So many beloved athletic events have had to change in order to implement COVID restrictions — but don’t let these changes stop you from participating!
I’ll never forget the first time I learned about runDisney. We had just arrived in Orlando and were aboard the Magical Express, making our way to our hotel, when I saw the signs down the side of the highway warning about traffic and road closures for the “Princess Half Marathon Weekend”. The idea that you could run a race IN DisneyWorld filled me with more joy and excitement than you can imagine.
As soon as we got home from our trip, I began to research these magical races and figure out how I could participate.
It was a few years more (while I recovered from a brain tumour surgery and regained my physical fitness) before I took the leap and signed up for my very first event — the Tinkerbell 10K in Disneyland. While I journeyed to DisneyLand with my family, I was the only one who was going to be running. I will admit, I was a bit nervous, heading to the starting line all by myself. But as I slowly made my way from my hotel to the corrals, I was stunned by the sheer number of people running — and the COSTUMES they were wearing! There was so much to look at that I was kind of glad I was by myself so I could take my time and really look around and soak in the atmosphere.
As the race began and the course took us through backstage areas that guests wouldn’t normally get to see, and then past some amazing scenery (running through Cars Land as the sun rose is something I will never forget), all the while being able to stop and take photos with characters along the way, I was hooked!
Next up was my first Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend. This time, I ran with a friend, and we only ran the 1/2 marathon portion. Again, I was blown away by the costumes that everyone was wearing and amazing scenery and characters that we got to see was we ran. But as I crossed the finish line and made my way to the spectator stands to meet my family, I realized that some people were receiving an extra medal! That’s right — for running both the 10K and the 1/2, you also received a Fairy Tale Challenge medal.
The only obvious thing to do was to sign up for the Fairy Tale Challenge the following year. And then, the year after, the 5K as well as the Fairy Tale Challenge. I completed all 3 races in February of 2020.
And then . . . COVID.
In 2021, the Princess races went virutal. I was preparing to complete all the runs by myself, sad that I wouldn’t be running around Epcot, or through the Castle, that I wouldn’t get see so many amazing runners in their amazing costumes, and that there would be no character sightings.
But then it hit me. I was home. With my family. Who had never had a chance to experience the fun of actually running a runDisney race (although they were experts at spectating).
And so we all took on the challenge. For the kids, it meant breaking the race up into smaller, achievable distances. But for the Husband and I, it meant powering through the full distances in one go. We cheered each other on, and celebrated our big finishes with a special Disney-themed dinner, while watching our favourite Disney shows.
A few weeks later, the medals arrived in the mail — the kids were so proud to receive tangible evidence of their accomplishment. And to commemorate the achievement, I purchased a medal hanger to display all our new hardware!
From this, a new family COVID tradition was born.
We completed the Wine and Dine Challenge in the fall, the Dopey Challenge this month, and we’re looking forward to the Princess Weekend next month, and the Springtime Surprise Weekend in April.
To be clear, running these events at home is no where near as fun as being in Disney. But running these events, with my whole family, being able to cheer each other on, and share in the excitement of finishing, is certainly something wonderful! And this is why I’m loving these virtual races this year!
a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable
desire or be curious to know something;
Wonder was the word I chose for my One Little Word this year. I’ve chose a word for the year every year for the past few years, using words like Joy, and Love, and Magic as guiding lights for how I want to move through the year, and my reasons for choosing Wonder for this year were not different. I wanted to focus on wondering what the best case scenarios could be when faced with uncertainty or unpleasant situations instead of defaulting to my usual way of solving problems that involves creating lists of all the possible worst case scenarios and trying to mitigate them all. I also wanted to use my word as motivation to try new things, create new things … think new things.
Wonder bubbled along in the background of my life for the first few months of the year. I wondered about lots of things, big and small, like how on earth I was going to find a way to enjoy all the driving to and from school and activities (the answer was podcasts and audiobooks), and if I could start training in January and still be ready for the Disney Princess Half Marathon Weekend (I did train, and I was ready).
And then … COVID.
All of a sudden my wondering stopped being so trivial as we all were forced to navigate through life in lock down with the kids in homeschool and the Husband all of a sudden working from home. Like everyone else I wondered if we had enough toilet paper, enough food in the pantry, enough bandwidth in our wifi to support all of us at home. I wondered if we would all stay healthy, and what things I could do to ensure that we could stay as healthy as possible. And most of all, I wondered when things would go back to “normal”.
But as these past few months have ticked by, and lockdown has lifted, and things are returning to a new kind of normal, Wonder has taken on a much different tone for me.
Wonder has become less of a question of survival, and more of a soft invitation to try. I am finding that by “wondering” if I can do something, or try something, or experiment with something new, the pressure to succeed at whatever it is I am attempting is somehow lifted; while I can still have doubts about whatever it is I’m attempting, I can still make room to be curious and try.
And best of all, I am finding, that the more I open myself up to wondering, the more Wonder I find in my life.
And as if just to prove a point, as I embarked on a new workout regime yesterday that I had been wondering about for a while now, I was struck with Wonder at the beautiful sunrise that graced the skies above me.
It’s no secret – I LOVE runDisney races! There are a million reasons why the Disney runs are so magical – the amazing community of runners in the races, the on-course entertainment, and all the fun and excitement surrounding the races just to name a few. And there are a million other runDisney fanatics that share my view – there’s SO much you can read and SO many communities you can join online focused on Disney runs.
But that being said, before I hit the starting line for my first runDisney event, even after all the reading and researching and community-joining that I had done, I still had loads of questions running through my mind. And so, as the runDisney race season starts up again for the new year, I thought I’d make a little list of things I wish I had known before my first race to maybe help any other newbies to the runDisney community at large before their first race!
1. You DON’T have to wear a costume
When you look up runDisney events, you’re going to see photo after photo of absolutely amazing costumes people put together for their runDisney events. There are whole communities dedicated to costuming for runs (yes, I’ve joined a few of them). And it can seem like you absolutely need to have a costume if you’re going to do a run at Disney.
I’ll never forget getting to my corral for my first ever run and seeing all the amazing costumes and feeling totally and completely underdressed! (I mean one woman was fully decked out in a crocodile costume – and she still ran faster than me!)
BUT, what I’ve learned along the way, is that, while loads of people love to dress up for their run, loads of people like to just wear their favourite running clothes.
I’ve also learned that there’s a happy medium too . . . a fun tank from vendors at the the run expo, like Raw Threads, or a cute skirt from Sparkle Skirts or Sparkle Athletic make for a fantastic and comfortable running outfit. Add in a big bow or cute headband – like the ones at Sparkly Soul to complete your “costume” (I still don’t know how people run in Mickey/Minnie ears – so I’m partial to a big bow I can clip in on top of my ponytail that I know will stay put for the whole race).
2. Stop to Take Photos Along the Way – and Have YOUR Photo Taken (and don’t be alarmed if some of the photos aren’t the most flattering) – and Splurge and get PhotoPass
One of the fun parts about Disney races is that you get to see “behind the scenes” as it were of some of the parks. AND you get to see loads of characters that aren’t always out and about in the parks. So stop and take photos – these are often the photos my family (the kids) like best.
And while we’re on the topic of photos, don’t forget to stop and have photos taken of yourself too. While there are often long lines for the character photo-ops along the course, it can still be fun to stop and pose with your favourite Disney friend – the wait can be a nice way to take a break from all the running. However, there are also tons of photographers along the course who snap away at all the runners that pass them by. Don’t forget to smile or wave as you pass by them. But don’t be alarmed if these aren’t the most glamorous shots you’ll ever see of yourself.
I know it’s not exactly cheap – but if you can swing it – splurge and get the PhotoPass. It will allow you to download ALL your photos from the race(s) you do for free, not to mention any other photos you take while you’re on Disney property. Trust me, you’re going to end up wanting to buy ALL your photos anyway. – and when you see the cost of a single photo download, you’ll be SUPER happy you bought the PhotoPass.
So used to driving under this sign . . . NOT running under it!
My favourite view of all happens when you run down Main Street.
Best photo op of the entire Princess Half!
My running buddy and I HAD to stop to take photos here!
3. Don’t Worry about Personal Bests at a Disney Run
Those who know me know that I can be just a tad bit competitive. So the idea of running a race for “fun” and not to try and earn a personal best just doesn’t see right to me. BUT, Disney is NOT the place to try for personal bests. Why??? Well, there’s so much to take in while you’re running, it’s nice to actually take it all in, instead of focusing on running as fast as you can. And as I mentioned above (see 2. Stop to Take Photos Along the Way – and Have YOUR Photo Taken) – it’s hard to run your best race if you’re slowing down to take photos or to have your photo taken!
But, it’s also important to keep in mind that since the races go THROUGH the parks, at times the race course gets quite narrow. Which means everyone has to slow down to make it through the tight spots – case in point – during the Princess Half, everyone gets to run trough the castle . . .not exactly the widest thoroughfare! So, even if you have the best of intentions, you may find yourself running into some unexpected magical obstacles that prevent you from getting that personal best.
4. Get to the Race Early – and Be Prepared to Walk a LONG Way to Get to Your Corral
I know – the runDinsey events start an an ungodly hour of the morning. And when you factor in travel time, and the time it takes to get to your corral, chances are, you’re going to be waking up somewhere close to 3:30 or 4 in the morning on race day.
I’ll be honest, I was prepared to wake up early, to leave my hotel early, and to get to the race early. And I did.
But what I hadn’t factored into my plan was the (seemingly) never-ending walk to get to the corrals and the sheer amount of time it took to get there.
On reflection, the walk to the corral was a nice warm-up, and since the walk there took so long, I didn’t end up waiting for ages in my corral. But, it also meant that I wasn’t at the front of the corral either (which is super important for some runners). So take that into consideration when you’re setting up your wake-up and departure times for race morning!
5. The Washroom Situation (See Also #4 – Get to the Race Early)
runDisney events are REALLY popular. Which means there are a LOT of runners in each race. Which means that there are REALLY long lines for the portable washrooms at the start of the race. Which means, factor in an extra 15-20 minutes to get in that last minute before-race bathroom break!
While there are ample portable washrooms around the courses, the BEST advice my friend and veteran runDisney runner gave me was . . . . use the restrooms in the park! During last year’s Princess Half, we ran into the bathrooms at the entrance to the Magic Kingdom. Let’s just say it was a MUCH more pleasant experience than having to use the portable washrooms . . .
6. The VIP Race Retreat is Worth Every Penny
I signed up for the Race Retreat before last year’s Princess Half. I had previously signed up for it at the Disneyland Tinkerbell Half Marathon weekend – and the ability to access the merchandise area there early was a godsend. For the Princess Half, though, I was motivated to sign up for it because I had signed the Husband and my kids up for the Platinum ChEAR Squad package (so they could be entertained and comfortable while waiting for me to finish the race) and I wanted to be able to join them in the tent after.
BUT . . . the SINGLE BEST PART about the Race Retreat is . . . the “Private Restrooms”. As a Race Retreat ticket holder you have access to the hospitality tent before the race (a great place to pick up a quick snack before the run) and just outside the hospitality tent . . . a series of portable restrooms reserved only for Race Retreat-ers. Meaning the wait to use a washroom was negligible, versus significant lines at the portable washrooms everywhere else before the start line.
I will say though, it was very nice after the race to be able to grab a drink and a snack, and have a place to sit down and re-group before getting on with the rest of the day.
And . . . the characters onsite were pretty neat too!
7. Take Your Own Music
I know, I know. RunDisney says not to use earphones while running in their races so you can hear course announcements as you’re running. Which totally makes sense. Except for the fact that large parts of the longer runs take place on the highway – yup – long stretches of pretty boring scenery – with little to keep you entertained other than then character sightings and checking out other runners’ costumes.
So, my runDisney buddy and I decided to run with just one earbud in – that way we could listen to the music we wanted to hear / needed to hear to keep us motivated – but we were also able to hear any course announcements – and of course to chat with each other!
8. Track Your Distance on Your Phone / Watch
While there are mile markers along the way for most of the races, during the Disneyland Tinkerbell 10k, there was only one 5k marker along the way. I had neglected to set any sort of distance tracker on my phone/watch for that race, so I had NO idea, once I was past the half way mark, how much further I had to run.
That being said, even with all the mile markers along the runs, it is nice, between miles, to know just how far you need have let to go to get to the next one – especially in the later part of the race!
9. Be Prepared for the Weather
Running in Florida can mean running through all different kids of weather – and it’s best to be prepared for any eventuality!
Obviously that means planning for high temperatures as well as the cooler temperatures that can hit, especially for the races in January and February. (Layers are your friend – and all the layers you discard along the way get donated to local charities.)
But it also means planning for the temperature changes WHILE you’re running the race. Even though the races start off in the dark, by the time you’re done running, hopefully the sun will be shining, and you may wish you had a hat or sunglasses to shade your eyes from the sun!
And of course, it means planning for chafing and blistering. I honestly never thought chafing would be a concern of mine . . . but heed the warnings you’ll see from veteran racers – use the anti-chafing product that you like best. You’ll be glad you did. And as for blisters – I found that double layer socks worked wonders in my shoes! I can run for miles without a single foot issue!
That being said, if you do happen to have a chafing or blistering issue along the run, there are lots of first aid stations along the way to help!
10. Spend Some Time Post-Race in the Parks WITH Your New Medal(s)
It’s true – the best way to recover after a long run is to walk – and what better way to get in a slow, leisurely recovery walk, than to walk around the park wearing your new hardware. Don’t forget to get lots of pictures of you wearing your medals (to make the MOST of your PhotoPass+ purchase) and lots of pics of your medals in front of your favourite Disney landmarks (like the Castle).
Oh, and eat ALL the food while you’re walking the parks too . . . post-race calories don’t count, so have that churro, get that popcorn, savour that Mickey ice cream. You deserve it!
Well, that’s all the tips I have for now. I hope to see you out on a runDisney race course soon – and I hope you love all your runDisney events just as much as I do!
Goodness . . . it’s been a LONG time since my last post. And while I’ve missed jotting down my musings here, there’s been a few things going on . . . like a little kitchen renovation project . . .
and gardening season . .
which, after several days of planting, is turning into this:
and of course all the end of year, planning for next year, stuff of life that happens when you have kids.
But as crazy as the past month has been, in those quiet moments, when I’m driving to an from schools, or design stores, or I’m speed planting flowers in my garden, my thoughts keep returning to the #runDisney event I did four weeks ago.
Those that know me, know that I love to be active. I’ve joyfully participated in crossfit of some form or another for years now. I faithfully train with the Coach a few times a week. And it’s rare for a day to go by without me finding my way into the gym. But I have NEVER, EVER considered myself a runner. The fact that my running “form” has been compared to both a bunny rabbit and a kangaroo perhaps offers a clue as to why I’ve never been a natural at running. Although, quite frankly, running was always the one form of physical activity that I just could never find the mental fortitude needed to see my way through a run that lasted any longer than about 20 minutes.
But something changed this fall.
Over the summer, I had gradually, unconsciously, built up my ability to run. With just a kettle bell, a skipping rope a yoga mat, and dirt roads at the cottage, short running intervals played a large part in my daily workouts – if only to break up the monotony of burpees and skipping.
Then my son signed up for the cross country team at school, and was able to earn “bonus miles” for runs he did at home. We started doing short runs together, working up to 5k, earning some virtual Harry Potter run medals in the process, and culminating in finishing the 5k portion of the Toronto Waterfront Marathon. Those runs I did with my son taught me a lot – the gentle encouragement and support I offered him as he worked his way through our runs made me realize how I talk myself through a workout – let’s just say my self-talk sounds distinctly different, and I wanted to work on changing that.
During those first few weeks of September, while the Husband was starting to question what I would like to do for my 40th birthday, something, I wish I could remember what it was, runDisney and Tinkerbell-run related arrived in my in-box. Our annual trip to DisneyWorld often coincides with the Wine and Dine Half Marathon weekend – hearing the runners’ stories, seeing them walk around the parks withe their medals has always intrigued me . . .
And so, I found myself registering for the Tinkerbell 10K.
Before I knew it, race day arrived. My fears that had built up in the intervening months melted away as the start of the race drew closer. My fears of being alone (it’s the first time I’ve done any sort of sport without a coach or a teammate) dissipated as I met and chatted with other runners in my corral. My internal debate as to whether I should run the race to see how fast I could run, or whether I should run the race for fun dissipated with each character photo stop I passed along the way. And my worries about whether or not I could even run a 10K disappeared as I caught sight of the finish line and the Husband and the kids cheering me on.
When you run Disney, every mile really is magical. Running alone allowed me to take it all in – to marvel at the ages of some of my fellow runners (and just how fast they could run), to admire those running in costumes, to smile at the parent/child running teams, the husband/wife pairings, or the groups of women running together. It seemed as though everyone on the course, was happy to be there. Myself included.
But more than anything, running Disney reminded me that just when you think it’s getting too hard to keep going, when you really just want to stop . . . you round a bend and come across something truly magical – whether it’s another runner that inspires you, the sight of a favourite attraction, the view of the sun rising through the park, or a silly character interaction. And you’re inspired to keep going, to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
And so . . . now that I’m hooked on running Disney, I’ve already signed up for my next runDisney race . . . the Princess Half Marathon. I’m also looking to find a way to justify going back to do the Tinkerbell 10K again next year too . . . (but don’t tell the Husband that).
In the meantime, I will actually work on my running technique – hopefully by February, I’ll look like I actually ran the race . . . not bounced my way through it!
We’ve just returned from a magical family trip to Disney World. As is to be expected, the kids loved every minute of it. And the Husband and I . . . well . . .we had a pretty good time too. It’s hard not to have a good time when you’re in the happiest place on earth.
But, this trip didn’t go by without some introspection, and some lessons (re)learned. You see, Disney holds a special place in my heart – it’s where we had our first family vacation – but it’s also where I first came to terms with the symptoms of my tumour and the fact that there was something wrong. But in the five years that have followed that fist trip, Disney has been a place to celebrate birthdays (mine, my son’s, and even my daughter’s). It’s been a place to celebrate being together, and to celebrate making it through the tumour situation more or less intact. And so, with ever trip we take there, I tend to take a bit of time to reflect on the past, where we’ve been, how far we’ve come, and where we might be going in the future.
This trip was no different.
But, just as our trip was coming to an end, and I was starting to plan out how the next few weeks would go once we got back, my path crossed that of another vacationing family, and through that chance encounter, I found a much clearer picture of how I want things to be now that we’re home.
Let me explain. After a long morning at Hollywood Studios, the little one and I decided to go back to the hotel to spend the afternoon by the pool, while the Husband and the older one opted to travel to EPCOT. As the little one and I took our place in line to wait for the bus to take us back to the hotel, another mom with two children about the same age as my little one got into line behind us. As the kids started to interact with each other, I started to chat with the mom. Before long, I learned why they were at Disney; her sister, a mom to a 4 year old and a toddler, who was waiting further behind us in line, in a wheelchair, has terminal cancer. They were there, to create lasting, big, happy memories for her kids with their mom, while they still could.
I was instantly reminded of the time, between my diagnosis and my surgery, when I would say to the Husband, “I just want them to remember me”. This sentiment affected a lot of my behaviour towards my family before and long after the surgery. When the kids were little, I tried my best to make every day just a little bit magical. That often resulted in frequent little “treats” and overdoing it when it came to Christmas and birthdays. As the kids have gotten older, I have turned more towards spending quiet time with them, and relied less on purchases to create happiness. This has meant we’ve spent more time cooking, going on runs together, making crafts and the like.
And of course it’s meant I have put a priority on things like our trips to Disney, where we can take a complete break from our everyday lives and focus on being together and having fun. The kids relish these trips, because they know they will have undivided attention from both the Husband and I, and that together, we are making truly magical memories.
The stark reality of our world today is that more and more of us are having experiences with disease and tumours. Regardless of the cause of the rising rates of disease (although my focus on clean eating and exercise is how I work to mitigate my chances of ever experiencing a tumour again), none of us know if or when we might be faced with a similar situation. And not to be overly melodramatic, if something were to happen, how would you like your family to remember you?
So, as we’re now home and already back into our daily routines, and looking ahead to the holiday season, I am going to put a renewed focus on my family. Years from now, the kids won’t remember the gifts I might have bought them, how many activities they participated in, or how rushed we were running from one thing to the next. What they will remember is how loved they felt, how we took time as a family to honour our little traditions, and how we slowed down so that we could truly enjoy each other’s company. And those, regardless of whether they happen at Disney or at home, well, those are the memories that will last a lifetime.
So, we bit the bullet and booked our plane tickets for our next Disney trip. All of a sudden, all the reservations I had made “just in case” became realities, and over the past few days I started to get to work on the super fun task of planning the nitty-gritty details of our trip – like what we’ll do each day, and what fastpasses I’ll try to book.
Our trip will be in November – my favourite time of year at Disney. The Christmas decorations are all up, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party has started, and, well, what’s better than having your first gingerbread latte from Starbucks while walking down Main Street? (As a total aside, a good friend of mine introduced me to the wonders that are gingerbread lattes while we were both pregnant with our 2nd children. I have loved them ever since . . .because they remind me of that wonderful time in my life . . . and because they taste sooooooooo good). And the weather tends to still be pretty good in Florida in November.
The problem with a trip to Disney in November? Disney usually runs a “free dining plan” offer during November, which means people who wouldn’t necessarily eat at the restaurants on Disney property do, which means getting reservations for any dining at all can be tricky. Over the past few years, Disney has also filmed the Christmas Parade special in November. While this has meant we’ve seen amazing performers up close, and even had the chance to be part of the filming process, it can also mean disruptions to normal park activities, like the Festival of Fantasy Parade, which last year, was delayed until 5:00 every day of our trip.
But, whether you go in November, or any other time of the year, the reality is, Disney World is a busy place. And dining reservations and fastpasses can be hard to get. So what do you do when you’re trying to be super organized and plan the perfect trip for your family or friends, and can’t seem to get reservations or fastpasses when you want them? Well, here’s what I do.
As I mentioned in my post a few days ago, it is still best to plan at least 181 days ahead of your trip. You will at least get some of the dining reservations you want if you book that far in advance. That being said, you still might not get everything you want – I didn’t get things like Cinderella’s Royal Table even though I was looking 180 days out.
In the period between 180 days and 60 days out from your trip, you can go to the dining site, and see if anything pops up for the restaurants you want on the days that you want them. In my experience, I haven’t had too much luck with this, but it’s worth a shot.
At the 60-day mark, book your fastpasses. It’s best to start booking these for the last day of your vacation and work backwards. Why? Because you have the best chance of getting what you want on the furthest day out. I go into the fastpass booking process with an idea of what I’d like to book and when, but adjust on the fly if things don’t work out the way I’d like. If you’re booking for a large group, try splitting the group into smaller sub-groups (i.e. book fastpasses for groups of 4). You might be able to get everyone on in roughly the same time window . . . where booking for a group of say, 12, you might not.
Once you’ve booked your fastpasses, check out the dining again. People often switch their plans around based on the fastpasses they’ve booked, so you might find you get those dining reservations you’ve been looking for!
At the 30-day mark, try again to fill in those things you really want to do, but still don’t have reserved – this is the last date people have to cancel their vacations without penalty, so some reservations and fastpasses do become available again.
But the best time of all to get reservations (dining, not necessarily fastpasses) . . . 24 hours before you want to go. The new MyDisney Experience app makes doing this super easy, no matter where you are in the parks, your hotel, or even at home.
And . . . if, after all of this, you still don’t have the reservation you’re really hoping for . . . well, there’s no harm in trying for a walk-up. I’ve actually been able to get my little one into the Bibbity Bobbity Boutique twice this way! And we’ve had good luck at a few of the restaurants in the parks doing this too . . .
All of this is to say, don’t despair if you don’t get all the reservations and fastpasses you want on the first try . . . try at the 60-day mark, the 30-day mark, and most importantly, the 24-hour mark!
So, with all of this in mind, I’m going to get back to planning out our trip, and what fun things we’re going to do on this trip . . .maybe this will be the trip we finally go on those last few rides we still haven’t been on yet . . . . .
Disney has come up a LOT as I’ve made my way through the the week. Not that this has been entirely coincidental. I did have my brief flirtation with the idea of a runDisney event (although I’m not sure I’ve entirely abandoned this idea . . . anyone want to do one with me??) which of course would necessitate a trip to a Disney park. I’ve had a few friends ask questions about going to Disney. And then of course, there was the big decision the Husband and I had to make . . . would we keep the reservation we have for the fall, a reservation we made before we knew we were going this past spring, and which I hadn’t yet cancelled.
It’s no secret that I love Disney. And I am convinced that anyone who’s come away from Disney not loving it is because they didn’t plan appropriately (depending on the ages of the people going on the trip, some plans need to be made, and these plans often need to be made at least 180 days out), because they over-planned (what’s that expression again – over-planning kills magic), or they simply didn’t know what it was they were getting into and the reality didn’t line up with their expectations.
Over the years we’ve been going to Disney World, I’ve fine-tuned the way I plan our trips. And I’ve often been asked how it is I go about it. Well . . . today, as I sat down to go through the preliminary plans I have for our trip in the fall, I thought I could share some of my ideas here – so that there is a more permanent/easily accessible repository for my tips. So here goes . . .
Disney World is ALWAYS busy. If you want to go, and there are certain things you REALLY want to do when you’re there, plan your trip way in advance – as in more than 180 days in advance. Once you know the dates of your trip, figure out which days you want to visit which parks (Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, EPCOT). If you’re staying on Disney property, you can take advantage of Extra Magic Hours – based on those, and the ages of the people you’re travelling with, this might affect the park you want to visit on each day of your trip.
Once I’ve figured out what parks we’re going to visit on what days, I start slotting in my dining. Because my kids are still little, I aim for one character dining experience a day. That being said, I also prefer to have sit-down meals for dinner and choose restaurants for our evening meals accordingly.
Once all that prep work is done, go to the Disney website 180 days before the date of your check-in and start booking your dining reservations. If you’re staying on property, you can book reservations for the first 10 days of your vacation at the 180 mark. If you’re staying off property, you need to book dining for each day at the 180-day mark for each of the days of your vacation. Even when you book this early, there’s a chance you won’t get the reservations you want. For example, Disney often offers a “Free Dining Plan” if you book a vacation during the later fall period. Because so many people take advantage of this offer, restaurant reservations can be REALLY hard to get for the duration of the offer. So be prepared to be flexible – and understand that, if you’re staying on property, you’re more likely to get the more difficult to obtain restaurant reservations for dates later in your trip than at the beginning of your trip.
At the 60-day mark before you vacation, you can start booking fastpasses as long as you are staying on Disney property. So, between the 180-day and 61-day mark, you can plan which rides you’d like to do on each of the days of your trip. I’ve heard lots of stories about when and how fastpasses are released, but I tend to follow the general guidelines of booking them on the 60-day mark at midnight. Again, you may not be able to get fastpasses for the rides you want on the days you want. So be prepared to be flexible – and understand that, if you’re staying on property, you’re more likely to get the more difficult to obtain fastpasses for dates later in your trip than at the beginning of your trip. (Yup . . . there really are advantages to staying on property!!)
When you’re planning out what rides you want to do . . . certain attractions are ALWAYS busy – like Toy Story Mania in Hollywood Studios, and Peter Pan and the Seven Dwarf’s Mine Train in the Magic Kingdom. So it’s best to get fastpasses for these types of attractions. If you’re travelling with little ones that HAVE to see their favourite characters, getting fastpasses for the character meet and greets is also a good idea. It can also be a good idea to stagger your fastpasses. For example, I often only book 1 fastpass for the morning, and book the other 2 in the evening – that way I know that I can bring the kids back to the park in the evening and still get on rides that they love. Yes, you can book fastpasses individually once you have booked and used your 3 allotted fastpasses in a day – but there’s no guarantee that you’ll get fastpasses for rides or attractions that you want (the fastpass inventory for each ride declines throughout the day).
While some of our BEST moments at the park have been un-planned, knowing that your dining and at least 3 attractions are booked for each day of your trip means you are guaranteed to have some fun every day you’re there!
DON’T OVER-BOOK / over-plan your trip. Plan to spend at least 2 days in the Magic Kingdom, if at all possible, and at least 1 day in each of the other parks. Perhaps one of the reasons we love our Disney vacations so much is that we only tend to spend the mornings in the parks. We are often back at our hotel for lunch, if not just after lunch. We spend the afternoons taking advantage of the great pools and other amenities the hotels have to offer, and once we’ve finished dinner, we can often be found heading back into a park for an hour or two. This allows the little ones to relax after a stimulating day at the park, and gets us all out of the parks at the busiest time of the day
DON’T underestimate the need for a stroller. Even my older one, who can walk miles in a day, will sometimes still want a place to sit (if we’re waiting for a show or a parade to start), or will ask for a short ride. You can walk a LOT in a Disney park, and there can be a LOT of standing in lines, which can get tiring! If you are determined to go it without a stroller, be prepared to take lots of breaks – the shows are GREAT for this. I will also add here that strollers are excellent repositories for all the stuff you might need for a day in the park – changes of clothes, sunscreen, water bottles etc.
Even if you don’t get all the reservations or fastpasses you want, don’t worry. The beauty of a Disney vacation is that there really is magic everywhere you look, and especially when you’re least expecting it!
So . . . if you’re prepared to do a little advance planning, your trip to Disney World is sure to be a magical one! And just in case you’re not convinced . . . check out these absolutely MAGICAL pictures captured during our last 2 trips to Disney World!
Now . . . why have I included an article about planning a trip to Disney in my #100morselsofjoy series?? Well, because NOTHING brings me more joy than thinking about & planning a trip to Disney!
I was mid-workout at the gym today when I saw something out of the corner of my eye that struck me so deeply I needed to pause and take a moment of gratitude for where I am in life, and the fact that some days I am blessed with, and can appreciate, moments of pure unadulterated joy.
To backtrack for just a moment, I feel like I have to explain a few things here . . . I haven’t been writing much, mostly because I’ve been away. We just got back from (another!) trip to Disney. This trip was special though . . . this trip was a real family trip . . . my parents took my family and my brother’s family for a week in the Magic Kingdom. It was the trip of a lifetime. I can’t remember the last time our whole family was so happy. I will forever remember my parents walking around the Magic Kingdom holding hands wearing ear hats. I will never forget the Husband and my brother pushing strollers wearing ear hats around the Magic Kingdom either!
But I digress. Five years ago, our little family of four made their first trip to Disney. Five years ago, on that trip to Disney, I was forced to face the fact that my symptoms were not getting better, they were getting worse, and it was after getting back from that trip that I started in earnest down the path that would lead to my diagnosis, and everything else that followed.
In 2 weeks, I have my annual follow-up MRI and checkup And after that’s done, my 5 years post-treatment will have passed, and I will officially be declared “cured” by the medical community.
I will admit that going into this trip I was thinking that the timing of it had worked out pretty perfectly … What better way to mark the end of this chapter of my life.
But looking back, this trip didn’t feel like an ending … It felt like a celebration of a new beginning. A lot has changed in the last five years …. (I know it’s gratuitous, but I had to throw in these before and after photos – the dress my little one is wearing in the first phot was given to her by my amazing friend that she is named after, making this a very special photo for me) ….
But most of all, I’ve changed. I know now that things change. All the time. And that it’s not always good to hold on to the past or what is . . . because some really good things can come from change. This has really been reinforced over the last few weeks as I’ve been working gone my #the100dayproject. The sky is constantly changing, sometimes it gets cloudy, sometimes the clouds give way to clear skies, and sometimes, there is just a sea of blue sky. Just like life, sometimes bad things happen, but the bad times do end, and give way to happier times. And sometimes, there are nice stretches of happiness.
I also know now that I know how to take care of myself when things aren’t so good. I know how to properly nourish myself and my family. I know what my, and my families’ sleep needs are. And I know how to take care of myself and my family on an emotional level. And so, when something that’s “not so good” happens again (we’re human, it will) I have an amazing set of tools to rely on to get me and the family through the tough times in a much better way that I ever could have before.
In my old role as a banker, I would be taking this time to sit down and plan out the next five years. To envision where I’d like to be, what I’d like to be doing, and to think of the steps that need to get taken in order to get there. But what these last 5 years have taught me, since none of it was planned, mapped out or premeditated, sometimes, it’s just better to go with the flow; to do what feels best for you in your gut/heart/soul, and that as long as you come at things from a place of love, things will be ok.
And as I finish up this post, I am again faced with that deep sense of gratitude. I am so very grateful for all that has happened since that trip 5 years ago. And I am so very grateful for the place I find myself in today; a place of pure joy.
I’ve always loved Christmas. But since meeting the Husband and having our family, Christmas has become even more special for me. In contrast to the Christmases I remember growing up where things were different every year, I’ve tried to make Christmas for our family a time of tradition and consistency in our house. More than anything, I want my kids to remember this time of year as a time of happiness, and love, and family; and I hope they get this through our Christmas rituals.
This year, we started the Christmas season off early . . . at Disney. We may have been there over the second week of November, but Christmas was in full swing there. We saw the taping of the Disney Christmas parade. We went to Mickey’s Christmas Party. And we saw a Santa Claus parade. I even had my first Starbucks gingerbread late of the season while walking down a completely decorated Main Street with my son and my daughter watched Cinderella decorate her tree in her castle.
But in the weeks that have followed, while the kids excitement for Christmas has slowly been building, I just haven’t been able to find the excitement that I normally have for the holiday season.
That is . . .until today.
As I sat down this morning to plan out the week ahead, menu plan and otherwise get organized in the kitchen, I clued into the fact that December 1st is THIS TUESDAY!!!! That means decorations go up, Elf on the Shelf makes his annual return (this is the one tradition I wish I could kill off . . .literally), and advent calendars come out.
Which brings me to my point. Advent calendars. The one tradition I remember as a kid is having a small chocolate advent calendar. So without question, each of my kids gets one of those every year. They also each get a lego advent calendar. And then there’s the wooden advent calendar that I fill myself each night with a note for the following day outlining what special Christmas activity we’ll be doing that day.
So, once all the food planning and weekly organization was taken care of, I sat down to try and plan out what special things I’ll do with the kids this December. And as I started to map out the things we will do – decorate, bake, make holiday crafts, spend time with family, and spend time as just the four of us – I found the weight of all that is going on right now start to lift, and some of the joy and wonder of this season seep in.
I can’t control what’s going to happen to me over the next few weeks (yes, the weight of waiting for my blood work results does get me down), nor can I control what’s going on in the world (while I normally love nothing more than a strong cup of coffee and the New York Times first thing on a Sunday morning, today’s paper was downright depressing).
But I can control what goes on in our house. And for the next 27 days, our house is going to be filled with happiness.
It’s also going to be filled with a lot more sugar than normal! While I try to make sure the kids (and the grownups) don’t have sugar during the week, they are allowed treats on the weekend. And yesterday, we made one of my favourite weekend treats – Peppermint Chocolate Bark.
This is a really tricky recipe (hah!). . . grease a cookie sheet with coconut oil. In 1 double boiler (or in a glass bowl set over a pan of simmering water) melt 3 bags of enjoy life chocolate chips. In a 2nd double boiler (or glass bowl set over a pan of simmer water), melt an equivalent amount of white chocolate (for this I use Green & Blacks organic vanilla white chocolate bars – about 4 of them).
Once the chocolate chips have melted, stir in 1tsp of peppermint exact. Then pour it into the prepared cookie sheet. Using a knife, spread the chocolate out evenly in the pan. Repeat the process with the white chocolate. You can use a fork or a skewer to swirl the two chocolates together. Or just leave it as is. Put the cookie sheet in the fridge or the freezer until the chocolate has hardened. Then use a knife or whatever other implement you’d like to cut it into appropriate sized pieces.
And my best wishes for the happiest of holiday seasons!
We’re just back from an extended vacation at Disney World. I didn’t post while we were gone; not because I didn’t want to, but because I was simply too busy having fun with the kids and all the friends we met up with while we were down there. And just as I was getting ready to write again, with our trip coming to a close, we learned of the horrific events in Paris, and then I wasn’t sure what to write . . . . the juxtaposition of anything I wanted to say against the backdrop of what was going on in the world just seemed, well, ludicrous.
But, after attempting to write this post over the last few days, I think I’ve finally found the words to express my thoughts.
I love Disney.
Yes, I realize that’s not the coolest thing a person of my age and stage can say. But it’s the truth. And here’s why.
I love that Disney is a place where you are actively encourage to be happy and have fun. At every turn, someone is wishing you a good morning/afternoon/evening and telling you that they hope you have a “magical day”. How can that not make you smile (at the very least because you find it a bit ridiculous); and that feeling is contagious. I found myself smiling and exchanging pleasantries with complete strangers and vice vera. Then there’s the parks themselves; where details big and small are designed to elicit maximum happiness.
I love that Disney is a place where you literally see dreams coming true all around you. It is easy to laugh inwardly at the grown adults jumping with joy at seeing their favourite character; or at the huge groups of families traipsing around the park together in matching disney-emblazoned shirts. While we may not share the same dream, you have to give credit to these people that have had the courage, determination, drive to make their dreams come true.
And I especially love that Disney is a place where you are encouraged to believe that anything is possible; like Tinkerbell flying around Main Street just waiting to have her photo taken with small children.
And so now that we’re back at home, I hope to bring some of what I love about Disney into our regular lives. Even in the face of the current world events, I hope to encourage happiness and joy in my kids and the Husband in the hopes that not only are they happier, but that they can spread that happiness on to others; I want to encourage them to follow their dreams and do what it takes to make them come true; and I most definitely want to instil in my kids and remind myself that truly, anything is possible.