Walt Disney World Marathon Report – Part 2

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Picking up where the Walt Disney Marathon Report – Part 1 left off, after exiting the Magic Kingdom, we still had a fun stretch of track immediately in front of us, despite not entering another park for around 5 more miles. This was especially true for me, as I was thinking the next stop was going to be Epcot in another couple of miles, and I was excited about the prospect of morning light there. I don’t know why I thought this, as I knew the event began and ended in Epcot. I guess I just wasn’t thinking; I swear I wasn’t delusional–yet.

I realized Epcot wasn’t on the agenda pretty quickly, after we exited the Magic Kingdom. In reality, the course was set to go past the Grand Floridian, Disney golf courses, and through the Richard Petty Driving Experience before heading to Animal Kingdom.

There remained a lot of things to see and do along this park-less stretch of course, and all of this made it easy to understand why people love these runDisney events so much. Even if you aren’t stopping to get photos with the characters, or pausing to enjoy the high school bands or DJs, it’s energizing just to see and hear them. They truly give a palpable sense of energy to the course. As someone who doesn’t really like to run, I can see why so many people say, “I will never run an event that isn’t runDisney.”

I think this probably describes me: I like competitive events and am pretty crazy, but I’m not crazy about running 26.2 miles just for the sake of running 26.2 miles. The “Disney crazy” bit of me helps make the running part of it happen… (more…)

Walt Disney World Marathon Report – Part 1

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As I touched upon briefly in my previous post (spoiler alert: the title of that post gives away the ending of this report), I ran the Walt Disney World Marathon over the weekend, marking my first attempt at a 26.2 mile marathon, and only the second time ever that I’ve tried to run more than 10 miles in a single outing (see our Tower of Terror 10-Miler Review for the first). This post will cover my review of Marathon Weekend, some of my feedback after participating in a second runDisney event, and photos I took along with course. (I apologize in advance for the during-race photos in this post; I shot them with my Sony RX100, and often times, they were shot while running on semi-automatic modes. Many might be blurry, poorly composed, or just plain lousy.)

As with all of my trip reports, this will start with a bloated and wholly unnecessary preface before cutting to the chase and discussing the race. To begin with, I am an expert at doing idiotic things. Most decisions I make are bad ones. It’s sort of my thing. So last spring, eons ago it seems now, when it seemed like a good idea to register for the Walt Disney World Marathon without ever having run a half marathon and not really having run in a while, it probably wasn’t.

My idea at the time was that registering for the Marathon would be motivation for getting out and starting a regular exercise program. Unfortunately, I continued not making the time for exercise in the spring and summer. As fall approached, I thought about getting more serious, but we took a slew of trips, and when I was not traveling, I was playing catch-up at the office, editing photos, and trying to get blog posts done. Then we became busy with other things and suddenly it was the holidays. I enjoy running, but the holidays are a time for merriment, and exercise just doesn’t hold a candle to a good yule log and dark stout.

Just after Christmas, I realized that the Marathon was only about two weeks away. At this point, I knew I had to buckle down and start running on a daily basis, or else risk injury or not finishing. So, I went for a 4-mile run, which ended with blisters on my feet and knee pain. I am no stranger to knee pain when running, and actually used Vibram Five Fingers shoes for a while a couple years ago to correct my running form. Once I had that “fixed”, I moved to Nike minimalist shoes (due to blisters from the Vibrams), which was what I used for that 4-mile run. I figured at this point, since I no longer had a heal-strike problem, I could safely move back to shoes with more support, but I wanted to get fitted at a reputable running store. I delayed on doing this until the day I left for Walt Disney World, which was obviously another mistake, but again, it was tough to find the time. With no run training and some poor dietary choices made in the weeks leading up to the event, I knew I was setting myself up for disaster. (more…)

Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report – Part 2

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Whenever we get off a new-to-us attraction, I always ask Sarah what she thought of it, first thing. I want to get her take before sharing mine, as I am very opinionated (to put it mildly), and I don’t want whatever I have to say to color her opinion. After she shared why she was blown away by Mystic Manor, she asked me what I thought. I was completely inarticulate, stringing together words like “music,” “monkey,” and “magic” along with a series of wows. In my defense, I was still on a bit of a high from the crazy sunrise that morning (if you missed that, make sure to go back and start from the beginning of our Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report), and actually experiencing Mystic Manor just pushed me over the top. Like I’ve said, it’s really an amazing attraction–one of Disney’s bests ever.

That really set the tone for the rest of our visit to Hong Kong Disneyland. After experiencing Mystic Manor, there was no chance that Hong Kong Disneyland would be a letdown, or that we would regret visiting. It’s crazy to think that a single attraction could justify a trip to Hong Kong Disneyland–and we’re not saying that it does. For us, though, that attraction alone legitimized the park and gave it credibility. Unless the rest of the park were laid out like the Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris (since I had already seen it that morning and knew it was not), it would not be a disappointment for us.

Mystic Manor exits through a gift shop, and what a gift shop it is. I don’t often go crazy for Disney merchandise (I’m not sure I purchased any merchandise last year in the US parks), but I love some good attraction-specific merch. Mystic Manor has this in spades. That shop had more Mystic Manor merchandise than I’ve ever seen for any attraction, anywhere. Rivaled only by Splash Mountain, Expedition Everest, and Tower of Terror, to my knowledge. I was about to start going nuts in there before Sarah reminded me that we should do Mystic Manor a few times before the crowds got worse.

We did Mystic Manor a couple more times, seeing new details each time. One of the great advantages of the trackless ride system is that there’s the potential for it to be a slightly different ride experience depending upon which ride vehicle you’re in. The vehicles enter and exit the show scenes at different times, and in one case, take different paths. This adds re-rideability, and is really a smart move. It seems like there’s a bit of a trend towards ‘varied’ experiences like this, with Star Tours: the Adventures Continue probably being the best example.

At this point, we didn’t really take the time to explore the rest of Mystic Point, so I’ll come back to it later for my impressions of the mini-land as a whole. After a couple more times on Mystic Manor, we decided to see some of the rest of the park. Crazy idea, I know. We headed to Grizzly Gulch, where the wait for Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars was only 5 minutes. After seeing the trains fly around the track, Sarah decided to sit this one out. Although she’s fine on all of the Magic Kingdom coasters, Expedition Everest makes her nauseous. (more…)

Hong Kong Disneyland Trip Report – Part 1

In our “Grand Circle Tour” of the Disney theme parks, Hong Kong Disneyland was the last to cross off the list. Originally, we were just going to wait and visit it when Shanghai Disneyland opened. After all, both are in China, so it seemed easy enough to do it that way. We hadn’t exactly heard incredible things about Hong Kong Disneyland (far from it, actually), so we weren’t really in a hurry to visit.

Two new lands, Grizzly Gulch and Mystic Point, changed that. These new lands piqued our interest, and it seemed possible that Hong Kong Disneyland might be a park with at least some substantive merit. Still, we have to admit that flying to Hong Kong solely to visit Hong Kong Disneyland was not even in the realm of possibility for us. Even with the new lands, it was still mostly just a place to visit someday to “cross off the list.” What really changed things, though, was learning that we could fly via United to Tokyo with a stopover in Hong Kong for essentially no added cost (we cover how to do this in this blog post). At this point, the only “cost” became time, and since we had already been to Tokyo, we were okay with sacrificing half the trip for some time in Hong Kong.

We ended up spending 5 days in China: 2 in Hong Kong, 1 in Macau, and 2 in Hong Kong Disneyland. We definitely could have used some more time in Hong Kong itself, but two days in Hong Kong Disneyland was about perfect, we felt. Our mischief in Hong Kong and Macau is beyond the scope of this blog, so we’ll jump right ahead to our voyage to Hong Kong Disneyland…

We made our way to Hong Kong Disneyland after taking the TurboJet (it’s actually a boat…false advertising, right?!) back from Macau. The TurboJet “landed” in downtown Hong Kong, and from there we made our way via public transportation on the MTR to Hong Kong Disneyland. Of the places we’ve visited, Hong Kong has the best public transportation. It’s clean and efficient like Tokyo’s, but unlike Tokyo, it is not ridiculously complicated and confusing.

Perhaps we’re biased because we’re Disney fans, but the best rail line in Hong Kong is the Disneyland Resort Line, which is the MTR train that runs from the Sunny Bay station directly to Hong Kong Disneyland. While Paris, Tokyo, and Hong Kong have all had rail lines built to them, Hong Kong is the only place where it feels like this is an organic part of the master plan. Tokyo and Paris feel more coincidental, as the growth of the Val d’Europe and Maihama areas after Disney came to town might have necessitated rail lines to their respective Disney resorts (I know this isn’t actually the case–but it’s how it feels).

With that, we were at Hong Kong Disneyland… (more…)

Walt Disney World Memorial Day Trip Report – Part 6

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On the last day of our Walt Disney World Memorial Day trip, we elected to go to Animal Kingdom. I had wanted to go there earlier in the trip, as the park was open until 8 pm over the weekend, which meant potential night photography there. That didn’t work out, so we were left with a half day in the park. We were both hoping for more time there, but it seems Animal Kingdom is often the park that draws the short straw from us, even if that isn’t our intention.

As you may know, I had a change of mind about Disney’s Animal Kingdom after spending more time than normal there last year, which I wrote about in the article “I Was Wrong About Disney’s Animal Kingdom.” That post was surprisingly popular (I think you all just like it when I’m wrong, but as Sarah will tell you, that’s fairly often) and I spoke more to the topic on the Animal Kingdom-centric podcast, Radio Harambe. While I no longer view Animal Kingdom as a half day park, it feels incomplete for me, and it’s missing that special something that I can just do over and over again to kill time.

Something like the PeopleMover, Country Bear Jamboree, or Carousel of Progress in Magic Kingdom, and American Adventure, Living with the Land, or Impressions de France in Epcot. About the closest thing Animal Kingdom has is eating Flame Tree BBQ ribs at the spot that overlooks Expedition Everest. This is probably largely because I haven’t spent enough time in Animal Kingdom to really feel an emotional attachment to anything in the park. It shouldn’t feel bad (assuming theme parks have feelings), as Disney’s Hollywood Studios is about the same for me. Although there I guess the Great Movie Ride sort of occupies that role. Sort of.

I am really hopeful that the boat ride that’s coming to AVATAR Land will fill that void. I remain in the approximately .5% of Disney fans who are actually optimistic about AVATAR Land. I’m by no means a fan of the movie (I thought it was mediocre at best), but it did have some truly beautiful environments that I think will transfer well to a theme park. This is why I’m looking forward to AVATAR Land. Like I’ve written countless times, I think ultimate quality transcends source material. Meaning, if the attractions are compelling and the land is beautiful, no one will care that AVATAR doesn’t really have a fanbase or wasn’t really that good of a movie. I’m not a fan of Cars, but I love Cars Land because the environment and main attraction are great. That’s not the best example because others love Cars, which could explain why the land is a hit. A better example is Splash Mountain. I wonder what percentage of guests have the slightest idea what the source material for it is, let alone how many have actually seen it. But I digress–I know I’m not going to change any minds with any of this, as AVATAR Land is one of those topics where you’re either ‘with us or are the enemy’.

We only had limited time in Animal Kingdom that morning and early afternoon, and that time included lunch at Yak & Yeti. Unfortunately, we hadn’t made FastPass+ reservations, so we jumped into the standby line for Kilimanjaro Safaris first thing. The posted wait was only 10 minutes…although that turned out to be more like 25. Oh well, it’s worth it. (more…)