So I made the trek to Atlanta with some friends to attend the first MommyCon of 2016. My experience with MommyCon 2015 was an upgrade and it seemed that MommyCon was taking into account the opinions of their attendees and upping the game. There were more VIP options, and there was a lot more focus on the woman behind motherhood. From the release of the sneak peek schedule for Atlanta, I was drawn in to see what MommyCon had to offer in 2016. With theBabyGuyNYC Jaime Grayson not in attendance this year, I was doubly curious to see how the turn out was going to be without his stamp and popularity.
Expectations: Since my last MommyCon was in Anaheim, which was the last of 2015, going into 2016, I didn’t have as many expectations because of the short time between the two conferences to make improvements. I was hoping for a smoother, larger registration team, and I was hoping for an easier to navigate floor plan. I was also expecting that the MommyCon team would be on the floor and helping navigate, but knowing the small quantity of staffers that make up Team MommyCon, I was apprehensive to expect this to happen so quickly. One item I was hoping to see was a happier, more involved Xza. Where my opinion of Laney changed and became positive in 2015, I was hoping that Xza would be a more personable and approachable team member this time around. The last item that might be the most important one to me was food. I wanted a more easily accessible food source for lunch time and maybe even snacks. Either bringing in an outside vendor, or choosing a venue that would offer a large selection of actual meal foods.
Excitement and Buzz: MommyCon is a real thing, and it is popular amongst the natural parenting, attachment parenting, cloth diapering, baby wearing, and pretty much mommy world. Where MommyCon OC in 2015 was sold out of tickets long before the event itself, it didn’t feel like Atlanta had sold out as quickly or at all. Even the VIP ticket purchasing wasn’t as fast paced for Atlanta the way it felt some other VIP sessions with MommyCon in 2015 were. I was excited though, and with my Mommy friends in tow, we planned an exciting adventure for 2016’s MommyCon Atlanta.
Location: This year, MommyCon chose to hold the event at the Infinity Center in Georgia, and even though its called MommyCon Atlanta, it was about an hour from Atlanta. The hotel in which MommyCon had blocks of rooms reserved for attendees was also 15 minutes from the convention center where the event was. This was a heavily automobile reliant location and that would be hard for people who are traveling out of town. This MommyCon draws in a lot of people from the South, and with some flying in from afar, it was definitely an interesting decision on Team MommyCon’s part to choose a location that was so far off from the hotel and airport and not in real decent walking distance of any restaurants.
Inside the Conference: This space was gorgeous. At least the atrium was. Parking was fairly easy, and did not cost anything which is a nice bonus from previous locations. Once you walk in for VIP sessions on Friday, you are right there in the midst of the MommyCon excitement. For Saturday, everything was on one floor and was easily accessible. There were no mazes to find what you needed. The Exhibitor hall was split into two sections, and it was an interesting decision on MommyCon’s part on how they divided them. While all of the conference rooms for speaker sessions were on one strip, the exhibitor booths were split into two areas. One area was in the main atrium space and it was bright and beautiful. The sun shone through, and you really had a chance to meet and talk in an open space. A lot of the vendors on this strip were local to Atlanta, but there were a few other brand mixed into there and it was kind of interesting how they decided to place certain booths out on this strip. There were a few more split to right outside of the Main exhibit hall and across the walkway from the MommyCon Store.
Within the larger Exhibit Hall C, there were probably 75 booths and it was definitely busy. The booths were split across four different walkways and it felt a bit like there was a measurement problem when placing booths. The Baby Wearing Resource Center was in a corner out of the way spread across two rows, and the Cloth Diaper Resource Center was on the other side of room and one of the first things you saw when you walked in. It made for easy movement with the amount of traffic walking through there. There was no traffic jam this time which was nice. I think the split in size between booth locations and space were based on the size booths that vendors/exhibitors had purchased. While the two strips that held “booths” had larger walkways and more open space for traffic, the “table top booths” were crammed very tightly together and I couldn’t step far enough from a booth to capture a photo of the whole booth itself which was hard and made traffic difficult to maneuver down this strip as it really was only a 10 foot space between the table tops.
There were only three things I would have changed about the Exhibit hall(s). First off, I would have liked topic centered booth placement. It would have been nice to go to one corner that was all Breastfeeding, and another section that was all Cloth Diapers, and another section that was all Baby Gear (car seats, baby wearing, stuff), and then everything else in another section for the educational items. I thought I had shopped all the cloth diapers I wanted in the Exhibit Hall to only find out there was another 2 tables out in the atrium I had missed. Secondly, the Exhibit Hall C needed better lighting. It was dark, and looking up, it would have been nice if the lights were just turned on. It was a stark contrast to go from the Atrium Floor where it was bright and sunny to the indoor Exhibit hall where it was bright. That would have been an easy fix. Lastly, I would have really liked to have had a list of the vendors, so I could plan what I wanted to see and who I wanted to speak to between sessions a little better. With so many vendors this time and some with long lines, it was hard to really see every booth, and one in particular I was really hopeful of seeing, I seem to have missed in the shuffle.
One nice thing I have to point on this year is the number of signs directing you to places and letting you know that you are at the right room for your session. There were signs with arrows everywhere to point you in the right direction and there were signs outside of each session room to tell you what is being held in that room so you’re sure you’re in the right place for your session. This was a definite improvement on years past where I felt like it was a shoot in the dark to find the right place. Good job MommyCon.
Little Dippers did another activity table in the main session room of the conference which I thought was a little odd since its not accessible anywhere else, but it might have been the only place where they could have put it. It wasn’t anything new compared to 2015, so hopefully as the year progresses, MommyCon will add something new for older kids. On the Chicago MommyCon page there seems to be an entire special event for older kids, maybe even dare I say and drop off for the day? MommyCon might have just stepped up their game in offering something for the big kids in Chicago, hopefully someone shares some good reviews about it and they continue to offer it throughout the rest of the year.
Food and Water: So this location was a lot better in that there were water tanks spread out around the Exhibit Hall for you to get water (however they were empty every time I tried to get water). There were vending machines next to restrooms which made it easy to grab a snack if you were in a pinch, and for toddlers, YoBaby had yogurt and snacks in a sectioned off area with high chairs in the Baby Food Court! This was a very fun addition to the MommyCon Tour as it gave a space for families to stop and eat and try new products with their kids, without having to sit on the floor. You had the chance to try a Stokke Tripp Trapp Chair or the Kaboose chair lifter and even EZ-PZ mats. It was a lot of fun and a nice addition. There was also a kiosk in the middle of the Baby Food Court for adults to grab coffee, drinks, and snacks. Lunchtime was a little bit of a struggle, but better than in previous MommyCon’s that I have attended. This time there was the Kiosk that had light food, but there was also a Concession stand in a whole different hall that had real food like burgers, sandwiches and soup. I am unsure if this was on purpose, as we did impose on the Bead Conference area to access the concession stand, but it was there and we were able to grab a semi-wholesome meal to eat during lunch hour. Team MommyCon seemed to have the best meal though as they delivered to vendors who may have preordered, and it would have been nice if during registration there was a place where you could order a box lunch. I would have packed a cold bag lunch if I were near home, but since I traveled for this one, it wasn’t a possibility. A grab and go option for lunch was at least something, however, here was no mention of it in any guidebook or map, so it was luck that I found it to get a meal. With location in mind and consideration of the limited time for lunch, I hope in the future, MommyCon will either bring in an outside vendor where lunch could be ordered, or choose a venue with access to a location where it would only take 5-10 minutes to grab a wholesome meal.
Registration: The process for registration seemed to be run at a larger scale this time than in the past. There was a long line that wrapped around the escalator during the morning registration, but it seemed that having it central to the entrance to the event made it easily accessible. It seemed to move quickly and the staff were very friendly. There does seem to be a heavy reliance on Xza and Laney to answer any questions outside of the basics for registration, so in this case, it might be best to employ a staff memeber who might be trained to fill in the spot for when Xza and Laney are not available, versus holding up the line a bit to locate the people who would know.
Changing Stations: Next to every bathroom there was a changing station sponsored by Babyganics, ubbi, BabyBjorn, FreshWave and Water Wipes. While it was nice that they supplied all the necessities for changing your baby at the conference, I wasn’t 100% sure what the purpose of FreshWave was sitting on the table. It is a great set up though, and if you were wondering about any of these product, this is a great time to try things out.
Water Stations: I feel like in the past there might have been water stations, but they weren’t easily accessible or locatable. This year though, within the confines of the Main Exhibit hall, at both ends of the hall there were water stations with cups available. These seemed to have been sponsored by Eyla’s, which was nice, however, on the multiple occasions where I did try and get water from the stations, the water tanks were empty. In the registration area and outer Exhibitor areas near the seminar rooms, there did not seem to be any water stations that I could find, which might have been a direct reflection of the fact that there were vending machines and a little Cafe kiosk within a hundred yards. I am hoping with the popularity of Eco-Vessels that are for sale at MommyCon, that in the near future there will be more emphasis on bringing your own water bottle and keeping water tanks accessible around the entire conference to be both more eco-conscious, and keep people hydrated.
MommyCon Store: The MommyCon store was probably the most frequented location for my group of friends. If someone was separated in the group, it was a guarantee that we could find her at the MommyCon store. As a group, we easily spent a few hundred dollars each in that store. What is nice about the MommyCon store is that they seem to have an exclusive item or two each MommyCon that is specifically geared towards that location. Alisa from Tekhni is a constant presence in the store and is more than happy to help you find the right wrap of your choice or accessory. She is so much fun to be around. The checkout station was central to the whole store area and the only things I would have changed about the whole store was to get T-shirts for the staff who are working the store that are exclusive to them or that say staff. The tags are helpful, but they aren’t always the largest sign to notify you that someone is a staff person you can ask questions too. It would also be nice if more than 1 person was checking people out in the store during peak hours. Aside from that, having them away from the main strip of vendors and set up in an open, easily accessible area is a huge upgrade from previous years experience, this is the first year where I didn’t feel overwhelmed visiting the store and actually spent some major money.
Speakers and Session Variety: There was a nice large variety of speakers at the conference this year and there seemed to be some fun new faces. I really enjoyed finding something new to attend at MommyCon and there were a few more options than before. What was rough was picking which speaking session you wanted to attend. Since there were multiple meeting rooms, there were multiple sessions at the same time, which made it hard when the sessions you wanted to attend were all at the same time. I wanted to learn about menstrual cups and potty training, and they ended up being at the same time, making it a battle of wits to figure out which one I was going to attend. This continued throughout the day as we played coin toss to see which of two sessions we would attend together as a group or would split up and reconvene afterwards and share our findings. I don’t know if there is a better way to organize these sessions, maybe they can be split into similar subject matters at the same time, giving people an easier way to hit a different subject matter each session time. The overlap in session time is also really hard to figure out. On one hand you feel bad leaving mid session, on the other hand, you really want to go to the next one which starts 15 minutes before the current one ends.
The only big thing that I would like to see as MommyCon continues is advancement in subjects. There needs to be more offerings in subject matters for those who have progressed from 101. MommyCon is on its 3rd official year as a touring conference, its 4th year as MommyCon, and with its continued success and popularity, there needs to be more to offer as kids continue to grow up, parents continue to attend, and this event becomes an annual staple in people’s lives. Cloth Diapering 101, should offer a 102 or 201 session for those wanting a more advance discussion. Maybe there should be Cloth Diaper Science class for those looking for subject specific issues. I know an entire hour dedicated to washing diapers would be popular for many. Babywearing needs to offer more classes that are past the basics. There could be so many advance level courses for Babywearing, a 201, a 301, even a 401 for different levels and styles of wrapping. This would be very much welcomed. Kids are going to continue to grow and while people continue to have babies, you want to cater to those who might have big kids and little kids. Unfortunately the arts and crafts station offered isn’t enough to keep older kids entertained, and MommyCon should focus on the family as a whole. Father sessions should also be available to draw in more dad’s to the event. There are a lot of Father’s who are very involved in the family as a whole, and they should have a Dad session to attend to also. If MommyCon started in 2013 with a bunch of new moms, those moms will be placing their kids in school real soon, and there should be some offerings to discuss the things you go through with bigger kids. From lunch time ideas like Bento Box lunches, to managing time with your kids, finding the right fit in schooling with your kids, or even just a round table of discussion about Mommy Guilt that seems to hit even harder when trying to balance the child at home and the child at school. A lot of growth opportunity is there for sessions to grow, and as the child grows, the family changes, and there needs to be something to offer to the mom who isn’t just changing diapers or baby wearing anymore. Maybe a raising Pre-Teenagers or Threenagers should be available, I have a feeling that would be filled quickly.
End of MommyCon Giveaway: MommyCon is know for their giveaways. I have had issues in the past with how they ran things for the Giveaway. This time they had pre-picked all the numbers for the winners and had them on a slide show. I know they are all pre-picked because they moved forward too quickly and it skipped numbers and they just went back and then moved forward again. They did a little bit of unconventional giveaway which I think ended up hurting more than anything as Xza did one based on age of child, and it ended up with her giving away more than just 1 item. She did one based on military status that ended up being messy. Which brings us back to why you should just stick to the numbers instead of trying to call out into the crowd. It might be nice to make it feel truly random to just use a live random number generator on the board instead of putting up pre-selected slides. The room was too crowded and it was hot and a little bit miserable. In 2015 I experienced a method where they just drew numbers out of a box and it was probably the safest way to run this process, No Fire Code violations, and no questioning the validity of the process. It seemed that they gave away less prizes this year then in the past.
Vagina Village: What I really liked that seemed to be a new addition this year was Vagina Village. A small room set off to the side of the baby food court, with two sessions where you could come in for an intimate Q&A with subject matter experts in things womanly. One based on the use of the Menstrual cup and the other on the topic of Alternative Relationships. It was nice to have a place where you could ask the questions that you were too afraid to ask in the room full of women during the seminar, and just ask it amongst an intimate group of women wanting to talk about the same thing. The nice part is, it wasn’t just the speaker who was answering, women were sharing their own experiences, giving you different perspectives to your question. Vagina Village I feel offers what women are expecting from MommyCon, an experience or gathering of women together to support each other. While the environment is designed for 10-15, it is exactly what I was looking for.
Toys: There are toys in every session room you go into at MommyCon. Which is great since it keeps kids occupied. However, this is just an observation more than anything, I am wondering, do these toys get sterilized between events? Some of these toys I remember seeing in 2015, and while I sat through multiple sessions in the same room and multiple VIP sessions, I kind of had to wonder, how many mouths were on that wooden block in the last 48 hours.
MommyCon Swag Bag: MommyCon is know for its giveaways, shopping, and swag. VIP events are known to send people home with way more than their initial investment and it is assumed that you’re going to leave with just as much swag in your general ticket swag bag. Honestly though, as the years have gone on, it seems the swag bags from MommyCon are becoming less and less chalked full of stuff, and more full of advertising. The Swag bag of 2016 is definitely less than the 2015 one I received and that was less than the 2014 one that I received. If you’re going for the Swag Bag, then this is a great bag if you’re a an expecting mom, but if you’re a mom of toddlers who might be done with having babies, you might be disappointed. Bags are known to change from event to event, so this is just the Atlanta one, but I was glad to see a lot less stuff in the bags, bringing the focus of MommyCon to the speakers and experience more than the stuff.
Conclusion: MommyCon has grown, it has taken into account the feedback from its attendees and I am sure in a few years, they will be announcing their millionth ticket sold to their conference. 2016 is a huge improvement on previous years and this draws me in to want to continue going to this conference and seeing what they have to offer, seeing how they grow, and seeing what topics are offered as the children of Team MommyCon advance past the baby stage. This time I had no bad experiences with the staff, Xza was super helpful and seemed to genuinely enjoy the experience and was directing people where to go. I had run into Laney multiple times throughout the event that makes me start to wonder if she is cloned, because if you needed help finding something, Laney seemed to be everywhere to answer your questions. The staff interaction was definitely a positive experience this year, and it looks like they added more staff members, but the bulk of the event is very dependent on Laney and Xza to direct, which might mean they need to hire some other managing staff or clone themselves. So at least I can officially say, its a bad day for Xza and Laney if you catch them in a foul mood, and its not their normal personality.
I almost wish they would do a MommyCon weekend retreat sometime in the future because while MommyCon is great, I was exhausted at the end of it all and it would have been nice if I could have broken some of my session time down into two or three days. Vagina Village was probably my favorite part as it gave MommyCon a different twist and was really a place to focus on the women behind the mother. I think this is something that definitely needs to continue and maybe a Vagina Village weekend is what is most needed.
**Disclaimer: All event reviews are based on my own experience purchasing the tickets and all items. MommyCon nor any other vendor or brand offered free tickets or sponsored this post in any way. **