This is only the second time we've been to Epcot's Food and Wine Festival (F&W) - the first time was two years ago, and we had a great time. But we love early December and all of the Christmas festivities, too. Since we can't really justify two trips to Florida within 4-6 weeks, we've decided to alternate and this was a Food and Wine year.
After we'd already made our plans to be there for F&W we heard that Disney was going to be doing a new nighttime race, the Tower of Terror 13K, the first weekend that we were there, so we decided to sign up for that, too. It meant missing the Party for the Senses, but we decided we'd rather do the run instead. Yeah, we are crazy people.
Friday, October 26 - Fly, Epcot
We arrived at Walt Disney World the evening of Friday the 26th and checked into the Boardwalk - always a great choice when you're planning to spend a lot of time at the Festival! Hard to get during F&W, though - I made our reservations almost 11 months in advance. We had a one bedroom with a standard view - sometimes I've lucked out and gotten a standard view on the 4th floor where we can see IllumiNations over the top of the Boardwalk Inn, but this time we were on the second floor right behind a big tree. :-( This is the first time we've stayed at WDW since they made ALL rooms non-smoking - it was great to not have to worry about getting to our room and finding out that it was smoking optional.
As is our tradition on our first night we headed over to Epcot via the International Gateway. We needed to get a new Annual Pass for Lee, and we got an unscheduled "Magical Moment". The CM asked if I needed my AP renewed and I said no, it was still good until the end of November, but that we had gotten our passes out of sync at some point. She asked the date on my pass, and she made the expiration date of Lee's the same (a year later, though!), so he got a 13-month Annual Pass! That was really nice of her.
Epcot (World Showcase, at least) was pretty busy, since it was a Friday night during F&W AND it was also Extra Magic Hours at Epcot. It turned out the F&W booths were open during EMH, which surprised me.
Between all of the locals enjoying F&W and the resort guests there for EMH the food booths had some pretty long lines - we waited about 10 minutes at Canada, though nothing else was quite that long.
We tried things from a number of the F&W booths - Maple Glazed Salmon and Cheddar Cheese soup from Canada, Pastelon de Platanos Amarillos (a plantain, vegetable, and cheese casserole thing) and Mofungo (mashed yucca with pork and shrimp) from the Dominican Republic (generous servings and filling, but neither a real winner for us), the Beef Empanada at Argentina (Lee really liked this), and Chilaquiles (chicken enchilada casserole) at Mexico, which was one of our favorites two years ago, and remains a favorite this year.
While we were at Mexico we took a break from eating and rode the new
Gran Fiesta Tour boat ride at the Mexico Pavilion. Also known as "it's
a small mexico." I didn't really care for the old ride (though the
first part, when they talked about the ancient civilizations, was cool),
and this new one is not much of an improvement. The animatronic kids
swinging at the Donald Duck pinata was my favorite part. :-)
Back to eating...at Ireland we pretty much said "give us one of everything!"
So we tried the Boxty (potato pancake topped with caramelized onions and bacon bits), the cold Potato Leek Soup (which would have been better warm) and the Irish Cheese Plate. Oh, and the Meade Honey Wine, which was really good. We had the Curried Butternut Squash soup at India, which is one of our new favorites, and the Coconut Indian Rice Pudding, which was not bad for rice pudding (can you tell I'm not a big rice pudding fan?)
Just before IllumiNations we got the Apple Strudel with Vanilla Sauce from Germany, and I had a glass of the Riesling Spatlese which was very good. The strudel was fine - strudel is not really that exciting - but I really enjoyed the wine, since it was a sweeter wine and I like sweet wine.
We found an excellent spot for IllumiNations - on the landing in front
of Germany they have set up some picnic tables, and we stood behind the
people who were sitting at the tables. The show was excellent, as
always, though they didn't shoot off any of the perimeter fireworks (we
saw the show three times, and never saw those).
After the show we got our EMH wristbands and went up into Future World where we saw the Epcot 25th anniversary exhibit. It was in the room where they used to do the Segway tour training session - we'd been in there before. :-) We had the exhibit all to ourselves - no one else came in until we were leaving. It was interesting seeing the models and drawings of the pavilions and the original cast member costumes and other things like that.
Since there was no line at the Seas, we did the clam-mobile ride. I
think it's cute, and I like it better than the new Finding Nemo
Submarine Voyage at Disneyland, which uses the same technology to make
Nemo and friends appear to be in the water. Only at the Seas they are
in the water with REAL fish! :-) And the clam-mobiles are a lot more
comfortable than those cramped submarines. We were just in time
to walk into a "Turtle Talk with Crush" show, which was a little
different than shows we've seen before because we didn't learn to
say "Dude!" three different ways :-), but it was still fun. We also
played with the shark quiz machines - I got the harder quiz which
asked questions about how many types of sharks there are, which
sharks have the most teeth, and other "who is going to know *that*?"
kinds of questions.
We spent some time watching the LED sidewalks outside Innoventions - just one of those little touches that makes Epcot so special.
It must have been 11:00 by then and we walked back to the hotel and read
for a while - we were trying to stay on west coast time at least for the
first few days since we had several late nights planned.
Saturday, October 27 - Tower of Terror 13K
Early in the morning I could hear it raining pretty hard - uh oh. Since the ToT 13K was that night, we really did NOT want it to rain during the race!!! We finally got up about 9:15 - that's VERY late for us!
It had stopped raining but the skies were still very gray, so we took the umbrella when we walked over to the Dolphin Hotel to have breakfast at Picabu. With the race that night we wanted to have a good breakfast and a reasonable lunch, then just something light for dinner. We both had the Picabu breakfast, which came with scrambled eggs (which were undercooked for our taste), bacon, toast, and potatoes. We also got a couple of fruit bowls, though we got sticker shock on those - you'd think fruit would be relatively inexpensive as opposed to eggs and bacon! But the fruit bowls were $6.75, and the breakfast, which was a whole lot more food, was $9.95!
After breakfast (it still wasn't raining!) we drove over to Pleasure Island so we could pick up our ToT race packets - our timing chip, bib number, t-shirts, and race information. The race information was especially important, because unlike the other Disney races we've done (WDW marathon and 1/2 marathon, Disneyland 1/2 marathon) there'd been no information on this race posted until 2 *days* before the race! Strike One.
Pickup was a breeze - we were in and out of there in less than 10 minutes. We walked over to the Marketplace - by this time it was around noon. And the Marketplace was *busy*. As far as we can tell that place is *never* *not* busy any more - we've been there around 10:00 in the morning, in the afternoon, early evening, and at night, and there's always lots of people around. We took our lives into our hands and went into World of Disney, but didn't find anything we needed to buy - just lots of people.
We did find this R2-D2 mailbox outside World of Disney, though - I hadn't seen one before and I thought it was really cute.
Earl of Sandwich had a line that filled their queue and then went another length of the queue and around the corner, but we really wanted some sandwiches for later so we got in line anyway. It actually moved fairly quickly, and we didn't have too much of a wait for our sandwiches, though the waiting area was crowded with all of the other people who were waiting. I also got a yogurt parfait to take back to the room and eat as my pre-race snack. It started to rain lightly as we walked back to the car.
We went back to the Boardwalk and took it easy for the rest of the afternoon - it rained off and on, though it was looking better by about 5:00 - the sky was at least a paler shade of gray. :-)
The race literature told us to be at the start by 8:30 (the race started at 9:30), so we left the room about 8:15 to walk over to the Studios. Once we got to the entrance there was no indication of where we were supposed to go. No signs at all. And the "course map" we received in our race info was a joke - we couldn't tell where the start and finish lines were except that they were somewhere around the Studios. Strike Two. We found a Security CM who pointed us in the right direction, and headed over to the start, which was right at the parking lot entrance booths (for the main entrance off of World Drive). We'd brought our ToT t-shirts to change into after the race, so we checked those at baggage check, and went to the start. It was VERY humid, and the temperature was about 70, but at least it wasn't raining.
There were only 4000 people entered in the two races, so the starting area was a whole lot less crowded than it is for the marathon races. They had a big screen display that was showing some really awful "music" videos - Ozzy Osborne, Snoop Dog, etc. interspersed with two Disney CMs dressed as ToT bellhops that were trying to get us worked up. At 9:30, instead of starting the race, they informed us that there was going to be a delay in the start...ah yes, imagine, if you will, the sound of 4000 people groaning. Apparently traffic was worse than they expected, and they hadn't been able to clear the roads yet. So the race was supposed to start 20 minutes late. (From what I heard later, since Disney informed everyone in the race literature, which, if you recall, didn't come out until two days before the race, that there would be NO transportation, and participants were responsible for getting themselves to/from the race, the traffic was horrible, especially since there were also people trying to get OUT of the Studios. Strike Three.)
The race *did* start at 9:50, with some fireworks over the start line, and we were off.
This was the first year for the ToT 13K, so we didn't really know what to expect, but based on what little race info there was, and what we had experienced in previous Disney races, we were expecting some fun and spooky surprises. Would you believe that there were NO Disney characters to be found anywhere? Not at the start, not during the 1.5 miles at the end that we wound around the Studios, and not even at the finish line. Strike Four. I was really disappointed, and to be honest it didn't seem much like a Disney race. There was one section near the Wide World of Sports where we went off onto a one-lane dirt/gravel road (which after the rain was a mud/puddle/gravel road) and encountered a bunch of Disney CMs dressed in white pants and shirts - apparently escapees from the insane asylum. (Lee says they were CMs who'd been forced to work at "it's a small world" for too long. :-) ) They were moaning, and banging on pots, and lurking in the bushes and doing other odd things, but because of the uncertain footing I think most of us were concentrating too much on getting through the area without falling into a mud puddle and we couldn't enjoy it too much. No offense to the CMs - some of them were really wonderfully creepy. I think my favorite was the woman at Wide World of Sports (the "lunatics" went on for a little ways after we got off the dirt road) who had a belt that she was whipping against a lamppost, yelling: "Play with me! Somebody play with me!"
But back to the race...The race course went out the Studios parking lot entrance onto World Drive, and out past the "Welcome to Walt Disney World" archway, then doubled back on itself for a couple hundred yards before taking an off-ramp that put us on Osceola Parkway headed to Wide World of Sports. Then we took the dirt road, and went all the way around the WWoS complex, including running most of a lap on the running track, as well as running a bit on one of the grassy soccer/football fields. We went out the parking lot entrance and back onto Osceola Parkway, then took a cloverleaf back onto World Drive again (we've been here before!), and back through the start area again (we've been here before, too!), before going backstage and coming onto the streets of the Studios by Sid Cahuenga's. Here we saw Deb Wills and Masayo Kano, who were cheering runners on.
Then we started winding around the streets - going up Hollywood
Blvd, by the Commissary, past Muppet Vision, down one of the "Streets
of America" and back up the other one where we could see the unlit
Osborne Lights overhead (Angels! I see angels!), and back into
the Lights, Motors, Action area. We ran in front of the stage -
they had the camera turned on and we could see ourselves on the
big screen as we ran by. We ran past the tram loading area for
the backstage tour, and through the costuming building, and eventually
came back into the Studios again along the side road by the Sunset
Market (is that what it's called?) and onto Sunset Blvd. I think
we went back down the other side of Hollywood Blvd, and took a left
at Oscar's so that we ended up alongside the Fantasmic! amphitheater.
We went all around it, and could finally see the Finish Line, in
a backstage area behind the Tower of Terror. I was REALLY happy
to see that - Lee was doing very well, but the high humidity was
doing me in and I was very tired and overheated. My goal had been
to finish in under 1:30, and we came in at 1:29:34.
Did the usual post-race stuff - got the timing chips cut off our shoes, got our medals, got something to eat, and picked up our baggage, then changed into our nice dry shirts. Our running shirts, even though they were the coolmax type that are supposed to allow water vapor to escape, were soaking wet. Yuck. The dry shirt felt SO good! The medal is really cool - it's a heavy bronze-colored model of the Tower Hotel, with a red elevator in a slot. You pull the elevator down and let go, and a spring pulls it back to the top. (Personally I thought the elevator should be at the bottom and you pull it to the top and the spring makes it "fall" down, but nobody consulted me about the design!)
We met up with Deb and Masayo again near the Tower of Terror and chatted with them a bit before they left. We started to leave, but then decided that since it was the Tower of Terror 13K we should at least ride the Tower of Terror! (Rock'n'Roller Coaster, The Great Movie Ride and Star Tour were also open.) The line was longer than I expected, and it was probably 30 minutes until we were off the ride. As we were walking back down Sunset Blvd, the very last walker was coming onto that last .75 mile section - the "sweeps" were behind her. We all cheered as she went by, and then we walked back to the Boardwalk. It was a very nice evening as long as you weren't running! :-) But we were glad our room was on the side of the Boardwalk closest to the Studios instead of the side closest to Atlantic Dance! :-)
As I mentioned before, I was disappointed in this race - there was really nothing "Disney" about it. The volunteers and Cast Members were all wonderful, but it just didn't feel like a Disney race because it didn't have the special touches (like characters!!!) that those of us who have run Disney races are used to experiencing. It seemed like any other race put on by one of the big race organization companies - it just happened to be on Disney property.
Now that the race event was over we could "break training", and enjoy all the F&W festivaling that we wanted!
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Laura Gilbreath lgil at lgil dot net