For a number of years there had been rumors in the runDisney community that a half marathon race would be coming to Disneyland Paris. The official announcement was finally made at the Disney Princess half marathon in 2015, while we were waiting in the starting corrals. There were few details at that time other than the dates, September 23-25, 2016. There was also a run.disneylandparis.com/ web site, but all that was available there was an email signup for additional information when it became available.
Since it had that wonderful "I" word, "Inaugural", associated with it, I knew that I wanted to run it. Plus neither Lee nor I had ever been to Paris or Disneyland Paris. So it seemed like a great opportunity to do that.
Eventually there was a bit more information - there would be 5K and Kids races also, and there would be a Castle to Chateau Challenge medal for those of us who had completed a Disneyland/Disney World half marathon in the same year. Lots of excitement about that!
Later that summer we learned that initial registration would take the form of a package that included hotel nights, park tickets, and race registration. Those would go on sale in October. Bib only sales would not take place until early 2016. For many of us coming from the U.S. a package deal was somewhat attractive since we would want to combine the race with a trip to Disneyland Paris, but many European runners were not so keen on that idea. Some already had DLP annual passes and didn't need park tickets, or lived nearby and didn't need lodging, etc.
[Non-attributed photos courtesy of Disney]
There was also a lot of confusion about which travel agencies were "authorized" and had packages to sell. GET Travel was the only U.S. agency, though a number of U.S. agents partnered with U.K. agencies to provide packages. (The latter is the way that we went.) A number of people also called and booked with Disneyland Paris directly, though it was not initially obvious that you could do that. Different providers had different rules on how much you had to put down, and when you had to pay the balance. The one we used, Sports Tours International, didn't require as much down, plus we didn't have to make final payment until the end of June.
The packages offered a stay of 3-5 nights, though all of them required a Monday checkout, which I thought was odd. All of the various hotel properties were available, which meant there was a selection of price points. We decided on Sequoia Lodge, which is classed as a Moderate and has more of a wilderness theme.
It wasn't until mid-December that we each received an email giving us a username and password to the race registration site. That allowed us to register for the 5K and half marathon races. French law requires those participating in half marathons (or longer) races to provide a medical certificate from a doctor certifying that you are healthy enough to run. This of course was unusual to those of us in the U.S. but I thought the requirement was very well communicated. There was a particular certificate template on the web site that we had to print for the doctor to sign. (The hardest part was that the date fields were reversed: day/month/year.) As part of the registration process we had to upload a completed copy of that. And if we were eligible for Castle to Chateau we had to upload a copy of a finisher certificate from a 2016 Disney half marathon (or marathon). It didn't all have to be done at once, but the registration status was not complete until everything was uploaded AND we received an email stating that the medical certificate and finisher certificate had been accepted. Runners who wanted to use the Disneyland Half as their Castle to Chateau qualifier were nervous because their race certificates weren't available soon enough after the race, and I think most ended up bringing a copy of their results to the Expo.
Bibs went on sale early this year, and it seemed as though those who wanted bib only were able to register. There was even a transfer policy for those who had initially booked a package and then found they would be unable to attend. Bibs for the half marathon were still on sale as late as August. I do not think the race reached capacity. By the way, registration was quite inexpensive by U.S. Disney standards - 29 Euros for the 5K and 69 Euros for the half. Approximately $35/$80.
In addition to the 5K and half marathon, other events that were available were the Inaugural Party, a private event at the Studios on Friday night, and the "Rice Party" (in place of a pasta party) on Saturday night at Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in Downtown Disney. We did not attend either of those.
We received some email communications from the race organizers in Paris, but there still didn't seem to be nearly as much information available in advance as we are used to. The actual race courses were announced quite late - though that may have been due to security measures. The emails with links to our vouchers (which would allow us to pick up our bibs) didn't come out until September 6, and the actual race waiver form we only received via email the morning of the 16th, as we were preparing to leave for the airport!
I was a little concerned because we had nothing more than a confirmation number from the travel provider. There was an information packet we'd been able to download (again, not long before we left), but nothing really personalized. One detail that should have been communicated: when we arrived at Sequoia Lodge we had to check in at the group area (which was in a separate building) and not at the main desk.
We spent four days in Paris before going to Disneyland Paris. We had managed to travel with just a carry-on suitcase and small bag/backpack each, partly because of the move partway through the trip. We took the metro and the RER-A train to the Marne-la-Vallee Chessy station, which is right outside the gates to Disneyland Paris. Very easy.
We decided to walk to the hotel rather than take the shuttle bus. I was surprised that we had to go through a security checkpoint to enter Downtown Disney - but it was also the security perimeter for the parks. Going through security was something that we got used to. It's quite efficient since they use an x-Ray machine to scan bags and everyone walks through a metal detector, or gets scanned with a wand. Even when the lines seemed long they moved quickly. I wish Disney would do that here.
After we were directed to the correct check-in area, check-in at the hotel was easy. It was only 1:30, but our room was ready! Because our package was prepaid we didn't even have to leave a credit card - and they don't use the keys for room charging like we are used to here. We received 5 day park hopper tickets since we had a five night package. That meant we could go into the parks that afternoon. We were leaving early on Monday so that wasn't going to be a park day for us. The CM gave us a race information pamphlet but it really had very little information - the hours of the Expo and where things were located and not much else.
We went to Disneyland Paris that afternoon - but that is for another post. :-)
The Disneyland Half Marathon Expo opened at 3:00 p.m. on Thursday. I thought that was a little unusual. The Disneyland Paris resort is quite compact and reminded me more of Disneyland, with parks, hotels, Expo, and start/finish areas all within walking distance. That's all the long way of saying that the Expo took place in the Disney Events Center, on the opposite end of Downtown Disney from the parks, and close to most of the hotels. And again, within the security perimeter - there was a checkpoint between the hotels and the entrance to Downtown Disney.
People were concerned about the availability of merchandise for an Inaugural race, and were lining up outside the Events Center by 1:00, and probably before. We didn't go until about 3:20, at which point there was still a long line to get in. The line was because they were checking that everyone had their waiver, race voucher, and ID. It turned out that we needed two waivers - one for each race, and had only printed one, but there were boxes of blanks readily available. There was an area available to print out race vouchers for those who arrived without them.
While we were waiting we chatted with a lovely young French woman behind us (who spoke excellent English). She and her father were running their first Disney race, the 5K, and they were very excited. They were from the local area, and have annual passes to the parks. We tried to give them some idea of what to expect - but of course we didn't know how much it would be like the races here.
Once we got inside there was a huge line. I assumed it was for merchandise and got in it, but it was for the Castle to Chateau wristband! Computer issues. Eventually we figured out what line we were in, and that we didn't need to do that right then.
Though the lines weren't long, picking up the half marathon bibs took a long time. There was a laptop computer at each pickup counter for the volunteers to scan the bar code on the bib, but the computers were having problems. We also got the gear check bag there with a copy of the program and a cereal bar, but had to go elsewhere to pick up our shirts. We are used to getting our challenge wristbands when we get the bib, but that was not the case here - that was the huge line.
After we picked up the bib we had to move to a photo location to have our photo taken with our half marathon bib - we assumed that was for PhotoPass identification since they scanned the bib after taking our photo.
We picked up our 5K bibs and went into the merchandise area. There was no line to get in at that time. There was a line to pay, but there were lots of registers and it moved steadily.
There really wasn't much merchandise available. "I Did It" shirts for the 5K and half, which were cotton, and men's and women's gray tech shirts with a half marathon logo.
There was a hat, mug, and a few Remy-themed items. No magnets, wine glasses, or a lot of other popular items. There was surprisingly no Castle to Chateau shirt, but we received a flyer with info on ordering them from the Disney Store web site. It loses the immediacy that way, but at least we'll still be able to get them.
The thing I wanted was the pins. There was an open edition half marathon weekend pin in the merchandise area, but the limited edition pins were only available at the registers. Since they were actually limited to one per transaction I had some hope that there would still be some left. But, of the five pins available, the mini-medal versions of the 5K and Challenge pins were already gone. This was less than two hours after the Expo opened on the first day. At least the half marathon mini-medal pin was still available. The two "I Did It" pins were also available, but I didn't want those. At the register they said they would have more of the other two the next day. I can't believe how badly they misjudged the quantity of pins to order. There's simply no reason to make them so limited! (The 5K mini-medal pin is already missing from the pin display as it was sold out.)
After we shopped we wandered around the rest of the Expo. There weren't too many exhibitors there, and very little merchandise for sale. If you'd forgotten some running essential you probably wouldn't find it there.
We also picked up our race shirts. The 5K shirt is a light soft cotton and the design is very cute. Overall I really liked the shirt. When I selected my shirt size there was an advisory that European sizes run small in the women's cut, so I went with a large instead of a medium. I would have been ok with a medium, I think. They had a shirt exchange but I decided to keep what I had. It's comfortable.
The half marathon shirt is a tech fabric and it's dark gray. I don't know what it is with runDisney and gray shirts, but I'm not a fan. A number of the shirts for sale were gray, also. The Mickey design was nice, though. I thought it interesting that both of the shirts were made in Portugal.
The other thing we purchased at the Expo was the Photopass. For a (special?) price of 40 Euros, we will be able to get all of our race photos, plus any PhotoPass photos taken in the parks. To purchase I had to have a bib, and they scanned it, so at least my half marathon bib should be associated with it. And we are supposed to be able to put in all four of our bib numbers. But there wasn't much information on this, and the web site where we are supposed to go put in the info still isn't functional yet, as of this writing - current info says to wait for a week after the race. Not nearly the instant gratification that we are used to!
I guess I should mention that the Expo was in a very large tent. It was a sunny day and it was very warm in there.
The runDisney booth was giving away runDisney shopping bags but the lines were too long so we skipped it. But they had all of the upcoming race medals, including those for Marathon weekend in January. They have all been redesigned. Almost makes me wish I was planning to run the half or full next year. Almost. :-)
Isn't the Castle to Chateau medal a thing of beauty? I was definitely looking forward to getting that one put around my neck!
The line for Castle to Chateau wristbands was even longer, so we decided to just come back the next day - especially since I was hoping to get the other two pins. At that point there was no line to get into the Expo, and not much for bib pickup or merchandise.
Here's what I brought back from the Expo that day:
On Friday the Expo opened at 10:00 and we went back about 10:40. There was a short line to get in, but we explained we'd already picked up our bibs and needed to get wristbands and they let us in. We went to the merchandise area. They did have the Castle to Chateau pins but were already sold out of the 5K pin. By sometime later that afternoon all pins were sold out. Major failure.
There was a line of 15-20 people waiting for Castle to Chateau wristbands but it moved very quickly.
We had to have our bibs to get the wristband - they stamped the back of the bib to show that we had picked up the band.
Then we went to the runDisney booth, where there was a Castle to Chateau button for us. Our wristband was marked with a small "X" to show that we'd received that. I thought it was nice to see those measures in place.
The Disneyland Paris race director, Laurent Charbonnier, was giving a talk on the race as part of the "Speaker Series" so we sat down to listen to that. He obviously had experienced some runDisney races before, and described some of the similarities and differences that we might see. He also gave us a preview of both of the race courses - we were especially interested in what he had to say about the half marathon course, since much of that was outside the parks. One other thing I found interesting was that he warned us that at character photo stops we might find that some French and Italian people (yes, he singled them out specifically) could attempt to cut in line. He suggested that we firmly direct them to the back of the line. (We never saw any of that - and there were lots of French people in the race.)
As you can tell, there were some Expo glitches. Though it seemed to me that they made adjustments between Thursday and Friday so that things went more smoothly for those who arrived on Friday. Honestly, I thought it was pretty good for a first attempt.
My major complaint is merchandise, specifically the pins. I just can't understand how, with as many race expos as there have been, that Disney can't figure out the merchandise quantities they need to order. Especially for an inaugural event.
Next up: the 5K