Wrapping up my recap of the 2016 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, where I ran the 10k and half marathon races, I figured today is the perfect time to talk about the differences between running a Disney half marathon in Florida or California. I’ve now run two half marathons in Florida and one in California, and a 10k in each. By no means am I an expert – there are many runners who make it their mission to run all the Disney races, and I have no intention of doing that, because my wallet can’t take it! But having run at the marquee race weekend at each location in the past year, there are a lot of things I can share that any runner debating between the two should think about.
Time in the Parks: Disneyland
One of the biggest factors in running any Disney race is the amount of time you actually spend running in the theme parks. While I haven’t run the Walt Disney World Marathon, which is probably the race where you get the most time because it’s the longest and goes through all four Florida parks, when comparing half marathons I think California has an edge over Florida. The course for the Disneyland 10K went around Anaheim for a bit, but then wound through both Disneyland and California Adventure and ended with a jaunt through Downtown Disneyland, and out of all the Disney races I’ve run I felt it was the one where the majority of your time was actually spent running through Disney. The Disneyland Half Marathon started in the parks and you left after Mile 4, running through Anaheim until Mile 12, but you did get some quality time at the start, which I used to take it slow at the beginning.
Time in the Parks: Disney World
The first half of the Walt Disney World 10K took place in the Epcot parking lot. While I enjoyed the second half of the course, going through Epcot and around the Boardwalk resort area, I realized that even though I thought I’d like ending with the “fun” part of the course more than starting with it like at the Disneyland Half Marathon, the difference was that the Epcot parking lot was a lot more boring than running through Anaheim. As for the Walt Disney World Half Marathon, nothing beats running through the Magic Kingdom and seeing Cinderella Castle, even seeing the castle at Disneyland – but the out and back to get there is along the highway, and there isn’t much to look at. You spend less than two miles in the parks during this race, and I think the course is similar for the Princess half marathon, so that’s something to consider.
Course Entertainment and Cheering
Something I noticed at my first Disney race, the Walt Disney World Half Marathon in 2015, was the number of cast members and friends and family who come out to cheer runners on at the ungodly early hour you’re racing. In both locations, you won’t run far before hitting another cheer squad, be it a big group or a few people, and that’s no small thing. The biggest difference for the two half marathon courses is the kind of entertainment. In Florida, you’re on Disney property the whole time, so there are characters along the route you can wait in line to take photos with and more groups of cast members. In California, you’re out in Anaheim, so you get to see classic cars near the Honda Center and run through Angels Stadium. Again, I think California has the edge for me simply because I preferred having more to see versus more characters to pose with (although I enjoy that too!)
Wake Up Call
Without a doubt California wins this one. For both the Disneyland 10K and Disneyland Half Marathon, I was able to wake up around 4:15 (which felt later to me due to the time change) and walk to the corrals even from an off-property hotel with plenty of time for the 5:30am start. In Florida, you’re up at 3:30am and you have to take a bus to the corrals even from Epcot area hotels, meaning lots of time spent waiting around once you arrive.
After the Races
I enjoyed playing in the theme parks in both locations after my races, probably too much so for the distances I was running, so I think it’s a tie here! There are more choices on-property in Florida to eat a pre-race dinner or post-race brunch, but the options at Disneyland are also good. I enjoyed the Carnation Cafe in California as much as the Captain’s Grille in Florida. And I thought my first trip to Disneyland was the perfect amount of time, the few days around the races, even though there are just two parks versus the four in Florida.
While it may seem like California is a clear winner, I can’t say that running the Dumbo Double Dare was definitively better than this past weekend in Florida. I think it really depends on which is more convenient for you, whether you want to do a certain themed race weekend or complete a challenge, and how much each factor matters to you personally. I hope my thoughts are helpful to anyone out there making the decision of where to go for their next race-cation. Both are awesome locations and I look forward to running at one or the other again someday. I think next on my list would be the Tinkerbell half marathon weekend…my spirit fairy’s race awaits!
If you’ve run Disney races in both Florida and California, which did you prefer and why?
If you’ve never run one, which would be your choice?
Most important factor to you in choosing a race to run?
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