Every Disney race weekend starts with a trip to the Health & Fitness Expo. So I thought that with Princess Half Marathon Weekend starting in a few days, we should take a look back at the Marathon Weekend Expo so all of you Princesses can get excited for the fun! Kimberly Amato was at that Expo and has a great look at what to expect and some tips on how to navigate. Check it out!
I recently ran the WDW half-marathon. It was my first half-marathon and first runDisney event! I had heard rumors of the Expo being crowded, somewhat disorganized, and time consuming with long lines. I am happy to report I was pleasantly surprised at my Expo experience!
We flew down the Wednesday morning before the race. Coming from New England, we wanted to buffer in case of bad weather. We also wanted to spend that first afternoon at the Expo because we planned to be at the parks the rest of the days prior to the half. My parents, who live in Florida and were ChEAR squad members, were there at 10 am when it opened. They drove and found parking to be easy. They said it was crowded with many people in line before the doors opened (most likely for the New Balance runDisney shoes) but it did not take them long to get their ChEAR squad packets. They did not visit the Expo floor.
We arrived at the Expo about 1:30 pm after checking into the Beach Club Resort. There was dedicated transportation to/from the Expo from all WDW resorts and it was awesome. Buses were plentiful and frequent. Drivers were friendly and upbeat. Signage was fantastic.
General Expo info:
The expo ran from Wednesday through Saturday and was held at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Anyone can attend the Expo, even if you are not running or spectating at a Run Disney event. The Expo was held in several different buildings but they were all in close proximity to each other. This was also the site of the kids races and the Mickey Mile.
Everything you needed to know about WDW Marathon Weekend and the details of the Expo, including maps of what was located in each building, were provided in the Official Event Guide available online about a month before race weekend and also given to you with your packet pick up at the Expo. Resort hotels also had limited quantities of the Marathon Weekend event guide if you asked for them.
Food and beverage was available for purchase at the Expo from the ESPN store, the Yum Yum cupcake truck and vendors in the Expo hall.
Overall, I thought it was well and relatively logically organized. Signage was large and plentiful and staff and volunteers were easily identifiable and helpful in giving direction if needed.
Packet/Bib Pick up:
Our first stop was the HP Field House which was where packet pick up was.
It was very well organized and not at all crowded when we were there. The entry level had a bank of computers and printers for those who forgot their race waivers. The Expo floor here had long registration booths along each of the 4 walls for the Full Marathon, Half-Marathon, and 5K. Runner relations and event information also had booths here. We walked right up to the half marathon desk, handed in our waiver, signed our bib out of the book, and were handed our bibs and any pre-ordered commemorative items. We were so excited, we took this photo!
The lower level housed pick up for the 10K, the Goofy Challenge, Dopey Challenge, Goofy/Dopey shirt and gear bag pick up, ChEAR squad, 5k/10K breakfast ticket pick up, a shirt exchange booth, transportation info, runner relations and a commemorative item booth.
There was also an official runDisney merchandise booth here. I was surprised that it wasn’t really crowded at all. It had more generic runDisney merchandise such as car magnets, pins, mini-medals, glassware and runDisney attire. Some race specific items were here but not all of them. Those items were at the bigger runDisney store at the Josten’s Center. I did purchase a few things here that I knew I wanted. They were a WDW Marathon Weekend pint glass, a mini half-marathon medal pin, a small 13.1 mouse ear car magnet and a runDisney Sweaty Band. There were plenty of cash out positions with a long roped queue set up, but there was no line when I was there! In talking with the cashiers they said the lines earlier were very long and it was much more crowded then. Merchandise seemed well-stocked when I was there. There were also great posters of the race courses and iconic runDisney advertisements along the outside of the store booth. We had some fun with them!
Our ChEAR squad members reported their pick ups went smoothly and quickly. They did not receive an official race guide with their items. I thought they should have at least received maps of each of the races with their packets and tips for spectators to help them in their spectating experience.
Race shirt and gEAR bag pick up:
The race shirt pick up for the Dopey and Goofy challenge participants was in the same place as packet pick up which made it easier for them. For everyone else, you had to go to the Josten’s Center to pick up your race shirt and gEAR bag. runDisney provides a very large, clear plastic bag for you to place any items you wish to check at the race bag check into. You MUST use this clear bag. It has a drawstring and I was skeptical of it’s strength but it held up well for my needs. I did hear that some of the challenge runners asked for an extra bag just in case, as they had to use it multiple days. You were also provided with a large sticker for your gEAR bag with the first letter of your last name and your bib # on it for identification.
Upon entering the Josten’s Center we had to walk down the stairs and across the Expo floor to get to our race shirt and gEAR bag. This area was a bit more congested with the 5K and Marathon shirts on one side and the 10K and half shirts on the other. Pick up was quick and easy, but a bit less organized than packet pick up was. I imagine it was a bit of a mob scene when it was more crowded. Just beyond that was a shirt exchange booth if you needed to exchange your official race shirt. They do run a bit small. I was surprised they were long sleeved but I love it.
You were then funneled into the large runDisney Official Merchandise booth. Very clever marketing ploy! This was also well organized with the “I did it” shirts for each race along one wall as soon as you entered and employees available to help with sizing.
There were aisles dedicated to each of the races: 5k, 10K, half marathon, full marathon, Goofy Challenge and Dopey Challenge. There was very little Dopey merchandise available when I was there Wednesday early afternoon and heard several Dopey runners complaining. I’m not sure if it was re-stocked later or not or if there was just not much beyond shirts. I know there are a few Dopey ‘I did it’ shirts available at the Disney Store online currently.
There was also generic runDisney merchandise available, much the same as the smaller store at the HP Field House. I saw a few “my mom ran a __________” T-shirts for kids but with very limited sizes and really just for ‘my mom’ and ‘my dad’. None for my son or my daughter or grandparents which I think is a missed marketing opportunity. My parents totally would have bought a “My daughter ran a Disney half marathon!” shirt and I’m 44!
I purchased my “I did it” shirt, which was very cool as it had the course map on the back, and was quickly checked out. Of note, if you have a magic band, you can use it at the official runDisney Merchandise booths but you cannot use it at any of the other expo vendors. From here, our group split up to do our shopping and agreed to meet a half hour later at a pre-determined spot.
The Expo floor and vendors:
The Expo floor was crowded but manageable. Be sure you bring cash or a credit card as your magic band (if you have one) will not work at non-runDisney vendors. If you studied the map and list of vendors prior to going, it made for easier shopping at the vendors you were interested in. There were some freebies, mostly in the form of snacks like yogurt and fruit bites or energy bar samples. Others offered discounts for purchasing at the Expo or discounts or coupons for free gifts in the iGift bag you are sent with final race instructions.
Some of the vendors included Sweaty Bands, Asics, Raw Threads, Fit 2 Run, One More Mile, Marathon Foto (official race photographer), Lasting Commemoratives, Brooks, Bondi Band, KT tape and many, many more. If you needed any kind of last minute race gear, you could probably find it here, from race nutrition to hydration belts to socks to any kind of running attire. Of course, they want you to impulse buy! I walked around the floor twice. I made a few small purchases but I don’t do well with crowds and had not planned to purchase anything in particular. It was a bit overwhelming. I prefer online shopping and was mindful that I had to bring whatever I purchased home with me!
There was a third set of vendors at the Champion Stadium. This was a less ideal venue as it was outside but under roof cover. Unfortunately, it had a wind tunnel effect of sorts. I think the exhibitors here probably got less foot traffic because they were not as visible and were outdoors. The day we went it was cool and breezy. I’m sure many runners walked right by without even visiting these vendors unless they specifically wanted an item available here. This was also where the kids races packet pickup was located, runner tracking booth was and where Sparkle Athletic, some of the other running organizations, and the Dooney and Bourke items were.
Our chEAR squad members purchased the gold pass. This gave them entry to the special ChEAR squad spectator areas. They had a smooth packet pick up and were provided their chEAR merchandise (stadium blanket, clappers, T-shirt and pass) in a clear runDisney gEAR bag.
We did not attend the speaker series. I heard from others that it was fantastic. My mother attended the Information for Runners and Spectators presentation on Thursday at noon and said it was informative from the spectator perspective. This is one of the things I do wish we had budgeted into our plan. There were some fantastic topics covered related to running in general as well as tips for running the specific Disney races, and they are all free. Next time I will plan to spend more time at the Expo and attend some of the presentations. The runners I talked to that attended them had nothing but good things to say about the various sessions they attended and they all benefited from the experience and recommended it to others. It also affords you the opportunity to meet some of the Run Disney official personalities like Jeff Galloway and Tara Gidus, the Diet Diva.
New Balance Run Disney Shoes:
I heard there was quite a line when the expo opened, mostly for the coveted New Balance runDisney shoes. They can only be purchased at a runDisney Expo and they draw a huge crowd as they tend to sell out fast. Although I did not want the shoes, I heard from others that they essentially created a fastpass system for shoes, giving you a return time to be fitted and to purchase. For some, the return time was several hours later. They had a really cool booth set up with ‘princess’ style seating in the round and plenty of staff. It seems they changed a lot about how these shoes are distributed and had more merchandise available than in previous years as well as multiple styles and sizes including kids sizes. I also heard they ran low on some sizes and styles but got a second shipment in by the 3rd day so most people were able to get the shoes they wanted. We saw people leaving the Expo with multiple pairs of shoes and many people wearing them in the parks and even during their run!
Will call was at the Welcome Center and was where you could pick up any pre-ordered tickets to events related to Marathon Weekend including the Pasta Party, which is what we visited will call for. We had linked our pasta party tickets to our magic bands prior to arriving and unbeknownst to us, that’s all we had to do. If you did not do so or did not have a magic band, you had to get a physical ticket for your event. It was quick and easy.
Overall, the Expo experience was far better and faster than I expected it would be. It was well-organized overall and there were plenty of staff available to help if you had questions. Attending on the first day and mid-afternoon might have had an impact on our experience but most of the people I talked to also had good things to say about the Expo experience no matter when they attended. From what I understand, the Expo was more spread out in multiple buildings this year than it has been in the past and that helped both with crowd control, organization and the overall user experience. I was pleasantly surprised at how easy and efficient it was!
I do wish I had spent more time at the Expo. In hindsight, taking more time to visit all the vendors and see what is available in the world of running as well as taking in some of the speaker series would have been both fun and valuable. In the future, I will definitely plan to do so. See how that works? I said, ‘in the future’. Disney sucked me in! Can’t wait until I can run Disney again!
Kimberly is a 40-something soccer mom who is on a quest to run Disney. She is a Physical Therapist, Reiki Master, and Creator of Meghan’s Hope, a foundation whose goal is to educate the public about the very real danger that a child can be severely injured or killed by falling furniture or televisions and it happens in an instant.
She blogs about her running adventures over at Run Kimmy, Run!