Year after year hundreds of thousands of people flock to Walt Disney World Resort in Florida to participate in one of the many running events hosted by RunDisney, the Disney organization that puts on the runs at the parks. These running events are one of-a-kind events for anyone who has grown up as a Disney addict or even for those diehard runners looking for something other than the same old running event. No matter what event you choose to run at Disney World, there is one for everyone. They have morning runs, evening runs and runs that make you use your brain on a scavenger hunt of sorts such as the Expedition Everest Challenge.
Most recently I participated in the 20th anniversary of the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend by running in the half marathon. This event is the grand daddy of them all at the park as it is the namesake event to the Florida theme park. Having run in large scale, early morning races before I knew what to expect to a point, but there were some lessons I learned along the way at Disney World. Hopefully the wisdom I learned can help future Disney runners along the way.
I stayed at an off-campus hotel in Lake Buena Vista, the city where Disney World is located. The hotel was a good neighbor hotel for Disney World so I felt as if I would be totally fine with getting to and from the race as well as the parks. Let’s just say the morning free shuttle was a tremendous help along the way to get to and from the parks at 8:00 a.m. However, seeing as the race started at 5:30 a.m. and you needed to be there far earlier in the morning, I had a significant problem on my hands the morning off that required a pricey cab ride.
I did save money on the hotel cost compared to staying at a Disney resort hotel, but after the entire trip, adding in the resort fee that paid for the shuttle usage and the cab rides needed when shuttles to the hotel weren’t available, I broke even almost for the trip. This lesson taught me to simply stay at a Disney park hotel. There are plenty of options of nicer hotels to more cost effective hotels, but the most important lesson came the morning of the race for why it is significantly easier to just stay at one of the Disney hotels for marathon weekend.
The main reason to stay at a Disney hotel for Marathon Weekend was the transportation. If I was simply going to Disney World without any running, I would happily stay where I did the first time. The transportation system at Disney World is incredible. We took the 8:00 a.m. shuttle to Epcot every morning then from there hopped on the monorail or a Disney bus to the park or location of choice each day. It worked like a charm and made getting around an absolute breeze. The only advantage of the Disney resort at this point was that you could go straight from the hotel to whichever park you wanted without the step in between.
The advantage of the Disney hotel for race weekend is the race itself. Roads are closed, it is the middle of the night and nothing but cabs and employees are on the road. We left the hotel at 3:00 a.m. and paid $30.00 for a cab ride to the race start area at Epcot. We definitely did not have the cab money to get back to the hotel for after the race thanks to that, but that was a problem for later in the day. However, all the people who stayed in a Disney resort had a shuttle bus from their hotel right to the race start compliments of Walt Disney World. Those same shuttle buses were there after the race to take them back to the hotel as well. I envied those people quite a bit as I sat there exhausted and drenched in sweat after the race. Simply put, if you are there for a race weekend, stay in the hotels, there is a reason Walt Disney World has such a successful transportation system.
GOING TO THE PARKS
What is a trip to Disney World without going to the parks? Sure, you run through them during the race, but running is not going on rides or eating a Mickey Mouse pretzel. The parks are the best part of the trip. My personal preference is go to the parks before the run unless you are a seasoned pro of a runner and recover quickly. As well, I suggest the day before the run is the best day to go to Animal Kingdom. The park closes early, usually 6:00 p.m. This will allow you to go to the park in full, get out at a decent hour, have a dinner, relax, sleep and be ready to run the next day. You will appreciate that bit of advice.
Magic Kingdom is open the latest, I would say to go there the first day or the last, the day after you run, as a grand finale to the trip. Epcot is a huge park. There aren’t many rides, but you can go on some as well as wander country after country in their World Showcase eating and drinking to your heart’s content. Hollywood Studios has shows, rides and a lot to see and do that should take a full day to enjoy with ease. No matter which one or how many parks you go to, you are bound to have fun. Just make sure you have comfortable shoes on, keep drinking lots of water and don’t do anything to get a blister on your feet.
Simply put, running a race at Walt Disney World is amazing. There are characters on the course ready and willing to take pictures with you and running through the theme parks themselves really is nothing short of enjoyable. The chills you get at the fireworks to start every group of runners makes you feel special and other than the unpredictable Florida weather, it is really hard to find something to not be happy about during these races. Disney World knows how to host a race and should be something you should take advantage of if you are a runner or even a casual exerciser who just happens to love all things Disney. Have fun!
Danny has completed half marathons in seven states now on his way to running one in all fifty states. He maintains a personal blog to update his friends and family of his travels. He has participated in the in the past at the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend in January.