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)


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 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!


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: