In January 2015 we took yet another trip to California. Yes, it was Claire’s third time to Disneyland (and she’s only seven!) This time it was with cause, however: The Inaugural Run Disney Star Wars 10k and Half Marathon Weekend pulled us in with the promise of a great set of races and some Disney Geek fun. Five days of park-hopping pleasures glittered with memories & punctuated by lightsabers, snowmen and roller-coasters.
The Race Expo
For the most part when I race, I pick up my race kit a few days prior. It’s a number on a bib and maybe a new tech shirt. Disney, like any big race, makes their package pick-up an event in and of itself. The conference center in the Disneyland Hotel was our first stop on the vacation, zipping right past the front gates of the parks (much to Claire’s frustration) through Downtown Disney, and into a Star Wars themed event centre. We got there mid-afternoon on what was essentially the second day, after the five but before the ten, and slipped through the necessary queues with virtually no wait. A technical shirt, a race guide, and a chipped bib later, Karin spotted some RunDisney shoes and scored a pair of princess runners. Our arrival was fortuitously timed, and actor Sean Astin (marathon runner, Goonie, and hobbit rolled into motivational speaker for the day) was giving a session to a packed room: I sat in on that while Karin and Claire shopped in the themed merch area. I think I won that deal.
Of course when you go to Disneyland for a Star Wars event you’re going to encounter Star Wars. The line-up for Star Tours (the Star Wars themed motion simulator ride) was lined up for miles. I had figured: the other half of that Star Wars event was that twenty-five thousand Star Wars fans had descended on the park for the weekend for a minor re-enactment of ComicCon but with running and Mickey Mouse. Claire had been diligently marking off her piano practice sheet for three months in an attempt to earn a go at the “build your own lightsaber” table, so we eventually FastPass’d the ride and she got her shot at constructing a light-up custom blue “life saver.” And we were the tame ones. If you can believe it there is a Star Wars counterculture out there, and they mostly all showed up at Disneyland the same weekend as us. The costumes. Oh, the things people will buy and wear. I get it… yet, somehow I don’t.
There were three races. I don’t want to say the 5k didn’t count, because the folks who did it ran 5k further than those who didn’t. But when the 5k took place I was sitting on my couch at home, going over my packing list one more time, and eating a bowl of cereal. Twenty-four hours later we were in California cheering on Karin. Having ran the 5k in Florida, Karin decided she wanted a real medal (not the vinyl version she got last race) and so haphazardly worked up her distance over the past few months. Knee issues kept her from a more solid training plan, but in the end she finished, got her well-deserved bling, and was only slightly hobbled for about a day and a half following. We took it slow. Claire’s new lightsaber came in very handy for her and I in the cheering section, and we were lined up outside the gates at 530 am to secure a spot where we could watch Karin run by before hiking over to the finish line to watch that part.
A running joke on our recurring trips back to the Happiest Place on Earth (TM) is that Claire is not a fan of “scary” rides. Her definition of scary is unique to her, and goes something like this: if it’s a little dark or a little creepy… it’s scary. So, for all the simplicity of, say, “Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride” –a perfectly level, slow-paced, ride-along-a-rail with nothing but a nylon seatbelt– she quakes with fear at the mere mention of it. Sure, there are some red light that imply a fire and a few places where something (predictably) leaps out from a shadow, but most kids slough it off and get on with their day. We had to virtually threaten her to ride this one –and a couple others like it– and in the end I don’t know if we made the fear better or worse.
The Half Marathon
I had signed up to run the big one: the twenty-one-point-one kilometer Star Wars Half Marathon. My nerves were getting to me and –whileI wrote a whole other post about the event itself– I will mention that I was anticipating the race with a mix of excitement and dread. My last half marathon the August previous had ended in near disaster, and that’s something that haunts you until the moment you finish your next one.
Had I been diligent in my photography, I would have carried Claire’s new lightsaber on the day we queued up for our visit with Anna and Elsa of Frozen fame. Anna battling her sister with a blue Star Wars weapon would have neatly summed up our vacation in a single photograph. By that I mean that if we weren’t tripping over Star Wars, we were being pelted in the face with the frosty fun of Disney’s new fan favourite film. When we went to Florida last year, Frozen was so new (and so under-anticipated as a hit) you wouldn’t have known it even existed. This year? Multiple shows, merchandise, cameos, sing-alongs, characters, sketch-classes, a toboggan hill, skating rink, parade float, dress-up boutique, and a nightly ice-themed dance party… and I’m sure I’m forgetting something. If I was a Frozen-obsessed seven-year-old girl, I would have been in heaven. As a nearly-forty father with a mild Star Wars obsession, heaven doesn’t exactly describe it. I did my dad-duty however, and I stood in the ‘Meet Olaf’ line for nearly an hour one evening so that Claire could have her two minute encounter with a mute snowman. And we scored some photos and videos with the characters, a collection Claire will cherish for a few days or months, at least, or until the next movie comes out.
Disney food is largely mediocre. It’s theme park food: refined sugars and fried fats served up in colourful containers with the face of Mickey Mouse or other characters glued to the front. We had breakfast the day after the races on Main Street, Karin getting her Mickey waffle-fix. Later that night we ate in the faux Bayou beside the Pirates of the Caribbean docks as part of a dining package that got us great access to prime seats to a show (see the next photo) and fireworks. But, in the end, it was scavenging for something that wasn’t entirely too unhealthy, sharing meals, splitting snacks, and paying about ten dollars a day for bottled water because the stuff that comes out of the taps… uhhh.
Disney is part rides and part shows. Some folks go there just for the former, some just for the latter. We always tend to split our time pretty evenly: a ride here, a show there, and then more rides until we need a rest… so we take in another show. I don’t mind the sitting, and hey.. if you doze off for ten minutes and wake up in the middle, chances are you already know the story. It’s usually just a re-telling of a Disney film after all. As I mentioned in the last paragraph, we bought a dining package (a little over-priced but worth it in end) that secured us some prime seating for Fantasmic. Every park seems to have one epic show that runs at any given time. A few thousands of people queue up to grab a bit of ground space or railing to watch while they light up the entire water-course with fire and characters and fifty-foot dragons. We’d tried to watch this one three years ago on our visit (the one where we all got sick) and Claire had slept through the whole thing. So, as a do-over we spoiled ourselves one more time to much more success.
As it turns out while Claire doesn’t like “scary” rides, she is a bit of a thrill junkie. She loves fast. She loves upside down. I figure it’s going to bite me in the butt in ten years when she finds some boyfriend with a motorcycle or a fast car, but for now it just looks like I’m going to have to get used to riding roller coasters. We took numerous turns on Space Mountain in Disneyland and numerous spins on the California Screaming coaster in California Adventure. And after each time she was pumped and ready for another go… luckily the lines are pretty long, and I got a bit of a break.
But in the end, it actually is all about the rides. The characters are nice, the shows (as I mentioned already) are many and mildly amusing. But if there was no rides or thrills, there would be no parks. We tried to hit everything. A few things were closed (it was the post-holiday off-season, after all) and we got fairly close. We spun on the teacups, got drenched on the Grizzly run, and blasted our way through both Toy Story “video game” rides, Astro Blaster and Midway Mania. Karin was picked as the “rebel spy” on one of our seven trips through Star Tours, and we waited in line for our spin through Peter Pan, even though it’s a bit over-rated in my opinion. We drove cars, rode space ships, sailed boats, clung to speeding mine carts, flew zeppelins, swung, rocked, jostled, and accelerated… and loved every minute of it, too.
I can’t say when we’ll go back, but knowing us it won’t be too far off.
Read more vacation travel posts on my Random Travel Writing page!