Erin Foster, coauthor of The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line, shares with us how she came to join the Unofficial Guides team.
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I’ve been a coauthor of The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line since the first edition in 2014, but I’ve been giving advice about Disney trip planning for much longer than that.
My family took one trip to Walt Disney World when I was a child and I made two trips with friends when I was in my mid-20s, but my real study of Disney planning began in 1998 when my oldest daughter (now in law school) was 2 years old. I wanted the first trip with my own family to be spectacular, so I dug deep into researching which hotel, tickets package, dining options, and rides would be best for us. Prior to having children, I worked as a research librarian, with expertise in finding and evaluating sources of information. Not surprisingly, one of the Disney planning resources I considered to be among the best was The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World. I was a fan long before I was part of the team.
During that initial family trip, we stayed at Dixie Landings (now Port Orleans Riverside) and had a particularly memorable first character breakfast at Fulton’s Crabhouse on the Empress Lilly at Downtown Disney (now Paddlefish at Disney Springs). We had such a blast, in fact, that we went to Walt Disney World two or three times a year for vacations with what would eventually be our family of five. Yes, I did vacation at Disney World when I was 5 months pregnant with twins. I waddled a lot, but I had a fantastic time.
My research for each trip grew more detailed (there are some early-2000s editions of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World that I think I had memorized), we stayed at different resorts, dined at nearly every restaurant, joined the Disney Vacation Club, and eventually took my first Disney Cruise (2003 on the Wonder). I became known as the Disney expert in my neighborhood; several times a month I’d end up going to coffee or lunch with an acquaintance to give her the scoop on how to plan a Disney World or Disney Cruise Line trip for her family.
My ad hoc advising became formalized when, in late 2007, I read an announcement that Disney was “looking for a few good moms” to answer guest questions on their website. This was the very beginning of social media—Facebook was a baby and Twitter did not yet exist—and they wanted to have a monitored place where guests could get accurate advice from real people. I applied, and after several rounds of writing samples and interviews, I was selected for the inaugural Walt Disney World Moms Panel, which is now called the Disney Parks Moms Panel and also has dozens of male members and several non-parents.
I served on the Moms Panel on and off for more than four years, during which time I researched and answered well over 10,000 guest questions about Disney trip planning. This background gave me a deep understanding of the common, and not so common, areas of concern and confusion among a massive variety of trip planners of every demographic. During this time, I increased my visits to WDW to five or six per year, took several more Disney Cruises, visited Disneyland and Disneyland Paris, and went on several Adventures by Disney trips, including one to China that included a side visit to Hong Kong Disneyland.
While on some of my Disney World trips in my Moms Panel years, I was able to meet many of the authors of the material I had used to plan my own early visits, notably Len Testa, coauthor of The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and founder of TouringPlans.com. I was starstruck, truly.
Len was looking for bloggers for TouringPlans, and fellow Moms Panelist Bernie Edwards recommended me to Len. Bernie is a scientist with NASA, and he and Len had bonded over their shared affinity for using data in trip planning. My first blog post for TouringPlans was in May 2011; since then I’ve written nearly 800 more posts.
I now take several DCL trips each year for research, interviewing other DCL guests and reviewing many other sources of information about DCL and the cruise industry in general. I feel extremely lucky to have fallen into a career that allows me to help so many families to have the best possible time together during their vacations.
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