The Casual Runner

Parks to Paradise Challenge

Event: 2015 runDisney (Inaugural) Castaway Cay Parks to Paradise Challenge

Event Date: January 14, 2015

Event Location: Castaway Cay, Bahamas – Disney Dream (Disney Cruise Lines)

Last week Jennifer brought you her reviews of runDisney’s 2015 Walt Disney World Half Marathon and 5k events. But she was not done. In fact, her Casual Running adventures were only just beginning. 

Why I decided to run this race

My husband and I made a snap decision to book a post-Disney Marathon Weekend cruise on the Disney Dream and participate in the inaugural Parks to Paradise Challenge at Castaway Cay the same day it was announced.  As we had decided that we would run every runDisney event weekend in 2015 we thought it would ruin our streak if we didn’t participate.  Plus, we normally take a long vacation in January and thought a cruise would be a nice change of pace.  (The Star Wars Half-Marathon Weekend at Disneyland wasn’t announced until after the Castaway Cay registration went live, so we didn’t know that we were also going to have to accommodate a trip to California the following weekend.)

Getting there/the lead-up to the race

The lead-up to the cruise was a whirlwind of activity at Walt Disney World.  My husband and I ran the 5K and half marathon the weekend before, and had gotten up to cheer for our friends running the Dopey Challenge on the days we weren’t running.  In addition, we put in a lot of park time.  So by the time we were scheduled to board the Disney Dream for a 4-night cruise, we were ready for a break.  Neither of us had been on a Disney cruise before, so we were excited.  But mostly we were looking forward to sleeping in past 3 AM for a few days!

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A rare view of the gorgeous Disney Dream from Castaway Cay while docked at night.

We were on a 4-night sailing, with stops at Nassau, Bahamas and Castaway Cay, and one full day at sea.  Castaway Cay was the second morning of the trip, and in typical runDisney fashion, the race would be an early morning run.  We opted to take a very easy day in Nassau the day before the race, and went to bed shortly after dinner and the evening show.

Random travel tip: If you ever stop in Nassau and have time for lunch or dinner, skip the tourist traps like Senor Frogs, and go straight to Lukka Kairi.  On the day we visited they had only been open to the public for 3 days and OMG…the food!…the atmosphere!…I could have skipped the rest of the cruise and just eaten here for a week straight.  The chef clearly understands balancing flavors and we enjoyed some of the best, most innovative dishes we’ve had in a long time.  Seriously.  Go here.

The race Expo

All runners were expected to pick up their bibs and shirts at the runDisney Marathon Weekend expo.  And I’ll admit that if it hadn’t have been for someone in one of my Facebook groups who posted the link for the Castaway Challenge information a few weeks prior to the event, I probably would have missed the stop at the expo.  (I love runDisney for their great organization at the actual events but I have yet to receive any pre-race emails from them.  And I know my correct email is on file because I get my initial race registration email and various other marketing stuff…just nothing related to the races I’m running.  I’ve seen copies of the informational emails and they contain a lot of great information, but it’s useless if your runners don’t get it.  Come on runDisney, you can do better.)

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The Inaugural Castaway Cay Challenge included the debut of new event-specific bling.

Packet pick-up for Castaway Cay was in the same area as for the half marathon, so it was relatively convenient even though it was the third packet pick-up line we had to stand in at the expo (one each for the 5K, the half, and Castaway).  There were two windows, and we lucked out that our bib numbers were in the shorter line.  We got all of our stuff quickly and moved on.

I don’t know what would have happened if you missed getting your bib at the expo.  There was a runDisney office open on the cruise and there were fewer than 1000 runners doing the challenge, so I would hope that a runner could get their packet on the ship.  But I didn’t think to ask.

Random expo tip: Although the Challenge was technically sold-out shortly after it opened for registration, I know a few people who were able to register at the expo.  This was not advertised anywhere and these people only found out by asking at the window.  So if you are booked on a cruise already, are shut-out of the Castaway Challenge, and you are running a qualifying Disney World race, you might as well try to register at the expo.

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It would not be a runDisney event without a race costume.

Swag review

Breaking from Disney tradition, we actually got tech shirts for this 5K.  Usually Disney gives cotton t-shirts for this distance, so this was a nice change.  I haven’t worn mine yet, but I think I’m just about the only person who can say that since I saw them constantly on runners for the duration of the cruise.

The gear

Yes, there was a costume, but we went as easy as possible.  Most of the gear was basic warm-weather running attire: black Nike tank top, my standard black Under Armour capris, a teal Adidas sports bra, Injinji socks, Brooks Adrenaline GTS 14 shoes, Garmin Forerunner 620, and Gymboss interval timer.  With the addition of a dive mask (“goggles”, to the non-divers in the audience) clearly marked as belonging to “P. Sherman, 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney, Australia” and a small stuffed Nemo, I was the diving dentist who took Nemo from the reef.

The pre-race

The 5K for the Castaway Challenge participants was scheduled to start at 7 AM sharp, since they had to clear us all off before the normal free 5K that the rest of the cruise passengers could run (You can check out Mike’s review of the “normal” version of this 5k race). So, once again we needed to be up early for a race during our vacation.  Luckily, we didn’t need to travel far for breakfast or the starting line, so we could sleep in compared to other Disney races.

Although restaurants on the ship don’t normally open until 7:00 to serve breakfast, they opened Cabañas at 5:00 so the runners could get a little bit of food pre-race.  We had to meet by 5:45 in the ship’s theater to be placed in our corrals and receive final race instructions.  By 6:00 they were walking those of us in corral A (the first of three corrals, and probably the only time I will EVER be in corral A…) off the ship.

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The special starting line brought in just for this event.

Once we were off the ship we had to wait for the rest of the runners to disembark and wait for the course set-up to be completed.  It wasn’t a very long wait, but a lot of us were wondering why the course hadn’t been set up overnight seeing as how we had reached the island by midnight.  Once we were cleared to proceed we walked for maybe half to three-quarters of a mile to the start/finish line, arriving about 20 minutes before the race started.

Because this was a much smaller race than a normal Disney race, the corral area wasn’t quite as elaborate as for other events.  There were distinct corrals and they had people checking bibs to make sure you were in the right one, the medals were lined up and food and beverage tables were set for post-race nutrition (the snack boxes appeared to be leftovers from Wine and Dine), and they had a backdrop set up for character photos.  But there were no port-a-potties or anything else that couldn’t be easily set up or torn down by a few people working by hand.  Instead, we were directed to use the permanent bathrooms both pre-race and on course.

I think they did a good job making this feel like both a Disney race and a smaller local race.  The DJ kept high-energy tunes playing and Mickey was there with the Cruise Director to send us off.  But it didn’t have the slick production of TV screens and interviews and fireworks like a normal Disney race.  I think it was a nice balance for a race on a tropical island.

Along the course

I had never been to Castaway Cay before this trip, but from what I understand we ran a slightly different course than had previously been used.  (You can check out Mike’s review of the “normal” version of this 5k race). We started at the end of the airstrip, ran toward Serenity Bay, turned a sharp right and ran out-and-back the length of the beach.  We came back down the airstrip toward the finish line but made a sharp left to take a path around the observation tower loop before finally coming back to the airstrip and finishing the race.  The course was paved the entire way but there were some narrow parts where you had to be aware of the people coming toward you and/or trying to pass you.

There were a few character stops for pictures (two, I think—Donald and Goofy) and some random cast members dressed as crazy spectators along the course (they were awesome!).  We did not stop for pictures, but the lines seemed to be short and moving relatively fast (I mean, fast for a Disney race…).  There was one water stop on the airstrip that we passed twice.

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If you can’t follow the EAC, just follow Jennifer and her husband Jake. Where are they going? Why, P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way, Sydney, of course!

Overall I think this was a good race.  It was more laid back than a typical Disney race, but still felt special.  I heard that they got good feedback on the course from all the runners, including the ones who did the free race later that morning, and that runDisney is trying to make the new course permanent.

The SMOpinion

So why would you pay for this race when you could sleep in and do it for free?  It’s all about the SMO.  Runners doing the Challenge not only got the newly designed 5K medallion (similar to the medallions for other Disney 5Ks, not the hard plastic “winner” medal they usually give out for Castaway Cay 5k), but we also got a special metal one commemorating the Inaugural Parks to Paradise Challenge.  I imagine runners who do the Challenge after Princess Weekend will get a similar medal, though it probably won’t have the “inaugural” markings.

I did see runners who did the free race with the same rubber medallion we got.  I don’t know if that’s a permanent change or if they just had extras.  If it’s a permanent change, it makes me wonder how much longer the free one will be free since these medallions surely cost more to produce than the “winner” ones.

The post-race experience

After the race I convinced my husband to wait in line for pictures with Mickey, where it turned out that one of our dinner tablemates was standing right behind us.  All the photography was done by the normal cruise line photographers, so you could purchase race pictures with the rest of your cruise photos.  Once we got our picture with Mickey, we headed back to the ship for breakfast and a quick shower.  Some people did stay on the island after the race to scope out prime beach chairs, though technically all runners were supposed to go back to the ship until the island officially opened at 8:30.

Playlist Peak

I didn’t take music with me for this.  I didn’t need the extra motivation since I had someone to talk to and because the music from the starting line carried over most of the course.

Looking back now

This is possibly the most expensive 5K on the planet.  Not only do you have to pay for the race and the cruise to get you to the race, but you also have to pay for at least one qualifying race during WDW Marathon Weekend and all of the travel and lodging expenses associated with that.  So when I take all that into account I’m not sure I’ll ever run this specific Challenge again.  That’s not to say that I regret doing it, because I’m very happy with our decision to work the cruise into our schedule, especially since it meant I got to celebrate my birthday at sea.  And I will probably do the free 5K on Castaway Cay if (when?) we take another Disney cruise.  But I think I might be one-and-done on the Parks to Paradise Challenge now that we’ve done the inaugural.

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