Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Review: Marathon Weekend Getaway

There was ice on the parking lot of the Ticket and Transportation Center on Sunday morning - the morning of the 2010 Walt Disney World full marathon. There were reports of sleet and/or snow on Saturday morning - the morning of the WDW half marathon. This is Walt Disney World - right?

Yes...ice puddles at The Mouse on Sunday morning.

Personally, to me, it wasn't so bad. Now, low 20's is cold - cold is cold, that's for sure. But being from up north (New York and New Hampshire), we still had 20+ degrees to go before it was really cold. But for a trip to Walt Disney World, and in particular, during marathon weekend when one of your family members is actually running in the marathon, it was indeed really cold. That being said, it was worth every minute because we had a blast.

Essentially the weekend trip was centered around the full marathon being run by Hope on Sunday morning. She had been training for this for months, and has had the almost single-minded focus of getting that cherished Mickey Medal. Katie, Chance and I were her support staff and her cheering section along the way. We wanted her to get this medal almost as much as she wanted it. And while I'll highlight the marathon here, we'll post a couple of marathon-specific posts in the next couple of days - one from Hope's perspective about her experiences running the race (and the happenings before and after), and one from my perspective and how we tackled the weekend getting her ready, the logistics of finding her along the path and cheering her on, and celebrating together afterward. This blog will be about our weekend in WDW in general.

Friday, January 8th: Health & Fitness Expo

Our weekend really started on Friday afternoon when we headed up to The Mouse for the Health and Fitness Expo at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex. Since both Hope and I work in the fitness field (we're RPM instructors - a group cycling class for a local gym), we had a great interest in attending the Expo and seeing what it was all about.

The most important part of the Expo is that it's where the runner has to pick up their racing packet and goody bag. The packet includes things like the Runner's bib, commemorative pin and sensor strap for their shoes (which keeps track of the runners progress along the way) while the goody bag had such important things like Gel Shots, official 2010 WDW Marathon running shirt, athletic tape, coupons and much more.

The little bling - the marathon pin!

Seemingly hundreds of sponsors had tables set up to promote their products. Special guest speakers talked about their experiences running and the like (which we missed, unfortunately - most were in the morning) and there was also a section sponsored by Sharpie. This area was a great idea as they gave out thick poster paper and markers for the guests to create signs for their runner. It was a lot of fun and well worth the time.

Future Disney animators??? Chance and Katie making signs for mom at the Expo.

After picking up Hope's packet, we walked around the Expo for a while, checked out the tables and made our signs. We didn't purchase anything, but if we had unlimited funds, it would have been easy to go nuts there, as sports and fitness (and Disney) enthusiasts. All in all, the Expo was fun and much larger in scope than I expected going in - and I expected it to be rather large. After the Expo we headed home for the night and did our packing for the weekend.

A mass of humanity at the Expo trade show on Friday.

Saturday, January 9th: Minnie, Check-In, Boys Hit The Town, Girls Early To Bed

The plan was to head over early on Saturday afternoon, drop Minnie (our Great Dane) off at the Epcot Kennel, then head over to Caribbean Beach to check in. We were excited because this is the first time we've used a Kennel over at The Mouse. We decided to use Epcot because that is where we were going to spend most of our time (because it's where the marathon begins and ends) and also because they walk and feed the dogs twice a day each there. This is important because only two of the four park kennels do that: Epcot and Magic Kingdom. Both the Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom kennels don't walk or feed - just provide shelter. It is up to you, as the guest, to head there however many times a day to walk your dog. We ended up visiting Minnie a couple of times, but it was nice to know that Epcot's Kennel was going to be taking good care of her so we didn't have to worry about getting over there multiple times a day each day. Minnie seemed to have a great time and her report card was very positive - she was a good puppy.

Outside the kennel, Minnie was pondering the wonder of the
Experimental Prototype Community Of Tomorrow.

After dropping off Minnie, we headed to the Caribbean Beach Resort. We had never stayed there before, although we had visited a couple of times to check out the resort in the past. We've done things such as rented paddle boats and swung on hammocks...and it was a lot of fun, so it was something we were looking forward to. We checked in at about 2:00, hoping that the room would be ready for an early check-in. Unfortunately, it wasn't ready yet and they even said it might not be ready until 5:00 (standard check-in is 3:00). That was a little disappointing, but they said it was because on Marathon Weekend, they try to accommodate for the runners as much as possible post-race with late check-outs in case they need it to rest for a little while longer. That was definitely understandable. They did offer the standard text-message alert to be sent to us when the room was ready, and that worked great.

Sometimes DisneyQuest is a necessary evil - during rain or cold.

So we had a couple of hours to take up while we waited for our room. It was cold, and we didn't want to go too far, so we decided to hit Disney Quest for a while. One reason I like Caribbean Beach is that it's close to Downtown Disney and not far from any of the parks. Unfortunately, Quest was crowded - on cold days like this (or rainy days any time of year), Quest gets much more popular. While not my favorite thing to do in The Mouse, Disney Quest has its positive points and it was a great way to keep busy for a while and stay warm indoors.

Chance is seemingly shell-shocked inside a warm, cozy room.

At about 3:30, we received the text message that our room was ready. We headed over to the Martinique section and found our home for the next two nights. We ended up with one of the newly-refurbished Nemo rooms - Chance and I were hoping for the Pirates room, but that's OK - and it was very, very nice. This is the second Moderate hotel we've stayed at - French Quarter being the other - and we were impressed. It's a very different hotel than is FQ. They serve two different purposes, and if we stayed at CBR during warm weather, it would have been much more appropriate. After all, it is supposed to simulate a Caribbean island experience and all the water and beach related things that go along with that. But in 20-30 degree weather, you just can't take advantage of all it has to offer. We still managed to swing on a hammock for a few minutes though! The room was clean, large, had a refrigerator a powerful heater. Martinique is also fairly close to Port Royale, the "town center" of the resort - where their shops and restaurants reside. I do very much love the layout of the whole thing - the resort (even though it's very large) and Port Royale. We'll have a more in-depth review of the resort itself in a future article in Around The Mouse.

Since the race was only a few short hours away in the wee early hours of Sunday morning, it was important for Hope to get her rest early on Saturday night, even though she was so excited and anxious for the race. So after eating dinner in our room and enjoying the place for a while, Chance and I headed out for some fun at the parks while Katie stayed with Hope to rest up and hopefully fall asleep.

Chance's white whale...Rock N Roller Coaster.

We headed out to Hollywood Studios first. Our goal: to ride Rock N Roller Coaster. For months, Chance had waited patiently...to grow. He's only about an inch or so away from being able to ride this incredible coaster. We didn't measure him beforehand, we wanted to do it in real time at the park. We wanted the drama.

He didn't make it. Still about a 1/2 an inch away. Even with his very thickest pair of sneakers on and his winter hat. Oh well, maybe next time big guy!

The single-best attraction in Walt Disney World...or is that Everest?
I can't ever decide.

We decided to hit Tower of Terror after that - a family favorite. He started riding it at age 4(!) and has been addicted to it ever since. Riding it was as great as always. I always toggle back and forth between Tower and Everest as to which is my #1 attraction in WDW. I can't ever truly decide.

After that, we walked across the park to Star Tours. Since Hope isn't a huge Star Wars (or Star Tours) fan, whenever we're there without her, we take advantage and hit this one up. It's a Chance favorite. On the way, we walked past Toy Story Mania - the wait was 50 minutes. The time was about 6:20 and the park was closing at 7:00. The plan was to go to Star Tours, ride it, then high-tail it back to TSM and hope to ride it just before closing. This plan has worked before for super-headliner rides like TSM, Soarin and Test Track. Just before park closing is a great time to ride these massively popular rides. We were hoping it would work this time too.

Princess Leia wished she had hair as stylish as this.

Star Tours shows its age, but it's still fun. I'm a big life-long Star Wars fan, so that helps for me. And Chance is a 7-year-old boy - so he's in his Star Wars fandom prime, so he LOVES it.

Hit Toy Story Mania 2 minutes before park closing.
The plan worked - less than 30-minute wait.

The plan worked. We walked off Tours at about 6:52, and had just under 8 minutes to get over to Pixar Place. We got there at 6:58 - two minutes to spare. The wait was posted as 30 minutes. Yes!

Chance would wear these glasses all the time if he could.

Toy Story Mania is a marvel. What a great ride. And in this case, being inside an attraction with a 30 minute wait while it's 30 degrees outside isn't a bad thing either. Turns out though, the wait was closer to 20 minutes.

OK, so the accuracy wasn't so hot. But the scores weren't bad.

After getting off of TSM, the park was officially closed, so we headed out. We didn't want to head "home" yet, especially if Hope had already fallen asleep, it was a little too early to potentially disturb her. So we went to Epcot since it is right next door and Magic Kingdom was only open until 9 p.m. that night as well. We'd get the most bang for our buck at Epcot.

"Nice work, pal."

Epcot was empty. I don't think I've ever seen it that empty. First of all, most of the people at WDW that weekend were there for the marathon, and most of them were sleeping by 7:30 that night. And many who participated in the half marathon that morning were probably dead tired an in bed too. So we had a run of the place for an hour and a half. Club Cool, Test Track, Spaceship Earth, Soarin' and pin trading were the order of the day. To underscore how empty it was, Test Track was a walk-on and Soarin' was a 10 minute wait! To think that we rode both Toy Story Mania and Soarin' within the same hour without fastpasses is basically miraculous.

After Epcot, we headed back to our room. Turns out Hope couldn't sleep due to the excitement. But eventually, we all went to sleep - after we made sure three different alarms were set for 2:30 a.m. (my cell phone, Hope's cell, and front desk wake-up call).

Sunday, January 10th: Walt Disney World Marathon, Mickey Medal, Celebrate!

Hope looks like she's about to scale the Himalayas.

2:30 came quickly. After getting Hope bundled up, she headed out to the bus stop at about 3:50 a.m. The bus stop was basically 50 yards away from our room, across the narrow Caribbean Beach parking lot. This was VERY convenient and helped tremendously. I went back in and set my cell phone alarm for 6:30 a.m. - we wanted to get to the Magic Kingdom to see Hope running into the castle at about 7:30 - 7:45...her predicted time for that mile.

There she is! At the Ticket & Transportation Center!

We got there for 7:30 - but couldn't get to the actual park. Due to how they had the parking lot divided at that time to accommodate for the runner's path, we couldn't get to the monorail or ferry. So we had to watch from the Ticket and Transportation Center area. And shortly after we arrived, there she was! Perfect timing!

Don't they look toasty warm?

After she stopped briefly and passed by, we took off for the Animal Kingdom to meet her again at about mile 18. We got there about an hour or so before she was predicted to get there, but it afforded us to find a good spot to see her coming. There she was!

Hope on mile 18 at Animal Kingdom.
She was in some serious pain from her IT Band by this point.

After AK, we headed to Epcot for the finish of the race. It was a mad house. Check out the line to get in:

Getting into Epcot was crazy. Not New Years Eve crazy, but crazy nonetheless.

We knew we had some time, so we visited Minnie to walk her for a while. Here at Disney, she was a superstar - people think she's gorgeous.

This would have been a great spot - if I were 10' tall.

After that, we hunted for a good spot to find Hope hopefully cross the finish line. It wasn't easy. And while we couldn't get a spot at the actual finish line with a clear shot to see her approach, we did get an area that lead up to the finish line stretch...and there she was!

Hope approaching the final .2. When she saw us, she smiled and booked it!

She was in pain, but she is a warrior and she finished! Yay Hope! I was so very proud of her. A marathon is no joke. Especially with her IT band problems, a head cold, and frigid conditions. What an accomplishment! The Mickey Medal is hers!

Her precious! The Mickey Medal!

After the marathon, we walked around for a bit and headed back to the resort. Hope stretched, showered and enjoyed her well-deserved Mickey Medal! Then we headed off-site for a post-race celebration dinner at Sweet Tomatoes on 535 across from Downtown Disney - a healthy buffet that would help her recoup some of the 3,000+ calories she just burned. And it's about less than half the price of most WDW restaurants. And it's very good - highly recommended.

She was beat though. Physically drained. After walking around for a while so that muscles wouldn't totally cramp up, we finally went back to the resort to rest up. It was tiring for everyone and the kids wanted a nap too. The three of them stayed while I went to hit Epcot again (I wasn't that tired for some reason - it would hit me a little later).

Monday, January 11th: Check-Out, Fab 5, Minnie, Home

After a great night's sleep at Caribbean beach, we regretfully had to leave. It's always depressing to check out of a Disney hotel - you never want it to end. But we did have to pick up Minnie before noon or there would be an addition fee added on to her stay, so even a late check-out wouldn't have helped much.

At Epcot, we partied with the Fab 5.

The four of us walked around Epcot for a while, took photos with the Fab 5 at the Character Spot, enjoyed the cold but BEAUTIFUL day around the Showcase for an hour, then got our puppy...and headed home.

A beautiful day around the showcase (and for a Mickey Medal).

All in all, it was a weekend of joy and accomplishment. Even the cold wasn't going to put a damper on things. And as we'll write about in our Marathon-specific articles, nobody puts on an event like Walt Disney World. I only wish I could have run in it. Maybe someday, although my reconstructed knees will probably say differently. We'll see. So if anyone out there is on the fence about participating in Marathon Weekend - let me push you over the fence onto the side of signing up. The sense of team displayed by everyone there was amazing. Seeing all the Donald, Mickey and Goofy medals walking around the parks was also a sight to behold.

It was another incredible Disney getaway.


  1. Congrats, Hope!

    This post, combined with the Disney Parks Blog videos of two of the other participants, almost makes me wish I was a runner. However, every time I go up the stairs, I say to my husband, "The right knee will have to be replaced first!" Haha. I can walk 5Ks with the best of them but running is another story!

    Freaky about the cold! We were there last January (race weekend, ironically) and while it was chillier then than usual, it was nothing compared to the most recent cold snap!

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Hi blondie!

    Thanks for the response! Hey, walking the 5Ks is still awesome and I encourage you to do it.

    With my knees, I can't do marathon, but I am thinking of doing the ESPN 5K with Hope at the end of February. 5Ks are something definitely to be proud of - so definitely do it if you want.

    Thanks for the kind words,

  3. Too funny...I found that there is a Disney 5K that same weekend right after I posted this. I've already told my husband to save the date next year!