The Disneyland Paris Half Marathonby Lani Teshima, staff writer
Official announcement of the September 2016 Disneyland Parks Half Marathon (after months of rumors) finally came in late February of this year. After this announcement, Disneyland Paris offered an online form where you could sign up to receive email announcements. Information trickled out slowly, but by this past summer, we learned that the race would include many of the elements we've grown accustomed to in a Disney endurance race, including a pre-race (pasta) party, health and fitness expo, kids race, a family fun run 5K, and a half marathon.
The announcements left some unanswered questions. Would there be a castle-to-castle medal for people who also did a runDisney race in the U.S.? Would they offer a multi-event challenge for completing the 5K and half marathon? How large would the half marathon be? When would registration happen? How much would registration cost? How much would travel packages cost? When exactly were travel package registrations opening, and would the time be based in Europe-centric hours?
For many months, the folks at Disneyland Paris kept mum, and all we could do was speculate.
In mid-September, race organizers held a press conference at Disneyland Paris to go over some more details, and for the first time, offered solid numbers. The family 5K would allow 5,500 participants, and the half marathon, 12,000.
Of the 12,000 bibs, two-thirds of them (8,000) would be sold as part of a travel package that would be available on October 6 and would include hotel stay, park admission tickets, and race registration.
The remaining 4,000 bibs would become available in January 2016, and would be targeted to those who lived in Europe who didn't need a hotel package.
Travel packages, they said, would become available on October 6 through official runDisney travel providers for both hotel and race registrations. Those seeking just a race registration would be able to register on January 12, 2016.
Many people who work with travel agents for their Disney trips discovered that their agencies were being kept in the dark. It turns out the reason for this is that Disneyland Paris only chose a select handful of agencies as official handlers of packages for the race. This information was not clearly stated as close as two weeks before the race, with no information published at the Disneyland Paris Half Marathon website about this. Those who were connected to online communities such as Facebook were left with the rumor mill, and the slow dawning that their regular travel agent was not going to be one of the chosen few.
The biggest surprise however, came on October 5, one day before the announced start of travel packages: The date of the sales opening date was being pushed back a week, to October 13. For people who were already anxious about booking right away, this was not a good sign.
What was going on? How competent were the race organizers that they had to postpone the booking start date like this? Were they getting any advice from the experienced event veterans over at runDisney? The rumor mill and gossip went into overdrive for some. This really didn't look like a runDisney show. Although the race was now listed at runDisney.com, clicking on the event warned you that you would be taken to an off-network site.
Why was there no pricing information about race registration? Was it because it was being rolled into travel packages, and prices for those are typically not revealed in advance? Without even the list of official travel agencies, how could people indicate an interest in booking a package?
Booking for travel packages finally opened up on October 13, in the middle of the night (morning in France). The official list of travel agencies was posted, and to the surprise of many, only one single travel agency was listed for the U.S.: GET Travel.
According to the GET Travel agent who helped me book my package, they were completely inundated with calls from the moment their lines opened, through the entire day. They, along with most of the other official travel agencies, quickly ran out of their initial allocation of rooms. Many of them started a waitlist and told people to check back later. Online communities were full of people sharing their frustrations at having to be on hold for two hours or more, since most of the travel agencies did not have a way to book packages online.
Worse, not all the travel agents were familiar with the events. For example, some callers who were booking with some European agencies were told that they could not register for the family 5K unless they were registering with children (because the agents did not understand that the 5K was different from the kids races).
After the initial chaos last month, however, the dust seems to have settled somewhat. Most travel agencies were able to secure more rooms, so it looks like you can still purchase a travel package.
All the official travel agencies on the list will gladly book your package for you regardless of where the agencies are based. Some, like Sports Tours International out of the U.K., actually offer an online booking form so you don't have to be up at midnight to talk to an agent on the phone. In addition, while GET Travel requires full payment before Christmas, other agencies (such as Leisure Tours out of the U.K.) don't require final payment until March of next year.
We now have some more information, thanks to an interview with race organizers that was conducted by Dedicated To DLP this week. Race organizers have now formally confirmed information, such as:
- There are some differences in the way the races are run in France, which has a different athletic governing body with different requirements. One big difference is that the French Athletics Federation requires medical certificates, signed by a physician acknowledging that a participant is able to participate in a half marathon. This is likely in place to discourage people who have severe medical issues that might preclude them from participating in an endurance race.
- There will be a "Chateau to Castle" challenge for people who run the Disneyland Paris Half, and the WDW Marathon or one of the many runDisney half marathons in the U.S. during 2016. There was, however, no indication of a Chateau-to-Castle-to-Castle challenge that would require Florida, California, and Paris.
In general, however, race organizers were quite vague about topics like whether they would also create a Dooney & Bourke purse (which has become traditional for the U.S. runDisney races), or what type of merchandise they would offer. And while they acknowledged that the half marathon would traverse both parks, they said the official course would be open to last-minute adjustments, and they would not say when the course map would become available.
One big difference from U.S. races is that races in France require participants to get travel insurance. This is an option that runDisney has never offered, but is being added to all travel packages because of the requirement by the French.
What does this bode for the race itself? Will it be smooth? Well-run? How will they handle things U.S. runners take for granted? Will there be enough volunteers? Will they run out of water/fuel at the aid stations? Will there be enough character meet-and-greet opportunities? Will paths be safely marked, bumps coned, lamp posts padded? Will they also have "balloon ladies"? How will they handle people who are too slow and need to be swept? How strictly will they enforce the pacing requirement? What will the expo be like? Will they have enough event merchandise?
The folks at Disneyland Paris are working in cooperation with an experienced race organization group, so hopefully, the race portion itself will be smooth. That's not to say it won't be like most U.S. runDisney races (they may have different expectations in France), but hopefully they will have plenty of portable toilets, aid stations, and the like. How will the rest of the weekend fare? The folks at Disneyland Paris might not offer the exact same experience as you would get at a Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, but hopefully they are very familiar with Disney magic, and will make sure to sprinkle lots of Disney magique to the weekend. Vive la différence!