I’m not shy about how much I LOVE spectators at races. They are always such a huge help in getting through those tough miles. runDisney spectators have the added option of purchasing ChEAR Squad tickets for an extra special experience. I’m excited to have Stacy back on RAD (check out her post on the Family Reunion Breakfast!) to give us the low down on being a part of the ChEAR Squad!
Originally I was planning to be a participant in the Disney Half Marathon but had to defer due to unexpected foot surgery. My husband was still registered to run, so I decided if I was going to be a spectator I was going to do it “right.” I purchased the Platinum Cheer Squad package so that I would be sure to have a place to sit (and be off my foot) at the finish line as well as an easy place (the race retreat) to meet my husband once he finished.
Picking up my Cheer Squad gear at the Expo was simple. There was a separate pick-up counter that had no line when I arrived. Included with the Platinum Cheer Squad package were a t-shirt, a Mickey “clapper” and a folded blanket with a handle. I was also provided with a wristband for entrance into the race retreat.
Having done this race many times, I went into it very familiar with the course and the various vantage points for spectators. I mapped out my “plan” the night before the race and decided to hit the Magic Kingdom as my first viewing location. The park opened to spectators at 5:30 a.m. I was surprised just how busy it was when I arrived around 5:20 a.m. I felt like I was arriving for a day in the park with crowds flooding in the gates, yet it was hours before the park was due to open. Once in the Magic Kingdom you can line up anywhere along Main Street and near the castle. I was told there would be a separate Cheer Squad area, but no one seemed to know where this area was located. I asked several Disney employees who just told me “all the viewing was on Main Street” and didn’t know anything about a separate viewing area for those that purchased the Cheer Squad. I was planning to watch with a friend anyway, so I had really just wanted to find the area to evaluate it for this review. After spending about ten minutes looking, I gave up and joined my friend who was standing on the left side of Main Street, right on the bridge approaching the castle. We felt like we had an outstanding viewpoint. I am still not sure where I was “supposed” to be, but can’t imagine it was much better than where we were located.
After seeing my husband pass by, I decided to hustle and see if I could catch him again at the Polynesian. This viewing point was marked as being for “guests of the Polynesian” but I had asked at the Information Booth at the expo and was told that anyone could go there. The viewing location at the Magic Kingdom is only a little over 2 miles before the Polynesian, so depending on the pace of your runner, this location change is tough. From the Magic Kingdom I boarded the resort monorail and headed to Polynesian. I arrived with about 5 minutes to spare and was able to surprise my husband who didn’t expect to see me again until the finish line.
A lot of people seemed to use the Polynesian as a stop to grab a quick snack or cup of coffee since you have a decent amount of time (again, depending on the pace of your runner) before needing to be at the finish line. It seemed like some families had even conveniently booked a character breakfast there while waiting for their runner! The Polynesian is at approximately mile seven, so what you do while there depends largely upon how quickly “your” runner will complete those last six miles. From the Polynesian it was very easy to hop back on the monorail and head over to Epcot.
Once I got to Epcot, I realized I had plenty of time before my husband’s expected finish time. After exiting the monorails, most people veered to the left toward finish line. I decided to head to the right and try to catch him one more time just before mile 12. This is near the area where the trams go outside of Epcot. For those of you familiar with the course, this is just at the bottom of the overpass “hill” every runner dreads, so it was a great place to encourage your runner!
After that point, I had to hurry over to the finish line area. I had heard the Cheer Squad had its own entrance, but this was not the case. You still had to go though the same entrance to the finish line as everyone else. I feel confident this was because of the bag check tables, but it seems that with the upcharge for the Cheer Squad they could put another baggage check area at a separate entrance. I found this to be only a minor inconvenience, but there were a lot of Cheer Squad people that were very vocal in their complaints about this.
I was actually extremely disappointed with the location of the Cheer Squad bleachers. They were located just BEFORE the finish line, which made it impossible to get a “finish line photo” of your runner. There were actually better located bleachers for “free” spectators. However, the “free” bleachers were completely full. There was not a seat to be found, and I am guessing the people who had prime seats were there hours earlier to save their place. If you are planning to spectate and ONLY stay at the finish line, I think the free viewing would be more than sufficient. The Cheer Squad was nice for someone viewing like myself that wanted to show up at the last minute and still find a seat. If you are choosing a seat in the bleachers, I would suggest NOT choosing a seat in the first few rows. Spectators line up all along the fence, obstructing the view for those in the first few rows.
The Cheer Squad bleacher section had “private” porta-potties, a drink station (coffee, tea and water) and two tables with signs and lots of markers to help cheer your runner on.
Once my husband finished, I headed into the race retreat. The race retreat was located in a large climate-controlled tent. There was a breakfast buffet, beverage stations, “private” porta-potty and changing areas and a character meet and greet. Platinum Cheer Squad members can enter the race retreat anytime after 5:30 a.m. — in other words, immediately after the race begins and the last of the runners has exited. This feature alone could make it worthwhile for some. If you have small children or members of your group that are not mobile and do not plan to race all over the World to spectate, this would be a GREAT place to hang out until near the time when “your” runner will finish.
Stacy is an avid runner and fan of all things Disney, but especially runDisney! She has has participated in eleven runDisney events over the past several years. She is the co-author of a fitness blog, http://fitfemmes.wordpress.com