Disney Star Wars weekend – Part 3… The Good, The Bad and the Not So Pretty

 Running Disney…

Something I’ve had on the bucket list since I started running nearly 9 years ago.  Running though the Happiest place on earth!  Who wouldn’t want to chase that dream?

This year I finally had that opportunity!   I was able to run t he Star Wars Half Marathon at Disneyland in Anaheim California.  Then a few weeks ago, I also had privilege to travel to Florida to run the Inaugural Dark Side Half Marathon at Disney World!  This trip ended up being a family vacation and my husband and son were taking on the 5k!  I, on the other hand registered for the Dark Side Challenge (the 10k and Half Marathon) and then I also decided to add the 5k in, just to complete the trifecta!

In the end, 2 states,  4 races, 5 Parks, 7 medals… and a huge credit card bill and a ton of lasting memories.

There is always so much hype about Disney Races.  Now after doing races in both US parks, I’m torn on if  I will do another one.  Don’t get me wrong, running through the parks was awesome, I got some amazing pictures and met some fabulous people.  But was did it really live up to all the hype??  Since I already covered all the details of the trip in my previous 2 posts, this is more a look back on the overall experience… would I do it again?


When we got all checked in to our resort, we headed straight for packet pick up.  It was about 10:30am so the expo had not been open that long.  Disney does make a point to have special buses for the run Disney events and we headed straight to the appropriate bus stop to head to the expo.  We pretty much had the bus to ESPN to ourselves!

Each morning, when we had to be up and on the buses well before the sun came up.  The bus that served our resort (Art of Animation), was also the same one that stopped at Pop Century.   Apparently, since AofA was the first stop these runDisney buses made each time that they made their loops, we usually only had a 10 minute wait or so and always had an empty bus to get on. A friend of mine was staying at Pop Century and told me that they did not have the same luxury.  For the 10k on Saturday, she was at the bus stop at her resort about the same time as me, but waited over 20 minutes for a bus because when the bus stopped at AofA, by the time it left, it was full, so it headed straight to the start line, leaving those at PC waiting.  THEN, onc eshe finally got on a bus driver got lost!  YES, the charter bus driver that was hired to get people to the start line DIDN’T KNOW WHERE HE WAS GOING!  How is it that these drivers are sent out without explicit directions to get people where they needed to be in a timely manner!  Thankfully she was on the bus early enough that she didn’t have to worry about being late!  Sunday for the Half, I had good luck again, but she still had to wait a bit.  Not as bad as Saturday, so she wasn’t complaining.  I also heard stories of runners at one of the other resorts (Wilderness I think, but can’t be positive) that never had buses!  Not sure if it was some of the similar issues as to the ones we saw between our resort and PC, but this is not cool!  If you a re providing transportation to the race from your own resorts, make sure you have enough buses and don’t forget about anyone!

After the races was another crazy mess.  Don’t get me wrong, I understand that they are shuttling a few thousand people around, things can get backed up, but to me this seemed like organized chaos. Now, the 5K, post race transportation was not bad at all,  We walked from the post race area and waited about 2 minutes for a bus.  The 10k and half were another story. After leaving the finish line area, you walked for, what seemed like forever (but in reality was probably the equivalent of a few blocks).   Here, you found lines for each bus stop/resort and had to find the end of the line and wait.  for the 10k, we only had a short wait and then Mary and I were on buses towards showers and food.  For the Half marathon, the way the lines zigzagged back and forth it was hard to figure out where the lines actually went and where the end was.  Thankfully there was a Disney Cast member standing at the end of the line with a large sign on a pole, but since these people were always moving, it was often difficult to read the signs!  I ended up waiting for almost a half hour to get on a bus… in the warm sun (no shade to be found near the bus lines).  Again, I understand the idea of having to shuttle 12,000+ people around can have it’s backup.   Just frustrating when you are hot, tired and HUNGRY!

Packet Pickup
My advice?  Get here early!  We didn’t have to wait in many lines to get our packets and were in and out in record time.  We heard many people talk of long lines and waits as day went on.  Can’t really say anything negative.  Disney has their packet pick up figured out and gets you through without much delay!

After we headed out from Packet Pickup, we were directed outside, down some stairs, around the building, back up stairs and into a different side of the building where we found Disney Race Merchandise, the pick-up for any pre-ordered Race merchandise and the Dooney and Burke purses.  I was rather disappointed that there was a lot of the merchandise already picked over.  Only a handful of pins, etc.  The Kessel Run shirts that I wanted were only available in size small and then 2XL and larger!  This really didn’t make a lot of sense to me, since the expo and packet pick up was supposed to have only been open since 10.  I did find out later that they actually opened an hour early and the first people that were there were grabbing armful and handfuls of stuff.  NOT COOL!  If you post hours, stick to them!
Just my luck, the Kessel Run shirts that I was looking at actually ran small so the 2XL that I tried on actually fit pretty good.  I grabbed that and a Dark Side Challenge magnet and headed for the lines to pay for my stash.  Then it was off to the rest of the expo, which was actually in a completely different building.
After maneuvering out of the one building and following signs for the Expo, it was shopping time! I realized that I forgot my calf sleeves at home so I was hoping to find a new pair at a decent price!  The expo was a little crowded, but nothing worse that what I was expecting.  This is Disney and there were 12,000+ people running the Half Marathon on Sunday.  John and Darrin found sunglasses, I found a few new shirts, picked up some race fuel and found calf sleeves!  We did find out that there was another area to pick up Disney race merchandise down here too, but since I found the 2 things that I wanted, we didn’t wander in.  All in all, the expo was fun, variety of vendors and all that jazz.  It was fun to check out some new stuff and I was able to replace one of my favorite shirts that I bought at an expo a few years ago that was now stained and worn out!

ESPN Grill

I’m adding this as a separate section because it was NOT at all up to Disney Standards.  After the expo, we needed lunch so we decided just to grab food at the ESPN Grill right outside the expo.  This was probably our first mistake because EVERYONE was stopping there after they finished shopping.  But we ordered our food in a timely manner and headed outside to grab a table.  After a half hour, we knew something wasn’t right.  There were people that grabbed tables AFTER us that already received their food.  Ok, at first, we chalked this up to… maybe they were sitting inside and then moved outside.  Just to be sure, Darrin headed inside to get a refill on his soda and check on our food.  One of the servers came to our table with him to check on what our table number was and what we ordered.  Apparently, their computer system went down and the order numbers and orders were not matching up.  Not really a good thing to happen on a busy day like this!  She then took our receipt and headed off to the kitchen.

25 minutes later….

No food and we were done!  This was beyond ridiculous.  We headed up front to find someone to ask about a refund… oh yeah – we had already PAID for our food, so we couldn’t just leave!  The server that we found took our number and headed to the kitchen.  A few moments later, a manager came to see us.  She informed us that our food had just come up and she was going to have them box it up for us (we had zero desire to stay there and eat anymore) and refund us the entire amount we paid for our meal.  She apologized several times for the wait, again telling us about the computer system failure.

I understand that one never knows when a computer system goes down, but please, please please… be a bit more proactive on trying to get orders figured out and customers food faster.  Don’t wait for your customers to get annoyed.  Had we been informed, we may not have worried!

The races

In reality, the reason we are here!  To run Disney!
I really can’t say much negative about the 5k.  Well organized, start line and finish line at the same place.  It was fun to run through Epcot in the dark and see the place all lit up.
The thing that I can’t understand tough is why would you run a race course, with 10,000+ people (12,000+ for the half) through an area where the sidewalk is no wider than a standard sidewalk?  The bottleneck that this created was NOT COOL!  This it what we dealt with between Epcot and Hollywood studios.  Yes we were in a scenic area along the river, but when you are trying to run and maintain a decent pace between photo ops, having an extremely narrow course is only cause for issues.  I did hear from a few people that were in corrals closer to the front that the area was not as much of an issue, but as we came through (for both the 10k and Half) there were so many people walking 2 or 3 people abreast that anyone wanting to run was forced to slow down to try and get around them, many of us taking to the grass to just keep moving forward.
When I paid my money to run Disney, I wasn’t paying to run on open highways for miles upon miles, with NOTHING to see or do!  For the 10k, once we left Hollywood Studios, there was a long boring stretch of highway.  Wasn’t a huge deal for that race, but the Half left more to me desired.  Running from HS to Animal Kingdom is a long boring run along a closed highway for several miles.  The extent of course entertainment was a single DJ about halfway between the 2 parks.  Oh yeah, and 1 single photo stop. I actually got excited when I saw the sign for AK as I figured the long boring stretch was over.  I was wrong.  We spent the next LONG stretch basically running around the parking lot at AK!  Yes, the parking lot!
Then once we got into AK, it was all in the back lots!  Overall time spend in AK seemed like it was virtually nothing!  We ran past Everest, and then the Tree of life and all of a sudden, we were heading back out of the park.  More parking lot and then back to long stretch of boring highway!  
Sorry Disney, I paid to run through the parks and the enjoyment of the crowd along the way – Kinda like it was in California!  When I first looked at the course for the race at Disneyland, I was disappointed that the second half of the course was all just on the streets of Anaheim.  HOWEVER, these streets were pretty much lined the ENTIRE way with cheer squads, high school bands, church groups and more!  Everyone was cheering for runners, some dressed in super cool costumes and more!  I actually had just as much fun, if not more fun, on the second half of that course!  This course in Florida was BORING!  yes, the parks were fun, but I’m not flying halfway across the country to run on quiet streets and highways!  I can do that for free in Wisconsin!

Finish Line area (does not include 5K)
Let me clarify… the finish line itself was awesome!  Between the announcers, the crowd support and organization of everything beyond the finish line, everything was awesome.  Everything was close and convenient.   Once you get past the food and bag pick up, it all falls apart.  
There was nothing!  or at least that is what we thought after the 10k.  We left the finish line area and then headed straight to the buses since we didn’t see anything else.  Come to find out, there was an area where you could get back over to the finish line etc, but we saw no signs etc telling us that was the way we needed to go.  So we left.
We were told at the startline of the half marathon that the characters would also be at the finish line – and would be there until 11:30am!   We made a point to check out the finish line area after Mary and I both finished (and found each other).  Another disappointment.  Unless they were hiding somewhere, there were no characters at the finish line. (and we were there at about 9:30am looking) Just a tent selling some of the remaining Disney race merchandise, a tent where you could purchase food and then (at the FAAAAAR end of the parking lot), the bleachers where you could sit and cheer on those that were still finishing.  
No characters
Again, huge difference to the California race.  Yes, I understand that the start and finish line were in the same area at Disneyland, but this is Disney.  I expected at least a little more!
So, we headed to the buses!

 Final thoughts

I ran Disney.  I ran in both California and Florida.
The bling was amazing
The friends that I met there, and ended up running with, made lasting memories

Would I do it again?


Given the two choices tho, I’d head back to California!

Better spectator participation, better finish line festivities and less crowded race course (no bottlenecks, wider course)!
Overprice and oversold.
Overall cost is about the same depending on which park, when you consider flights from WI, but I just plain enjoyed the Disneyland race experience better.  Yes, I understand that this was the Inaugural Star Wars series in Florida, but with the number of Disney races that they do every year, the mistakes from this one were rookie mistakes.  Not a company that has been putting on races for many years!

Sometimes, there is more to repeating a race than just the medal…

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