My Disney Experience

If you woke up this morning hoping to read 3,600 words about a Disney vacation AND see pictures, then you are in luck.  Instead of filling an entire week with posts about Disney, all the thoughts, comments, and ideas will be here.

A circle of our friends is in a Disney phase and my wife and I take bets on how quickly someone will bring it up when families get together.  Last time it took twenty minutes, I guessed five.

This post has three sections.

  1. This is about my RunDisney experience.  If you’d like to skip the part about my running splits and falling asleep in a parking lot then move down to part two.
  2. Where I give a day-by-day breakdown.
  3. This part includes my thoughts on wearing the Disney Magic Band and what the future of smartwatches might hold.

Let’s begin.

My First RunDisney Event

The main reason for our trip was for my wife to attend a conference but a very close second reason was for us to run in the Disney Tower of Terror 10-miler. The race has been serving as the motivational carrot for both my wife and me this summer and that it was finally here was a bit surreal.  I did a bit more ‘tapering’ in my training than I had planned and I didn’t expect to have a great race time.

The day before the race, our first day at Disney, I headed to the ESPN Wide World of Sports to register.  The convention center that held registration and vendors was much larger than I expected with vendors selling all kinds of laces, braces, and pacing devices.  There were shirts, shoes, and socks as well – everything you might need to run 10 miles.

The convention center floor

After collecting our race shirts and bibs I headed back to the Grand Floridian Hotel and Spa – our resort for the week – to swim and wait for the rest of our party.  During the first part of our stay we were going to by joined by my sister-in-law and niece.  When they arrived we ate dinner at 1900 Park Fare and got to meet Cinderella, her evil step-sisters and mother, and Prince Charming.  The three little girls’ heads nearly exploded.

Day 2

Our extended family had never been before, so we stuffed our schedule like a fanny pack.

We began the day at Animal Kingdom and using the new FastPass+ system watched the Nemo and Lion King shows and rode on the Safari.  FastPass+ is a new feature that allows guests to schedule fast passes to nearly the front of lines before they arrive.  This let us pick and choose the best things before arriving and after this trio of attractions as well as some Disney pizza and walking, we exited the park.

Our race was set to begin at 10:00 and my wife and I had planned to relax while the kids played and their aunt supervised.  Being at Disney brings out a feeling that I must be doing something so I eschewed rest for the pool. While my wife laid down in our room I slid down the water slide between 6 and 569 times.

At 7:00 that night we walked over to the adjacent hotel to ride a shuttle bus to Hollywood Studios where our race would be staged. The bus ride was filled with excitement as a full load travelled over and unloaded into a sea of people.  The race had 9,963 participants that finished the race and a few more that didn’t.   I arrived and began my pre-race warmup.

In all seriousness I don’t know how anyone could warmup for the race.  There were nearly ten thousand people milling around the parking lot.  I thought maybe the elite runners, which I was corralled with, might do some jogging around beforehand but I didn’t see any.  After sitting on the asphalt for two hours we were herded into our corrals and led to the starting line in a series of waves.  There were nine corrals, each starting two minutes after the one before.  My corral would launch right at ten and the festivities leading up to it were rocking.  A DJ was playing music, race coordinators were giving tips to stay hydrated, and I was looking around at the few hundred people around me for a running buddy.

At ten the starting gun sounded and by starting gun I mean nearly blinding fireworks and flames that from twenty feet below still felt hot.  The first quarter mile was up a small incline and there were fog machines filling the low area and lights dancing above our heads.  Before the race  talked myself down about potential times.   I was tired from the park and play and I needed to be able to walk around the parks for the rest of the week.  Once the race started I said to hell with all that.

The plan I formulated while surrounded by fog and strangers was to take a moderate pace for the first five miles and then start to race the last five, depending on how I felt.  I went out in 7:12, :12, :15, :21, :31.  It was more humid than I would have guessed for running in central Florida at night but despite this and some surprising overpass inclines, I felt great.  In my excitement about feeling good over the first five I was a bit surprised that I wasn’t closer to seven minute miles so in next two I ran, 7:10 and 7:06.  Now I was pleased with my pace but I was also starting to feel it in my legs, they didn’t have any pop.  Plus I was lonely.  I had humbly started at the back of my corral but had passed a lot of people and was running by myself.  I had just reeled in three runners over the last half mile but the next one was two hundred meters out and I slowed to 7:36 and 7:29 over the next two miles.

The final mile of the race was through the back part of Hollywood Studios and the families of other runners were there cheering people on, and it was incredible.  It was loud and a great surge of excitement ran through me as I ran my final mile in a 7:06 for a total time of 73:57.

The race volunteers were fantastic throughout the course cheering runners on, providing water and Powerade, and being excited.  Every part of the race was well done and professionally put together, but I don’t know if I’ll ever run another Disney race.  Walking in the parks that day – and future date as I was about to discover – made my legs tired and I felt disheartened that I didn’t run my best race.  It was a great  experience and before we headed back for the hotel I got this once in a lifetime picture.

Our Day by Day Breakdown

20131013-075153.jpg

The Disney Touch, Mickey ears everywhere

Days 1 and 2 were occupied with travel and then a brief stint at Animal Kingdom before our big race.  Our full day Disney march began on…

Day 3

The morning after the run our children set the precedent that because they were at Disney, they were not sleeping in.  After a quick snack we headed to Magic Kingdom.  We got there early and went back to the new Fantasyland to meet Belle and Ariel.  Belle does a wonderful interactive show where the children help her tell her story.  All three little girls thought it was beautiful to meet Belle and help her with the story.

Having something for everyone, Disney has some wonderful technology in this exhibit with a mirror that expands to a door.  After three viewings I still don’t know how they do it.

We then met Ariel and rode a few rides and then met Merida.  After this princess filled morning we departed in the early afternoon to swim at our hotel pool.  This was the third time our family has stayed at a Disney hotel and each one has had a great hotel pool.  Slides, food, and shallow areas have all been staples of the facilities.  This is great, because when the midday sun and crowds arrive it’s real cool to head back to the pool.  After our swim in the afternoon we returned to the parks, this time to Hollywood Studios.

At Hollywood studios we continued using the FastPass+ reservations we had made months before to ride Toy Story, and watch Beauty and the Beast and Fantasmic.  For our family with young children each park only offers about three great things for them and the pre-arrangement of fast passes worked wonderfully for this.  The Fantasmic show was a great combination of lights, fireworks, and music and was again my favorite night-time show, besting fireworks over Cinderella’s castle and Illuminations.

Day 4 – Monday

Muscles

Muscles

We started our longest day – it ended up being 13 straight hours in the parks – at Epcot.  This was the only moment in our trip that we had planned which might not go as we had hoped.  We were planning on arriving at Epcot early to beat the lines for Soarin’ and I shouldn’t have been surprised that the kids were ready early.  We waited about twenty minutes for a line that would top out at a two hour wait later in the day.

After that we rode Nemo and did Turtle Talk with Crush.  Disney has a few attractions that feature a character on a screen being voiced by a cast member behind the scenes and unable to be seen.  This cast member communicates with the audience and tells jokes and just seals we all clap along.

We then headed for a loop around World Showcase, a collection of regional themed countries that feature food, culture, and architecture from different areas around the world.  These countries aren’t like being there but the food is a nice enough authentic mix.  Plus the Food and Wine festival was going on.  Food and Wine offers snack sized portions of different cultural foods which we sampled amply.  Our group pick for the best thing was an empanada from Argentina.

Unlike the day before, we skipped heading to the hotel and pool and instead rode the monorail straight to Magic Kingdom.  The afternoon and evening there featured meetings and autographs with Cinderella, Rapunzel, Aurora, and Snow White.  We also ate at the new Be Our Guest restaurant, a dining experience themed like the Beast’s castle.  The food was fine but the decor delighting.  All the little girls tried ‘The Grey Stuff’ dessert and all deemed it ‘good’ at first, but after prodding confirmed that it was indeed, delicious.

We capped a great day and night with fireworks in front of the castle but somehow we picked a spot that was obstructed by a tree.  I was dumbstruck.   From a distance the fireworks look like they’re shot hundreds of feet in the air but from the area in front of the castle they didn’t even clear the trees.  I felt bad that our extended family were leaving the next day and didn’t get a very good fireworks show but every other part of the day went so well it was hard to let that one part ruin in.

Day 5 – Tuesday

My wife needed to go to her conference in the morning and I was sent solo with two little girls.  My wife has talked about Disney so much that through absorption like a piece of concrete, I collected some of her rains of Disney knowledge.  We got to the Magic Kingdom early and met a few characters, rode Winnie the Pooh, and a few other rides.  Around noon we walked opposite the crowds and left the park for our hotel pool.

Our dessert party seating

Our dessert party seating

After swimming for a few hours and relaxing in our room to the tune of the Disney resort channel, we returned to the Magic Kingdom to ride a few more rides, meet a few more people, and dine on the Tomorrowland Terrace for the Disney Dessert party.

This gluttonous event features cookies, cakes, and ice-cream along with a prime spot for viewing fireworks – all while sitting down.  Sitting down is a big deal for people at Disney.  Some places look like refuge camps as people collapse among their bags like weary travellers.

Day 6 – Wednesday

Having been at Disney for a different work event – again for my wife – in March, my wife and I have Disney annual passes and could have gone to the parks each day.  Our children however, did not and we chose not to get them tickets to the park for this day.  Instead we stayed in the room to eat breakfast and sort the clothes between dirty and un-wearable, dirty but wearable again, and clean.  Around 10:00 my wife returned from her morning meetings and we headed for the bus that would shuttle us to Downtown Disney.  This shopping and dining area is where we promised our daughters could select their souvenirs.  Getting souvenirs mid-trip proved to be well-timed because it gave them time to wear the outfits they eventually chose, but it also prevented them from buying the first thing they saw each day.  Each girl picked out two things and we ate lunch at the wonderful Earl of Sandwich, which made the Disney quick service meals taste like they should be served at a prison cafeteria.  I would happily, and sometimes did, eat a peanut butter sandwich every day instead of quick service Disney options.  They continue to be my least liked part of the Disney Experience.  Meals when we were waited on were better, though none spectacular, and everything ordered from a counter window was not good.

After Downtown Disney shopping we took a bus back to our hotel to swim before our evening at the Hoop Dee Doo Musical Review.  My wife asked me to choose a dining experience and six months ago and I chose this.  And it was wonderful.  The cast of six performers did songs, jokes, dancing and general dining entertainment while we gorged ourselves on fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and some mighty tasty cornbread.  The two-hour event was my favorite dining experience of our trip.

Day 7 – Thursday

20131013-080123.jpgWe had one big thing to punch off our to-do list and that was meet the fairies at Magic Kingdom.  All the other characters we were able to meet we either caught when the line was short or had a fast pass to bypass the longer lines.  For the fairies though, neither of these options existed.  As such we need to get to the park as soon as it opened.  My daughters again had no trouble with this since they were operating on Disney time and we were the fifth family to meet them that morning.

My wife quickly caught up with us after her conference had officially ended and we spent a few more hours at other park attractions before heading for the exit as the sun was beginning to fully enter the park.  Instead of heading to the hotel we took the monorail to Epcot to ride Soarin’ for the second time on our trip, as well as Test Track, and Nemo.  During this Epcot visit we also had more empanadas from Argentina, gelato from Italy, and caramel corn from Germany.  I thought each was delicious but I may have been delirious with hunger and thirst.  This was the first day I felt hot and tired.

After walking around Epcot we took the Monorail back to the TTC and from there walked back to the Grand Floridian, a mile long hike that capped of our day.  We finished our evening watching Brave on an outdoor movie screen on the hotel lawn.

Day 8 – Friday

20131013-075910.jpgHave we really been at Disney for eight days?  Haven’t we done it all by now?  Yes and No.  Friday we headed back to Hollywood Studios to use our FastPass+ reservations for Disney Junior, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, and Toy Story.  Each of these was great and because we were the first ones in line for Disney Junior we got to open the clubhouse doors and get a commemorative card for doing so.  We also met more characters while there and like the day before, we had done everything we’d set off to do by noon.  From there we walked to Epcot to eat more foreign foods and watch my favorite movie, Impressions de France.  It features soaring footage of different French city and country-scapes across five connected movie screens.  Plus it has seating, and air-conditioning.

After our French revival – which also included ice-cream – we continued around the park to do more eating and walking.  Eat, walk, wait.  Eat, walk, wait.  You could boil down a Disney experience to those few things but the spaces between the eating, walking, and waiting are filled with some magical moments.

We left Epcot in the late afternoon and took another monorail ride and then another walk back to our hotel.  We had planned on returning to the pool for a final time but everyone, kids included, were tired and we laid around our room for two hours before our dinner at Citricos.  The food here was fine and my only take-away was that their use of olives in the break, appetizer, and entrée were quite delicious.  Otherwise the food was only so-so.

My wife will roll her eyes at this but the Disney food experience is truly lacking but it only seems that way because everything else is done so well.  Disney is an amusement park and their food is just as good as what other amusement parks serve.  The divergence is that at Disney everything is carefully adjusted, tested, and bested before it goes out to the crowds.  Except the food.

Day 9 – Saturday

Originally we planned on a calm morning filled with bag packing and triple checking for any forgotten souvenirs or stuffed animals.  Instead we scheduled breakfast at 1900 Park Fare, a restaurant at our hotel.  During this breakfast buffet we Winnie the Pooh, The Mad Hatter, and Alice of Wonderland.

After our meal we collected our luggage and met the complimentary Disney bus which took us to the MCO airport for our return to the Yankee States.

The real future of smartwatches

When smartwatches entered serious development last year I thought I needed one.  I get a inkling to wear a watch and these new pieces of technology were going to fit, like a glove.  Then I waited, and waited some more.  The features of the watches never fit my expectations.  They could do some things but none well and none that I wouldn’t want to take my phone out of my pocket for.  I had forgotten all about them until this trip to Disney where I discovered the real smartwatch, only Disney calls it a Magic Band.

My Disney Magic Band was linked to my Disney account.  This means that the plastic strap around my wrist opened my door and served as my room key for charging things like souvenirs and food.  The band also held all my park ticket information, noting that I was an annual pass holder and when I had my FastPass+ reservations scheduled.  In each case there was a Mickey Mouse head located at an attraction entrance or cashier.  To complete a transaction or check-in I would place my band next to the Mickey head and wait for it to turn green.  For purchases I entered a four digit pin and then it was done.

These bands use radio frequency to communicate with the stationary Mickey heads.  Being at the Disney Parks and Hotels are one thing, but what kind of real life use would something like this have?  Assuming it was something small I could wear on my wrist just like my Disney Magic Band this is what the future of smart-watches should be.

  • Once my band arrived within twenty-five feet of my home wifi network it would open the garage door.
  • Keys to homes, offices, and other buildings could be sent electronically and for a specific period of time.  Instead of me going to my college campus and getting an office key, they would send on digitally to me.  If I was visiting a friend and arrived when they weren’t home, I could be let in.
  • All my gas and food purchases would be doing using RFID technology.
  • All my membership cards would be included like those for Sam’s Club and the Public Library.
  • It could serve as a location tracking devices for running and log my mileage or a pedometer device for walking.
  • It would include my vital medical information in case of an accident like my blood type, allergies, and recent health history.
  • It would back up to a data system so I could see if I normally got the flu shot in October or November, how much I spent on groceries for the month, and how many miles I drove (it starts my car of course and notes when it’s me or my wife driving).
  • It works for payments beyond the major credit card companies.  It communicates with smartphones that have an app like Stripe or PayPal and I can pay vendors using it instead of cash from an ATM and all they need is a smartphone.
  • It clocks me in to work.
  • It serves as my concert ticket, knows where I’m sitting, and then offers customized information based on that such as photos of what I may have seen.

These are the best things a smartwatch could do.  This category shouldn’t be a miniature version of what a smartphone can do but a new experience – and it will be.  Disney has already figured out payments and passes linked to a single account.   The next step in this is  probably for Visa to begin offering mechanisms for payment this way and then the motor companies further advancing their keyless start technology.

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One thought on “My Disney Experience

  1. Pingback: 7 more thoughts from 7 more days of NaNoWriMo | Mike Dariano

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