Disney Dream Bucket List: Visiting Club 33 !

I don’t recall when I learned about Club 33 for the first time, but ever since I guided the UnDISCOVERed Future World Tour in Epcot, I knew that it was an exclusive place for the most elite of Disney guests. Lots of rumors and urban legends surround this famous address of 33 Royal Street, which add to the exclusivity and intrigue.

So naturally, I needed to find out how I could get in! 🙂

From what I knew, the only people that are able to secure reservations are members of the club – and the club, well it’s pretty darn exclusive! According to Wikipedia, as of 2011, there was a 14 year waiting list for new memberships. The membership waiting list was re-opened in May 2012 after being closed for over a decade. And get this…corporate members pay an initiation fee of $27,500, and individual members pay $10,000 in addition to annual dues, which are about $6,100 or $3,500 – yikes! That wasn’t happening for me anytime soon!!

So, it was back to the drawing board. I knew a few friends from my cast member days that had visited the club in the past, through family or friend connections, but whenever I asked them about it, the response would be something like, “oh, we were just lucky to be asked,” or a “so-and-so arranged this for us….” kind of situation – and to be honest, it wasn’t something I wanted to annoy anyone about, I just wanted to find out the best way to get in!

For the weeks leading up to our trip to Disneyland, my friend Matthew and I worked diligently at a few angles – each to no avail. As much as I wanted to experience Club 33, I also didn’t want to irritate or get in ‘anyone’s face’ about it, either. So, I patiently  searched around, eventually making a connection with a friend in a running group that had an in through her corporation.

In the interest of protecting her privacy, I will call this friend Lillian 🙂 Well, Lillian is a sweet friend and she had the pleasure of have visited Club 33 several times in the past, thanks to her corporate membership. I found this pretty interesting and kind of geekily cool as one of the urban legends of the name “Club 33” came from just that: the number of corporations that originally sponsored pavilions / attractions in Disneyland around the time that it opened in 1967. Take a look. So that was kind of neat!!

Lillian was going to be in town for the Tinkerbell Half Marathon as well and had arranged two separate reservations: one on Friday night, prior to the race and one on Sunday, after the race. After exchanging some messages, Lillian was able to secure two spots for me – which I was definitely grateful for – after some deep thinking, I asked Matthew if it was alright if I took my sister along and he agreed it was the best idea…and it was settled: my sister and I were going to Club 33 on Friday, January 18!

There was only one problem with this situation – Club 33 had a dress code, and since I confirmed this reservation while I was on racecation, all I had were running clothes! Yikes! Thankfully after a visit to Apricot Lane, that was resolved. Phew!

So on Friday evening, we arrived in New Orleans Square and waited for Lillian to arrive. We scoped out the area – people waiting to get into the Blue Bayou…wandering around the shops…a little chill in the air…it was so exciting! We saw a few people enter into the waiting area by buzzing the button at Club 33 and we just couldn’t wait to go in!

Me and J @ Club 33!

Me and J @ Club 33!

Lillian was running late, but in the meantime, we were able to meet our other dining companions – P and her family! They were fun and we chatted it up before Lillian arrived.

Elevator

Elevator

Once she did arrive, we buzzed in and were met by the friendly Cast Member inside the lobby. He welcomed us to the restaurant and gave us a little history about the cool elevator…apparently Walt Disney himself had seen this incredible glass lift in a Paris hotel and offered to purchase it, as it had impressed him so much! Well, the owner refused, but that didn’t deter Walt – he had some staff travel to Paris to take measurements and make drawings to recreate it for Disneyland 🙂

Going UP!

Going UP!

On the second level of Club 33 are the dining areas: the Main Dining Room and the Trophy Room. We were in the former.

Entering the dining area.

Entering the dining area.

The lighting was very subdued and although the vibe was fancy, it didn’t feel stuffy or uncomfortable, which was a nice surprise. We were just soaking in the experience!

J enjoying Club 33.

J enjoying Club 33.

Oh, and here’s something else to consider when you visit Club 33 for dinner…the minimum charge per person is $80. As a person that usually spends $25-30 (total) for both me and hubby…that was interesting. Fortunately, my mom was generous enough to cover the meal for J and myself.

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The prixe fix.

We were too excited by the menu options to go prixe fix (seen above) so we did our own ordering. Here’s a run down of what we ordered:

  • J: AppetizerRegional Cheese Tasting (Chef’s Selection of Cow, Sheep and Goat Milk Cheeses, Blood Orange Three Ways) & Little Gem Lettuce Salad (Marinated Golden Beet, Candied Pecam, Butternut Squash Emulsion, Granny Smith Vinaigrette)
  • Me: AppetizerSustainable Day Boat Alaskan Scallop (Truffled Goat Cheese, Cauliflower Cappucino, Hazelnut Froth, Crispy Ravioli Sheet) 

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  • J: EntreeKing Crab Stuffed Lobster Tail (Crisp Coppa Ham, Lemon Verbena Fettucini, Shaved Saffron Fennel, Fortified Oxtail Broth)
  • Me: Entree – Filet of Pan Roasted Chateaubriand (Canadian Style Yukon Gold Potato, Aromatic Parsnip Puree, Chipotle Salted Hollandaise)

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Hungry yet? Here’s what everything looked like!

Cheese Plate

Cheese Plate

Little Salad.

Little Gem Lettuce Salad.

Scallop!

Scallop!

and the entrees…

King Crab Stuffed Lobster

King Crab Stuffed Lobster

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Filet.

The food was DEVINE! I mean, wow. The combinations of flavor, quality and presentation was beyond what we could have imagined. I ate half of my entree (you could cut the meat with your fork, that’s how tender it was) though because you KNOW I had to try the desserts…

S'more stack!

S’more stack!

We didn’t have a dessert menu, but believe me, when our amazing server uttered the word “s’more” I did not hesitate!

J's desert.

J’s desert: Creme Brulee duo w/ fruit and cookies.

J loves creme brulee as much as I love s’mores so – yes, we were SMITTEN ❤ Lillian was celebrating a birthday that week so she requested the birthday cake. So cute!

Birthday dessert.

Birthday dessert.

I had my entree boxed up then we strolled around the restaurant before heading out – J also wanted to purchase a souvenir 🙂

Special Club 33 Merch.

Special Club 33 Merch.

Silver or gold keychains

Silver or gold keychains (what J bought)

Before heading back to the table, we also had to check out the balcony, looking down onto New Orleans Square:

Unique view :)

Unique view 🙂

…and a little dance time – you, channeling the spirit of Mardi Gras 😉

Dancing on the Balcony!

Go J, go!

Before we knew it, we realized that we’d been in Club 33 for several hours – and it was time to bid adieu to our dining mates – though there was one matter that still had to be taken care of…

$$$.

$$$.

Glad I wasn’t taking care of the total bill! Wow.

Now it's time to say goodbye...

Now it’s time to say goodbye…

We thanked Lillian profusely and ended up walking with her out of the park. It was such a treat – and it made me really realize that it was totally worth it to ‘work our way’ into this experience – it made us appreciate it a lot more. So my advice to anyone wanting to visit Club 33 is this…don’t give up! Use your social networks – online and in person. You may be surprised who you know is a member – and once you do figure it out, THANK THEM! In our experience, I was able to gift an extra theme park ticket to Lillian that I wasn’t using as a small token of my appreciation, but like I said, there was really no way we could thank her enough! Visiting the club is really something special.

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We’ll never look at this sign the same way again!

Sources:

Walt and Mickey’s Special Place – Club 33 

Club 33 – Wikipedia

What are the special Disney experiences on your bucket list?

Resort Review: Disney’s Beach Club Villas

First off….Happy Birthday to my DAD! Wish I was there celebrating with him back in Japan!

Mom, Dad me and hubs in Hawaii, 2011.

Mom, Dad me and hubs in Hawaii, 2011.

My dad has never been the biggest Disney fan, but he has always been a good sport so I thought about him as I wrote this post – I am sure he would like to visit WDW again with DVC because that means he could play a few rounds of golf! 😀 But anyway, a big birthday shout out to my dad, born the same year that Disneyland opened (there’s some trivia for ya).

As mentioned in my Tuesday post in which I reviewed Bay Lake Tower, my racecation started at the picturesque Beach Club Villas, which are located in the Epcot resort area, across the lake from Boardwalk Inn and Villas and provide direct walking (and water, via boat) access to both Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

On account of my travel fiasco, I didn’t reach the hotel room until almost 9 PM the night before the marathon, so needless to say, I didn’t get a whole lot of time to enjoy and relax upon arrival. However, my awesome travel companions Rachel and her fiance Tavis did snap some great pics and were gracious enough to share them with me.

Beach Club Villa: 1 BR living room area.

Beach Club Villa: 1 BR living room area.

I was so very excited to have secured this reservation for marathon weekend: a lovely and spacious one bedroom unit! This one was appointed nicely and featured the fabulous amenities of a large living room area, (that couch is a fold out double bed) stocked kitchen, (with fridge, oven, stove, dishwasher) large bathroom with walk in shower and huge soaking tub, as well as a separate master bedroom, all connected by a GIANT balcony that overlooked the pool!

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Beach Club Villa: 1 BR Master Bedroom

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Beach Club Villa: 1 BR – Kitchen

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Beach Club Villa: 1 BR view from balcony of quiet pool

These accommodations were fabulous! I loved the themeing, the cleanliness, the friendliness of the staff, the size of the rooms, the ease of accessing both quick and full service dining and OF COURSE, the proximity to Epcot. And though I wish we could have stayed longer so I could have experienced even more of the benefits of the resort (I didn’t even make it to Stormalong Bay, boo!) it was SO awesome to take my post marathon run in such a beautiful setting.

In the interest of fairness, here are my PRO and CON observations from my stay at this resort:

PROS

  • Location – Let’s face it, the closer I can be to Epcot, the better! From my room to the International Gateway, it was less than 10 minutes…this was amazing.
  • Convenience – Another bonus…love the fact that foot travel, busses, car parking and boats were all options here – never had to wait long to get anywhere, including marathon morning transportation.
  • Rooms – GORGEOUS, large and well appointed, I had nary a complaint about our villa room.

CONS

  • ummm…that I am not there right now? 😉

Really though, I have no issues at all about this resort and look forward to another stay here…maybe sometime in the future for Flower and Garden Festival or Food and Wine for that Epcot access…or even Star Wars Weekends, to walk over to studios would be nice 😀

What’s your favorite time of year to go on vacation? Any dream destinations?

Liebster Award – Fall 2014 version

I was nominated for the Liebster Award by Bill at rillaruns. The Liebster Award is a prestigious award where I get to answer a bunch of personal questions. Then I get to nominate more bloggers to help widen their audience 🙂

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1. What are your current running related goals?

Short term: Half Marathon PR (sub 1:45) / Mid-term: BQ is always a driver / Long term: Run forever. Avoid injury.

2. What is your biggest irrational fear?

Mixing up the gas and break pedal somehow when driving.

3. Do you enjoy wrapping presents?

Yes! It’s like a puzzle and I love giving gifts.

4. What’s your favorite cross training activity?

Does walking count? LOL. Other than that, I like Jillian Michaels DVDs.

5. If I came to visit you, what would we do?

Oooh! Sarasota is awesome! First, we’d go for a run at the Sarasota Bayfront (and over the Ringling Causeway) or the Legacy Trail, then grab a coffee at Perq. If it’s a sunny day, we can drive over to Siesta Key or Lido Beach, and hang out at St. Armands. If it’s raining, we can spend a few hours at the Ringseeling Museum!

6. You have 2 weeks off of work and 2 round trip plane tickets to ANYWHERE. Where would you go and who would you take?

Japan! I’d take my hubs because he still hasn’t been and you need at least that amount of time to get acclimated to the time change.

7.  What’s the most embarrassing thing that has ever happened to you during a run or race?

Hmm. After the WDW Marathon Weekend 10K, I realized that my yarn pigtails shedded and left lint on my shoulders and underarms. Whoops.

8. Tell me the 3 best days of your life. Or at least the first 3 that pop into your mind.

  • Seeing my sister crowned as Prom Queen! (2006)
  • Crossing the finish line of my first marathon (Richmond, 2011). I felt like I could do anything!
  • The day hubs picked me up from the airport and I met Dug for the first time (2013)!! (he was adopted while I was on vacation!)

9. Okay, you HAVE to eat a fast food meal. What restaurant would you choose and what would you order?

In-N-Out Burger! Also see: my fave post-race food. I would get a double double with cheese, fries and a chocolate shake.

10. Have you ever met a celebrity?

I’ve seen a few, does that count? When I worked at Disney: Vanessa Williams, Corbin Bleu, Metallica, Joan Rivers, Ray Park, Billy Dee Williams, Dog the Bounty Hunter, Andrew Zimmern, and some other people I am probably forgetting.

11. Share a picture of yourself in non workout clothes!

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Me and my awesome sis in the antique French Lift, Club 33, Tinker Bell Half Weekend 2013.

 

Hmm that took way longer than I thought to find! LOL.

12. If you could choose to have a ‘do-over’ and switch careers, what would you choose and why?

Hmmm…maybe I’d pick a more “practical” and non broad major. LOL. No regrets, though.

13. If you won the Olympic Gold Medal – how do you think you would react?

Um…what sport would I compete in? Hmm. I guess I would be shocked because I have no idea what I’d do.

14. What do you want for Christmas?

A real Christmas tree! First one, and first Christmas in our new house! 🙂

And for my final trick I will be nominating two other bloggers to carry on the tradition of the Liebster Award. These are a couple of bloggers that I follow, so you know they’re good – and I went with a theme, too 😉

Jillian at Jillian Keeps Moving Forward

Justin at Always Running Foward

Go ahead and answer the questions that I did, with the option of changing one question to something you’d rather answer. Enjoy the experience and I am looking forward to learning your deep, dark secrets!

Krissy ❤

A snuggly inspiration.

tshirts.jpgFor quite some time, I have been kicking around the idea of creating a functional reminder of my running journey. Naturally, this memento would have a variety of layers, and provide a great basis for storytelling – so, what else could be better than a t-shirt quilt?

Although far from a super unique or original idea, after I set my mind to it, I made an effort to separate all my race shirts that would potentially be included into a big shopping bag..for years. Really, years. I mean, I had grand plans for a snuggly little blanket since I earned my second runDisney shirt (the 2011 Disneyland Half, still my favorite half marathon around) but each time I set the shirts out, and checked around for price quotes, I took another step backward!

That is, of course, until this week. I saw a deal floating around on Living Social through a company called Project Repat that not only boasted some of the most competitive pricing I have seen, and is completely done in the U.S.A., by fair wage employees – and they are totally okay with handling tech fabric!

So, I purchased my deal last night, and then ventured into the hall closet where I had been storing my shirts. Unfolding each, I set them into square shapes, and created a pattern. I had chosen “full size” which meant 30 designs, 6 down, 5 across. Seeing each shirt was pretty emotional, as I thought of all the memories associated with every event – and so I thought I’d take a moment to share why I picked each:

  • Row 1 (left to right): 2011 Walt Disney World Half Marathon, 2011 Disneyland Half Marathon, 2012 Princess Half Marathon, 2012 Jingle Jungle 5K, and 2012 Wine and Dine Half Marathon – this row is all about my first runDisney experiences! I ran my first half just five months after I started running, and surprised myself with a 2:04 finish, despite the fact that I wasn’t able to run further than 8 miles in training, due to getting sick. After that first race…I was hooked! I did my first Coast to Coast challenge that year, and was excited to earn a 1:48 PR just 8 months later, then really realized how much I loved the runDisney events! Princess was a fun experience (probably the last cool weather weekend of that series that’s occurred in recent history – and it marked the first time I wore a costume for a race), and then that fall, I was excited to run my first runDisney 5K, and pace my hubs at Wine and Dine for his first half marathon, ever! This was also the race weekend where I attended my first runDisney meetup!
  • Row 2 (left to right): 2013 Walt Disney World Marathon, 2013 Neverland 5K, 2013 Tinker Bell Half Marathon, 2013 Coast to Coast, and 2013 Disneyland 10K – this row solidifies my growing love of runDisney by that point! I set out to accomplish another Coast to Coast Challenge, and, after taking a week off of work, had the most magical experience of running WDW and Disneyland in the same week! This race week was also very significant to me because it was the first time I had family cheering me (at Disneyland!) and I was able to run a 5K with my mom and sister. Additionally, I was lucky enough to attend a West Coast runDisney meetup on that trip, and had a blast enjoying a run in a gorgeous, empty Disneyland…and speaking of “once in a lifetime experiences,” this was the trip that I had the pleasure of visiting Club 33 for dinner. Dreams come true!  Of course, I *had* to return to California later that year for the Inaugural Dumbo Double Dare Challenge…
  • Row 3 (left to right): 2013 Disneyland Half Marathon, 2013 Dumbo Dare, runDisney, 2013 Happy Haunted 5K, 2013 Tower of Terror 10-Miler – It was hotter in Disneyland than usual, but this didn’t tamper with the fun! We had a cupcake meetup that trip, and I got to meet so many friends that had, to that point, only existed in my “Internet friend” realm 🙂 That fall, the fun continued with an extended staycation at WDW with Tower of Terror fun with the Sparkle Athletic crew, and tons of fun costumes and laughs.
  • Row 4 (left to right): 2013 Jingle Jungle 5K, 2013 Wine and Dine Half Marathon, 2014 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend 10K, 2014 Expedition Everest Challenge, and “I ❤ Sweat” tee – once again, an example of things just falling in to place! I wasn’t planning on running W+D again, but as luck would have it, I found myself back there, and was able to run with Jillian, and enjoy a great race weekend. When 2014 rolled around, I scaled back to “just” the 10K (since it was an Inaugural event!) at Marathon Weekend, then experienced the Everest Challenge with one of my best friends, Theresa, in May! With that race weekend, I was excited to complete the whole runDisney race “circuit” (with the exception of the new Avengers and Star Wars weekends, of course) and I couldn’t be more proud! From that point, I decided to choose shirts that signified other aspects of my running journey, so I chose my first “non runDisney” shirt wisely with my I HEART SWEAT shirt, which was a reminder that running is not only bigger than us, but can serve as a glue to hold the running community together 🙂
  • Row 5 (left to right): 2010 Moss Park Forest Run 5K, 2010 BOO RUN 10K, 2011 Charlottesville 10-Miler, 2011 Stonewall Jackson 20-Miler, and 2011 Richmond Marathon – this row signifies FIRSTS! Each of these shirts displays my debut into that race distance.
  • Row 6 (left to right): Team in Training Jersey, 2012 Baltimore Marathon, 2013 San Francisco Marathon Ambassador tee, 2014 ZOOMA Florida, and 2013 26.2 with DONNA – last but not least, this is the PRIDE row – these shirts are reminders of running highlights and achievements – my first charity marathon, my marathon PR, my first race ambassadorship (and most scenic marathon!!), my half marathon PR, and last but certainly not least – my most emotional, and life-changing race weekend, with 26.2 with DONNA.

Looking at this collection of shirts, I remind myself – I carry these memories in my heart with each run, and these visual reminders are just one piece of the equation when it comes to my relationship and deep love with running, but I’m excited to see it all come together, and share the tears and smiles with anyone willing to listen!

Now, all I have to do is wait for my shipping instructions and packaging, and then the quilt will be constructed and backed with fleece, ready for reminiscing. Hey, I might even be able to bring it along with me on racecations!

I had a few other shirts that didn’t make the cut, but those were set aside into a shopping bag, and will be donated this week, too, so I hope they can find happy home.

What do you do with your old race shirts?

Highlights of 2013

Inspired by my pal Theresa, here’s a rundown of an event a month, the highlights of the year:

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January: The Great runDisney Coast-to-Coast Adventure of 2013! I ran the 20th Anniversary Walt Disney World Marathon, then flew to Disneyland to run the Tinker Bell Half (and Neverland 5K). Along the way, I was able to spend time with my mom, sister, BFF Matthew and tons of amazing friends. Fulfilled a Disney bucket list item by visiting Club 33, too!

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February: Spending time with my #runDisneyisforVALovers pals, Christine and Katie! We not only arranged running meetups, but ran some local-ish races too, a 14K in Virginia Beach, and a 13.1 in Williamsburg.

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March: Meeting Morgan in person for the very first time! On a whim, we decided to head down to Walt Disney World for St. Paddy’s Day weekend and had an absolute blast.

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April: The Month of many races! Cherry Blossom 10-Miler on my birthday, along with a fun weekend in Baltimore and DC with Theresa, The Blue Ridge Half Marathon and the Nike Womens Half – which I ran with Danielle and Ashley! Lots of miles + smiles 🙂

May: Looking back at my blog, this was definitely a slow month. Let’s say the highlights were that I finished my third to last semester of grad school, and my sis celebrated a birthday 🙂

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June: SAN FRANCISCO! Ahhh so much fun. Ran the San Francisco Marathon, visited all the touristy stuff, marveled at the Walt Disney Family Museum…just amazing. Since our flight was delayed, we didn’t get to spend as much time there as we would have liked, but we did as much as possible in one weekend! That will not be our last visit 🙂

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July: My job’s position was outsourced and we MOVED BACK TO FLORIDA! Yes! This made me very happy.

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August: Another great racecation – this one took me to Disneyland for the Dumbo Double Dare (10K & 1/2) and the Labor Day 1/2 in Seattle, to visit my sister – so much fun. Along the way, Morgan and I held a Cupcake Meetup and raised almost $1000 for St Judes AND I found out that I had been selected for the Oiselle Team!

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September: One word – DUG. While I was in Seattle, hubs visited the Humane Society and the rest is history.

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October: Hit the highest mileage I had ever run….great running month in general, with Tower of Terror Weekend at the start (5K and 10M) and Bill’s Beer Run (5M) at the end.

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November: Paced Jillian for the Wine and Dine Half, and later that month, celebrated 4 years with hubs. Yes, both were great, fun and were joyously commemorated with great food, drink and company 🙂

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December: Ran Space Coast, sailed aboard the Disney Magic, and spent lots of time with friends and family, which was just what I needed. Oh, and I finished my Master’s Degree! Wahoo! 😉

2013 was a year of ups and downs, but looking back here on the last day of it…I can’t help but look up. I’m laughing more, smiling more, and happy to see what else is coming around the bend. There are a lot of unknowns, but one thing is clear: it will be spent on things I value the most: friends and family. Oh, and running. Definitely running.

What were some highlights of your year?

2013 Neverland 5K Recap

My time in Disneyland was short, but I was sure to pack it well with lots of fun events:

Thursday: arrive mid-day with BFF Matthew, checked in to Grand Californian, met up with mom and sister and spent evening at Disney California Adventure (DCA) + watched World of Color.

Friday: Official runDisney meetup, Disneyland + DCA, move over to Paradise Pier Hotel, race expo and Club 33  (recap/review)

Saturday: Neverland 5K, more parkhopping (!!)

Sunday: Tinkerbell Half Marathon (recap)

…so as you can see, it was so much fun – and I refuse to believe that we’re coming up on a month since it all happened…I guess I am in denial! But since I am all about runDisney, it’s about time I share this recap – truly a top 3 moment in my racecation!

Flora, Fauna and Merryweather

Flora, Fauna and Merryweather AKA my mom, me and my sister 🙂

The Neverland 5K was my second runDisney 5K event (see this recap of the 2012 Jingle Jungle 5K) and it was especially special because it was the first event that I would be participating in with my family! My mom and sister have done a few 5Ks in the past, but never one at a Disney resort or in costume 😉 I had tossed out the idea to both of them a few months before Tinkerbell rolled around (they already were going to be traveling to the Disneyland Resort to see me run the half) and they both seemed pretty interested in it! The race was already sold out at that point , but there were still some registrations avaialble through an official travel agency (Hsubu, would definitely recommend them) so I jumped on those!

The pre-race pic!

The pre-race pic!

Like many other runDisney events, this one took place in the early hours before park open – and though the start time was 5:45 AM, race instructions had requested runners arrive starting around 5:00 AM. Fortunately, that meant a 4:30 AM wakeup call instead of 2:30 AM or 3 AM one like in Walt Disney World, since it was just a 15 minute walk.

Fairies in Disneyland!

Fairies in Disneyland!

I met up with my mom and sister right outside the gates of Disneyland and we were sure to drop some items at bag check (outside the park) then grab a pic before proceeding in. It was the first time for both of them to wear Team Sparkle and they looked so cute!

Posing on Main Street USA

Posing on Main Street USA

Headed into the park, there was loud pop music playing! My sister is a part-time Zumba instructor so she was warming up with some sweet dance moves 😀 I tried, too, it certainly didn’t look as…well…skillfull 😉 We were having fun though, so that was all that mattered!! It was kind of chilly and dark, but the warm personalities of Pirates Carissa and Rudy, the time passed quickly…before we knew it, we were off (Corral B) and en route through Disneyland!

Fireworks before the start!

Fireworks before the start!

We settled into a comfortable jog pace pretty quickly and I confirmed with my mom and sister that we’d grab pictures with the characters we were interested in. Early off, there were folks walking so it was a bit of a dart and dash scenario, but not terribly congested.

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In front of it’s a small world

Running by ‘it’s a small world’ was definitely a BRIGHT moment for me (hehe). It is my favorite attraction, and seeing it all lit up was so magical! From that point on the course we went backstage a bit, back on and through Fantasyland and Toon Town.

With Peter Pan and Wendy!

With Peter Pan and Wendy – right before iasm.

We were a bit ‘ahead of the crowd’ which was nice – short or no line for pics! Soon enough, we looped out to Frontierland / New Orleans Square area.

How perfect for a Neverland race...the lost boys!

How perfect for a Neverland race…the lost boys!

We were getting lots of compliments on our costumes and it was feeling just so darn fun! My sister and I were waving around our wands like crazy and my mom was rocking the pace, despite saying she “hadn’t trained.” PSHAW!

Sis in front of her fave attraction!

Sis in front of her fave attraction!

We kept on and before we knew it, we were crossing over to Disney California Adventure! There were less character opportunities, but we still had a blast checking out the park dressed up in lights. Then…this awesomeness:

Lightning McQueen + Mater!

Lightning McQueen + Mater!

The friendly character attendant in Cars Land took this pic for us – and yes, if you have never been to Cars Land before, it REALLY does feel like you have stepped into – err, ran into – Radiator Springs! Ka-chow!

Mile 3 was upon us before we knew it…

Arriving at Paradise Pier!

Arriving at Paradise Pier!

Cheesin' for the photographers!

Cheesin’ for the photographers!

…and this is where it gets hilarious…

So excited I cannot keep my eyes open ;)

So excited I cannot keep my eyes open 😉

At the Mile 3 marker/photo opp, my mom looked at both me and my sister and said, “Oh, only .1 left?” and once we confirmed this she TOOK OFF! I mean, total sprint!! We had to high tail it after her!!!

Finally caught up with her!

Finally caught up with her!

We had to move FAST to catch her, but we did and linked arms for a photo finish!

Laughing so hard!!

Laughing so hard!!

We exited the chute quickly and were awarded our medals and treat bags!

Official finishers!!

Official finishers!!

It felt so awesome to finish the race with two of my favorite people with me! I think they got a taste of why I love runDisney so much and honestly, running with them showed me a whole other aspect to enjoy about the races.

5K done, ready to start the Disney day!!

5K done, ready to start the Disney day!!

So, if you’ve been hesitant about running a 5K, I’d definitely recommend checking out a runDisney one if you can! The atmosphere is totally low pressure (no official timing) and is for all levels – from walkers to joggers to runners (my friend Gwynne actually was the first female across the finish line that morning). And if you’ve done some of the longer races before, like halves or full marathons, consider adding the 5K to your race weekend – it’s a fun way to shake out your legs 🙂

What’s the coolest 5K you have ever done?

Last Minute Disney Staycation – Day 2

IMG_5458My alarm went off at 6:30 AM, and as I stretched and looked over to the right, where Abby was sleeping in her pack and play, I marveled at the fact that we had both slept soundly through the night – yay – nearly 10 hours of sleep!

As I got up and switched on the hall light, she began stirring, so I got her out, changed her diaper, and switched on “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse” so I could grab a quick shower. She happily sat down and watched half an episode as I got ready. I packed up our belongings, put on her outfit for the day, and we were out the door by 7:15!

After loading Abby into her carseat, I did a quick check of the stroller situation – after the soggy evening before, unfortunately, it was still very wet! Unfortunately, I had stowed the carrier in the basket below the stroller, and it too, was soaking wet. Oh well! It was decided: we were going to travel very light into Magic Kingdom (MK).

We took the quick drive from Saratoga Springs to MK, and boarded the monorail, en route to Extra Magic Hours (EMH) – our mission? A ride on the carousel – or maybe two – before the chaos of the day set in!

At the MK monorail station, we met up with my friend Jillian, which was super fun! After a few castle selfies and pics, we were off to Fantasyland! Abby was SUPER excited when she saw where we were headed!

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Carousel FTW!

We rode twice in a row, and the hustle to get there so early was SO worth it. Most other guests were in line for Peter Pan’s Flight or the Seven Dwarves Mine Train, so the ride was pretty empty.

Next up, we rode ‘it’s a small world’ since it, too, was a walk-on. Abby really seemed to enjoy this version (she had liked it at Disneyland a lot, too) and by that point, Jillian had to start heading out (she still had to go to work that day) so we walked with her up to Main Street for a stop at Starbucks for refreshments/snacks 🙂

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Snack break!

We found a nice quiet spot to enjoy our iced tea and croissant on Center Street. We could hear all the sounds of Main Street, do some people watching, and stay pretty cool, thanks to the air conditioning wafting out of the stores.

Once we were refreshed and ready to go, it was time to catch the Walt Disney World Railroad on a nice tour around the park, and back to Storybook Circus, so we could be among the first in line to meet Minnie, Daisy, Goofy and Donald in Pete’s Silly Sideshow!

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All the hugs!

Next up? We rode Dumbo! Although we had made a Fastpass the night before, the standby was still only 10 minutes. Abby had a lot of fun! The next things on our agenda were FP at Pirates of the Caribbean and Jungle Cruise, so we walked through Fantasyland, made a pitstop at Gaston’s tavern to meet Gaston himself, then shared a small meal at Pecos Bill’s (the nachos were so good).

At our FP time for POTC, we saw the ride was down, so we headed into the Enchanted Tiki Room (Abby loves birds, so this was a hit). After doubling back to POTC, which was still down, we decided to call it a day (it was really heating up at that point, and my arms were getting a little tired!) so we exited the park, took another monorail ride, and made a pit stop at the Polynesian Village Resort for a Dole Whip Float!

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Dole Whip Floats are always a good idea!

Once we got back to the car, I was considering a stop at another park, or Disney Springs before making the two hour drive home, but seeing as Abby fell asleep the second we pulled onto World Drive, I decided to take advantage of her car nap and head home! She slept about halfway, and we were back in Sarasota by 3 PM.

Our little trip up to Disney was such a great little “mommy and me” trip! We are fortunate to be able to have little escapes from reality like this, and I am glad we took advantage of it!

What We Learned Taking a 4-month old to Walt Disney World

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Our stroller…easy to spot!

This past weekend was a BIG one!

 

As a family, we traveled to Walt Disney World for Abby’s first visit, which was chock-full of unique experiences, including (links to separate linked posts follow as they are written) :

  • Our first Dapper Day
  • The Inaugural runDisney Star Wars Dark Side 10K
  • Our first stay in Club level of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge

Although the trip was way too quick, it certainly was not short on fun. And, as I always like to preface kid-related posts, YMMV – additionally, my personal expectations of a Walt Disney World Resort Vacation are likely very different than the average park-goer, as a former Cast Member and Annual Passholder (i.e. I generally don’t feel as rushed/feel the “commando” need to do/see as much as possible). Additionally, we visited the Magic Kingdom (only one park, only one day – from about noon to 8 PM) on a busier day (likely due to the race weekend/Dapper Day crowds) but with incredibly perfect weather (sunny, high 70s/low 80s, low humidity) so those variables certainly played a part in the flow of our day.

So, without further ado, here are my observations/lessons learned – here…we…go!

I Could Have Skipped the Stroller

Now, this could be a controversial topic (LOL) but hear me out! 🙂

stroller2As a former MK CM (fun fact: my first WDW job was in stroller, locker, ECV and wheelchair rentals), I vowed that I would never bring my child to the park in a stroller (I hated how difficult they were to maneuver, the complaints about lost or stolen ones, and of course, the general lack of guest etiquette when using strollers), but since having a child, my views have generally softened. That being said, I was very iffy whether I was going to bring a stroller for this visit or not – and if I did, if I’d bring my own, or rent one – but in the end, we packed up our own, decorated it, and rolled on to Mainstreet U.S.A. in style.

Once we headed into the thick of things, however, the story changed a bit. The park wasn’t CRAZY busy, but it was pretty congested – people, strollers, wheelchairs, ECVs…and lots of SLOOOWWW moving people. I hate to admit this, but I am a very impatient walker, and tend to get irritated when people are in my way. Or stop in the middle of walkways. Or worse…walk slowly, stop, and then continue to be unaware of their surroundings. YIKES. So, as you can imagine, walking with a stroller, attempting to be mindful of not mowing down others, and maintaining some semblance of a comfortable walking pace – is a challenge.

Thus began my mental pro/con list of using a stroller at Walt Disney World…

PROS

  • Excellent Storage – we were able to pile our diaper bag, umbrella, extra shoes, extra clothes, baby carrier, extra blankets and more into the underseat storage area.
  • Convenience – with four drink holders on our jogger, there was always a place to place a water bottle!
  • Sun/Weather protection – most strollers offers good protection from the sun from the shade/extra blankets, etc. If it had rained, it would have been particularly helpful.

CONS

  • Lots of Backtracking – this, I was prepared for from my CM days! You see, strollers are generally not allowed inside any attraction buildings, so you have to find a stroller parking area. This area may or may not be close to where YOU want to go. You may also have a mom brain and forget where you last parked your stroller 😉
  • Roller Derby mode – PEOPLE DO NOT CARE YOU HAVE  A STROLLER! You have to be a super defensive stroller driver, as people dart ahead of you, stop abruptly, and generally get in your way – but as the stroller driver, you are ultimately at fault if something happens. I tended to just leave our stroller in the parking lots to avoid this, which seemed to undermine the reason to even have it with us.
  • Disney Transportation compatibility – we opted to drive to the Magic Kingdom so we would not have to collapse/re-open the stroller for the bus (and risk not getting a spot). Now, with a standard stroller, this would not have been terrible, but Abby still rides in the infant seat, so this would be rather unwieldy. Thankfully though, you can roll your stroller onto the ferry or the monorail.

…now, as I’ve already mentioned, my child is not-yet-mobile, so that has a lot to do with my experience, but for now, the stroller was definitely NOT a necessity for us this trip! I also realize I am fortunate to have a baby carrier-loving baby!

Breastfeeding was a Breeze

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For the past two months, Abby has been EBF (exclusively breastfeeding) so this part was “easy” in that I did not have to cart along any bottles/extra gear into the parks.* Additionally, as I am usually home with Abby, we’ve practiced nursing in a variety of positions and methods (including, in a soft structured carrier, with or without a cover, etc) so we felt confident about this prior to the trip – something I would definitely recommend to any nursing moms/nurslings.

I packed my Itzy Ritzy nursing infinity scarf (not an affiliate link, just for reference!) as our optional cover, which worked well for nursing during lunchtime. Since I was wearing a halter dress for dapper day, I draped the scarf to the side (see inset image), since I felt pretty covered otherwise. As mentioned above, we spent about 8 hours in the park, so Abby nursed 4 times, in the following places, with ease:

  • Columbia Harbour House – we sat upstairs, where it’s a little quieter, and had a window seat, so we were able to people watch, eat lunch, and enjoy in a calm place.
  • Frontierland, watching parade – loosening the straps on the Kinderpack and lowering Abby, I was able to easily nurse Abby while watching the Festival of Fantasy Parade go by! A cast member kindly allowed me to slip into an alcove between display windows on the wooden walkway, I leaned against the wall a bit, and Abby was able to nurse comfortably.
  • Carousel of Progress – Abby was sitting in my lap, and started to indicate she was hungry, so I turned her around, and she was able to nurse without a fuss.
  • Magic Kingdom Ferry Terminal – it was the end of the day (and past Abby’s bedtime!) but we were waiting to board to head back to the Transportation and Ticket Center, and Abby was hungry, so we moved to the side, took a seat on the bench facing outward (toward the water).

I never felt uncomfortable or at unease through the day, and I was very happy about the experience!

 

The Baby Care Center Rocks

We only stopped in once, but it was definitely an amazing resource to discover!

Back when I was as a Dream Squad Greeter during the Year of a Million Dreams, I was a frequent visitor of the Baby Care Center, where we’d help kids with their missing parents 🙂 I never went past the common area room with tables, coloring pages and a Disney movie playing, but knew that it was a quiet and comfortable place for families.

Located between Main Street and the Crystal Palace Restaurant, the Baby Care Center is a great respite from the heat and features private nursing rooms, a large diaper changing area with multiple tables (see image) and retail sales of common baby items (diapers, wipes, etc). I loved the huge changing room, because although all the restrooms we visited were equipped with changing tables, even the largest ones sometimes only had 1 to offer, so you had to wait. Now, I don’t mind waiting for an awesome attraction, but waiting to change a cranky wet or dirty-diapered baby is certainly not a magical experience, to say the least!

S-L-O-W is the name of the game – so Hakuna Matata!

castleWe spent about 8 hours in the park on Saturday, and rode three attractions – the Jungle Cruise, the Haunted Mansion, and Carousel of Progress. We certainly could have done more (and certainly could have done less) but we had a blast, regardless!

No, most of our day was spent simply taking in the experience, taking photographs (including meeting Minnie Mouse and Daisy Duck!), meeting with friends (we were so fortunate to spend time with a handful of our favorite people!), interacting with cast members, having fun in spontaneous dance parties, and of course, indulging in delicious Dole Whips!

We had a great day in the park and though Abby may not remember it, I am so glad that her first experience was so positive for us as a family – and we got some really fun pictures, to boot!

…so, there you have it! I look forward to seeing how things change as Abby grows, becomes more perceptive of her surroundings, and of course, becomes mobile. I could not have asked for a more enjoyable experience!

What’s the youngest you’ve taken a child to Walt Disney World? Alternatively – do you remember your first visit?

* I did pack the breast pump and bottles for the resort stay, as I pumped and left milk for hubby to feed Abby when I went to run the 10K. Between the 2 AM wakeup, bus ride to/from and of course, the run, I was gone for about 5 hours.

 

Diamond Girls Weekend: Week 24

Baby M and I meeting Dug's namesake at DCA.

Baby M and I meeting Dug’s namesake at DCA.

Mere words cannot describe the magic that ensued over the extended weekend of Thursday, September 3 through Monday, September 7. With non-stop fun that began the moment I took off from the Sarasota airport, to the groggy red-eyes that brought me home five days later, each moment was packed with priceless memories.

This trip was truly a magical one, as I was privileged to spend it with some amazing women – friends old and new – and from across the country. Our core group was comprised of Jen (Atlanta), Lena (Seattle), Heather (a fellow S.Floridian) and Sarah (San Francisco) but it extended out to our wider net of friends from runDisney, the twitterverse and beyond! Jen commemorated the occasion with custom made buttons, and these certainly generated a lot of attention and fun throughout the weekend.

I have several separate recaps and posts to share about events of the 2015 Disneyland Half Marathon weekend, but those will come later (waiting on my official MarathonFoto downloads). So, in the meantime, here is my attempt at sharing the top FIVE memories that took place during Week 24 of pregnancy:

  • Disney’s PhotoPass+ Memories
    • To capture each moment of the weekend, Jen ordered Disney PhotoPass+, a unique offering that allows you to have photographs commemorating all the smiles, splashes and thrills from your Disney vacation – from posed character shots, to attraction ride photos, “Magic Shots,” and more! To make things even more cool, there were neat 60th Anniversary Backdrops all around the parks for fun images, like scaling the Matterhorn, becoming a bust at the Haunted Mansion, and more! At the end of the trip, Jen ordered a CD which will contain ALL the images, and I cannot wait to see all the crazy pictures!
  • The 10th Anniversary Disneyland Half Marathon Party
    • As part of the anniversary celebration (the race’s 10th anniversary and the parks 60th), there was a special, separately-ticketed event that allowed guests to enjoy Disneyland Park from 4 PM to 12 AM, with special access to the West Side of the park “after hours” as well as a special viewing of “Paint the Night” – the new light parade. Although Baby M and I had to sit out on the more thrilling offerings (like Splash and Big Thunder Mountain) we still had fun just being with the group. My favorite part? Cool character meet and greet opportunities, including the Haunted Mansion Bride!
  • Meetups!
    • Our Cupcake Meetup went off smoothly, and I was glad I was also able to attend the #WeRunSocial Meetup (great recap here from Carlee).
      With THE medal :) #makinglemonadeoutta

      With THE medal 🙂 #makinglemonadeoutta

      Seeing friends from so many different points in my life, as well as meeting new ones is always a fun way to spend time.

  • Disneyland Yummies
    • The drinks and eats did NOT disappoint! Baby M particularly kicked her approval at the following:
      • Pomegranate Piranha Lemonade at Bengal Barbecue
      • Fillmore’s Fuelin’ Groovy Pomegranate Limeade at the Cozy Cone Motel
      • Matterhorn Macaroon at the Jolly Holiday Bakery
      • S’mores Bake at Big Thunder Ranch
      • French Toast at Steakhouse 55
      • …and of course, the Double Double with Cheese and Chocolate Shake we enjoyed upon arrival to California at our West Coast must-visit, In-N-Out Burger!
  • Bucketlist
    • I am pleased to share that I only missed ONE item on my bucketlist for this trip, and that was the Pixar Pre-Parade. Everything else was a go – and one particular highlight was my monorail ride! After working the Expo on Friday, I hopped on at Downtown Disney and made my way over to Disneyland to meet up with the gals before seeing Disneyland Forever (my new favorite fireworks show)! What a blast!!

Throughout the course of the weekend, I was constantly reminded just how lucky I am to have amazing friends and a fantastic base of support – not only for myself, but for little #BabyM, even before she introduces herself to the world. Thank you to each and every person who made OUR weekend so special, and even if she might not remember it, you can guarantee I always will.

Best Resort Recommendations: runDisney Tower of Terror 10-Miler Weekend

In my experience, the Tower of Terror 10-Mile Race Weekend is an often overlooked event – perhaps it’s due to the distance of the main event (10 miles, instead of 13.1, making it ineligible for the Coast-to-Coast Race Challenge), or maybe, just a hectic time of year for guests to visit the Walt Disney World Resort – but if you ask me, this specially themed race weekend is truly fun and “out of the ordinary” enough for it to warrant a second look!
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Meeting the gravediggers at the Happy Haunted 5K.

I experienced my first Tower of Terror 10-Mile Race Weekend last year (recap here) and if it weren’t for me aiming for the Chicago Marathon the very next weekend as an “A” race for the season, I’d definitely be there again. From the lower crowds at the expo, to the challenging course and great mix of character greeting spots of the Happy Haunted 5K (recap here), it’s a fantastic alternative to the craziness of the bigger race weekends and offers what I believe to be one of the most VALUABLE benefits of ANY event that takes place at the Walt Disney World Resort: the ability to safely (and legally) walk to your corral for the 10-Miler!
Now, all you veterans of Disneyland races might be shaking your heads now, as ALL of the West coast races offer this, but for us here in Florida, we’ve grown accustomed to the idea of boarding a bus or monorail HOURS before the start of a race (as early as 3 AM for Marathon / Princess Weekend starts at 5:30 AM, or 7 PM for the 10 PM start of Wine and Dine) – but all of these races start in areas inaccessible to regular pedestrian traffic. This is NOT the case for the Tower of Terror 10-Miler, which stages its start area in the parking lot of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, a location that may be easily accessed by foot from any of the resorts in the BoardWalk area – the BIGGEST and BEST reason that I would wholeheartedly recommend the following resorts as your top choices for accommodations during your next Tower of Terror 10-Miler Weekend:

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Disney’s BoardWalk Inn and Villas

  • Disney’s BoardWalk Inn and Villas (host resort) – this is where I stayed last year, and it also happens to be my #1 recommendation! Not only is it gorgeously themed, but it is literally on the walking path toward Disney’s Hollywood Studios. My friend Morgan posted this great walking guide that illustrates just how easy it is to walk.
  • Disney’s Beach Club Resort (host resort) – this resort is just a stone’s throw from the walking path, and boasts what just be the most incredible pool areas on Walt Disney World property – perfect for relaxing before the race, or the next morning!
  • Disney’s Yacht Club Resort – although the Yacht Club is not considered a host resort, it’s location is adjacent to the Beach Club and is just as convenient to walk to and from the resort to the start and finish of the race. Just remember to walk to the Beach Club if you require transportation to the expo, 5K, or other race weekend events.
  • Walt Disney World Swan and Walt Disney World Dolphin Resorts – the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin are operated by Starwood Resorts, which means they share many of the fantastic benefits of Disney operated resorts (like Fastpass+ and Extra Magic Hours) but fall under the umbrella of another hotel family, and so are eligible for benefits offered to the Starwood Preferred Guest program, among other booking discounts and offers. Although they are also not considered host resorts, it’s a quick walk to the bus stops at either the Beach Club or Boardwalk for race specific transportation.
Each of the resorts mentioned above are in the “deluxe” or “villas” segment of categorical pricing, and while I would again tout the benefits of their luxurious amenities and convenient location, if they are just too far from the restrictions of your budget, there are still a handful of great options for your stay. Just be sure to stick to the list of “host resorts” from runDisney, which include the following:
Value Resorts
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Value resorts.

  • Disney’s All Star Music, Disney’s All Star Movies or Disney’s All Star Sports – if you are not planning to spend much time in your room, there is absolutely nothing wrong with staying at any of the All Star Resorts! Each offer fun theming, a large food court, and convenient bus transportation. Additionally, All Star Music offers family suites, which sleep up to 6 in one room, and include a kitchenette!
  • Disney’s Pop Century my Value pick – although it’s in the same category as the All Star Resorts, Disney’s Pop Century is a little newer and smaller, which means a slightly friendlier layout, which may make for less walking (especially helpful when you’re on your feet all day – either in the parks or running the races). Side note: Disney’s Art of Animation Resort is located just across the lake from Pop Century, so you could technically stay there and use runDisney transportation for race events, but it would be a bit of a hike.
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Yum!

Moderate Resorts

  • Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort – festive and fun, Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort truly transports you to a tropical paradise – and with rooms a notch above in decor and size than value resorts, this is a great alternative for those who are looking for a little more space to spread out and relax (see this visual guide of the comparisons of room sizes, from value to deluxe).
  • Disney’s Port Orleans Riverside – not only does this resort feature both quick and  table service dining options, it is the only place on property that you can currently stay in Princess “royal” themed rooms!
  • Disney’s Port Orleans French Quarter – my Moderate pick – connected by waterway (boat) and walkway (foot) to Port Orleans Riverside, this quieter side of the resort is supremely walkable (the bus stop is not too far for any guest) and you can carb load with beignets!
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Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa

Villa Resorts

  • Disney’s Old Key West – my non-Boardwalk area Villa pick – the first Disney Vacation Club Resort, this sprawling property is an incredibly well-themed representation of the laid back locale it borrows its name from. The accommodations are the largest you will find in any of the villa resorts and Olivia’s, its table service dining location, is home of some of the best breakfast ever!
  • Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa – equestrian fans rejoice at this 19th-century interpretation of Saratoga Springs, New York. The rooms here are well appointed, the grounds very walkable, and anytime you can stay footsteps from a full-service spa, that’s a great reason to celebrate!
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Disney’s Wilderness Lodge

Deluxe Resorts

  • Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort – one of the original properties of the Walt Disney World Resort, at the time of writing, this resort is under some pretty major construction to both modernize and expand its offerings. A South Seas paradise in its own right, it is a fantastic choice for guests who prefer close access to the Magic Kingdom.
  • Disney’s Wilderness Lodge Resort – my non-Boardwalk area Deluxe pick – slightly offset from the “monorail resorts” of the Polynesian, Contemporary and Grand Floridian, Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is a wooded retreat, closely themed after the grand lodges of the Pacific Northwest. Connected to the adventurous Fort Wilderness via a multi-use trail (read more here), it’s a destination vacation in itself, complete with an erupting geyser.

TAKE NOTE: A “host resort” designation is very important for runDisney race weekends, as it indicates that there is event transportation to race events, such as the expo (held at the Wide World of Sports) and the race start and finish areas for both participants and spectators.

transportationIf transportation is not a concern of yours, you are certainly welcome to enjoy your runDisney racecation at any other resort location (or even off-property), however, you are responsible for planning your schedule accordingly, as not to become stuck in traffic delays. Additionally, with the the Villains Bash finisher party raging on until 3:30 AM, it can be challenging enough to stumble out of the party, let alone attempt to find your car and drive it back to wherever you need to go in the wee hours of the morning.

No matter where you choose to stay, you can rest assured that your Tower of Terror Race Weekend experience can be made a lot less TERRIFYING with a little planning!

Have you ever run the Tower of Terror 10-Miler? Where did you stay? Where would you stay if you could stay anywhere on property?

Virtual Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend Blog Hop Directory