Wednesday, May 25, 2011

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

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:

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)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

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

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, 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 of my talk should be available soon -- I'll share it here when it's up)

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

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!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

My heart aches for Alabama

There are simply no words. No words to explain the hurt here in Alabama after Wednesday's tornado outbreak.

In Tuscaloosa, I have friends who are homeless. A new initiate of my sorority, Gamma Phi Beta, was killed, and another sorority member remains in the hospital. One of my husband's groomsmen had the tornado track through his backyard, but luckily -- his house stands.

And it's not just Tuscaloosa. That same tornado tracked to the northeast and at one point was aimed straight at our house. Instead, it veered north and struck western Jefferson County and areas just north of Birmingham.

Other tornadoes struck, too. From Elmore County near Montgomery to the south, to Huntsville and Dekalb County to the north, and all points in between, the tornadoes raked across Alabama and the Southeast like fingernails on a chalkboard.

My home, my family, my dog, my place of work -- they were all spared. I was lucky. But many were not.

Alabama is hurting. But there are many ways you can help:

1. Donate money and goods. Connect with your local Red Cross chapter to see what is needed.
2. Give blood.
3. Volunteer. Call 2-1-1 in Alabama or toll-free 1-888-421-1266.

Some resources:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

I can make you a celebrity overnight: SPJ, See Jane Tweet, and Ignite Birmingham

Somehow, over the past month or so, I've become in demand. A hot commodity. Coveted for my great knowledge, humor, charisma and panache.

Well, not really. But I have started dipping my toe into public speaking, and educating others on my two big passions: 1) social media and online community engagement, and 2) Walt Disney World!

SPJ Region 3 Conference

First up, I spoke at the Society of Professional Journalists Region 3 conference here in Birmingham on April 1st. They wrote a great recap of my talk on social media and online user interaction in a newsroom setting.

I had no idea I was being videotaped, but alas! I was. It's a little dark, but you can view my talk, split up into 5 videos, here. I really enjoyed speaking to a "class" of mostly college students. I had conversations afterwards with student journalists from the University of Alabama, Florida A&M, and University of Central Florida. Great group!

See Jane Tweet

Next up, my Alabama Social Media Association cohort and new gold-shoed pal Erin Shaw Street are presenting together for a new organization here in Birmingham called See Jane Write, a networking group for female writers, bloggers and journalists. We're presenting a program on Thursday, April 28 called See Jane Tweet, where we will present an overview on social media and using Twitter as a way to connect with other writers.

I recently did an interview with Javacia Harris Bowser, the founder of See Jane Write, about my work with and the Alabama Social Media Association ahead of See Jane Tweet. We've also gotten coverage from RSS Birmingham and Magic City Manifesto leading up to the event, and Erin recently put out a call for questions ahead of our presentation.So if you plan on attending, tell us what it is you want to learn!

Ignite Birmingham 5

Thursday, May 5 is Ignite Birmingham 5, and for the first time, I'm presenting! My 5-minute talk is titled "Magic City: Magic Kingdom -- Birmingham’s ties to the wide world of Disney World fandom, and why you should visit WDW as an adult." See the full list of speakers here. (It's a fabulous lineup!)

I'm very excited to introduce attendees to some local "Disney celebs," and convince folks that they need to start planning a Disney World vacation, with or without the kids. At the end of my speech, I'm going to tease to a special event here in Birmingham for Disney fans -- and for those curious to learn more about Disney World --on Saturday, May, 21. Arrr, ye mateys! Mark ye calendars! It will be a magical good time!


To say I'm thrilled to be taking part in these events, along with serving as executive director of the Alabama Social Media Association, is an understatement. I've already met some amazing people here in the past few months, and have turned social media connections into real-life connections. I'm excited for more to come.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

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

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, 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, 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.
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