January 18, 2018

What's new in 2018-2019 for Disney Cruise Line, Disney Vacation Club, Adventures by Disney and Aulani Resort


This week, I was invited to hear what’s new and what’s next with the Disney Vacation collections. For those not familiar with that term, it refers to four groups “beyond the theme parks” that provide the service, storytelling and attention to detail that Disney is known for: Disney Cruise Line, Adventures by Disney, Hawaiian resort and spa Aulani and Disney Vacation Club. Here are the highlights:

Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa

“We have put a lot of thought into delivering an authentic experience where our guests can learn about Hawaiian culture,” said Yolanda Cade of Disney Public Relations. “All of these things are incorporated into our incredible luau, which includes firedancing, traditional hula and storytelling where you learn about the culture and history of Hawaii.”

The all-new Ka Wa’a luau features a local island buffet, lively music and traditional Hawaiian dance, including hula kahiko and modern hula ‘auana. Through Disney’s signature storytelling, guests experience Hawaii’s history and its deep cultural roots in canoe exploration. Before the luau, guests can also enjoy special hands-on pre-show entertainment, family activities and traditional crafts. The luau is a three-hour experience.

There are two seating packages for the luau:

** VIP Seating – $169 for adults and $109 for children ages 3 through 9). VIP guests receive early check-in, priority up-front seating, complimentary beverages (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic) and an enhanced welcome lei.

** General Admission – $129 adults and $79 for children ages 3 through 9.

Both seating packages include gratuities but not taxes.

Curious about the menu? Here’s what is served:

Salads: Waipoli lettuce, vine-ripe Kula tomatoes and shaved Maui onions with papaya seed and Maui onion dressing, taro and guava croutons; Lomi Lomi Salmon Salad; Aulani-style Ahi Poke; Taro macaroni salad; Poi.


I sampled an Ahi Tuna Poke dish at the recent media event that was inspired the luau menu. Although I am not usually a big seafood eater, I did enjoy this appetizer because it didn’t have that heavy fish taste.

Entrees: Braised pork imu-style with Maui onions; Hawaiian waters local catch with crushed macademia nut sauce; Teriyaki chicken )oven roasted) stir fry; seasonally sourced vegetables; steamed short grain rice; sweet potato duet, puree Okinawan and Uala potato.

Carver: Whole-roasted, Hawaiian-rasied sucking pic; slow-roasted prime rib; alea sea salt-crusted bao buns; taro rolls with Liliko’I butter.

Desserts: Macademia nut brownies; Haupia (coconut pudding) guava cake; banana bread pudding; seasonal and tropical fruits and berries.

Kids’ menu: carrot and celery sticks with ranch dip; big wave fruit cup with marshmallows; Shaka macaroni and cheese; tiki chicken tenderloin with pineapple BBQ sauce; Mickey pasta with tomato sauce and meatballs; Moana surprise dessert

Complimentary beverages: Kona blend regular and decaffeinated coffee; whole leaf organic and herbal teas.

Disney Cruise Line

“Although we have new ships coming in 2021, 2022 and 2023, we continue to invest in our current [Disney Cruise Line] fleet to surprise and delight everyone in the family,” said Carrie Matson, director of Disney Cruise Line marketing strategy.

The Disney Magic goes into dry dock next month and when it comes out on March 9, there will be a new restaurant that combines dining and live music, much like Tiana’s Place onboard the Disney Wonder. This one will be Rapunzel’s Royal Table.

According to the press release: “Guests will step inside a regal ballroom in the royal castle, lit by glowing wish lanterns and adorned with colorful drawings that reflect Rapunzel’s artistic talents. Here, the King and Queen of Corona invite everyone to take part in a festive celebration of Rapunzel’s birthday and the anniversary of her return to the kingdom. Throughout dinner, guests of all ages will be treated to live entertainment, including spirited singing and dancing led by the maître d', a merry band of musicians, the mischievous Snuggly Duckling Thugs and of course, Princess Rapunzel herself. The family fun is complete with themed menus, special activities and a lively parade to cap off the evening in Corona. The charm and enchantment of “Tangled” in Rapunzel’s Royal Table is the perfect pairing to “Tangled: The Musical” – the spellbinding original production that delights guests during each Disney Magic sailing.”


Disney Cruise Line also is continuing its popular Marvel Day at Sea and Star Wars Day at Sea on select sailings in 2018.

Both themed days feature all-day entertainment including special character interactions, youth activities, special merchandise and unique food and beverage offerings. The Marvel Day at Sea culminates in a spectacular stunt show on the tops decks, while the Star Wars Day at Sea end with fireworks set to the memorable music of Star Wars.

The Marvel Day at Sea takes place on eight five-night western Caribbean voyages that depart from Miami in 2018. The Star Wars Day at Sea takes place on seven-night Eastern and Western Caribbean cruises sailing out of Port Canaveral through April 2018.

Adventures by Disney

River cruises tend to skew a little older [when it comes to guests],” said Ken Potrock, senior vice president and general manager of Disney Vacation Club and Adventures by Disney. “Disney has made it more of a family adventure and one with more active options.”

As such, he announced that Adventures by Disney is adding a third river cruise – on the Seine in France – in 2019. Read all the details of the this amazing 10-day adventure that includes two days in Paris on our News Blog.

Plus, a new experience, the Southern California Adventure, will join the lineup of shorter vacations that offer exclusive experiences. And the three-night excursions can be paired with Disney Cruise Line sailings out of San Diego.

“It will take you to a variety of Disney-oriented icons in that Southern California area – you’ll go to the Studios, Imagineering, our Archives, into Disneyland for a very special opportunity and Walt’s apartment,” he said.

Disney Vacation Club

At the D23 Expo in July, it was announced that Disney Vacation Club would be adding a new resort to its properties. This time, the resort would be new construction, rather than adding villas to the existing resorts on the Walt Disney World monorail loop.

The new resort will be built near Epcot and called Disney Riviera Resort. The new gondola transportation system, Disney Skyliner, will connect Disney Riviera to other areas on Walt Disney World property.

No additional details were revealed about Disney Riviera, but it is expected to open in the fall of 2019 with approximately 300 units that will encompass a variety of accommodation types.

Disney Vacation Club’s 14th resort, Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, opened in July 2017.

For more information about any of these Disney vacation offerings, you can visit DisneyVacations.com.

Registration now open to volunteer at runDisney events at Walt Disney World


If you’ve ever participated in or watched a runDisney race, you’ve seen just how many volunteers it takes to put on those magical weekends of running. Perhaps you’ve wondered what it takes to become a volunteer. If you have an interest, now is the time to get involved.

Registration currently is open for volunteers for the 2018 Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend, which is Feb. 22 through 25. Registration opens on Tuesday, Feb. 23, for volunteers for the 2018 Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend – The Dark Side, which takes place April 19 through 22. (Both weekends are at Walt Disney World; runDisney events at Disneyland have been put on hiatus.) Although it takes many volunteers to stage runDisney races, these positions are popular, so don’t delay if you want to donate your time.


runDisney offers a variety of volunteer opportunities during its races at Walt Disney World. The minimum age varies, depending on the task, with 14 being the youngest age allowed. Volunteers who are younger than 16 must be accompanied by an adult and have waivers signed by their parents.

Volunteers -- or as runDisney calls them, "sports enthusiasts" -- are typically assigned to areas on a first-come, first-served basis. For Disney Princess weekend, they may choose to work in these areas:

** Health & Fitness Expo: Thursday, Feb. 22 to Saturday, Feb. 24

** Kids Races: Saturday, Feb. 24

** Disney Princess 5K: Friday, Feb. 23

** Disney Princess Enchanted 10K: Saturday, Feb. 24

** Disney Princess Half Marathon: Sunday, Feb. 25

Volunteers will receive confirmation in the mail of the shifts for which they have been scheduled about a month prior to the event. The mailing also will include further information on parking, directions and other useful information, such as where to pick up credentials.

Organizers of runDisney recognize that even though its Sports Enthusiasts are volunteering for their own personal reasons, they could not host the races without the volunteers' help. As such, volunteers are given "appreciation," for their time onDisney property. Each person receives a snack and one commemorative piece of apparel for the event.

In addition, volunteers are eligible to earn points toward a complimentary theme-park ticket. Each hour of service completed is equal to one point, and it takes 16 points to earn a day's admission to Walt Disney World. Earned tickets are mailed within 60 days of reaching 16 points.

Questions? Call the Volunteer Ambassador Team Information Line at 407-938-3880, or email volunteer.ambassador.team@disneysports.com

January 16, 2018

Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin child care center to remain open when others at resort close


The recent news that Walt Disney World will be closing three of its children’s activity centers this summer has left some guests worried about their vacation plans. If you’re among those guests, know that there is another fun and comparable alternative on Disney property.

The last day of operation for Simba's Cubhouse at Animal Kingdom Lodge, Sandcastle Club at Beach Club Resort and Lilo's Playhouse at Polynesian Village Resort is July 31. Apparently the childcare centers were not being used as much, which led to the decision to close them. Certainly that’s understandable, but I have to admit to a little wistfulness upon hearing the news. When my kids were younger, they thoroughly enjoyed the time they spent in the kids clubs, especially the Sandcastle club.


However, my children also really enjoyed Camp Dolphin at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort, and it will remain open when the others close. You do not have to be staying at the Swan and Dolphin (or any Walt Disney World hotel) to use Camp Dolphin.

If you are looking for a fun evening for your child while you have an adult-only evening – or even just an interrupted dinner -- Camp Dolphin opens at 5 p.m. each day and stays open until midnight. Located on the lower level of the Dolphin building, the childcare facility is designed just for kids ages 4 to 12.

Camp Dolphin can accommodate up to 18 children with two counselors present. During busy periods, such as holidays, the camp moves to one of the hotel’s ballrooms.


Camp Dolphin has all the basic components for kid fun: Video games, movies, crafts and counselors who will supervise and entertain youngsters in an environment where parents will not worry about their well-being. On the night my children visited, the theme for the crafts was "A Very Merry Unbirthday," which included card-making and birthday tiaras for the participants. Blackout Bingo was played for prizes, and when we arrived to pick up our children, they were just settling down with a mound of pillows for movie time.


Parents can opt to have their children have dinner while at Camp Dolphin. Counselors take the kids to nearby Picabu (Peek-A-Boo) restaurant, where the meals they have pre-selected from a menu of traditional kid favorites, such as cheeseburgers, mac and cheese, chicken fingers and hot dogs, are served. The cost is $10 per child.


To have their children attend Camp Dolphin, parents pay $12 per hour per child with no minimum time requirement (unlike the other Walt Disney World children’s activity centers). Plus, each adult who orders an entree at Shula's Steak House, Todd English's bluezoo or Il Mulino New York Trattoria in the hotel earns two complimentary hours for a child at Camp Dolphin. This offer also applies to an adult who purchases a spa service at Mandara Spa.

Reservations are recommended for Camp Dolphin. To book, call 407-934-4000 or go online to the hotel’s website 72 hours in advance. Walk-ups are permitted if space is available.

For guests who prefer an individual babysitter or need help during other hours, Walt Disney World recommends Kids Nite Out, a service that send a babysitter to your hotel room. Babysitters will watch and entertain kids ages 6 months to 12 years old with games, arts and crafts and reading. You can also reserve a caregiver to accompany your family to the parks if you need a helping hand. The cost is $18 per hour for one child, $21 for two children, $24 for three children and $26 for four children. There is an additional $2-per-hour charge after 9 p.m. and a one-time transportation fee of $10.

To contact Kid's Nite Out, call 407-828-0920 from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

January 13, 2018

SeaWorld Orlando brings back Preschool Card with free admission



SeaWorld Orlando has brought back its Preschool Card for 2018, which allows young children in Florida to experience the theme park for free this year.

Here’s what you need to know:

** The child must be 5 years or younger at the time the card is redeemed. The child is still eligible if he or she turns 6 during the 2018 calendar year after the pass is in hand.

** This offer is only open to Florida residents.

** The pass must be ordered online because it is not available at the gates.

** To redeem the Preschool Card, take your registration confirmation, your child's birth certificate or travel passport, and your Florida resident ID to any ticket window. It does not have to be the child’s parent who picks up the pass, but that adult still must present all the documentation.

** The PreSchool Card does not include taxes, service fees, parking, separately ticketed events or other discounts.

** Visitors can add an Aquatica water park pass to the PreSchool Card for $59.99.

To take advantage of this offer – a Preschool Card or a Preschool Card plus Aquatica -- you must register by May 13, 2018.

** The Preschool Card is valid through Dec. 31, 2018, and there are no blockout dates. That means the Halloween Spooktacular with trick-or-treating and the Christmas Celebration are included.


Looking for the best deal for parents to accompany their little ones to SeaWorld Orlando? You have two options for a year’s worth of fun:

Annual passes: These can be SeaWorld only or you can add admission to Aquatica, Busch Garden or all SeaWorld parks in the United States. Annual passes are good for a year from the date purchased. Florida residents have the option to pay in monthly installments. Annual passes include complimentary parking; discounts on food, beverages and merchandise in the parks; and special offers, including 50-percent off tickets for guests. A SeaWorld-only annual pass is $175 plus taxes and fees. Add Aquatica for $25 or Busch Gardens for $45. A annual pass with admission to all three Florida parks is $252 plus taxes and fees. For all U.S. parks operated by SeaWorld Entertainment, it’s $336 plus taxes and fees.

Fun Cards: These cards are good for unlimited visits during the calendar year in which they are purchased. So, whether you buy a Fun Card in January or October, it still expires on December 31 of that year. Unlike annual passes, Fun Cards do not include parking, which is $20 per day for most vehicles.

There are no blackout dates for either Fun Cards or annual passes, and both include the Halloween Spooktacular and Christmas Celebration events.

January 11, 2018

Orlando Science Center's Otronicon 2018 to give visitors sneak peek into Toy Story Land


Otronicon, the annual four-day Orlando Science Center event celebrating technology, starts this Friday, Jan. 12. Disney fans will find plenty to inspire them, including new content themed around toys in anticipation of the opening of Walt Disney World's Toy Story Land this summer.

“This year Walt Disney World will have a Virtual Reality experience that will allow guests to take a sneak peek into Toy Story Land. There will also be a demonstration of how toys inspired some of our attractions and the engineering behind them,” according the Disney representatives.

In addition to the Virtual Reality experience, there also will be an Augmented Reality experience in the Walt Disney World exhibit. For those not familiar with the terms, Virtual Reality is an entirely made up world whereas Augmented Reality adds some VR elements to the natural world, enhancing it but not creating it.


Although Disney has not revealed everything that will appear in its Otronicon booth, it does promise to have several interactive elements, including either a ride vehicle or a photo booth. For the last couple years, the exhibit has featured a car from the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster at the Magic Kingdom. Visitors were encouraged to sit in the stationery car and wear Virtual Reality goggles to experience a roller coaster simulation. No word yet on whether this exact experience is what visitors can look forward to.


Guests who have enjoyed Disney’s “Color and Play” station, where they can add color to favorite Disney characters and then see them come to life through the use of Augmented Reality technology, will be happy to know the exhibit is returning.

Disney’s Imagineers also will present “Engineering The Magic, a one-hour interactive demonstration at 12:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. “Every day this incredible team uses science to help tell the stories that transport Walt Disney World park and resort guests into some really exciting places. ‘Engineering the Magic’ is food for your brain as you discover the scientific principles that put the thrills, chills, and fun into the most magical place on Earth. Jump on board and discover the engineer in you.”

"Engineering the Magic" is a workshop with limited seating so it's recommended that those planning to attend register in advance at the Clubhouse on Level 1 of the science center. There is a cost of $5 per workshop, and tickets to Otronicon are required to attend workshops.

Now in its thirteenth year, Otronicon has grown from a conference for video gamers to one that encompasses the many forms of technology that we use in our everyday lives. This year, an emphasis again has been placed on STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) careers. Many, if not most, of the exhibitors are local companies with a vested interest in the development of STEM programs and jobs in Orlando.

In addition, the focus on teaching kids how to create code for computers returns with an Hour of Code each day. This initiative introduces computer science to new learners through simple programming games and features popular characters. Plus, speaker Kyle Steele presents a talk Friday that focuses on “Learn Jelly, a system that helps elementary students learn deeper, improve reading comprehension and critical thinking skills and gain coding exposure through the process of animating stories based on content areas.”

Video games still make up a large part of the event, too. Families can take part in daily competitions hosted by Powder Keg Games; game designers can create experiences using the Cozmo robot in the UCF Game Jam Contest; and visitors can try a number of new and popular games. Otronicon 2018 also features state-of-the-art medical and military simulators from Florida Hospital for Children and Lockheed Martin, respectively.

Admission to Otronicon is $20.95 per day for adults; $18.95 per day for students and seniors; and $14.95 per day for children ages 3 to 11. Admission to Otronicon is free for Science Center members and children age 2 and younger. Hours for Otronicon are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. each day. A separate ticket is required for Science Night Live featuring Otronicon! from 8 to 11:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 13.

January 8, 2018

Registration open now for new runDisney Star Wars Virtual Half Marathon


Two summers ago, runDisney offered participants the opportunity to bring some of the magic of its popular races to their hometowns with its Virtual Running Shorts Series. Now, the organization is giving runners a chance to complete a virtual half marathon – and earn the Kessel Run Challenge – for special Star Wars-themed medals.


If you’ve never heard the term “virtual race,” it refers to a race that can be run in any location, even as part of another actual race. Basically, the participant chooses the pace (walking, jogging, running) and the location (inside, outside, on a treadmill or not).

There is no limit on the number of participants in the new virtual race, although there still is a deadline to register: Feb. 28. Runners and walkers can sign up and start running the Star Wars Virtual Half Marathon now. The deadline for completion is March 31. Participants are allowed to break up their 13.1 miles over multiple days or run it all at once. As with all runDisney half marathons, runners must be 14 years of age, and everyone must sign waivers online during the registration process. In this case, they must be 14 by March 31.

The registration fee for the Star Wars Virtual Half Marathon is $59 and it includes a Star Wars finisher medal and a downloadable race bib and finisher certificate.

The Kessel Run Challenge medal can be earned by running the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon or Star Wars First Order Challenge (the 10k and the half marathon during the Dark Side weekend in April at Walt Disney World) plus the runDisney Kessel Run Challenge (the virtual half marathon). Participants must be within pacing requirements at the Dark Side races to earn the Kessel medal.

The registration fee for the Kessel Run Challenge is $69. Participants will receive their Star Wars Virtual Half Marathon medal and Star Wars-themed keepsake at the runDisney Health & Fitness Expo during the Star Wars Half Marathon – The Dark Side race weekend. Upon completion of the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon within the pacing requirements, participants will be awarded the Kessel Run Challenge medal in addition to their Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon medal.

Register for both the Star Wars Virtual Half Marathon and the Kessel Run Challenge here.

The official runDisney blog states: “Virtual races are becoming more and more popular in the running world with the ease of participating from anywhere. As runDisney continues to grow, we will look for more opportunities to stay connected with our runners as well as introduce a healthy and active lifestyle to new audiences.”

Do you agree – are the new runDisney virtual races good motivators to train? Or is the cost too high when you haven’t stepped foot on Disney property? Tell us in the comments why you think these races are a positive or negative addition to the runDisney portfolio.

January 5, 2018

Last chance: SeaWorld Orlando’s Three Kings Celebration


If you’re looking for something fun to do today and one last taste of the holidays, head over to SeaWorld Orlando. Today is the last day of the theme park’s inaugural Three Kings Celebration, which includes some of its most popular Christmas entertainment, as well.

Today, Jan. 6., is the actual Feast of the Epiphany, or Three Kings Day, that is celebrated in Latin cultures. This year, SeaWorld introduced a weeklong celebration leading up to it, and the events are included with regular admission. It begins at 11 a.m. today and continues through the park’s closing at 7 p.m.

Here’s what you will find:


** Three Kings Processional: Welcome the Three Wise Men to a live nativity scene depicting the arrival of the Three Kings. A storyteller will share the tale of their journey and the traditions of the Three Kings holiday to park guests. The processional, featuring live animals, will take place several times throughout the day and offer a special photo opportunity for park guests.


** Festive Food and Drinks: Guests can enjoy Latin-inspired dishes and drinks prepared exclusively for SeaWorld’s Three Kings Celebration. Menu items include miniature papas rellenas (fried stuffed potatoes), empanadas (cheese, chicken or beef), bacalaitos (codfish fritters) and authentic pinchos (kebabs). Drinks include frozen coquitos and frozen sangria.

** Holiday Feast at Sharks Underwater Grill: SeaWorld’s full-service restaurant is offering an event-exclusive menu that features roasted pork with onion mojo arroz con gandules, pasteles and fried tostones garnished with mayoquetchup. For dessert, the restaurant will feature a house-made flan drizzled with caramel.

** Live Musical Entertainment: Musical street acts will perform a variety of Latin holiday favorites.


** O Wondrous Night: Experience a live nativity, complete with more than 30 carols, life-sized puppets, and animals in a spectacular Christmas favorite based on the Christmas story. Told through the eyes of the animals that were there, O Wondrous Night has long been a popular Christmas show at SeaWorld. Guests can also enjoy a special sing-along before the show, which will be performed at 5:30 and 7 p.m.


** Rudolph’s Christmas Town: Guests can immerse themselves in the story of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer at Rudolph’s Christmas Town. As guests stroll past life-size storybook vignettes featuring the classic tale, they’ll have the opportunity to meet their favorite characters: Rudolph, Clarice, Bumble and Yukon Cornelius.


** Sea of Trees: Families will end their evening immersed in a sea of more than 100 trees that sparkle to music as they light up the water at 6 and 7 p.m.

January 4, 2018

Suggestions on what to eat before runDisney races from an expert


The 2018 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend has begun, and that means thousands of runners and their friends and families have arrived at the resort. Many of these guests are new to running – or new to Walt Disney World – and are looking for the right food to fuel their runs this weekend.


Philip Grand, a health coach at Cigna, the presenting sponsor of Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, offers these suggestions on the runDisney blog:

Foods to Eat Before a Short Run (30-60 minutes)

Your body doesn't need a lot, but it may perform better with a small snack that includes protein and carbohydrates. Try one of these:

** Graham crackers with peanut butter or honey
** A cup of applesauce and cottage cheese
** Fresh fruit, like berries or a banana
** A bowl of cereal with milk

Foods to Eat Before a Long Run (90 minutes or more)

If you plan to run for 90 minutes or more, an increase in carbohydrates is necessary. Try one of these about an hour before heading out:

** A bagel with peanut butter or jelly
** Peanut butter and jelly on wheat bread with a banana
** Pretzel or carrots with hummus, and cheese stick
** Sports drinks will aid in electrolyte balance

Foods to Eat the Night Before a Race

If you're racing in the morning, time can be tight. Don't forget to properly fuel the evening before with a meal that includes complex carbs and protein. Try one of these for dinner:

** A bowl of pasta with a meat sauce or meatballs
** Pizza with veggies and some protein


He suggests not trying different food or drinks before racing; save that for training runs. Also, know that most Walt Disney World hotels offer runner’s specials in their counter-service restaurants, such as pasta meals and snack boxes, during race weekends.

January 2, 2018

Tips for runners and spectators at 2018 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend


Tomorrow is the start of the 2018 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend with the opening of the Health and Fitness Expo at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. If you’re participating, here are some details to help you get the most out of your experience this race weekend.

One of the big draws for this particular Health and Fitness Expo, the first of each year, has been the annual debut of the new runDisney New Balance shoes. Usually by this point, the shoes have been revealed, but nothing has been announced so far so many are assuming that means no new shoes will be introduced for 2018.


Speaking of the Expo, it begins at 10 a.m. Wednesday, but only runners who purchased a VIP Race Retreat package will be allowed entry at that time. Other runners, spectators and the general public will not be allowed in until noon on the first day. This is different from other runDisney race weekends. The Expo hours are as follows:

Wednesday: noon to 8 p.m.
Thursday: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Friday: 9:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Saturday: 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.

Some of the most-sought-after merchandise at the Expo is the runDisney race-specific clothing and souvenirs that cannot be pre-ordered. I would expect marathon merchandise to be especially popular because it’s the 25th anniversary of the race. It’s also the 5th anniversary of the Dopey Challenge. Plus, it the 20th anniversary of the half marathon (if you don’t count last year’s canceled race), and all the runners who deferred from last year will be looking for items to commemorate their race. If merchandise is important to you, get to the expo early!

For those driving to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex for packet pickup (and the Expo), parking is free, except for the preferred parking option. For $10, you can park closest to the complex. The expo itself is free and open to the public.

If you are running the half marathon or the marathon, your friends and family can enter the Magic Kingdom for free to see you run down Main Street and near Cinderella Castle. This park will open to spectators at 5:30 a.m. To watch runners inside other Walt Disney World parks, you will need to purchase admission once those parks are open for the day. There also are a limited number of complimentary viewing seats along the finish line available on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Runners and spectators should plan on arriving at Epcot by 4 a.m. for the marathon, half marathon, 10K and 5K. The main entrance of Epcot from World Drive will be closed to all traffic from 5 to 7 a.m. on the mornings of the half marathon and marathon. All traffic then will be directed to the Magic Kingdom parking lot where they will be transported to Epcot via monorail. Parking at Epcot is free before 7 a.m.


Finally, if you are new to runDisney races or it’s been a while since you’ve been a participant, don’t forget to plan for and check out your race photos. In 2016, runDisney switched from Marathon Foto to Disney’s PhotoPass. That’s good news for passholders who have Gold, Platinum or Platinum Plus passes, because the downloads of all race photos are included in pass benefits. My family and I have appreciated the substantial savings.

If you are not a Disney Parks passholder with Disney PhotoPass benefits, you can purchase Memory Maker One Day or the Memory Maker package that includes all photos from your Walt Disney World vacation. Memory Maker One Day is $59 and can only be purchased through the My Disney Experience app. (Click on the three bars at the top left of the screen and then choose “PhotoPass,” not “Memory Maker.” Tap a photo and your choices will appear.) Memory Maker One Day begins at 6 a.m. ET on the day you select. The Memory Maker package is $169, but guests who purchase it online at least three days in advance of their arrival at the resort will save $20. The Memory Maker package starts at 12 a.m. on the day you first download or unlock digital content and lasts for 30 days.

Runners also have the option to buy individual photos and photo downloads. It’s free to view your photos, but you must have created a complimentary My Disney Experience account. RunDisney photos are compiled by race and bib numbers. You will need to input one of these codes to see your photos: 2018-WDWK-IDSx-xxxx, 2018-WDWW-K5Kx-xxxx, 2018-WDWW-10Kx-xxxx, 2018-WDWH-ALFx-xxxx, or 2018-WDWM-ARAx-xxxx. Enter your bib number in place of the X’s; if your bib number is smaller than five digits, place 0’s in front of it. It can take up to 24 hours for the photos to appear in your account.

Be sure to check the runDisney website about two weeks after race weekend to download and print your complimentary official finisher certificate.

Good luck, runners!

December 30, 2017

Tips for coping with New Year's Eve and holiday crowds at Walt Disney World


If you’re at Walt Disney World this week for the holidays, you surely have already packed your patience because this is THE busiest week of the year. Although being in a Disney theme park during the holidays is truly magical, it is also extremely crowded. So, it’s more important than ever to have a strategy and backup plans so that you don’t end up feeling stressed and overwhelmed.


Here are my updated tips for managing your expectations and coping with the crowds this week:

** Know that the Magic Kingdom is likely to be the most crowded of the four parks at Walt Disney World on New Year’s Eve and be prepared for long lines and wait times. Epcot will be the second-most-crowded on New Year’s Eve.

** Because of the Magic Kingdom’s popularity during this time of the year, it often reaches capacity in the morning, especially on Dec. 31. The park is closed to incoming guests in phases, and guests with one-day tickets arriving for the first time that day are among the first to be turned away. Guests who are re-entering the park, hopping from another park, have dining reservations, are staying at a Disney resort or are annual passholders increase their chances of being allowed back in.

** Be sure to book and use your FastPass+ selections for each day. This guarantees you’ll have a much shorter wait for at least three attractions, which will cut down on the frustration of long lines. After the initial three FastPass+ selections are used, guests can visit kiosks in the park to add additional selections for available space on attractions.


** Extra entertainment, such as special character meet-and-greets and themed photo ops, will be added for New Year’s Eve. Check these out!

** Consider making dining reservations for table-service restaurants. This could be a welcome respite from the crowds that certainly will extend into the counter-service restaurants. Many experienced Disney World vacationers may laugh at this statement; after all, they booked their dining reservations for the holidays six months ago. It’s true that many, if not most, places may appear full. However, guests must cancel 24 hours beforehand if their plans change to avoid a $10 per person fee. So, be sure to check the reservation system a day or two before your desired date to see if a table has opened up.

** Even with dining reservations firmly booked, pack some snacks and bottled water to have on hand. This is especially important for families who have young children who will not be able to wait in long lines for snack vendors. Walt Disney World allows guests to bring in most foods and beverages -- except items in glass containers (excluding baby food) and alcohol.

** Give yourself plenty of time to secure a spot for holiday entertainment. The same Christmas parade and stage shows that are offered during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party are shown in the Magic Kingdom during normal operating hours through Dec. 31. Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration and A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas are an added value to your ticket, but everyone else wants to experience this entertainment, too. A few years ago, we learned the hard way that guests stake out spots on Main Street at least a couple hours before the fireworks.

** It's tough to keep little kids from melting down in long lines so plan ahead to keep them entertained. Electronics, such as a parent’s cell phone or other handheld gaming device, are worth their weight in gold. Download some children's apps ahead of time. Be sure to pack the cords, too, so you can recharge the devices if needed. (You also can buy portable rechargeable batteries in the theme parks.) Pull out your family's copy of Hidden Mickeys: A Field Guide to Walt Disney World's Best Kept Secrets and see how many classic Mickey icons you can spot in the queue. Or tuck a new coloring book and crayons or word-search book and pen in your bag.

** Finally, recognize that when the Walt Disney World parks are this crowded, you will not be able to see and do everything. Managing your expectations will help set the tone for the day. Take time to explore lesser-known attractions – Hall of Presidents recently reopened -- and take breaks from the crowds and weather as needed. Just don’t leave the park unless you want to risk not be allowed back in!

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