California Screamin’ – 5,4,3,2,1… gone.

Alas, one of my favorite rides at Disney’s California Adventure is now closed for a make over.

IMG_4923I’m rather opposed to the Pixar takeover in the parks and Pixar Pier is something that although makes some sense due to the established placement of Toy Story Midway Mania, I feel it overloads DCA with Pixar themed attractions and areas. Though I am very fond of CarsLand and think Disney did a phenomenal job with it, I still think the abundance of Pixar themed rides, attractions and entire lands at Disney Parks worldwide is overkill and I’d like to see more use of legacy characters as well as plenty of  theming for attractions that doesn’t contain established characters – which once upon a time was as much a feature of DCA as it was of EPCOT. In fact, it seems like they might as well rename DCA as the Disney-Pixar Studios Park or something similar considering just how much reliance they have placed on those elements.

DSCN1974California Screamin’, much like other areas of Paradise Pier, isn’t changing very much. It’s a re-themeing of the attraction rather than any major overhaul. Being a coaster whereby the only theme you pay attention to during the ride is the music playing in your ears, and considering the original California Screamin’ music is composed by the same person as most of the Pixar movies, then it’s not likely to be a huge departure. The majority of the overhaul will be within the ride queue and surrounding area. If they bring in some of the new technology they use in ride queues elsewhere to keep guests interested during those waits then I’m all for it. But I’m still sad to see the end of the current Pier theme.

At least Mickeys’ head is going to remain on the iconic ferris wheel!

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Maybe it’s my age, but I find myself in a position whereby I’m becoming the crotchety person desperately hanging on to the older, beloved attractions and being annoyed by the decisions made in creating the new ones. At least in this case, the changes will be mininal in regards to the experience on board the ride unlike some of the upcoming changes at WDW and that, I think, helps us all come to terms with the loss.

p.s. yes, I bought the limited edition goodbye California Screamin’ T-shirt from the Disney parks shop. sadface.

Inspiration Falls

At this time of year, we’re all thinking about our new year resolutions and about just how long we can keep it up. I feel like I have a greater determination this year than ever before to stick to mine (including working on this blog – one of my 4 big resolutions for 2018).

One thing Disney parks and characters have always done for me is inspire. Walt Disney himself is a hero of mine and whether it’s seeing his quotes on ‘pardon our pixie dust’ Dream Builders signs in the parks, or watching old Walt Disney presents, I find that it all makes me wants to get off my backside and do the things that I dream about. After all, Disney and the parks fully endorse the notion of dreaming big and that you can do anything you put your mind to.

Disney characters themselves may be fictional (ouch, feel the sting of that bubble bursting) but their actions are meant to inspire. From learning to be who you truly are and embracing the goodness and strength inside, to forming unlikely friendships and learning not to pre-judge, Disney characters lead the way in case studies for being ‘good’ and treating others with respect and dignity. The more modern princesses and queens have taught a whole new generation that dreaming is important, but that you need to work hard at the same time – not to mention the fact you don’t need a Prince in order to be happy.

Winter is a tough time to get through when you live in dark, colder climes and though sheer determination can get you through the initial hump of sticking to your goals for the year, keeping going as life morphs and changes can be difficult. I’ve decided to put together my Disney playlists for those moments when I need a kick to keep me going and remind me to put the work in to get where I want to be.

My 18 songs to inspire and keep you on track!

Go the Distance – Hercules
Let It Go – Frozen
I’ll Make A Man Out Of You – Mulan
Dig A Little Deeper – The Princess and the Frog
Touch The Sky – Brave
Up, Down, Touch The Ground – Winnie the Pooh
Life Is A Highway – Cars
Seize The Day- Newsies
Immortals – Big Hero 6
Get’cha Head In The Game – High School Musical
On My Way – Brother Bear
Just Around The Riverbend – Pocahontas
A Step In The Right Direction – Bedknobs and Broomsticks
Son Of Man – Tarzan
How Far I’ll Go – Moana
Run That Race – Cars 3
Zero To Hero – Hercules
Try Everything – Zootopia

‘The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing’ – Walt Disney

 

Go the Distance – my runDisney experiences

The Walt Disney World marathon takes place this weekend and runDisney has come a long way since it’s inception. Hell, when I began running their events it was known as the Disney Endurance Series.

My first Disney run was back in 2007 when I took part in the Race for the Taste 10k which coincided with the EPCOT International Food and Wine Festival. The race sadly no longer exists as Disney replaced it with the Wine and Dine half marathon event, which was a much needed expansion on what they offered, so an understandable change to mix things up a little. What I enjoyed most about the race was how relaxed it was for those who are more ‘fun’ runners. We entered as a large group from the Rose and Crown – including those of us on the program, along with managers and chefs. We had a lot of fun, some struggling a little – mostly with hangovers – and we all made it across the line safely. The camaraderie and the sense of achievement that we all shared spurred me on. I’d run a few Race for Life 5ks in the UK, but they didn’t compare to what I experienced that early Sunday morning at EPCOT. I wanted more, even if I wasn’t entirely committed to the training I should do with it!

SANY0590_0117_117So I signed up for the ‘Minnie marathon’ weekend which included the Go Red for Women 5K and the Women Run the World 15k. I also entered the ESPN 5k and outwith Disney, I did the Celebration 10k.  Even after finishing my first contract with Disney, my vacation travels put me there at good times to participate in other races. I was doing more of the runDisney events and was quick off the mark to get in for the Princess half marathon when it launched in 2009.

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I am proud to say that as I progressed with my running ambitions, I took each step of a new distance at a runDisney event and that culminated in my participation in the 2012 Walt Disney World Marathon during my second contract at WDW. I was 29 and had vowed to run a marathon before the age of 30. Mission accomplished! Later that year I completed the Coast to Coast challenge by taking part in the Disneyland half marathon.

The runDisney events always have a great atmosphere.  They’re well organised which is the best compliment you can give a race but more importantly for me, they’re interesting. By that I mean that you can enjoy the run with amazing distractions and well placed water and food stations. And there are plenty of professional photographers on the route and more than one location where they film the runners and can add it to your memory collection.

The setting couldn’t be better – you get the chance to run through all 4 Disney theme parks and in each one of those there are thousands of well wishers that lift you and keep you running and you’ll even find some outside the resorts cheering you on. There’s really nothing like running down Main Street USA, through Cinderella Castle, or finishing by running around the world (showcase) towards the finish line. The race route has altered lately as back in 2012 we ran through the Lights! Motors! Action! stadium with the cameras rolling to show us on the big screen. With that now a building site for the new lands, you enter Studios on the other side by the Tower of Terror. Essentially the race is a set route each year and I don’t think boredom could settle in considering everything you get to see along the way.
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During the more bland sections of the race when you’re on World Drive, Floridian Way and Osceola Parkway, the Disney team get creative. Amongst the parade floats with character photo opportunities (for those happy to miss PBs!), my favourite is the fun facts and quiz questions. Along the route there will be boards asking trivia questions with the answers being given to you approximately 200 yards later. It’s a great way to trick the mind into forgetting you’re running and keeps you going on long stretches. It’s something I wish other races around the world would adopt as a way to motivate runners.

There is one major downside to runDisney events that has surfaced as they have become more popular in the last 5 or so years – the price. Well, also the availability (no one expects the Spanish Inquisition). The prices are becoming extortionate and only hardened runDisney afficianados are so willing to part with the cash but let’s face it – the demand allows them to price accordingly. It can cost hundreds of dollars to take part in one of the larger races and that’s before you consider staying on property or travel costs. However, despite those costs, I would recommend a runDisney marathon or half marathon to any runners out there who enjoy the challenge as they truly are some of the most fun experiences you can have in a race.

As for that availability issue – unless your finger is on the button the minute places are released for sale online then you can kiss your hopes of taking part goodbye. It’s difficult to give any tips on booking for runDisney events as a lot of it is simply being in the know for timing. If you do miss out on gaining a regular entry place however, there are alternative means to look into. The first being signing up with a charity as they are awarded a certain amount of spaces. This is a big commitment as they expect a lot of fundraising to go along with it, and they will charge you for your place, so the cost to you would still be high and if you can’t meet the fundraising targets you’d be looking at shoring that up yourself. The other alternative is the method I used when booking for the Disneyland Half marathon in 2012: I used a travel company. The different companies can vary in how much they include in their deals and can run costly for that all inclusive Disney experience utilising the mid-range and deluxe resorts. I was able to find one that included the race entry as well as a single day admission to the parks (a hopper pass). I then arranged my own hotel accommodation as well as travel. This worked out brilliantly for me as there was very little extra cost added to the base price, so the travel company didn’t walk away with a huge profit. I didn’t need the pass as I was a cast member at the time and would have gained free admission to the parks, but I still used it and had a fabulous time.

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But the marathon weekends are not just about the taking part. There’s more you can enjoy without a race entry and I’m not so sure everyone realises that.

First, if you are supporting someone running then you can purchase packages that give you things to do while waiting on your runner. Obviously, you can be out on the course encouraging them along, but there are also after parties and post-race refreshments etc that you can purchase. These are ideal as it means the runner isn’t on their own after the race and you get a little extra Disney magic!

Best of all, however, is the Expo. Over the weekend and in the few days leading up to the event, Wide World of Sports plays host to the race expo (in Disneyland, they use a conference room at one of the Disneyland hotels) which includes far more than just the packet pick up. There are talks to attend to get advice from the professionals which I’ve found both useful and inspiring. You can grab free samples from bananas to race fuel as well as take a look at a wide range of stalls to do your shopping, whether that be for new footwear and headphones or jewelery and car stickers. Not to mention the all important official race merchandise. It’s easy to spend a few hours perusing everyone’s wares and you’ll likely get a good deal and there are experts around to help you get the right product to suit your body.  It’s a great little shopping extra and allows you to take a look around WWoS. The parking lot can get pretty full, but Disney knows what it’s doing and transportation cast members will be out in force to keep you right – just be aware that there could be a queue going in.

At last year’s Princess half marathon expo I picked up the limited edition Haunted Mansion themed New Balance revlite running shoes. I adore them. Not only are they comfortable for racing (and the brand and style I prefer) but they are also uber stylish for a day at the park! And let’s not forget that limited edition status 😉 I thought they’d be sold out before I got there on the last day of the expo but I was in luck and after a short internal debate, I gave in to the lure and spent the $140 dollars.

And who doesn’t like spinning the wheel to see if you can win a prize – there’s usually a few companies around with those. And if there are any runners you know, then you can pick up a unique gift for them, many of which are Disney inspired but not all.

94235-5914-003fImportant things I learned about the running weekends is that the parks will be busy. runDisney participants come from all over the world to take part; timing vacations to coincide, or just making sure they take advantage of a full weekend of Disney fun. For cast members it’s great – especially those in tipped positions as people are in high spirits and everyone likes a post run beer or two. People on a regular vacation and not expecting what’s going on will find getting fastpasses more difficult, the ride queues will be long, Disney transport will be full, and not to mention the various road closures in place for the runners. So maybe that’s the weekend to go to a rival park!

For those who do brave Walt Disney World those days, a few pieces of advice though not the kind of tip I’d give to make your experience better. In this case, I offer some advice on how to be kind to the runners. If you are in the parks early and there are still runners on the track (this applies more specifically to EPCOT but also Studios) – please heed all cast members when moving around where the runners are. These people have been going for 20 miles or more and are TIRED. If you take it upon yourself to cross over the track right in their way, it’s very difficult for them to duck and dive or dodge around you. Make sure you head to a proper cross walk and wait patiently with the cast members until told to cross. I’ve seen runners fall because a tourist with a push chair decided to make their own way across. It could injure runners, maybe even stop them finishing something they’ve paid a lot of money to enjoy and for which they’ve worked extremely hard. Don’t ruin their experience because you couldn’t wait 30 seconds longer to get 10 feet across the road.

And my other piece of advice is to have fun with it! There will be lots of runners in the parks sporting medals. Wish them well, congratulate them and spare a thought for them getting into and out of ride vehicles – their legs will be tired and sore and even the fittest of them will have aches and pains to take into account!

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I’ve not taken part in a runDisney event for a while. I found the cost prohibitive and now do other nearby runs at a fraction of the price. This year I’ll be taking part in the Best Damn Race Orlando (half marathon), which cost me a third of what I’d have paid for the Princess Half. I’ve found that the BDR team put on a great run and I fully enjoy them – it also has a 5k on the same morning so family who want to take on a shorter distance can come along and take part, too. But it is still my aim to add to the collection and hopefully run a Disneyland Paris race at some point. I’ve completed every distance possible at Walt Disney World, I’ve run the Disneyland Half and I’ve even done the Castaway Cay 5k. It would be great to add a Paris event to my runDisney haul.

To those running this weekend – good luck! Break a leg! … or maybe try not to 😉

 

New year, new blog

I admit, part of the reason I wanted to start a blog was as a vanity project and a way to contain my memories (and opinions!) and for me there’s no more joyous way to do that than by exploring my love of all things Disney parks. I’ve been talking about this for a while and with the new year, I figured a good resolution to make would be to finally take the plunge and do it!

As I wrote on the ‘about me’ page, my love of Disney parks began at the age of 9 when we took our first family vacation to Orlando. Back then, International Drive was a lot smaller and staying right in the heart of the area was a lot less hectic. Of course, there were also only three Disney parks, Pleasure Island, River Country, Typhoon Lagoon and Discovery Island. A lot has changed over the years and opinions divide over which of those changes were good and which were bad!

Now that I’m… a lot older than 9, I still enjoy the parks as an adult and don’t anticipate that ever changing. Calling Walt Disney World my ‘happy place’ is certainly apt. The difference between being a kid and an adult is that the only way in which the real world doesn’t melt away while visiting is in the wallet.

I have experienced so much of what Disney parks has to offer. With insights as an ex-cast member and memories spanning more than 25 years, I hope that by beginning this blog I can share useful tips, stir nostalgia and create excitement whether you’re a first timer or an old dab hand. And I won’t box myself in with Walt Disney World alone – I aim to include Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, the Disney Cruise Line and those rival theme parks in the greater Orlando area and out to Tampa!

I think I have a grasp on the different things I want to do. The first would be tips & tricks and even ‘how to’ information for things like the app, fastpasses etc. My time in the trenches as a cast member should help for this one as well as my years of experience! I also aim to have a review section allowing me to talk specifically and in detail about new/current attractions and restaurants etc. I’d also like to explore those elements of the parks that are gone but not forgotten in a look back at vintage attractions. Of course, I’ll also include some more random blog posts that don’t particularly belong in any category!

Over the coming days I’ll also be making the site snazzier. All photos are my own unless stated and my instagram feed is on the right as well, where I’ve been posting my photography for the last year or so.

Fingers crossed this is a resolution that sticks and it continues to be fun in the coming months!