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Lani Teshima, editor

Travel Planning for the Marathon

Friday, October 14, 2005
by Lani Teshima, staff editor

Sometime earlier this year, you decided to register for the upcoming Walt Disney World marathon. You've started your training in earnest, and realize you have yet to make any actual travel plans. In today's article, let's look at some of your travel options, so you can start making all your reservations for your January trip.

Where to stay

If you are a WDW veteran or a Disney Vacation Club (DVC) member, you might already have a favorite resort you like to stay at. If this is the case, by all means consider staying at your “regular” accommodations—familiarity breeds comfort, one of the things that will help you with your trip is to be as comfortable as possible.

However if you are open to trying new resorts, there are some special considerations you need to think about for your trip that are not as important when you are not planning on participating in a marathon.

Staying on-property

There are distinct advantages if you choose to stay on-property. For one thing, transportation isues are taken care of you for the marathon itself. That's right—not only do you get to take shuttles and monorails around the park, but a very smooth and efficient transportation system is up and running on the morning of both the half-marathon and marathon events. Since you will have an exceptionally early morning, having someone else take you to the pre-event holding area is going to be one less worry for you.

In addition, on-property guests can currently take advantage of Disney's Magical Express transportation service, which takes you from Orlando International Airport to your resort and back for no charge. That's pretty tough to beat, especially if you have no plans to leave Disney property.

Both before and after the marathon, Disney provides bus shuttles directly from and to your on-property resort.

Staying off-property

If you have loyalty points with an off-property hotel chain, you are on a tighter budget, are considering staying with local friends, or plan not to make Disney the focus of your entire trip, staying off-property is definitely an option. Chances are if you are staying off-property, you will be renting a car. This can be a tremendous advantage for a couple of reasons: When you arrive at the holding area, you can stay in your car, comfortable and relaxed until the last moment when you have to go into the queue. Those who take a Disney shuttle, on the other hand, are asked to arrive at the area around 4:00 a.m., and usually huddle in the morning chill for hours. Many people will tell you that's a rather miserable way to spend the time right before you run 26.2 (or 13.1) miles.

In addition, if you have your own car it's just a matter of getting to it that poses the challenge; after you do, however, you can quickly head back to your accommodations and hop in the shower. None of that waiting in line stuff to wait for a shuttle. Another benefit is that you can pack a cooler full of your favorite snacks that you can tear into, instead of being stuck with whatever they pass out at the finish area.

Staying off-property, however, is not without some potential issues. You do still need to get up really early in the morning and manage to get on-property and navigated to the correct parking area. Oh—and you might consider bringing an alarm clock with you in the car so you do not accidentally sleep past the starting time.

Which hotel is best?

Those who are staying at monorail resorts have the advantage of not having to wait for a shuttle bus to take them back to their resort after the marathon. In fact, I stayed at the Polynesian Resort two years ago for this very reason; after having stayed out in the hinterlands for the 2003 marathon (at the Coronado Springs Resort, one of Disney's moderate-level resorts) and feeling somewhat disconnected with sparse bus service, we wanted to be as close to the action as possible, and stayed at the Poly. This turned out to be a great decision, since our room was very close to the Ticket and Transportation Center. When we left our room at 3:30 on Sunday morning, we simply walked over to TTC and caught the Epcot-line monorail straight to the starting area. It turned out that the Poly was even more convenient than the more opulent Grand Floridian Resort because we didn't have to transfer monorails.

That said, the monorail resorts (Contemporary, Polynesian, and Grand Floridian) are not cheap; you definitely pay for the convenience. One thing you might consider is to stay at a more affordable location for the rest of your trip, and staying at a deluxe resort just for the weekend.

If you do not stay at a monorail resort, your ride back to your on-property resort will be on one of many special shuttle buses that are driven over to WDW for the event (and according to a bus driver at marathon event this past January, they are brought in from as far away as Chicago!). The lines can get pretty long, and you will have no shade as you wait upwards of 30 minutes for your bus. This may not be too bad under normal conditions, but you may not feel up to it after running 26 miles.

Remember also that if you stay on-property, transportation is provided for you during the rest of your stay as well. This might be particularly attractive if you consider that all the parking lots are either far away from the parks themselves, or you often have to walk considerable distances if you don't show up early in the morning for your visit to the park. Fortunately, you can stand around and wait for the tram—assuming your feet are up to standing after the weekend.

Your length of stay

How long you stay for the marathon event depends a lot on the purpose of your trip. I know people who live close enough to drive to Orlando, and who will show up the day before the event, and drive home the same day they run the marathon! I call that insane, mostly because I'm not sure the folks remember to take regular road breaks in order to stretch their legs. I can't even imagine how tight their legs will feel after a drive home on the day of a marathon.

Most people like to add at least a few days to shoulder the event, leaving perhaps two days after the event when they've had plenty of time to rest. Some folks show up a week before the marathon to visit the parks, while others choose to enjoy the week following the marathon by doing all their sightseeing and park visiting then.

If you show up many days before the marathon, how do you plan to spend those days? As you know, that last week before a marathon is the time to rest up and let everything heal. Walking 12 hours in the parks is not a good way to rest up your body, especially if all that walking causes blisters. My general philosophy is that you not arrive too early. If you are running the half-marathon on Saturday, consider arriving on Thursday. This gives you all of Friday to get settled in and pick up your packet. Consider taking in a round of miniature golf at Fantasia Mini Golf course, renting a water mouse on the lagoon, or just taking it easy, and maybe doing a little souvenir shopping at Downtown Disney and even taking in a matinee at the multiplex there. The idea here would be to putter around just enough that you a nice dose of the Mouse, but you are taking it easy and not stressing your body.

If you plan on doing your sightseeing after the marathon, you need to restrict yourself on the days immediately following the marathon based on your level of soreness and stiffness. If you are a marathon veteran and you don't anticipate being sore much afterwards, then you might be able to jump headlong into regular park visiting on Monday. Even if you are pretty sore, I suggest you go ahead and start visiting the parks on Monday. Why? Because you can wear your finisher's shirt and medal proudly as you limp around the parks. Other marathon finishers will give you a smile, cast members will congratulate you, and the truly unknowing may walk up to you and ask you where you bought that really nifty pin lanyard!

Your length of stay may also be determined by who you bring with you on this trip. If you are coming alone or with others who are also running the marathon, you can keep this a short trip. Nothing requires that every single trip to WDW has to be a long vacation. Think of this as any other out-of-town marathon event you've run in. If you look at it that way, the cost will become substantially lower as well, since you will be able to save on park admission. There is still plenty to do in a long weekend that doesn't involve visiting the parks (outside of the marathon course itself).

When to travel

Whether you plan to drive or fly into Orlando, give yourself plenty of time to settle in. Usually this means giving yourself at least a full day on-property before your marathon event. This is more of a concern for half-marthoners because the event is held on Saturday for the first time in 2006. If you were hoping to work a full week and then flying in really late on Friday night, you might want to reconsider. Your body will have been stressed from traveling and dehydrated from being on an airplane. Even if this means taking an extra vacation day for the Friday before the weekend, I strongly recommend you consider doing that.

By the way, if in case you are not showing up until very late on Friday (for the half-marathon) or Saturday night (for the marathon) and are wondering what to do since the packet pick-up period will be over, don't despair. What they don't tell you is that there is a way for you to pick up your packet on the morning of the event. Just contact the race organizers beforehand to get the information on exactly where to go that morning.

On your flight or drive home, make sure to get up periodically to stretch yourself. Keeping your legs in the same position for hours can lead to unnecessary stiffness.

Going with a Disney package

You can make all the travel arrangements on your own, contact Disney to purchase a package for your trip, or use a travel agency (such as Small World Travel) to make your arrangements. Making your plans through Disney has the benefit of your not having to worry about the minor details. You can also make your Priority Seating arrangements and have them tied to your reservation as well. However, signing up for a Disney Marathon package does not give you any special perks or benefits as it relates to the marathon itself. A lot of it depends on how comfortable you are with making your own plans, and whether you have the time or desire to deal with the finer details on your own. If you decide to book a package, email wdw.disney.sports.travel@disneysports.com, or call (407) 939-7810.

Looking beyond the 2006 WDW marathon events

A couple of things to note. Disneyland in California has announced its inagural half-marathon, scheduled for September 17, 2006. Early registration is available now (link), and more information will become available at DisneylandHalfMarathon.com. Early registration started a couple of weeks ago, and a few of us have already signed up. Hope to see you there!

Disney has also announced the official dates for the 2007 event: The half-marathon is scheduled for January 6, 2007, and the marathon is scheduled for January 7. Registration for both WDW events open the day after the 2006 marathon, on January 9, 2006.

Next time

Can you believe we are now less than 3 months away? For our next installment, let's take a look at the rules of the road.

Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Lani here.


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