Massive BlogHer '13 recap: One week later

Chicago - view from our room at the Sheraton, downtown
Last year I did four separate posts for my BlogHer '12 recap, but now that I'm no longer a "BlogHer newbie," I'm hoping to contain that all in one post this year - we'll see if it works out! If we are Facebook friends, I'm sure a lot of you saw the pictures I posted while in Chicago, as well, so I'll try to pick the best ones to post here.

Last year, BlogHer was in NYC, which is a city I like but not one of my most favorites. This year, it was in Chicago, and what a difference it made. I think my schedule was just as jam-packed but I somehow made time on Thursday AM to walk around Michigan Avenue - Ghirardelli is a must-go whenever I'm in Chicago, and I like exploring Water Tower Place as well - and I made sure to get some Chicago deep-dish pizza too.

I arrived in the city on Wednesday with Shannon (GlamorousMoms.com) and Melissa (BargainShopperMom.com). We made the smart decision to drive rather than fly to Chicago, and we traveled in style, in an Escalade. It was only about a five-hour drive with stops and we were able to park at the hotel and check in to the Sheraton that day.

Wednesday night was my first (unofficial) party - the Sea Dog fireworks cruise, sponsored by Madame Deals, which embarked from Navy Pier. There will be a separate wrap-up post about the cruise, but for now I will say it was AWESOME. Seriously the best vantage point to watch the Pier fireworks. Before the fireworks cruise, the Sheraton (host hotel) also did a wine/appetizer dinner, which we attended, and a lot of other bloggers were there too, which was great.

Thursday was the day which I had a little bit of free time, at least until the barrage of (also unofficial) parties
Mmm, Giordano's!
started at 2pm. I woke up semi-early (8am, ha), ate a quick breakfast in my room, and went off to explore Michigan Ave. I then met Melissa for lunch at Giordano's (deep dish pizza! nom) and after that, it was time for the parties.

I still don't know how I fit in that many parties in one day, but I was determined to do them all. I could probably write a whole separate post (or two) about all of them, but suffice it to say they were all lovely and I got to meet a lot of different bloggers at each. I went to:

  • The Big Chicago Cheese Challenge / Wit Hotel / Cracker Barrel (Kraft): Top Chef Sarah Gruenenberg judged us after we learned a bit about cheese pairings and then were each assigned a category - mine was Cinco de Mayo, and it was a lot of fun!
  • Social Luxe / The Ivy Room: I hadn't been able to score an invite to this last year, so I was glad to go this year. Great macarons and a swanky venue, too.
  • Alpina Test Kitchen / The Doubletree: I wasn't very familiar with the Alpina brand, but they do great Greek yogurts. My favorite recipe was their Chai Spice Chicken Fingers we sampled.
  • Social Soiree / Yolk Chicago: Great venue - we tried going back here for our Sunday brunch and it was a thirty-five minute wait, actually! Got to sample a ton of crepes and breakfast foods, too.
  • The Awesome Party, by Yappem / Navy Pier Crystal Gardens: I almost didn't go to this one but I'm so glad I did - I got to hang out with a lot of blogger friends, both new and old, and the venue was GORGEOUS.
Friday AM was the start of the conference. I wanted to go to the opening breakfast and kick-off keynote, but it was at 7:30am, at McCormick Place, and that's just a wee bit early for me. Instead, I headed to the MomSelect Swag Suite (unofficial party), and got to network with some brands, and then headed to McCormick for lunch.

*Side note: last year, all of the activities (keynotes, meals, seminars, etc.) were at the host hotel; this year, the host hotel was the Sheraton and all of the activities, except for night parties, were at McCormick Place. Shuttles were provided at both venues and it was about a ten-minute ride each way. More on this later.

Queen Latifah
The Queen herself
I had been aiming to hit up a session that Friday, but instead I spent my time at the expo, networking with brands like St. Martin's Press (for my book blog) and Fox Entertainment at Home.

Later, I shuttled back to the Sheraton and attended a Vision Safety event, sponsored by BlogHer, as well as the Voices of the Year. I have to say that I wasn't planning on attending VOTY but something that BlogHer announced that week definitely swayed my decision: Queen Latifah was the emcee for the event. Yes, you read that right: QUEEN LATIFAH. 

After VOTY, I attended the Austenland screening - check back August 16th for my review. And read the novel first if you're curious as to what it's about!

I also attended the Tribe Up Progressive Parties, such as Fly DIY, Multi-Culti, and Come As You Are, all of which were at the Sheraton.

For the sake of time, let's consolidate the next few days ...

On Saturday, I did make it to breakfast (note to BlogHer, 9am is so much more doable than 7:30!) and listened to the Sheryl Sandberg keynote - Sandberg is the author of Lean In, which I now would like to read. I made it to two sessions, "Perfect Pitch" and a session about writing which was great, and shuttled like a crazy woman back and forth between Sheraton/McCormick, as I attended the (unofficial) Sweets and Treats party thrown by a fellow Michigan blogger, Becky (Week99er.com). 

To cap off the day, Gale Ann Hurd, the producer of The Walking Dead, gave the closing keynote, and she was a great choice. I started watching the show because I knew she was going to be giving a keynote, and although I had originally intended to watch 2 or 3 episodes, I became hooked, and I'm so excited for it to return in October. 
Gale Ann Hurd
Gale Ann Hurd, producer of The Walking Dead
That night, I attended two unofficial parties, the McDonalds Family Arches party, at a beautiful venue called Bridge House, and the Disney after-party at AMC / Lucky Strikes. I unfortunately had to miss the Disney screening of The Delivery Man, but I'm sure I will catch it before its release in November. I also attended CheeseburgHer for the first time, a BlogHer tradition that I missed last year ... it was definitely one of the crazier parties! We got this picture out of it:

Heather (TerrellFamilyFun.com), Diana (DownHomeTraveler.com), and I
Thanks to Heather for the pic!
On Sunday it was time to go, sadly, and Melissa, Shannon, and I loaded up the car and hit the road after a quick brunch. 

Some quick opinions about this year's BlogHer:
  • The venue: I loved the Hilton last year and that everything was at the Hilton, but at the same time I felt like I didn't leave the hotel as much. This year, the Sheraton was again a lovely host hotel, and the buses to McCormick Place were not as bad as I thought they would be; however, there were definitely a few times when I was waiting on a bus for 20 minutes and lost out on some time. At the same time, however, it was great to network with people while on the buses, and I made a lot of "blogging friends" that way.
  • The parties: the official BlogHer parties were a little different this year - no Sparklecorn, for one. I enjoyed the Fly DIY party and CheeseburgHer the most, and The People's Party - which I forgot to mention earlier, but which was on Thursday night - was also a nice start to the conference.
  • The sessions: my goal was to go to more sessions than I did last year (1.5, the .5 being because I had to sit on the floor at the Google Analytics session and that was so not happening after 20-30 minutes or so), and I did: I went to two. Next year I may consider getting the expo/party pass only, but when you do that you miss out on Fri/Sat breakfast and lunch and also the keynotes, which I enjoy attending. So we'll see.
  • The city: I enjoyed Chicago so much more than NYC, which was surprising to me because I am more familiar with NYC - I
    traveled there summers of 2007-2012, for various reasons. This was the most time I spent in Chicago for a long time, even though I used to live in the 'burbs when I was younger (1992-1996). I loved the city and definitely hope to return sometime soon.
  • The people I met: so many this year! From all the activities to random people I networked with, I made some good friends that I hope to see at BlogHer '14 next year ... wherever it will be :) since no location has been announced yet.
And because a picture is worth a thousand words ... 

I thought the expo hall was well done, but a lot said that NYC
(2012) had more vendors. Not sure about that.
Navy Pier Crystal Gardens (The Awesome Party, by
Yappem) - such a gorgeous venue!
Navy Pier at night - so pretty
My new friend Sarah (ThankYouHoneyBlog.com) and I at the
Multi-Culti party - such a fun photo session!
I got to meet Optimus Prime at the Universal expo booth!
Sheryl Sandberg keynote (Saturday AM)
My new friend Diana and I at CheeseburgHer - thanks to Diana for the pic!

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