Lessons From Disney

disney1.JPGMy first visit to Florida was not a pleasant one. I was there against my will (the mere beginnings of my dysfunctional relationship with my postdoc advisor…), presenting data I barely understood for an otolaryngology conference (don’t try to say that 3 times fast). And I wasn’t alone in my suffering. I lured poor Jon to join me, with promises of calm beaches, nature excursions, and swimming with manatees. Little did we know that the hotel was simultaneously hosting Canadian Spring Break and Harley Davidson Week (hence the bargain hotel rates), and the manatees had long since swum off for cooler waters.

My second go at Florida couldn’t have been more different. I was honored to be invited by Disney and Maria Bailey of BSM Media to the first Walt Disney World Mom Blogger Mixer, an opportunity for Disney to learn about the mom blogging culture and for mom bloggers to learn about Disney. So after wrapping my Method Detox Your Home party last week, I turned around and started packing for Disney.

At first it seemed a bit odd to go to Disney for the first time: a) as an adult; and b) without my princess-obsessed daughter. But truly, throughout the whirlwind weekend, I was grateful to be able to take everything in through a focused lens. Or rather, I probably should say attempt to take everything in because even with a full agenda, given the vastness of Disney (it’s apparently twice the size of Manhattan), we – 16 mom bloggers, 2 members of the Disney Moms Panel, Maria Bailey, our amazing organizers Michelle and Joyce, and many other visiting members of the Disney family – really were just scratching the surface.

Several of my fellow attendees (see below for list) already have recapped in detail the incredible itinerary; on that I’ll just say that in a nutshell, the experience was tremendous, both from a personal and professional standpoint. And instead, in my characteristic resource-oriented manner, I’ll provide my Lessons From Disney. Ordered chronologically by epiphany, as it were, these lessons reflect both nuts and bolts Disney information I found particularly useful, as well as larger level realizations I experienced during the course of the weekend. Here goes:

disney2.JPGThe beauty of irony. As much of an environmentalist as I am, I’ll confess that given: a) how exhausted I was before this trip; b) the timing of my flight; c) the need to haul my laptop; and d) the fact that I really wanted to wear my new pair of pretty but unsupportive madras flats, I decided to forego the schlepping of public transit and splurge on car service to get to the airport. I just wanted to have a few peaceful moments to fall asleep in the back of a chic black sedan. But when I called to confirm the car the day prior, the driver said that due to a scheduling crunch, he may need to show up with a different car: a white stretch limo. The idea of climbing into a white stretch limo by myself – corsage free – in front of the inevitable line of rush hour traffic on our busy street seemed both hilarious and mortifying. Ultimately, it turned out that he had time to switch cars and whisk me off in the black sedan. Then, during the Disney weekend, we actually did ride in a fleet of white stretch limos and you should have seen me jumping up and down when I saw them. In this case, the context - a gaggle of women toasting with champagne while heading to a fancy dinner then Cirque du Soleil - seemed perfectly fitting. And of course then I was regretting – for story arc’s sake – that I didn’t actually begin and end my Disney journey in white stretch limos.

Location, location, location. For warm weather destinations, Jon and I are huge fans of the cabana right on the beach idea, and we’ve been sorely disappointed in the past by vacation hotels that have claimed beachfront access while actually being a couple of miles from the water. We were lodged at the Disney Beach Club Resort, a lovely hotel that is just amazing for families. If you can afford it, it’s well worth the splurge. The hotel is gently appointed in New England styling (read: not an eyesore for parents), there is a huge, amazing pool for the kids (plus a couple of quiet, smaller ones for adults), a waterslide, and a little faux beach next to the water. Plus, you can walk right over to Epcot. Ultimately, Disney makes a point of enabling shuttle or monorail access from all of their hotels to get you to the action, but I loved the look and convenience of the Beach Club Resort.

disney3.JPGIt’s time to book a babysitter. We were treated to some amazing meals at Disney, including dinner at Tutto Italia in Epcot Italy, lunch at The Hollywood Brown Derby, and a spectacular dinner at California Grill – all of which reminded me that I could honestly not recall the last time Jon and I enjoyed a fancy meal on our own. We are, in fact, foodies, but the craziness of our weeks typically means that on weekends we want to hang around and enjoy time with Laurel. But I was reminded that in the grand scheme of things we give Laurel gobs of time and love and it’s time to book a babysitter and head out for an evening of culinary appreciation together.

disney4.JPGThe power of seemingly small memories. On our first night at Disney, we were escorted to the VIP viewing area at the United Kingdom Pavilion to enjoy coffee and dessert while watching IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth. The spectacular fireworks and front row seats immediately made me think of my mom and Boston’s Fourth of July fireworks. We had very little hang out time with my mom when we were small, given that she was constantly on the go trying to run a business with my dad and manage a family of 11 (2 parents, 2 grandparents, 7 kids), but one Fourth of July I vividly remember her scooping a couple of us into the car, and driving brazenly to the Charles River to get us the best view possible (I believe she parked right in the middle of Storrow Drive and flat out played the confused cute Asian lady card when the cops showed up). After a childhood of very little mom-daughter time, I had never realized until that night at Disney how grateful I am for that seemingly small memory.

If you’re heading to Disney, consult the Moms Panel. We had the opportunity to meet Kim and Darcie, a couple of wonderful moms who are among the 12 (of 10,000 applicants!) Disney mom enthusiasts who comprise the Disney Moms Panel. They are an amazing resource for families planning a trip to Disney. The DMP forum covers everything from planning and budgeting, to where and when to get great deals, to dining, to recommendations for hotels, to where on earth to start when it comes to planning activities. The mom bloggers had tons of questions for Kim and Darcie and I kid you not, they knew the answers to every single question. They were unstumpable!

There’s something for everyone. I’ll freely admit that – likely due at least in part to my residual childhood glumness about never going on a family vacation – I was initially a bit skeptical about the Disney empire. Plus, when it’s time to plan a vacation, Jon gravitates towards nature inspired options. But one of the things I learned is that Disney has a range of accommodation styles; in addition to hotels suited to different budgets, they have a resort called Fort Wilderness where you can book 6-person cabins and have access to activities like horseback riding and canoeing while still being a shuttle ride away from Mickey. We unfortunately didn’t have a chance to tour this resort, but I would definitely consider it in the future as a way to balance Jon’s desire for nature and Laurel’s obsession with Cinderella.

Whatever you do, get FASTPASS. One preconceived notion that did live up to my expectations was the unbelievable ride queues. We were fortunate to have media FASTPASS tickets so for many rides (woo hoo, I finally got to ride Space Mountain and Thunder Mountain!) we could bypass the crazy lines. Honestly, I was amazed by how patiently the kids were waiting in line, but if you even remotely share my impatience with long waits, make FASTPASS a priority in your budgeting.

disney5.bmpThe arts must prevail. When we went to see Cirque du Soleil’s La Nouba, I got all internally worked up about the survival of the arts in public schools. The show was both visually and musically stunning, and there was one passage in particular where the joint impact of these artistic presentations moved me to tears. Sometimes I wonder whether over-saturation – 18 years of violin lessons, countless recitals and competitions, serving as a private music teacher and group coach, and training for a decade as a music and brain scientist – killed off my desire for music (I don’t play at all these days). Seeing Cirque made me realize that I do still have musicality at my core, and enlivened my ideas about future outreach initiatives to bring music to kids.

The importance of loving what you do. I have no doubts that leaving academia was the right choice for me, but as I have struck out on my own ventures, I’ve had plenty of moments where the panic over general survival and the desire for steady income, benefits, and official days off has made me question whether I should throw in the towel for a more lucrative day job. While at Disney, I was amazed time and again by how passionate everyone is about their jobs, and how powerful and inspiring that passion can be. From bellhops, to horticulture experts, to PR reps, to chefs, to bartenders, to the fabulous Jake - the amazing Disney guide who personally escorted Erin (of Manic Mommies) and me the half mile back to the gates of Epcot when we were lost, exhausted, and not processing verbal directions – Disney’s crew comes from all over the world, has worked there for a long time, and seems genuinely passionate about their work. Yes, they probably all have 401K’s but I’m still inspired to keep following the passionate path.

disney6.JPGThe importance of community. Writing, editing, and designing can be a solitary business and it was rejuvenating to talk candidly about kids, work, and balance with a group of women all negotiating the same issues. I am eternally grateful in particular for some conversations I had with Erin and Maria (click thumbnail to enlarge photo); they’re not only incredibly smart and insightful women, but – even more important in my book – they are kind, funny people (and hey, nothing forms a bond more immediately than screaming your brains out together on a roller coaster). Scheduling face time with friends/colleagues like the women I met this weekend is something I want to do more regularly from here on in.

Believe in karma. This is sort of joke but sort of not. As conversations on people and predicaments proceeded rather openly, anyone within earshot of me heard me blabber on about how much I believe in karma. It may sound trite, but I truly believe that if you manipulate or take advantage of people, it will come back to bite you.

Own up to your misconceptions. I’ll be the first to admit that I had some misconceptions about Disney, whether it was related to said childhood glumness over never going on vacation, or riding on a high horse about not wanting to cave in to Disney mania. The trip truly reinforced the notion that it’s important to keep an open mind generally in life, and also that - from a personal growth perspective - it’s a good thing to own up to your misconceptions.

disney7.JPGIn sum, this was an amazing trip in many, many ways and I am grateful to Disney and Maria Bailey for including me in the weekend. I also wanted to disclose that while Disney generously assumed all of the trip expenses, I was not paid to share these thoughts or required to write about the experience in order to attend (for the record, I wouldn’t agree to go to an event that made attendance contingent on editorial...). As devoted readers of this site know, all editorial on this site is not bound (advertorial or otherwise) in any way.

Again, my thanks to:

  • Disney, for building the world’s largest playground.
  • Maria Bailey, for your humor, kindness, wisdom, and expert tour of the Magic Kingdom.
  • Michelle & Joyce, for organizing an unbelievable event, keeping us on schedule, and just being the most adorable people ever.
  • The many staff who took time out of their weekend to share their information and insights with us, or take us wherever we needed to go.
  • Darcie & Kim, the Disney Moms Panel experts who knew, well, everything.
  • And, of course, the other mom bloggers who attended the event (click thumbnail to enlarge photo above):

    - Amy (Mums the Wurd & The Ladybug and her Blogging Mama)
    - Amy (Long Island Parent Source)
    - Cooper (The Motherhood & Been There)
    - Elizabeth (Table For Five)
    - Erin (Manic Mommies)
    - Gabrielle (Design Mom & sk*rt)
    - Jennifer (Snapshot)
    - Jennifer (The Mom Salon)
    - Jo-Lynne (Musings of a Housewife)
    - Kris (Clever Parents)
    - Lori (Just Pure Lovely)
    - Mary Beth (Cheaper By the Half Dozen)
    - Mia (Main Street Mom)
    - Stephanie (Adventures in Babywearing)
    - Tracey (Suburban Diva)