Back to Disney for this week’s edition of Runner’s Weekend. Last week we dove into the Happiest Place on Earth at Disneyland in California, but this week let us go down to the Most Magical Place on Earth in Orlando, Florida home to the only Full Marathon in the Disney race series.
That race is of course the Walt Disney World Marathon and takes place in January. This event has several different options and challenges for you to complete. The distances are Marathon, Half Marathon, 10k and 5k. Runners who are able to complete the Full Marathon and Half Marathon in consecutive days will earn themselves the Goofy’s Challenge medal. Not enough miles for you? Then go for it all with the Dopey’s Challenge which is awarded to those crazy runners who complete all 4 distances in the same weekend. In addition, you can also earn the Castaway Cay Challenge that same week when you complete the Castaway Cay 5k as part of a 4-night cruise to the Bahamas immediately following the Walt Disney World Marathon weekend.
The next race at Disney World is one of the most popular in the entire series. Make sure to grab your tutus and tiaras this February for the Disney Princess Half Marathon and Enchanted 10k. Of course you will want to snag some more medals by running both races to complete the Fairy Tale Challenge. Another popular race is the Star Wars Dark Side Half Marathon. Similar to the Light Side Marathon in California, this race is themed on the popular Star Wars movies and highlights the Dark Side cast members like Darth Vader and Kylo Ren. Complete the 10k as well to earn the Dark Side Challenge.
The last race of the year to take place at Disney World Orlando is the Wine & Dine Half Marathon every November. This event is unique to the rest of the Disney Races in that runners receive admission to the Wine & Dine Post Race Party at Epcot as part of their race registration. Unfortunately, the other races in both Orlando and California do not have park admission included in the high price tag that comes with the races. So, if you are looking for the best bang for your buck then the Wine & Dine Half Marathon is the race for you. You can also complete the Two Course Challenge by running the 10k also. There is also the Fall Feast 5k option available to the more casual runners.
Extra bling for the heavy travelers.
Disneyland Paris also has a Half Marathon in September which also offers a 10k and 5k. Just like all other Disney races if you complete the Half Marathon and 10k then you will earn more bling as a finisher of the Val d’Europe Challenge. However, if you have also completed any Disney Race in the United States in the same calendar year then you will also earn the Castle to Chateau Challenge. One last challenge offered by Disney is the Coast to Coast Challenge where runners must complete the Tinker Bell Half Marathon in California and the Disney Princess Half Marathon in Orlando within the same calendar year.
The number 1 attraction in the Orlando area is of course Disney World and it is no surprise that Magic Kingdom is the largest amusement park in the world based on annual attendance. Magic Kingdom is a huge park with a similar layout as Disneyland in California but on a larger scale. Magic Kingdom has 6 distinct sections of the park, each with their own attractions themed specifically for that section. Some classic rides at Magic Kingdom include Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain and It’s a Small World.
While Magic Kingdom is the most visited park in the world, it is located just a few miles away from the 3rd, 4th and 5th most visited parks outside of Japan and 6th, 7th and 8th worldwide (#2 worldwide is Disneyland California). Respectively these parks are Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios.
Epcot is unique in that it relies heavily on the landscapes of the park rather than the rides. Though it does have some great rides such as Soarin’, Mission Space and Test Track, the feature attraction of Epcot is the World Showcase. Within the park are 11 different countries (12 if you include the African Outpost). Each country has architecture, shops, restaurants, and shows that are unique to that country. One thing that has become popular in Epcot is their drink selections. Each country has themed drinks that represent those countries such as Margaritas in Mexico, Sake in Japan, and Hefeweizen in Germany. So, go ahead and travel the world with a drink in your hand without the need to spend hours on a plane or train.
Next up is Animal Kingdom. This park is a mixture of amusement park and zoo as visitors get the best of both worlds here. The standout feature in Animal Kingdom is the Tree of Life, a 145ft artificial boab tree featuring 325 carved animal species. Along with a wide variety of wildlife other top attractions are Expedition Everest, Dinosaur, It’s Tough to Be a Bug, and the newly opened Pandora – World of Avatar. Another great attraction at Animal Kingdom is the Festival of the Lion King show.
The final amusement park among the big 4 at Disney World is Hollywood Studios. This park is currently under some major renovations (and possibly a name change) as they prepare to add on a 14-acre Star Wars themed area and an 11-acre area dedicated to Toy Story. Several of the top attractions at the park have also been closed down recently such as the Great Movie Ride, the Lights Motors Action stunt show, and the Backlot Tour. Don’t let the renovations hold you back from visiting now though as there is still enough going on to make the park worth a visit. The iconic Tower of Terror is still standing tall in Hollywood Studios despite the one in California closing. Also in Hollywood Studios is Aerosmith’s Rock ’n’ Roller Coaster, Star Tours, Frozen Sing-Along and the most amazing nighttime show in Disney World, Fantasmic.
It truly is amazing how many amusement parks are packed into such a small radius. Not only does Disney have 4 separate amusement parks, all of which are among the most visited in the world, they also have 2 water parks which are ranked #2 and #3 in the world in annual attendance behind Chime-Long Water Park in China. These two water parks are Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. Typhoon Lagoon is themed after the Disney legend of a typhoon that destroyed a tropical paradise and hosts one of the largest outdoor wave pools in the world. Blizzard Beach is themed after the Disney legend of a freak blizzard that created Florida’s first ski resort, however when the snow melted they turned it into a water park after seeing the mascot, Ice Gator, come sliding down the watery mountain and land in a pool of water.
Is there anything to do in Orlando that is not apart of Disney?
Crazy enough, Disney’s 4 amusements parks and 2 water parks were not enough for the Orlando area. In fact there are two more major park franchises in the area, SeaWorld and Universal Studios. SeaWorld is known worldwide as one of the top marine themed parks and is most famous for their feature attraction, Shamu. Shamu is a killer whale (orca) that performs shows at SeaWorld. There are also shows throughout the park featuring dolphins, sea lions, and otters. This park has been added several rides in recent years to attract more guests and classifying SeaWorld as more than just an aquarium. These rides include 3 roller coasters (Mako, Kraken and Manta), Journey to Atlantis, and Infinity Falls which will be the world’s tallest river rapids drop and is set to open in 2018.
SeaWorld also owns the water park Aquatica, themed primarily to Australia and New Zealand. A unique feature to Aquatica is that some of the tubed slides pass through the animal habitats such as the dolphin tank. SeaWorld also has Discovery Cove which allows guests the opportunity to interact up close and personal with a range of marine animals including bottle-nose dolphins.
The last amusement park franchise in the Orlando area is Universal Studios. Universal offers 2 amusement parks (next door to one another) and a water park. The original Universal Studios has been in direct competition with Disney World since opening the doors in 1990 and has done fairly well for themselves. Universal Studios is themed after hit movies with a wide range of low thrill to big thrill rides to satisfy all visitors. Some of the premier attractions at Universal Studios are Transformers, Shrek 4D, Despicable Me, The Simpsons Ride, and ET. However, the biggest attraction of Universal Studios is the wildly popular Harry Potter themed Diagon Alley. Diagon Alley also features the Hogwarts Express which transports visitors with the two park pass from Universal Studios over to Islands of Adventure.
Islands of Adventure is a big thrills park for the adrenalin junky tired of cartoon characters. After departing the Hogwarts Express, visitors will enter another Harry Potter themed area known as Hogsmeade in Islands of Adventure. In Hogsmeade you can take on the Dragon Challenge, a pair of intertwined inverted roller coasters or ride through Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey which takes visitors inside the Hogwarts Castle and takes them through scenes inspired by the Harry Potter books and films. Other major attractions include Skull Island: Reign of Kong, Jurassic Park, Dudley Do-Right’s Ripsaw Falls, and Marvel Super Hero Island which houses the Incredible Hulk roller coaster, Spiderman 3D simulator ride and Doctor Doom’s Fearfall.
In addition to Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure, Universal also claims what is to be America’s first water park. Opened in 1977, Wet ‘n Wild was first created by SeaWorld owner George Millay before being purchased by Universal in 1998. Although, Wet ‘n Wild was officially closed on December 2016, it reopened under the new name of Volcano Bay in May 2017.
Getting tired of all the theme parks? Then try out some of these other great attractions in the Orlando area.
If there is one thing that Orlando has no shortage of, it is restaurants. You can find just about anything in Orlando when it comes to food. Two areas to check out for some themed restaurants like Bubba Gumps, NBA City or Rainforest Cafe are Disney Springs and Universal City Walk. Another thing that you can find all over Orlando is quality mini golf courses. Take your turn at 18 holes of these great themed golfing fun.
If Disney Springs or Universal City Walk aren’t doing it for you then take a drive down International Drive. This road is filled with themed restaurants, mini golf, and other great attractions. Some of the most popular attractions are the Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum, Madame Tussaud’s, WonderWorks, Titanic – The Artifact Exhibit, and the Coca Cola Orlando Eye. Also along this street you will find several dinner theatres, go-karts, escape rooms, and even an ICEBAR. It is also the location of the Orlando Premium Outlets as well as other great shopping areas.
Two other attractions in Orlando worth mentioning are Gatorland and the Orlando Magic basketball team. Gatorland is a 110-acre wildlife preserve filled with alligators and has a few attractions as well such as zip lines, gator wrestling and a train through the park. The Orlando Magic basketball team has featured several notable NBA stars such such as Shaquille O’Neal, Rashard Lewis and Dwight Howard.
If you somehow find yourself bored in Orlando, then I would love to know where you would rather be. Let us know in the comments below.