Thursday, January 19, 2012

At Disney World, Every Day is a Marathon - Day 1

(The Journey Begins...)

Ahh, Disney World in Orlando. Always a great vacation spot. I have been 7 times in my life. So I average a trip about every five years. Within that time there is always something new that's been built or revamped. I've gone with different assortments of friends and family, and it's always a unique experience. I really love it. This time would be extra special for two reasons. 1) I would be going with my dad and my two sisters, and I honestly don't think we've all been on the same vacation together in 25 years. We weren't really big vacation people growing up. So this was gonna be our big family trip as adults  - 10 people total including my brothers-in-law and nieces and nephew. It would be the youngest generation's first trip there. Very exciting! Also exciting? Reason 2) I was running the Disney World Marathon. Why was I doing this? I honestly have no idea. I decided I wasn't running the 2011 NYC Marathon and then immediately needed a NEW marathon to run. Disney seemed like the most fun. I got to run through the parks! And then go on rides! My family thought it sounded more fun than crazy and decided to make a whole big trip out of it. So here I was in the beginning of January 2012 getting my bags packed for Orlando. The thing is, every day at Disney is a marathon. To illustrate this fact, here's a blow-by-blow of my time there, with helpful hints sprinkled along the way for all you people who may be planning a Disney trip in the not-so-distant future!

It's Wednesday night. I leave early in the morning. I'm nervous. I feel like I have not really prepared enough for this marathon as opposed to others I've run in the past. It's a new course. I'm not sure what to expect. I'm hoping I just make it through in a decent time. I'm trying to focus on packing, but I'm paying more attention to Breaking Bad which I've been streaming endlessly for the last few days. I'm almost done with Season 3 but I'm not gonna be able to completely finish it off until I get back. There are just so many hours in a day and I have to get at least a few hours of sleep before the plane ride in the morning. The plan for the trip goes like this My sister Nancy and her family got in on Tuesday night so they will be there when I get there though I don't know what specific park they are going to that day. My other sister, Ams, and family and my Dad are getting in late Thursday night and I'll see them Friday. We are all staying in different hotels, because anything else will be way too much coordination for my family. But perhaps it's nice we're not all on top of each other. Disney Planning Tip #1: Factor in breathing room. Disney can be overwhelming! I make sure I have my boarding pass and room reservations all printed out and ready to go and get to sleep around 11:45pm. I'm gonna get about 4.5 hours of sleep tonight. Let's see how this goes...

(Airport to Hotel to ESPN WWoS to Hotel to Hollywood Studios to Epcot to Hotel)

4:15am - Wake up. Shower and shave. Watch an episode of Breaking Bad as I pack the last of my things. I have slept a surprisingly solid 4.5 hours. Having done much of the packing and watching of Breaking bad the night before, I get the last little toiletries together and head down to my pre-arranged taxi only about 10 minutes late. I somehow manage not to leave anything important behind! A miracle!

5:35am - I arrive at LGA. Go through security. They examine my bag for what seems like forever. Perhaps most people do not pack a dozen protein bars, 3 hard-boiled eggs, four packets of grapes and sliced apples. But ti's not liquid so they let it slide. Disney Hint #2: Outside food is allowed. Bring snacks from home! It will save you a bundle on out of pocket expenses!

6:35am - I board the plane. I'm always nervous that by sitting toward the front of the plane the overhead bins will be full by the time I get on and my carry on will have to be checked. Since my carry-on only fits some plane models sideways not long-ways, the chances are greater than I like. Luckily the bin above my row is not taken when I make it inside. Score!

(You can fly!)

7:00am - Take off. We'll be down there in roughly 2 hours. There is no inflight entertainment during this flight. There is, however, complementary drink service and snacks! Hooray! It is apparently still barely above 30 degrees outside in Orlando at this time. the hell? It shouldn't be THAT cold! Everyone in the plane is shocked. The Pilot assures us that it's still not sunrise there and it will warm up. Hmm. That sounds like a lie. I decide to read a little of All The Kings Men to pass the time on the flight and.... zzz....

7:30am - I awaken to find that the young lady and her mother sitting next to me have snacks and drinks. And the snack cart has moved away from our row. WTF? The girl next to me couldn't nudge me or something? Do I LOOK like I'm going to want to pass up free food?? I hate her. They are certainly not as nice as the Tisi's were heading to Rome. The people next to me now are such bad seat mates. I bet they would try to steal my oxygen mask in case of a loss of cabin pressure! Luckily, we don't have to find out. Instead, I wave the flight attendant down and get myself an apple juice, bag of mini-pretzels, packet of lightly salted peanuts and a breakfast cookie. Hooray! So many treats! After that, more reading and dozing continues.

9:00am - We being our decent, and my ears start to pop. This is usually a very painful problem for me. I took a mild decongestant before the flight which helps, but I realize now I have no gum in my coat pocket. The girl sitting next to me has a pack of Trident. She gives a piece to her mother. Do they offer me any, even as I desperately eye the package? No. I'm seated next to she-demons, I tell you.

(Orlando International Airport. Missing from photo: Construction and improper signage.)

9:45am I'm off the plane and away from those odious gum-hoarding banshees. The Orlando Airport is a bit messed up. There are a million signs telling you which direction not to go and only one small sign pointing the right direction to freedom. Meh. I make it to the Disney Express Bus and they ask for my bus voucher. Bus voucher? I don't have a bus voucher. What's that? It's in the coupon book Disney sent me that I thought was garbage and left at home? Damn. I guess I did forget something I needed. Helpful Hint #3: Bring everything that they send you in the mail with you on the trip. It will serve some purpose! Ah well. they printed me a new pass pretty easily. I'm ready to get to the hotel, unpack, get my race package stuff and head to the parks!

10:05am The bus driver tells us it is a 35-minute drive to get to the Disney All-Star resorts. No! My day is already slipping away. Every minute in transit is a minute not on real rides!! I take this time to call my sister Nancy who is already in the parks. I find out she is in Hollywood Studios. She does not have park hopper passes and has to be in Hollywood Studios all day. Helpful Hint #4: Go for the Park Hopper Passes. I haven't checked what the difference in price is and I don't care. You might find you like one park better than another. You might not need a whole day in one of them, or you might miss a ride you really wanted to go on one day. Park Hopper gives you more flexibility to see what you want to see as much as you want to see it. So I have a Park Hopper but Nanc's family doesn't. That means I'll go see them in Hollywood Studios in the afternoon before heading to my special Marathon Weekend Pasta dinner that's being held in Epcot that night.

(All-Star Movies Resort, Here we come!)

10:40am. I get to Disney All-Star Movies resort, my home base for the next 5 days. A tackier decor you could not imagine, but it was within my budget and is on Disney grounds and is certainly nice enough for me, so there you have it. It takes FOREVER checking in, because the people in front of me have a million problems with their reservation. Helpful hint #5: If you can do online check-in in advance of getting to Disney, take that option.  After 10 minutes, I finally get through, get my room key and get on with it. I ask the check-in person about my Pasta in The Parks dinner but he can't tell me where it is in Epcot. Only that it is in Epcot. "Maybe it's the whole park?" He offers. "The WHOLE PARK?" I say back, with a skeptically raised brow. Later today, I'm going to have to pick up my race bib and goodie bag at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. Maybe when I get to the registration expo, someone there will know.

(Look through my window, yeah, to the street below...)

10:55am - I get to my room in the Mighty Ducks section of Disney All-Star Movies. Everything about the building is encased in giant-sized Mighty Ducks iconography. It makes it look more like it belongs in the Disney All-Star Sports Resort, but what can you do? Maybe Mighty Ducks was really popular when they built this place. My room is totally fine... except for a few strange things. My bathroom has no bathtub. Just a curtain and a drain in the floor.
My brain is so rattled from the lack of sleep and early flight that I can't make sense of it. It takes my wonderful friend Suki to explain to me over FB that I'm in a handi-cap accessible room. (note: I don't have internet access in my room for the trip. it's 10 bucks a day, and. with internet already on my phone, I say F-That. I can go without using internet on my laptop for a couple days.) The handicap accessible revelation makes me a little anxious. Am I supposed to have the handicap accessible room? Have I been placed here incorrectly? Is this like stealing a handicap parking spot? Is someone else who really needs it going without? I am concerned. But I'm losing precious minutes of my Disney Day that I simply can't afford, so I just go with it. I quickly unpack and freshen up, and head out to catch the shuttle to the ESPN Wide World Of Sports complex to get all my official race stuff for Sunday.

(Race Registration Time!)

11:15am I'm on the bus to ESPN Wide World of Sports. I had to wait a little while for the shuttle and I was very impatient. I realize I need to chill the eff out. Helpful Hint #6: Breathe. You are on vacation.  Things in the South move slower than I like them to move. There will be some unavoidable waiting in line this weekend. I think I'm feeling extra nervous right at this moment because I feel unprepared for the marathon and don't actually know how I'm going to get through it three days from now. I hope that once I get all my race stuff in order, that will at least be one weight off. I should mention at this point that it is NOT a warm day. The sun came up so it's not in the 30s, but MAYBE it's in the high 50's? MAYbe. Anyway, ESPNWWoS is a very nice facility, but one I don't feel the need to spend more time at than necessary, mostly because there are no rides here and I want to go on rides. I walk as fast as I can without running to the Field House to get my packet. It's a ginoormous place. I find where i'm supposed to go and they ask me for my Release Form. Release Form? Damn, two things I left without! At least they were things I didn't know I needed to have, so it's not like I "forgot" them. Luckily Disney assumes people will show up with nothing they need and has every contigency plan at the ready. I go to an "I forgot my shit" computer station and print out a new form and sign it. They give me my race stuff. I ask them where the Pasta In The Parks dinner is. They have no clue. They suggest I go to information. Information doesn't know where it is either. They tell me when I get to Epcot, someone there will know. MAYbe.

(The crowds say, "Buy! Buy! Buy!" Owen says, "Bye, bye bye!")

I head over to Josten's Center to get my Race Shirt and Goody bag. The place is a mad house. People are buying all sorts of Disney marathon race gear. The check out line is at least an hour long. Fools. You are wasting your entire Disney Day on a line that only leads to a register and not a ride? This is folly. I grab my goodie bag and weave my way through the hordes to get out of there as quickly as possible. On my way out, I notice a station that will allow you to send text messages to spectators so they know your split times on the course. I figure this will be useful for my family to know since I have no idea how long it will actually take me to run the marathon. I put all their cell phone numbers into the system and head out, but as I'm leaving I notice that I do not have my folder with all my important trip receipts in the bag. I must've left it at Registration when i was looking for my Release Waiver. Gah! I make my way back through the Field House. The people thankfully still have my folder. I also realize that I have not gotten any info on the Race Retreat I paid for. Race Retreat is basically VIP treatment before and after the marathon. The nice registration lady shows me where the Race Retreat table is. So even if I had not left my folder here, I would've needed to come back here anyway, but possibly would've realized it too late. Good thing I was going fast enough to trip myself up into realizing I really needed to slow down.

(I took a picture of the Directory to help me remember things and then never went to Champion Stadium. D'oh!)

11:45am. Okay, I've got all my stuff and I'm ready to get to the Parks. Only I can't go directly to the parks. I have to go back to a hotel and get on another shuttle that goes to the parks. Helpful Hint #7: Know your shuttlebus route ahead of time! UGH. Fine. I wait for nearly 20 minutes for a shuttle back to All-Star Movies. I also brazenly cut a few dozen people in line when the bus finally arrives, but whatever. I'm one person and everyone else is traveling in groups of 4's and 5's it seems. I'm hardly noticeable and taking up very little space. I need to get on with my day. My cutting winds up really amounting to nothing anyway as another All-Star Movies bus follows directly behind the one I got on. Back to the Hotel and then off to Hollywood Studios!

(Nothing screams Hollywood like a giant Magician'a Hat!)

12:15pm. I get to Hollywood Studios! My first park of the vacation! There is the giant Sorcerer Hat in the middle of the main walkway. Originally the iconic symbol of this Park was the Water Tower with the Mickey Ears (back when the Park was called Disney/MGM Studios) and you can barely find that thing on the map now. I make my way toward Tower of Terror and Rockin' Rollercoaster. Nancy and her fam are in Beauty and The Beast Stage show right across from that area. The lines at those rides are already too long and the Fast Passes are far far later in the afternoon. Helpful Hint #8: Make the Fast Pass System Work for you! It's Free. No line is worth waiting on longer than 25 minutes. Suddenly as I'm walking, I feel woozy and a bit of a headache is coming on. It's been a long day already. I need food. And not protein bar-type food. Something that's been cooked. I get myself a hot dog with pulled pork and coleslaw on top from a food station. It costs 9 dollars and tastes amazing. As I'm finishing up, my sister, brother-in-law and two kids find me after their show lets out. Those kids are the cutest and the best! Nanc got me a fast pass ticket to Tower of Terror for later in the day. That rules! In the meantime we go see Muppets 3D and a Disney Junior Stage show. The Disney Junior stage show has no seats. You just sit on the ground, or in my case you lie down on the ground and try not to visibly be asleep. The show is very cute. My 6 year old niece and 3 year old nephew ADORE it. I feel kinda bad for the one human dude in the show because he has to be SO high energy and the audience is giving him nothing. I mean they enjoy it, but it's all very little kids who are mostly shocked and awed into silence. So it's him doing this show all day long with a bunch of puppets backing him up. I feel for him. I hope he is happy. He did a good job. I feel like we should be tipping him on the way out.

(Photo op time with Pooh Bear!)

5:00pm after several trips around the park and several photo ops with different Disney characters My sister and her family head of to their dinner at the Brown Derby while I go off to figure out where the hell my Pasta in the Parks dinner is in Epcot.Helpful Hint #9: Each Park has a buffet meal option. Seek these out. They are the best value for your dollar and the food is great, plus dessert and unlimited drinks are included  But before I leave Hollywood Studios, I decide to go on the Great Movie Ride. This ride is kinda... I don't know, dated? It's not very interesting, but it's the rare instance where the ride is much longer than the line and you get to sit down the whole timeand you can kinda take a nap if you need to. So I get on the ride and it's this big boat of a vehicle that has to be able to hold at least 60 people. The tour guide is all "Ready for a trip to the MOVIES?" I'm like "YEAH!" the 40 other people on the ride are like "eh." Don't worry, Tour Guide Lady. It's me and you. We'll get through this together!

 (Epcot: After Dark)

6:00pm  I get to Epcot via Shuttlebus and ask the guy at the security check point where Pasta in the Parks is happening. He tells me it's between Canada and the UK in the World Showcase. Great! Finally some answers. By now, it's pretty dark out. The sun has set. And because Epcot is set up for maximum fireworks awesomeness all the outdoor lighting is set very low to the ground. As I weave in and out of stone sculptures by the giant globe I feel like I'm gonna get mugged. I'm not. I mean, it's Epcot. But that's how it FEELS. Figuring it's just after 6pm and dinner lasts until 8pm, I decide there's plenty of time for me to go on Journey Into Imagination starring Figment the Dragon. The ride, and Figment especially, are favorites of mine from my childhood. They have revamped the ride since then, and it's not as good as it once was in my opinion, but it's always great to see Figment again and to sing the Imagination theme song. The woman operating the ride could tell I was gonna be a total weirdo about it (my overly wide eyes and giant grin were perhaps a tell) and she tried to set me up in my own car so I could geek out without disturbing anybody, but then these two stupids who were behind me in line didn't listen to where she instructed them to go and they got in the back row of my car anyway. Helpful Hint #10: Listen to where your ride operator tells you to go, and ollow instructions! Whatever, fools. You get to see me clap and sing along for the next 5 minutes as the ride goes by. I'm not dialing down my glee for your benefit.

(Two tiny wings, eyes big and yellow. horns of a steer, but a wonderful fellow!)

6:30pm. So happy to have seen Figment, I head off to dinner. Have I mentioned I'm exhausted? Because I totally am. My feet are so tired and I've notice that the sole of my shoe is coming off and the sneakers I brought are not going to last me another day. Hmm. What to do about that? Dinner first. I find there's this giant event space tucked discreetly away down a side path between Canada and UK. Never would've notices it otherwise! These Disney folks sure know a few things about design. I go to walk in, and this very nice lady is all "where's your wristband?" I'm all "What wristband?" Then I see all these people walking in wearing wristbands. How did they all get wristbands when nobody i talked to all day could even tell me WHERE in Epcot the dinner was? Luckily I have something just as good as a wristband - a RECEIPT OF PURCHASE! I show the lady that I bought my Pasta ticket, and she checks her printed records because as I mentioned before, Disney works on the assumption that you will have forgotten everything you need for your stay. So I'm finally given an entry wristband and allowed in.

(Food! Glorious Food!)

The space is very cool. It's HUGE. there is a buffet with really delicious food and unlimited drinks. It was totally worth the price of admission which was only like 40 bucks or something. I had several kinds of pasta, salad, bread, chicken and desserts. Yum yum yum! I talked to a bunch of random runners who were sitting at a table that had an empty seat for me. I learn that several of them had been at Disney for almost two weeks! How could this be?? I honestly couldn't imagine staying at Disney for that long. Not that there isn't enough to DO at Disney to spend two weeks on, but it still seems like a very long time. Also I found out that several people were doing the Goofy Run. This is a specific challenge where you run the Disney Half Marathon on Saturday Morning (picking up a Donald-shaped medal for your efforts) and then running the FULL Marathon the FOLLOWING DAY! That to me is insanity! Who would do that to their body? I honestly can't imagine it. You do get a Mickey-shaped medal from completing the Marathon and then a special Goofy-shaped one for completing both races. I have to admit a Goofy-shaped medal is pretty enticing, but I still can't imagine myself ever doing it. Still, knowing that I "only" had a marathon ahead of me to run, made me feel better about my prospects of finishing not last on Sunday. It was also at this dinner that I got to take a picture with Goofy - in the classic back-to-back pose (i have several like this from other trips) and one hugging. I accidentally hit him in the face while saying goodbye and he definitely let me know how he felt about it in Goofy antics. The cast members who play Goofy are the best. They have so much personality. Logically I know it's weird to hug an adult in a Goofy suit so fervently (especially since there's a good chance he's probably like 10 years younger than me now... yeesh) but I don't really care. That's what Disney's about. Goofy hugs! 

(Me & Gooy!! Birds of a Feather)

8:00pm - I should go home after dinner, because I'm barely on my feet, but I do not go home. I go on rides. I go on Spaceship Earth - which had this whole new interactive computer component I'd never experienced before. Besides showing me the animatronic history of the world, it showed me a possible future in which I had a cartoon ginger boyfriend and we vacationed in space and I looked very thin and happy. Very progressive, Disney!

 (I'm so happy there is travel in my future!)

Then I went on Destination:Space which simulates the g-forces of space travel. There is a green lightweight version and an orange heavyweight version. I went with Orange. Gary Sinise was narrating what we were supposed to do but it was really late and I was tired and not paying attention but then he was like "You have to press the right buttons when I tell you to or maybe everyone DIES!" and then I, along with the strangers next to me started getting nervous. We were also instructed that if we started to feel sick we should not lean forward, look down or try to shut our eyes. The ride was equipped with barf bags. They were not ornamental. This ride was really intense. I was so happy when it was done. Now I was ready to go back to the hotel. There's fireworks after 830pm around the World Showcase, but I can't even deal. Disney is never short on fireworks.

(Home sweet home. Note the Mighty Ducks artwork on the wall, in case you forget which hotel you are in.)

9:15pm -  I get back and get myself organized for the next day. I feel totally wiped out. Today was LONG. What with the flight and the back and forth to ESPN and then two Disney parks. I had two more days of this to go before the actual marathon. Before I completely collapsed I sent a message to my Dad and other sister who were coming in that I would be headed back to Hollywood Studios in the morning (Still had to go on Star Tours and Rockin' Rollercoaster!) and then over to Animal Kingdom in the afternoon.

10:00pm Blissful Sleep... until 7am Wake up call!

Next Time: Hollywood Studios Redux! Plus, Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom!


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