BlogHer '17, Orlando: Thoughts, comments, and a few suggestions

So this year was my FIFTH time at BlogHer - I went from 2012-14, and then again last year, in 2016. It was also my first time as a BlogHer volunteer, but more on that later.

I arrived in Orlando last Wednesday, June 21st, and checked in to the host hotel, the Hilton Bonnet Creek. The hotel is beautiful, and has a fantastic lazy river/pool area, so that was my first order of business: some much needed pool time.

I was rooming with Vanessa from Green Acres Meets Paris, and Pamela from Affirmed Mom was staying with us for one night as well. We had been talking nonstop online before the conference, and it was great to actually meet both of them in-person.

On our first night, we headed to Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney), to grab some dinner, and ended up at Bongo's Cuban Cafe, which is actually owned by Gloria Estefan. It's a very fun atmosphere with dancers (see the pic above) and the food was fantastic as well. 

On Thursday morning, we headed to Disney's Magic Kingdom, as I had a media pass to use for the day (a one day hopper pass, which normally would have been $175 - thank you Disney for the savings!). I'll be writing a separate post about Disney, so check back later this week for that.


So this year was my first year being a BlogHer volunteer. What that means is this: I had applied to be a volunteer and was accepted, and in exchange for a full conference pass (a $300+ value), I had to work three hours per day (Fri/Sat) at the conference.

I have mixed feelings about being a volunteer. On one hand - I'm very grateful to BlogHer for the opportunity, and to save $200 (early bird price) on my pass.

On the other - the volunteer meeting, where we would be getting our assignments, was at noon on the day I had bookmarked for Disney World. Because of this, I went to Disney from 9-11am, then came back to the hotel for the 1-hour long meeting; after that, I went back to Disney. (getting to/from Disney is a bit of an ordeal, too ... it requires a shuttle to the ticket & transportation center, and then a monorail or boat ride to the park)

Volunteering itself was very easy - I registered people for one of the special events I went to (more below on that), I worked the registration desk, and I was a "mic wrangler" for one of the sessions. It probably was only about 4 hours, rather than 6.

I had to miss the Serena Williams keynote to work the registration desk, though, and that was one of the keynotes I had really wanted to see. I was able to catch about ten minutes of it because the registration desk wasn't very busy at that time ... but it was still a bummer.

My advice to anyone thinking of volunteering, then, is to make sure you have a flexible schedule, and that you don't mind missing certain keynotes or sessions. BlogHer did work around my schedule for special events, though (Bob Evans and Medieval Times), which I appreciated.

Keynotes and Special Events

BlogHer had a pretty stellar line-up of keynotes this year, most of which I missed - if I go next year, I am going to try to go to more of these. Chelsea Clinton's and Margaret Cho's couldn't be helped, since I was at Disney all day that Thursday, but I missed Carla Hall's, too, for the Bob Evans special event. I was planning on attending the closing keynote, since the director of The Hunting Ground was speaking and I had seen that movie this year, but ended up skipping in favor of dinner with friends.

For each special event, half of the slots were filled with invited bloggers, and half were open for the "open call." I'd be curious to know what the criteria for each was to be invited - in the past, I primarily blogged about movies, but I didn't get a Girls Trip invite for the screening event (or any invites actually, ha). 

The "competition" for the special events (for the "open call" slots) was tough this year: you had to be sitting at your computer, ready to refresh your browser, exactly at noon or whenever tickets were released. I ended up getting into the Bob Evans event, which was tasty, as well as the Medieval Times event, which was one of the highlights of BlogHer for me.

They also had me volunteering for that one, so I was assigned to check people in.

I wanted to check out the "speed dating" event because a Disney rep (Hi Marshall) was going to be there, but I wasn't fast enough, and I literally refreshed my computer at 12:00:01, if that, when passes opened at noon. Bummer, but oh well.

I had been to a Medieval Times-eque show at Excalibur Las Vegas a long time ago, and this was as great as I remembered that one to be. We got to eat with our hands, cheer for "our" knight, and "boo" for the "bad" knight. We were also treated to some drinks and cheese and crackers when we arrived, as well as a tour of the grounds. I wish Medieval Times had a location closer to me (closest one is in the Chicago suburbs), as it was a fun night.

The Bob Evans event was tasty, but I thought they would be focusing more on the restaurant - instead, it was more about the grocery store products. We got to try their mashed potatoes, as well as some potato pancakes made with the mashed potatoes, which were delicious. We also all left with two coupons to try out the products, and today I bought their sour cream mashed potatoes at my local Meijer. I had to skip the Carla Hall lunch/keynote for this event, though, and I'm not entirely sure it was worth it - I heard she was a great speaker.

Bob Evans "mash-tinis"

Expo hall and meals

The expo hall this year seemed ... really small, compared to last year's. Last year I walked out with a handful of business cards, and ended up doing sponsored posts (in exchange for products) with Love with Food and Chocotelegram, both of which did really well on my site - I received 5900 (!!!) entries for my Love with Food giveaway, and it continues to be the most popular giveaway post EVER on my site. This year, I walked out with exactly three business cards. Three. And I can tell you I went to about 20 booths, as BlogHer was doing a "scavenger hunt" type contest and you needed stickers from 20+ booths to enter it.

As for meals, there was a lot of complaining going on in the official BlogHer Facebook group, but I actually thought they were great. I do agree that there could have been some form of hot meal/protein offered at breakfast (some sausage, perhaps, or eggs, though I don't eat eggs), but I was fine with the continental breakfast, which also included fruit and oatmeal. 

This was not from a BlogHer meal, but it was from Bongo's Cuban Cafe and was delicious - empanada cups!

This may be an unpopular thing to say but ... you know what you need for your specific diet. Don't assume that the conference will have foods that cater to that specific diet. I don't do well with dairy, so I was delighted to see almond milk as an option on Friday breakfast, but on Saturday's it was gone, so I had to make do with juice and water. 

Plan ahead for what you need, if possible. I pack Nature Valley bars to eat pre-breakfast, since I need something to "coat" my stomach and also some food to take with pills. 

The lunch on Friday was a hot meal and very tasty, and the lunch on Saturday was mostly salad, but with a variety of add-ons, like chicken. I do agree that it would be nice to have dinners provided, as well, but to the people that said they spend $100+ on dinners ... what were you eating?? When I got back from Disney that Thursday night, I was HANGRY, and I managed to grab a burger and fries from the bar (and got it to-go, so I could eat it in my room) for $16 plus tip/tax. A cold sandwich in the cafe downstairs was $10, which was a bit much, but I expect to pay $15-20 for meals at a hotel restaurant. 

Final thoughts

This is getting looooooong so I'll try to wrap this up now. Some final thoughts:
  • I still consider BlogHer to be an "expensive girls weekend," as I said in my recap from last year. I LOVED seeing old friends, and meeting/making new friends, but I definitely felt like my ROI (Return on Investment) wasn't as good this year as it had been in previous years - regarding the expo and brands, specifically.
  • The Hilton Bonnet Creek is an absolutely gorgeous hotel, but be aware that it's not within walking distance to anything - Orlando in general is not a walking city. There IS a hotel shuttle to Disney, but when I needed to get back on time for my volunteer meeting, it never showed up ... I had to grab a cab, though Hilton did make it right with me later and subtracted the cab fee from my bill. 
    • The Hilton's pool and lazy river, in particular, are excellent, and very relaxing.
  • My big regret from this year is not seeing more keynotes - I should have tried to make more of an effort in that department. I also really wanted to go to the session on SEO, but I had to volunteer at a session on cookbooks at that time. 
  • Utilize the BlogHer Facebook group, if you are thinking of going: it was fun to match people from there with their faces in real life, plus it gives you a way to interact with other attendees beforehand, and ask any questions you may have. 
  • Put yourself out of your comfort zone as much as possible. I call myself an "introverted extrovert," and it's true - I enjoy meeting new people, but at the end of the day I need some alone time to recharge. That being said, I made it a point to sit at random tables at meals, just so I could introduce myself to new (to me) bloggers, and ask them what they blog about. 
  • I also recommend staying at the host hotel - even though my room was literally one of the last rooms in the hall (I had to zigzag down three separate hallways to get to it!), it was nice to be able to drop stuff off in the room midday, and also relax a bit when I had time. 
Will I go to BlogHer next year? It will probably depend on where it is - I'm rooting for the Midwest or East Coast. However, my prediction is that it will be out West somewhere again, since it seems to flip-flop coasts each year - 2016's was in Los Angeles, and 2015's was in NYC. 

Have you ever been to a blog conference? If so, what were your main takeaways from it?

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