened next:
Throughout this trip, I had to continually remind my children that this was a Disney trip unlike any other, and we were taking part in some pretty amazing experiences. We enjoyed every single one.
I also have to share this with you — I ran at Disney! I know the #RunDisney phenomenon is huge — marathons, half-marathons and the like are held at all of the Disney parks. I am not a runner. Prior to this trip, I could not recall the last time I ran somewhere intentionally, unless you count running to the mailbox. However, when #DisneySMMC announced that we would have a Mother’s Day Fun Run in Epcot at 5:45am, I signed up. I could not resist the opportunity to be in a Disney park at sunrise with no other guests there. How many times in my life is that going to happen?
Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club resorts are located directly behind Epcot, and we ran from our resort’s dock and boardwalk area up the sidewalk, through the gateway, and on into the resort. (I was curious — would we have to use our MagicBands/passes to enter the resort at that hour? Nope — we just ran right through the gate without stopping!) Upon entering the park, what struck me the most was the scent of the flowers. When the park is filled with people, this wasn’t as noticeable, but in the cool morning air with very few others around? It was heavy, heady and intoxicating.
We ran around the World Showcase and on into the Future World area, ending near The Land pavilion, and incredibly, I was the eighth runner to finish. (I shocked myself — I’ve always joked that if you see me running, you’d better run too because that would mean something is chasing us.) As everyone crossed the finish line, we received bottles of water and GoGo Squeeze applesauce to snack on as we walked back to the resort. I will confess that my walk back to the resort was a slow and blissful one — watching the sun rise over the countries in Epcot was one of the most beautiful things I saw on this trip.
When I returned to my resort room, my family was just waking up to wish me a Happy Mother’s Day. Excitedly, I told my kids that I finished the run without walking once, and I was the eight person to reach the finish. My youngest son, ever the wryly humorous one said “Wow, Mom. The other moms must have gone really slow.” Ha ha. They didn’t. However, I do believe that running in a Disney park is much more of a motivator than running around the block at home is.
Many sponsors helped make this year’s Disney Social Media Moms Celebration possible. I am going to do my best to try to list and thank them here…
- American Tourister invited #DisneySMMC bloggers to #PackMoreFun on this trip, sending a new iLite Xtreme suitcase to each blogger before we left home. Brilliantly, this suitcase includes a feature I’ve never seen before — a built-in clear vinyl zipper pocket to hold damp or wet things like swimsuits.
- Disney Interactive and Disney Junior sent a box of goodies for my children before the trip to get them excited (it did!) They had fun things to do on the plane, and there was a Mickey-Mouse themed power pack inside for me to make sure my phone didn’t die over the course of the trip. (Keep that thoughtful gift in mind – I’ll come back to it in a moment…)
- Alamo Car Rental gave away Disney gift cards to bloggers during the conference. I used my card to buy dinner for my family and extended family at Trattoria al Forno, the Italian restaurant on Disney’s Boardwalk. My husband’s cousin & his wife, their daughter, and my husband’s aunt (also in Florida at the same time we were!) joined us for dinner, and we had an extremely memorable night dining outside on the shore and catching up with family. Thank you, Alamo – it had been five years since we were all together!
- Hanes gave each blogger a bag of underwear, socks, t-shirts, leggings and workout wear for the family.
- Mylan sponsored Mickey’s Beach Bash, our second night’s dinner, and they gave each blogger a beach bag and beach towels.
- Disney’s D23 official fan club’s Jeffrey Epstein presented during the event and gave everyone magnetic photo frames and a copy of the current issue of D23 Magazine and a lithograph of the Magic Kingdom.
- GoGo Squeeze sponsored the Mother’s Day Fun Run in Epcot at the crack of dawn for all of the bloggers.
- Dr. Cool gave us a cooling wrap for strained muscles.
- Merci gave each blogger chocolates on Mother’s Day.
- Langers juices and Crunch Pak gave bloggers coupons for their products (you know me — of course I love coupons!)
- We received books from many of the speakers involved with the conference — Chris Brogan’s The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth, Donald Driver’s Quickie Stands Up to a Bully, Jessica Shyba’s Naptime with Theo and Beau, and Melissa De La Cruz’s The Isle of the Lost, which was just released the week of the conference.
- Connectivity was a big part of #DisneySMMC. RayOVac provided a whole bunch of on-table plugs during the conference for bloggers to recharge our devices. (Don’t laugh – I have been to plenty of blog conferences where everyone’s congregated on the floor in a corner of the room because that’s where the plugs are…)
- Taylor Morrison gave each blogger wall outlets with USB plugs in them, which are standard in all of the new homes they build. Tell me you wouldn’t have a place for these in YOUR house? I’ve already found two spots for these.
As long as we’re on the that connectivity theme…
In addition to the Mickey power pack to recharge a phone or tablet sent to our homes before we left for the trip, once we got to the conference, Disney Parks and Disney Citizenship made sure the bloggers weren’t going to run out of power on this trip by giving us three more power packs..! We also got a Disney Parks USB power block wall charger, ensuring that not a single blogger would run out of blogging power at Walt Disney World.
While the Disney Social Media Moms Celebration lasts four days, our conference admissions included seven-day park hopper passes to the four Disney parks. Many bloggers opted to extend their trips for a few more days to utilize the rest of the days on the passes, and we did too.
Disclosure: I attended the 2015 Disney Social Media Moms Celebration at Walt Disney World. I paid for my and my family’s transportation and conference admission, which included lodging at Disney’s Yacht Club resort, discounted park tickets, some meals and many special events.
Some of the photographs in this post were taken by Disney photographer Preston Mack and provided to bloggers by Disney. I am using them with permission.