A Wesley Chapel mom has put her lifelong love affair with Disney to practical use.
Suzannah DiMarzio has landed a plum spot on the Walt Disney World Moms Panel, dispensing advice in exchange for a free vacation and beating out more than 10,000 other rabid Mouse fans.
The 36-year-old mom of three said it felt like getting on the Disney Moms Panel was harder than getting into Harvard — something she tried to do when she was applying to college as a teen, to no avail. She did, however, land a spot on the theme park's website, fielding questions from newbie Disney visitors.
In an ingenious use of social media, Disney is in its second year of using a volunteer corps of customer-service moms at disneyworldmoms.com to dish out advice on a range of questions, from restaurants to age-appropriate rides to advice on stroller rentals. In its first year, the cap of 10,000 applications for the two dozens spots was filled in a matter of days. This year, they've expanded the board to 43 parents who receive vacation packages or park-hopper passes, depending on how much time they put in.
DiMarzio is a former travel agent who grew up in the Ocala area and spent a college summer as a Disney "cast member," sweating it out in Victorian starched collars and long polyester skirts in the shops on Main Street USA. Now, as a mom of three kids, ages 11, 9 and 17 months, she's still haunting the place.
"I didn't realize the best part would be meeting the other people involved in the Moms Panel," said DiMarzio, who has the Yo Ho (A Pirate's Life for Me) theme song from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride on her cell phone's hold music. "We developed an instant bond, and not just for our love of Disney."
She filled out an essay and aced a followup phone call, likely because she maintains her own Disney fan blog, zannaland.com, and had already spent a lot of time dispensing advice on her own. Her stint on the panel is from April to June, and she spends a few hours every day working on questions.
"Some of them take some time to research," said. "They will ask questions like what should we do on this date to make it special, or what's best for a child under 1, so sometimes I have to do some research to make sure I'm giving them the right answer."
Her go-to Disney tips: Always pack ponchos for those unexpected Florida rainstorms and pony up for a character meal because it beats waiting in long lines in the heat to get a picture of your kid with a character.
But is she free to give her unvarnished opinion on what the Mouse offers?
"So they say," she answers carefully, "I haven't tested it."