May Travels Part 1 – Microsoft 365 Conference, Disney, Florida

Lightning Tools Staff L-R: Sandy Ussia, Brett Lonsdale, Kathryn Kiddie, Nicola Warburton, Carl Greenhalgh, Elaine Short, Obinna Enemuo, Jarrad Carter, Matt Beighton – Kissimmee, FL May 2024

Background

Lightning Tools was founded in Florida in 2007, Brett Lonsdale (Current CEO and owner) and Nick Swan (Former partner) set the company up as a single product, and were living on a shoestring budget. Much has happened in the intervening years, Nick has gone his own way and left the business, and Brett has moved back to his native UK, but Florida has a special place in his heart, and he’s always thought it would be a cool thing for the LT team to see some sights and visit our Florida Regus office.

An opportune moment occurred in June 2023…It was noted that the Microsoft 365 Conference would be taking place at Walt Disney World Swan & Dolphin hotel, in Florida! The internal cogs turned and before long we’d booked some flights and an Airbnb for the whole of the UK crew. (This was before any sponsorship options were available for the event!)

7 of us flew out from the UK, and once through security at Orlando, we picked up our team bus for the week, a Chevvy V8 bus with barn doors on the side, proper A-Team style. Our technical evangelist, Sandy Ussia, a full time Floridian, was already at our house in Kissimmee when we rocked up on Monday eve. She’d kindly filled the fridge with essentials; craft beers, white wine, Desperados, cans of G&T and some milk for the breakfast cereal. Obinna was the last member of our crew to arrive, he flew in from Toronto, Canada.

Microsoft 365 Conference

We got to the venue on Tuesday for set up, only to find that our monitor had got broken during the flight. Once we’d deduced that a rental unit would be close to $1,000 for the week, we took an Uber to the local Walmart and bought a 32” 4K TV for $79 – winning! The show was crazy busy on day 1, we talked plenty of business chat, whilst others were just after our T-shirt and baseball cap swag. Others wanted multiple goes on our Lego driving game to win some Lego Technic. We had good traction on all days, particularly during the breaks. As we had limited tickets for booth staff, some stayed at the Airbnb to keep the fridge stocked and the pool clear of leaves, and did day job stuff to keep our customers satisfied! All in all it was a successful event, and we’ll no doubt be back for more. The Microsoft 365 Community Conference will take place in Las Vegas, May 6-8 2025.

Post show sightseeing

The show finished on Thursday afternoon, after pack down we visited our Regus office space. A quick tour there and we’d built up a thirst palate for some wine tasting. A great place which allows one to charge a card, and then try an array of different wines by type, region and budget, all by using automated optics.

Friday was spent at the Kennedy Space Centre, an awesome working museum which has given this generation plenty of memorable moments. We started in the Atlantis building to learn about the Shuttle programme, which was initiated in the 60’s, but didn’t see a successful launch until 1981 due to a catalogue of technical setbacks which had to be overcome.

Next, a bus ride past the Vehicle Assembly Building where all shuttles and rockets are built to this day, and on to the Saturn / Apollo launch site and buildings. Period music greeted us as we stepped off the bus, and videos were playing of world events whilst we waited to enter the building, a great touch which transported us back to a bygone era. On Friday evening we went to one of the original Ron Jon Surf shops, then ate at an open fronted bar with a live band on Cocoa Beach.

Weekend Away

Saturday was a bit of an unintentional road trip, we’d originally planned to go kayaking down one of the rivers, but this was booked out. Next idea was to go tubing (riding down the same river on old truck inner tubes) but when we got there we were told it had sold out for the day, and the last entrants got in at 6:30 AM! We could either go home or try our luck at some natural springs for swimming about an hour away…in for a penny, in for a pound…We drove on to not one, but 3 different spots to be met by huge traffic queues at each. We were therefore relieved when we got to Salt Springs, 90 odd miles north of our house, they had parking spaces and spring water to swim in! It was lovely to have a dip after a morning of being sat in the team bus. The bear, snake and alligator warning signs just added to the excitement! We ended up getting a 2nd Spring experience, as we took a detour on the way home and tried Alexander Springs.

Sunday was a pre-planned day to hit Anna Maria Island, Brett lived here 20 years ago when it was a relatively unknown, quaint island with fishing boats and houses. Tourism has found it in the intervening years, but it’s still a beautiful spot with beaches of white sands and turquoise waters. The sea was unlike anything in the UK, warm enough that you could stay in for as long as you wanted, without the prospect of shivering or having chattering teeth! After a leisurely lunch we cruised home through some major storms.

Homeward Bound

Monday was our final day, and after the mad dash familiar to anyone that has vacated a holiday rental by 10am, Sandy headed off in her car, and the rest of us left the B&B and headed to Disney Springs. This is a free to enter themed town, with regular shopping malls, some rides and eateries which range from basic fast food to decent quality restaurants. Well worth a mooch if you find yourselves with time to kill waiting for a flight! We flew overnight on Monday, landing mid- morning on Tuesday. It had been a great week mixing a live business event with teambuilding and socialising. We now had 3 days to get everything turned around and packed, ready to drive to Wiesbaden on Saturday…

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