Last November, after months of anticipation, my friend Tara and I finally embarked upon the free weekend at Walt Disney World that I won back in March from Champion Athletic (thanks again, Champion!). Ostensibly to run the Wine & Dine Half Marathon, the trip really was about eating and drinking our way through Epcot. Which we did with aplomb!
Day 1: The Arrival
The race wasn’t until Saturday night, but Champion thoughtfully flew us in on Thursday so we’d have plenty of time to hang out in the parks. We caught our flight in the morning and killed time futzing on computers (me) and watching “Doctor Who” (Tara) in flight before landing in Orlando. Magical Express, the most convenient of all shuttles, got us to our resort for the weekend – Port Orleans Resort, Riverside. The resort had a very antebellum feel to it – a sharp contrast from Port Orleans Resort, French Quarter, over which the entirety of Mardi Gras had exploded. Since we were in a “royal guest” room, we had a letter from Princess Tiana waiting for us when we checked in. We grabbed our magic bands, headed to the room, and promptly geeked out over the Disney details – like the princess photos on the wall, the prince silhouettes on the other side of the room, and the LED fireworks displays in our headboards. Value resorts do the job, but this was definitely an upgrade.
We had park hopper passes for the weekend and could have gone anywhere, but we wanted to save our Epcot time for when we could tackle it in a solid chunk. And we knew we’d get to the Magic Kingdom sooner or later. So, off to Hollywood Studios we went! (Wither, Animal Kingdom?) We arrived just in time to get cocktails and a photo with Lightning and Mater (we had to set the cocktails down – apparently Disney doesn’t like taking pictures of people with alochol) before heading into a “Frozen” sing-along (where cocktails were also not allowed – we had to chug them outside). And boy, did we sing along. I imagine we’ll be getting phone calls to do voice work for the sequel any day now. After our “Frozen” fill, we headed toward Tower of Terror, which we proceeded to ride twice in quick succession thanks to the Aerosmith roller coaster breaking down and granting us an extra FastPass+ (which has now happened to us twice, since the same thing happened Princess weekend). And terror requires hydration, which meant stopping for another cocktail, this time one with a glowing ice cube for good measure. Hooray, overpriced novelty drinks!
We were making an effort to stay on Colorado time since the race was at night, so our dinner reservations for the evening weren’t until 9:30-ish. With time to kill, we jumped on the shuttle and headed to the Magic Kingdom. Poking around online, I’d discovered that Disney has their own version of Magic: The Gathering that you play inside the park called Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom. It’s totally free and you get new cards every day, so I convinced Tara to play along (and also convinced her to make a Magic Kingdom stop each day of our trip to get more cards). Geeky fun, and actually pretty cool – you hold the cards up to special walls and windows around the park, and cameras detect your cards as you cast spells or defend yourself based on what’s happening on a screen embedded in the window or wall. And each spot gives you a clue to the next place you need to go. We managed to each hit a couple of our spots and cast spells before getting trapped briefly by the Main Street Electrical Parade. But once it ended, we hightailed it out of the park and headed to dinner.
We made our dinner reservation at California Grill, possibly the tastiest place at all of Walt Disney World. It’s at the top of the Contemporary Resort, just across the street from the Magic Kingdom, so if you time it right (and we did), you get a great rooftop view of Wishes, the nightly fireworks show.
We were promptly seated after the fireworks show and proceeded to spend the entire $200 gift card that Champion had included in the prize package on all manner of food and beverage. This was some seriously tasty food. I don’t even remember what Tara had; something good, I’m sure. I had sushi, some bisque-like soup (I have a thing for Disney’s lobster bisque, if you remember), a whole plate of little desserts, and some amazing wine. Quite satiated, we headed back to our room for the night.
Day 2: The Gorging
This is what we came for. Well, the race and this. Mostly the race. But also this!
The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival! Every fall, Epcot trucks out food carts into the world showcase and invites people to stroll around getting tipsy and eating small plates of vittles from around the globe. If you have adults who think they’re too “mature” for a Disney vacation, dare them to go to Epcot in October and not come away changed.
We arrived early and didn’t want to stuff our faces too far outside of a normal meal schedule, so Tara got coffee and then we did some character photos before making our way into the World Showcase. I picked up a Food & Wine Passport so I could get stamps in each country when I tried their cuisine, and we started to make our way around the globe. It would take almost as long to describe everything we ate and drank, but just know – it was all good. My personal standouts: the potato pancake and smoked salmon from Scotland and the Belgian waffle with chocolate ganache from Belgium. I also couldn’t pass France without picking up some lobster bisque (I’m serious, I love the stuff) while Tara had her picture taken with Aurora, her spirit princess.
By the time we got around to Mexico, the last stop on the showcase, we were pretty spent. But we made time for some chips and guac at La Cava del Tequila (it’s inside the Mexican “temple,” so it really is like a cave of tequila). Oh yeah, and shots. Because CAVE OF TEQUILA.
Despite our already-full day, there was still more to accomplish. With race time nearing, we had to go pick up our packets and bibs. So we said farewell to Epcot (stopping at a kiosk on the BoardWalk to get frozen margaritas for the road, naturally) before boarding a shuttle to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex.
Because Wine & Dine is a smaller race weekend in general than other Walt Disney World races, the race expo was also slightly smaller. But we still perused all the goods for sale just in case. I picked up a couple shirts and pins, as I normally do, and we took some photos before calling it a day and heading back to the resort for a low-key evening.
Except no. Because we just happened to be in town for the first night of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party! Low-key evening. Please.
The main perk of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is that there’s fewer people in the park. Lines are shorter, crowds are smaller… life is just better. Much less stabby. The party itself is lots of fun. Several of the quick-service food places in the Magic Kingdom give out free cookies and hot chocolate, and you basically can wander the entire Magic Kingdom riding rides and meeting characters. We were able to ride the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train twice with a wait of about 10 minutes (FastPasses disappear months in advance and the daytime wait can be several hours), and we also got to meet Anna and Elsa (and Cinderella and Rapunzel and their princes, but whatever). There’s a special Christmas parade that runs through the park as well, and during the parade (which runs twice a night on party nights) they churn out fake snowfall on Main Street USA. We also got to see Celebrate the Magic up close (the projection technology is pretty amazing), and I picked up an insanely huge Christmas tree cupcake in New Fantasyland.
And then we went back to the resort.
Day 3: The Race
Nighttime races mess with your schedule a little, because it’s not like you want to spend an entire day on your feet and then run 13.1 miles. So we really did attempt low-key and stuck to our plan to come back to the room early in the afternoon and just nap and hang out until race time. But that left us a few morning hours to cram some fun in. First stop: breakfast at Kona Cafe at the Polynesian Resort. We had breakfast there during Princess weekend as well, and Tara did not protest eating there again (I love their grits, she loves their famous Tonga Toast). There also may have been mimosas.
After breakfast, we went back to the Magic Kingdom yet again to get more Sorcerers cards and ride a few rides. Apologizes to anyone with genuine narcolepsy my trip on Space Mountain might have offended.
Tara and I split up for a bit back at the resort, and while she ran around, I picked up some gifts in the resort shops and grabbed lunch from their quick-service restaurant. And then I basically spent the afternoon and early evening drifting in and out of sleep while snacking and checking Facebook.
Finally, after dark, we loaded up the bus and headed to the start.
The weather had been great all weekend, but just before the race the forecast started to look threatening. We were optimistic that the rain would skip right over us, but we snagged giant garbage bags from a friendly maintenance worker at the resort before we left. And they came in mighty handy when the sky started to spit on us at the start area.
All the way to our corrals, I was still hopeful that spitting was all the sky would do. We split up – Tara to Corral A since she’s a capital-R Runner – and I did my corral dances and stretches as I worked my way up so I could at least start at the front of my wave. Everyone was feeling good, thankful that the weather hadn’t gotten worse. And then, at almost the exact moment that Corral A was released from the start, the real rain started. And it would be my companion for the next 13 miles.
The bag was great while we were still waiting in our corral, since there was a good 15 minutes between the lead corral and where I was. But I knew I wouldn’t be able to run in it, so I ditched it during our corral’s start countdown. And immediately my nice polyester layers became a 10-pound weight strapped to my body as I ran. My race, in one photo:
My phone was stuffed in my bra inside a Ziploc bag, you guys.
It rained the whole way but, by golly, I ran that sucker. And even with the rain, I think this was my favorite Disney race. My opinion may be colored by the amount of food, booze, and being free the trip contained, but I’m looking forward to my return trip this fall. I ran through three different parks – and got to see the spectacle that is the Osborne lights – I got to run later in the day so I was on Colorado time, and because the race was a little smaller I didn’t feel as crowded or jostled as normal. Hooray for Wine & Dine!
For most of the race, I felt pretty good. Tara, the Runner, finished a couple hours before me and got to sit around in the rain at Epcot and wait for me to finish. She was tracking my time as I crossed checkpoints and sent me motivational texts – even when my nagging right knee start bothering me in Hollywood Studios and I had to pull up to a walk after just a few seconds of attempting to run.
Despite my knee, that last mile or so was actually pretty fun. Hollywood Studios and Epcot, where we finished, are fairly close, so we got to run along the river and BoardWalk between them instead of having to run on boring streets. And despite the rain and the pain, I finished with a smile. Sort of.
Why can’t I get a race photo with my arms all the way up? I look like I’m ready for takeoff.
After the race, I grabbed my medals (this race completed our second Coast to Coast for the year), found Tara, and headed into Epcot for the race after-party – more small plates at the World Showcase. I made a beeline to Scotland for another potato pancake with salmon, and I picked up one of the race banners that had been hung around Walt Disney World as a souvenir before the cold and the rain conspired to suggest we head back to our resort. And then we walked another mile back to the shuttles. And then we waited in line in the rain for what seemed like several years (but was actually closer to 15-20 minutes, if I recall) until we finally boarded a shuttle for our home away from home.
And then my medal broke. And I passed out.
Day 4: The Aftermath
And even though we didn’t have much time to wander, we headed back to the Magic Kingdom to get even more Sorcerer cards and gifts for our family back home. And, of course, there were pictures.
All around, an amazing trip. And I’m not just saying that because it was mostly free. runDisney for the win!