Wow, what an amazing time I had in Florida! Beautiful, sunny weather and a fantastic conference all within the confines of Disney World.
If I’m being honest, I wasn’t all that excited to be going. I was going on my own and the prospect of being at Disney World and at a conference by myself wasn’t all that thrilling. However, the magic of Disney changed my mind from the moment I stepped off the shuttle at the hotel.
Since the conference was being held at Disney’s Yacht and Beach Club Resorts and Conference Center, I was able to book a free ride on Disney’s Magical Express (DME). I was warned prior to arrival that the DME was neither magical nor express. Ok so maybe it wasn’t express in the literal definition, but it didn’t take long to leave the airport for the 30 minute ride to Disney World. Plus, it was “free.” I put quotation marks because nothing is ever truly free…I’m sure it’s worked into the operating costs of Disney World somewhere :)
I was the first stop for the shuttle and the only person to get off. As soon as I stepped off the bus, the “magic” began. I was greeted by name by a member of staff who escorted me to the front desk to check in. After receiving all my paperwork and magic band, which serves as a room key, park entry, etc, I was informed I had a lagoon-view room. Lagoon-view? Do I get to see alligators and swamp? Instead I was greeted by this view upon arriving in my room and honestly couldn’t have been happier.
I immediately made myself at home on my balcony for a bit. It was only about 53 degrees, but the sun made it feel plenty warm. Besides, it was below zero at home. Anything feels warm when you’re used to that.
I went over to the conference center to check in as I was registered for a pre-conference workshop on crisis communications. I managed to snag one of the provided lunches before settling in for the 2-hour session. Sanda Fathi of Affect did an outstanding job and made the workshop interactive for all attendees. It turned out I was going to dinner with her later that night.
Afterwards, I decided to skip the free closing workshop for a run around the lake. When I got back to my room to change, my bag had “magically” arrived from the airport. Ok, so maybe the DME really is magical. Anyway, they had a .8 mile running path that had you running past the Swan and Dolphin Resort, The Boardwalk, Epcot, and of course the Yacht and Beach Club. I missed a turn early on and ended up at Hollywood Studios briefly.
After my run, I headed back to my room to relax and get ready for dinner at Todd English’s Bluezoo at the Dolphin Hotel. It was a bit pricey, but worth every penny. I had swordfish with shrimp and clams on a bed of risotto, a Sprecher beer, and seasonal sorbet for dessert.
The conference started bright and early on Thursday morning. The opening keynote was by Thomas Smith of Disney Parks. It’s amazing what all Disney can do via social media. They have so many stories to tell, images to share, videos to make, and on and on. For the rest of the day I settled into the track focusing on internal communications and social media. I sat through sessions by people including Ashley Pettit of Southwest Airlines, Kirsten Hamstra of SAS and Gina Czark and Jessica Fillinger of New York Presbyterian Hospital. The other two keynote speakers were Scott Warfield of Nascar and Mike Forman, a NASA astronaut. I ended up getting to meet him and get a signed photo.
Ragan hosted an awesome cocktail party Thursday night. I ended up connecting with another Penn State alum and we had a blast before heading to Downtown Disney for some shopping.
On Friday, I went to the first of two final sessions before heading back to my room to get ready to head out. I really enjoyed the session by Lisa Arney who does internal communications for SAS. I have to do a lot of internal communications at my position, and I took away some great ideas. I then just took some time to walk around the resort and enjoy the sunshine before the DME picked me up.
Here are a few extra photos from the resort.
Another nice perk was that I woke up to find Disney had checked me into my airline. I just had to drop my bag at the resort airline check-in desk at the hotel later that morning and it would be taken to the airport on its own. Once I took the DME to the airport, all I had to do was go through security and I’d be on my way home.
All-in-all, it was an outstanding trip. I learned a lot and met so many great people I feel I can reach out to in the future. And, while I didn’t make it to the parks, Disney proved magical nonetheless. I can’t wait to go back!