Top 5 Takeaways from Disney Social Media Moms Celebration 2014

Top 5 Takeaways from Disney Social Media Moms Celebration 2014

When a conference is called a celebration you know there is something else going on.  I was fortunate enough to go to Disney Social Media Moms last year, and this year I went again, but this time to Disneyland in California.  And, since the celebration coordinated perfectly with my daughters’ spring break and Passover we decided to make it a real family trip and stay in Los Angeles to have our seder with all of our family that lives there.  It was Kismet.

I love Disneyland.  I love its charm, its uncomplicated, easy to cover size, and most of all its history.  I believe you can feel Walt Disney’s optimism and desire to build something really special when you’re there.  I hadn’t been to Disneyland since my daughters were 4 years old (8 years ago!)


And I’m happy to say, my daughters still loved it, even as jaded tweens.


One of the things I love about this conference is that they don’t tell you the full agenda and all of the surprises that are in store while you’re there.  And, they include so many different facets of Disney – so there are always unexpected and interesting people and initiatives worth learning about.

Here are my Top 5 Takeaways from this year’s Celebration:

1.  Cars Land is spectacular.  No, really.  Ever wonder what it would be like to step inside an animated film?  Well, this is pretty much as close as you will ever come.  I recommend going at night when the full neon glory of Cars Land is lit up and you can be immersed in the 1950’s vibe.  The Radiator Springs ride is crazy fun – and the backdrop landscape of Route 66 is genius.

Route 66 Neon


2.  It’s not the size of the castle that matters…

3. It’s the character of the princess

One of the movies I am most excited about this year is Maleficent – and we got an extra dose of maniacal fabulosity at the celebration – and an extra dose of sweet from Sleeping Beauty herself, Elle Fanning.  She is as adorable as she looks…

Elle-Fanning blows out bday cake

photo by Josh Hallett

There is also royalty of a different kind – a CEO who built a business from scratch and is now using her success for empowering students and teachers.

photo by Josh Hallett

photo by Josh Hallett

That’s Chief Exec Bear, Maxine Clark, founder of Build a Bear Workshop, who spoke to us about teachers – good and bad – and the impact they have on children’s lives.  Hearing from incredibly successful women entrepreneurs is always inspiring, but there’s an even stronger impact when it’s someone like Maxine Clark who is also honest and supportive of other women entrepreneurs.  And I love that she started Build a Bear with an underlying belief that every child should be able to buy a basic bear and fill it with love.

4.  There is magic, everywhere you look.

 Like this unexpected surprise in the headboard at the Disneyland Resort

5. Everyone is creative

When you spend time with the people at Disney you quickly come to realize how incredibly talented everyone who works at Disney is, and how diverse those talents are. But, more importantly is this belief that every cast member has a creative spark that can be brought out.

One of my favorite videos to illustrate that is this one of the janitorial team making art with water:

These things are why this is not a conference, but a celebration.  A celebration of magic, family and inspiration with a big dose of serious fun.  And most importantly for those of us that write, or film, or share our stories, is this quote from Walt Disney…



Transformers The Ride- 3D Opens at Universal Studios Florida June 20th

Transformers The Ride- 3D Opens at Universal Studios Florida June 20th

After years of thrilling guests at Universal Studios Singapore and Hollywood, this Thursday Universal Studios Orlando officially opens it much-anticipated Transformers the Ride – 3D.   Working closely with Michael Bay, the award-winning director of the TRANSFORMERS film series and the ride’s creative consultant, the designers and engineers have created a high-tech, hyper-realistic experience that brings the non-stop action of the blockbuster films to life, placing guests in the middle of an intergalactic battle between Autobots and the Decepticons.

Like many of the Universal Studios 4D experience rides such as Harry Potter and Spiderman, Transformers The Ride – 3D transports the rider into the game universe through visual and motion effects that envelop and engross the rider.  According to Thierry Coup, Senior Vice President of the Universal Creative Studio, they built on their experience with previous rides and attractions and added the latest technology and effects to create the most “seamless, immersive environment for riders.”

While Transformers The Ride – 3D has been open in Universal Studios Singapore since 2011 and Universal Studios Hollywood since 2012, the Universal Studios Orlando ride utilizes the most advanced ride technology yet. Coup highlighted the cutting-edge technology employed in Transformers The Ride 3D such as the attraction’s 3-D imagery that uses life-like HD CGI media, the 60 foot, 4K high-definition resolution screens, full 3D surround sound and the latest motion simulator vehicles, which deliver a heart pounding experience.

The original script used for the ride introduces a new character named EVAC, created for Transformers The Ride – 3D.  Guests will move through an immersive and interactive queue experience that gives them the opportunity to prepare for battle in an intergalactic war against the Decepticons, who have come to Earth in search of the powerful energy source, the Allspark.   For those not familiar with the Transformers back story, videos throughout the queue experience recount the story of the alien robots leaving Cybertron, landing on Earth, and as part of the ride, recruiting riders to prepare for the battle ahead.

To ensure that the ride would resonate with Transformers super-fans, the game designers worked closely with Hasbro and Michael Bay to ensure the most accurate, detail-filled experience.  Riders will come face to face with Megatron, dodge explosions and attacks by the Decepticons, fight to save mankind alongside Optimus Prime and the Autobots. The Universal team even worked with the original voice actors from the films to maintain authenticity in the ride experience.  According to Coup, “It’s the ultimate 3-D battle between the forces of good and evil, where you help save the world.”

Transformers the Ride – 3D officially opens on June 20, 2013 at Universal Orlando.

Puerto Rico – Beach, Rainforest and An Earthquake Too (plus a Snapfish Giveaway!)

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Every year we go on a huge family vacation with my husband’s entire family.  At this point there are 16 of us, in 3 different states on opposite ends of the country all trying to coordinate and agree on a common meeting point.  The only non-negotiable sticking point for my sun worshipping in-laws is that it must be warm and sunny.  This year the destination of choice was San Juan, Puerto Rico and the Intercontinental Hotel.

None of us had been to Puerto Rico before and we didn’t know what to expect.  I think it’s safe to say we loved it.  For New Yorkers there couldn’t be an easier trip – direct and under 4 hours.  For everyone the lack of customs and immigration was a huge bonus after a couple of years of going to Mexico.  The lack of people soliciting you the minute you get off the plane is incredibly refreshing. And, most importantly for this family – the food in Old San Juan was fantastic.

Here are my San Juan Stand Outs:

Intercontinental Hotel – Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that we had a snafu when checking in – our room wasn’t ready for a very, very long time and my daughter had a massive meltdown because of it.  How did they rectify this?  They gave us an enormous room upgrade – I mean HUGE.  So, that made us feel better.  But, what really won us over was the incredibly kind, attentive and accommodating staff.  Professional and friendly without being unctuous.  They made our stay exceptionally lovely.  And the pool and beach are great too.

Food, activities and food click on! Continue reading

Flying the (Not) Family-Friendly Skies

Of all the ways your life changes when you have kids none is more drastic than the way you travel.  Gone are the days of a small carry-on with a book, an ipod and some trashy magazines.  Suddenly your carry on is like Mary Poppins carpet bag – full of snacks (both salty and sweet), stickers, markers, DVD players, DVDs, coloring books, activity books and depending on the age of your kids, diapers, change of clothes, wipes, ear drops, maybe some pajamas and even a change of clothes for yourself (yes I learned the hard way that mishaps on the plane tend to land in my lap, or down the front of my shirt).    Early on when my twin daughters were just babies we were like a small army going off to war as we marched down the jetway.  Two strollers that we could fold in 5 second flat, two car seats unlatched and ready to load, and an industrial sized diaper bag that just barely fit in the overhead.

Luckily for me my daughters are long past the nightmare travel age.  They wheel on their own small carry-on bags filled with but a few key possessions – a DS, an ipod, a treasured toy and a book.  But, I remember well those days when every passenger on the plane eyed us with dread as we boarded and made our way down the aisle.  You could see them secretly praying, please don’t sit near me, please, please.

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Going Behind the Gold Curtain at the Metropolitan Opera House (and a chance to win tickets to Hansel and Gretel!)

This past Tuesday my two daughters and I went to the Metropolitan Opera House Tree Lighting and then on a special backstage tour of the theater.  Growing up in New York City some of my most vivid and cherished memories of New York theater are linked to that incredibly beautiful theater.  I still remember the first time I sat in the velvet chairs and watched the mammoth sparkling chandeliers rise up to the ceiling stories above as the lights dimmed and the music began.  This was the first time my daughters had been inside the opera house being only seven and not yet ready to sit through and appreciate a full-length production of ballet, and certainly not opera.

Imagine your first time inside such an impressively huge and gorgeous theater as a sort of insider.  We were led into the main orchestra seating where we heard about the history of the theater and watched the crew as they readied the stage for that night’s opera, Le Nozze di Figaro.  I think the girls were more impressed by the size and scope of the sets seeing them in the bare light and with wings clearly visible than they would be with the usual trickery of stage lighting.  We then went on to the actual workshops where the sets are constructed, touched up, painted and broken down.  The girls got such a kick out of seeing the burned witch remains from Hansel and Gretel missing a toe and in need of repair as well as the giant chefs’ heads that needed spiffing up.  From there we walked on to the actual stage.  Now, here is where the full-fledged theater geek in me wanted to shake my daughters and try and get them to understand that they were standing on the very stage that Pavarotti had sung on, that Cynthia Gregory had danced on.  But really they just thought the slanting floors of the sets and the fact that the paintbrushes were attached to poles to touch up the top of the sets were really cool.  Me however?  I was seriously elated and awestruck.

Sometimes a backstage tour can leave you feeling like the mystery has gone out of what you loved.  Too many warts revealed or illusions shattered.  Usually things don’t measure up in real life.  The opposite was true after our tour of the Met.  I have a brand new appreciation for the scope and magnitude of the artistry and hard labor that go into mounting each production and my daughters were so enthralled by the end (maybe due to my relentless cheerleading and prodding) that they have now decided they want to go to the new production of Hansel and Gretel and attend their first opera.


IF you would like a chance to see this special holiday production of Hansel and Gretel, sung in English, at the Met leave a comment below.  I have two orchestra seats to give away for 8:00pm on Monday, December 14th!  The winner will be picked by Saturday December 12th.

For more information on the opera click here!

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Suffering From Post Vacation Stress Disorder

View in Italy

For an entire month my family and I lived, traveled and ate our way through Italy.  We picked herbs from our garden, painted watercolors during the hot afternoons, swam in the pristine lake, ate endless amounts of fresh pasta and gelato, and drove all over the country in a quest to open up our daughters’ eyes and minds as well as their taste buds.  You’d think after an entire month away we would be ready to come home, but you’d be wrong.

However, they call it vacation for a reason right?  It’s a break, a time away, and in the end real life beckons – and there is no more real life than life in New York City.  With barely enough time to recover from jetlag both my daughters went off to day camp, worried about which swim group they’d be in and anxious about coming to camp mid-session.  My husband went off to a new job, literally went off on the train to Washington DC to have his own orientation and new “real life.”  And me?  Well, after writing everyday for a month straight I took a week’s hiatus to get my home back in order.  Plus, after writing in hotel rooms, basil scented gardens and in the sunroom of an Italian villa, I was not ready to go back to windowless back room at Cosi.

At first the alone time was actually nice.  After being together as a family for 33 straight days and nights we all needed a break.  But then the other stuff seeped in.  We had sublet our apartment while we were gone and now I had to put everything back together again, and find all of the things we swore we’d stowed away in places where we’d never forget.  Where were the checkbooks?  The metrocards?  The girls’ diaries?  All of those camp clothes I’d put away so they’d be easy to get to upon our return?  We put Old Mother Hubbard to shame with our bare cupboards and still, after going to the grocery store 3 times in one week I will reach for something – ketchup maybe? – and discover it’s not there because I forgot to put that on the list.  Then came the emails about the new school year, the pending political decisions being made, gossip and a months worth of catalogs and snail mail piled up on the table too!   (What I need on the shopping list is some wine!)

In the end of course it’s worth it.  Nothing can compare to going away – far away – for a length of time.  We were beyond lucky to have had the opportunity and I don’t know when we’ll have it again.  But for once it would be nice if the vacation could spill over into our life at home.  Maybe I’ll buy a pot of basil for our windowsill so at least I can close my eyes and inhale and pretend that outside my window is a field of sunflowers, instead of a pigeon family and the glow of my neighbor’s big screen TV.

This post has been nationally syndicated by McClatchy/Tribune.  Look for it on the web!

When Having Twins Finally Pays Dividends

isa (l) soph (r)Both of my daughters did not show up on my first sonogram.  For 8 weeks I thought I was having a normal singleton pregnancy with all of the usual excitement and anticipation a first pregnancy brings.  My husband missed that first sonogram so to be nice my doctor did another one at my next appointment.  As we all stared at the throbbing lima bean on the screen the doctor pointed out the “head” and heart, and then she stopped.  “Well, what’s that?” my husband asked pointing at another blob.  “Um,” she said, “that’s another heart and another head.  You’re having twins!”  And as the blood drained from my face and my stomach fell to my toes my husband pumped his fist in the air and yelled, “Yeah, twins!”  (He later said he did this to reassure me because he had never seen me look so frightened.  I think it was a momentary celebration of feeling like he had super sperm)

Luckily I had another 5 or so months to get used the idea of having twins.   Continue reading