If you’ve followed my blog for a while, it’s probably pretty obvious that I love to run. Although I’m slower than molasses, I still consider myself a runner and often strive to reach “running goals” such as beating a previous 5K time, running for X amount of minutes nonstop, or running longer distances. I had initially set out to run a half marathon (which I achieved after a year of running) and can now say I have completed not one, not two, but THREE half marathons. Seems pretty pathetic compared to a friend of mine who has completed over 70 half marathons, but compared to so many on the couch, I’m rockin’ it.
Early last year, a friend of mine asked me to register for the 2016 Disney Princess Half Marathon through RunDisney. I’d never participated in a Disney race before, so I had no idea what to expect regarding registration, travel, the actual race, etc. Luckily, my friend had done enough research to be prepared for pretty much anything (with the help of many blogs like this offering race reviews) and I just followed her lead.
Race: Disney Princess Half Marathon
Location: Orlando, FL
Date: February 22, 2016
Time: 5:30 AM
Registration Price: $185.00 (registration only- does NOT include airfare, hotel, food, etc.)
What’s Included: Race t-shirt, finisher medal, post-race food
Stars: ★★★★☆ (4 out of 5)
If you read this review and decide to register for this race, just know you have to register HELLA EARLY. This is because the half sells out within hours of registration opening. I actually took time off work to come home where I would have access to more than one computer so that I could increase my chances of registering for the race before it sold out (as did my other 3 travel mates- Amy, Jessica, and Emily). We each had multiple computers, tablets, and phones in front of us, consistently hitting the “refresh” button until we were able to log in to Active.com.
Here’s a tip: Follow “Team #runDisney” on Facebook right now. While waiting for registration to open, I found a link that another member posted on the forum that led me straight to the Active.com link. This saved me precious minutes and ensured I was able to register. Plus, this group is super helpful about all things RunDisney.
Registration opened in July of 2015, so I had plenty of time to prepare for the upcoming trip. We actually contacted a travel agent (contact information included at the bottom of this post) who took care of getting our hotel booked. She’s also participated in several RunDisney events and knew the ins and outs of what to do and what not to do. The only thing we had to do was schedule our airfare (which we did through Southwest Airlines) and send her our flight information so that she could schedule us for the Magical Express. If you aren’t familiar with this, it’s a service offered by Disney that lets you get off the plane, board their bus to take you to the airport, and the Magical Express will deliver your luggage to you. This means you don’t have to travel to baggage claim to get your stuff. Awesome, right!?
Let’s just get this out of the way: RunDisney is VERY expensive. Not only is the registration cost more than what I have paid for any other race, you also have to take into account the airfare (or gas if you drive), hotel, food, souvenirs, expo purchases, and any visits to any parks or attractions. With everything we did at Disney, I spent around $1,000.00 (my soul just died a little) and I only did the half marathon and one park!
Disney makes a lot of money off forcing you to buy everything from them, so be prepared to spend more money than you anticipate. For example, there was not a coffee maker in our room and I was told all Disney resorts don’t have one. This forces you to buy their (really crappy) coffee at the “food court” for almost $3.00 a cup (dang, it ain’t even Starbucks!).
As I previously mentioned, my friends and I caught a flight through Southwest Airlines into Orlando (well, with the exception of Emily who took another airline, but she flew in from New York) and arrived around mid day on Friday. My husband flies Southwest allll the time (he travels constantly) and I’ve rarely had or heard of someone having a bad experience with them. I <3 Southwest!
We got off the plane, walked a ways to the Magical Express (seriously, it’s a long way), and boarded the bus to our resort- Art of Animation. We got off the bus and went straight to our rooms (also a very long walk), then went out to the resort and grabbed a bite to eat (yet again, another long walk).
This is actually one of my biggest complaints about the trip: The food was meh. Disney resorts aren’t located close to restaurants (except Disney restaurants and “food courts”) so you’re very limited as to what you can eat. Plus, it’s VERY expensive (a hamburger was $11) and the cost adds up quick. I’d suggest packing some snacks in your luggage to keep from spending so much money on food.
Our hotel was pretty awesome. Even though Art of Animation is considered an “economy” Disney resort, it has everything you would need for a trip like this or even a family vacation. The hotel is absolutely beautifully decorated and, although the rooms are small, they are very nice.
Once we got settled in to our rooms and ate, we hopped another bus to the expo. Apparently everyone else had the same idea we did because it was very crowded.
We had read on various RunDisney Facebook pages that people had lost their daggum minds at the expo, pushing and shoving to get the best gear, so I was worried I’d have to pop a cap in somebody (joking…sort of). Once we got there, my anxiety was at ease a bit when I realized that even with a large crowd, Disney is REALLY good at organizing things to flow smoothly. There was a lot of signage directing you where to go and all of the volunteers and employees were super helpful.
Oh, speaking of employees, Disney employees are by far the most friendly, helpful employees of pretty much any business on the planet. These employees would go above and beyond to make sure they answered your questions or provided you directions to ensure your trip was enjoyable and painless. Customer service is a huge pet peeve of mine, but I can tell you Disney employees are on point! This includes hotel employees, bartenders, check-in, expo, security, etc.
I was happy with what was offered at the expo, but I wouldn’t say the offerings were above and beyond other races I have been to. Each vendor was appropriate for the location and had a lot to offer, but my favorite vendor was the one…the only…Jeff Galloway! (Seriously, we were Starstruck!)
I actually ended up buying a different costume at the expo. I had planned to go as Ana from Frozen but changed to Esmeralda when I saw a super cute skirt and accessory layover at the Sparkle Skirt booth. I also bought a BeeCause charm (or several) and a headband.
Overall, I was happy with the expo, but I still don’t understand the previous day’s freakout over Disney merchandise. In my opinion, Disney should only allow registered runners into the expo to keep patrons from coming in and buying all the merchandise, or limit each person to a certain number of items.
Saturday was open for us, so my sister, Amy, and I decided to hop an Uber to Universal Studios (Amy’s first Uber ride!). Jessica, Emily, and her husband James chose to do something else in order to rest their legs for the race. We really wanted to do something that our young kids probably wouldn’t be able to do if they were with us (mom guilt setting in) so we decided Universal was the best place to go. We had to take Uber because the Disney buses obviously don’t travel there since it is not a Disney attraction. The Uber cost around $15 one way which was HALF the price it would have been to take a Mears taxi offered at the resort.
Amy and I had an absolute BLAST at Universal Studios. Both of us were like kids who saw shooting stars when we walked into the Harry Potter attraction. I felt like we were in the movie! I honestly haven’t had that much fun in a long time. It offered me a chance to really bond with my sister and just let my worries go for a bit. Even with a Fast Pass, we were on our feet quite a bit at Universal. Later in the day, I came to the realization that the trip to Universal before the race might have been a mistake, but I honestly don’t regret it.
After Universal, Amy and I grabbed a quick to-go dinner from the “food court” and came back to the room. We laid out everything we would need for race day and went to bed super early since we would have to be up, ready, and on the bus before 4:00 am.
RACE DAY (SUNDAY)
You would think I would be used to getting up early for races, but getting up at 2:00 am to go run a half marathon was quite awful. I had already taken a shower the night before, so I only had to put on my race gear, brush my teeth and my hair, and a few small girly things like makeup. We were out the door and at the bus loading area by 3:05 am.
It only took a few minutes to get our destination, so I was good and awake. However, I had not had any coffee (I’m a huge coffee addict) and was starting to get a little ill. Luckily Jessica saved the day and brought some money to the race, so she bought me a cup of coffee. I had also grabbed a bag of food from the “food court” the night before, so I snacked on a bagel with some peanut butter, some blueberries, and a banana. I knew if I didn’t eat something before running, I would get really sick, especially since I had taken some medicine when I got up.
We had to sit around a while before we were able to head to our corrals. We took that time to admire everyones costumes and potty. One of my favorite costumes I saw was a man in a Triton costume complete with a long beard, long blond hair, and a triton. I went as Esmeralda after a costume change at the expo, and was pleasantly surprised to not see a single person in the same costume!
Around 4:45 am, we started walking to our corral. This was a very long walk (much like basically everything else at Disney) but it gave us a chance to warm up a little. Once we made it to our corral (Corral I), we had to wait a bit for the race to start. Corral A was allowed to start, then there was about a 3 minute pause between each corral before us.
Something I really liked was the release of fireworks at the start of every corral. I was cold, tired, and hungry prior to race start, so the fireworks and music really helped to pump me up.
Race start! We set off in Corral I shortly before 6:00 am, and it didn’t take long to realize there were probably a lot of people who had lied when they submitted their proof of time. I’m a slow runner, and even with running at a very slow pace, I was passing runners in corrals before me with haste.
Here’s my biggest complaint of the race, and it probably isn’t even the fault of Disney: Many of these runners didn’t know simple race etiquette.
There were several portions of the course that would narrow significantly, and during these portions you would have runners line up 4-5 wide while walking and block the course. I had to do a lot of weaving and “ON YOUR LEFT!” yelling, so it wore me out quicker than I anticipated. Yeah, yeah, yeah…I know, I should have expected crowds (and I did!) but I was hopeful that this would be a race with more experienced runners who would know the basics of being a courteous runner. I was wrong.
As for the course itself, I wasn’t very impressed. We did a lot of running on the highway (included an on-ramp that was extremely uneven and potentially dangerous as a runner) and in a lot of places that weren’t very scenic, but race organizers did a great job of ensuring you were entertained along many portions of the course with music and signage. Oh, and don’t forget all of the characters! I didn’t personally stop to take a photo with any characters due to the extremely long lines, but it was awesome running by and seeing all the characters in action.
If you’re worried about water stops, don’t be. There were plenty of well stocked and staffed water and Powerade stations along the course with the exception of Mile 8. Around Mile 8 was a GU station which we were desperately hoping was a water station. Either way, I still felt like the water amenities along the course were adequate.
By the time we reached Epcot, I knew the race was coming to a close and I was really needing the end to happen. I was beyond exhausted, but mostly because I had not trained for this race like I should have. Truth is, life just got in the way and I had not stepped foot on the pavement to run in over a month! I figured I would “just wing it” and, well, that was a huge mistake. The point I’m making here is that if you train for this race, you will do just fine. Don’t do like me and “just wing it”.
By the time the race ended, I felt like I was going to die. Amy felt the same way, so we told each other that once we crossed the finish line, we were heading straight to the buses (and we did). We passed the finish line and walked straight through the post race goodies (ok fine, I grabbed a box) and got in line for the bus. This took about 5-10 minutes in all and I have honestly never been happier to sit down in my entire life.
Once we got back to the hotel, nausea came over me like white on rice. I struggled to take my clothes off to hop in the shower and rinse myself off. I ended up falling asleep with a towel on my head in a matter of 0.939839485 seconds and slept for a good four hours. I woke up feeling a little better but had to eat a pack of crackers. I’m not sure if it was from the heat, the lack of food, or the lack of training. I have read some other reviews with people having the same issue as me, though. #spooky #mystery
After waking up and taking a bit to gather myself, I managed to make it to the “food court” with Amy to grab some dinner. It was then we were really useless the rest of the day- we stayed in the room and played Sodoku (and Amy did some homework- she’s in school for her MBA) before we retired to the bed again.
I. was. exhausted.
IF YOU’RE WORRIED ABOUT GETTING SWEPT
One thing I was really worried about prior to the race was getting swept by the balloon ladies. I had read some horror stories on the Team #runDisney page and through various blogs I had found after we registered, but none of them said this: You will be fine. I didn’t see the ballon ladies one time because there were literally thousands of people behind me during the entire race.
Here’s my tip: Utilize Jeff Galloway’s run-walk-run method to ensure you make the 16 min/mile pace. I did 45 sec run/60 sec walk and kept a pace of about 13.5-14 min/mile.
Thanks to my noisy Esmeralda costume and my Gymboss, I served as a pace setter for a period of time. Others would say, “Can I pace with you? You are easy to hear.” I died of laughter.
BYE, BYE, MICKEY!
Leaving sunny Orlando and the magical world of Disney caused a pang of sadness to hit me as we boarded the bus for the airport. I knew I was going to have to travel back to reality, but I had such an amazing time on my trip that it was really hard to come to terms with the fact that I have an actual life back in Alabama.
We once again took advantage of Disney’s Magical Express and allowed Disney to take our luggage to the airport. We arrived in Atlanta and were annoyed that we had to pick up our own bags. After all, we had been spoiled! I also dealt with a very rude employee at the Atlanta airport and it made me miss Disney even more. A Disney employee sure wouldn’t have smarted off to me when their signage was incorrect. But whatever, I’m over it (sort of).
Overall, I had a truly magical time at Disney. No, I didn’t train like I should have and yes, I know I shouldn’t “wing it”, but I had fun regardless! I’m not sure if I have plans to do another one any time soon simply due to the cost, but I would highly recommend this race to anyone- especially if you love Disney!
Think my review is crap? Let me know in the comments!
You can contact our travel agent, Dianne Johnson, at firstname.lastname@example.org.