Sunday, November 25, 2012

When I was young, I always wanted to go to Disney at Christmas. I had seen pictures of the Magic Kingdom during the Holidays, and thought being there in person would be the coolest thing ever. The closest I ever came was November of 1988, when I was in Florida to see my Grandpa and Grandma and my Mom and Pop and I went to Lake Buena Vista (now known as Downtown Disney) for an evening. I thought it was awesome! The lights, the music...beautiful! I was in The Bubble at Christmas! Just an evening, but that was it... Until now. Dan and I were down in The Bubble for about a week in November, for the Wine & Dine 1/2 Marathon. We also were fortunate enough to attend Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party.
Does anyone care to join me as I reminisce a little? Ok!
We went the value route this time, and chose Disney's Pop Century Resort. The buildings the rooms are located in are represented by the 50's through the 90's. Disney, of course, went to great lengths in themeing. We happened to be in the 50's building, in which stairways were encased in giant bowling pins, and a table top style jukebox. The pool in our section of the resort was, also, in the shape of a bowling pin and the pool deck was marked like bowling lanes. It was all quite fun! The rooms, being a value resort, were smaller than at the moderate and deluxe resorts, of course, but were still fantastic. They were more than comfortable for the 2 of us, although we did miss having the 2 sinks like they have at moderate and deluxe resorts.
The main building is called the Classic Hall, in which you can find the front desk, gift shop and food court. There were plenty of choices when it came to dining in the food court, and everything looked fantastic and what we did eat was very good. Even though our building was on the edge of the resort, it was only a 3-4 minute walk to the Classic Hall, which was a good thing since I need a constant supply of Diet Coke. Thank goodness for resort mugs, with free refills!
We arrived on a Friday, and since the Disney Wine & Dine 1/2 Marathon was Saturday night we had to attend the race expo at the ESPN Wide World of Sports complex. We got our race packets, authenticated our timing chips, and spent the next 2 hours browsing through the expo. Anything you can imagine you might need for running can be found at a Disney race expo! Even stuff you didn't know you needed! For example, I had no idea that I needed rhinestone charms to put on my running shoes! I needed two, apparently. One is a Wine & Dine 1/2 charm and the other a USMC charm. Both in the shape of a heart, edged in rhinestones. What a difference they made in my run! Not really, but they were cute and shiny.
The expo is also where you can find Official Race Merchandise. T-shirts, sweatshirts, pins, car magnets...great Disney W&D products you can't purchase anywhere else. If you find an item you really like, and you find it in your size, it is always best to buy it right away. Even if you aren't 100% sure you want it. Because by the time you decide you want it, you will either not find it in your size or you will have left the expo. Disney has an excellent return policy, so you can always exchange or return it. Just keep in mind that the Official Race Merchandise can only be purchased at the expo, and a very limited selection at the race after party at EPCOT. The expo is a lot of fun and is very exhausting.
The night of the race, we had to board busses from EPCOT to the ESPN WWOS complex. A Disney race is a huge production. And they do it better than anybody. Amazing organization for a huge event. Once we arrived, we dropped our bags at the bag check, then figured we'd check out the pre-race activities since the race itself started at 10:30. They have a main stage with live entertainment, which is always fun, and lots of loud energetic music. And, most importantly, porta-potties! We spent the next 45 minutes waiting to use one of these wonders of mankind. As usual, we were in line when they made the announcement for runners to go to their assigned corals. Seeing as my assigned corral was K, I was in no hurry to get there. Once there it was a good 40 minutes til I was at the starting line. It was very exciting!! More lively energetic music and the emcee's were really great, as well. Then, the start itself..fireworks and you're off!! There was no lack of entertainment, facilities and support along the race route. At each mile marker there was a time clock and live entertainment, including Disney characters and/or live music. We ran first through Animal Kingdom, which is always amazing at night. I was already in some weird running zone, so I don't remember details, but it was very cool the way the park is lit at night. After exiting Animal Kingdom we ran a couple of miles to the Studios. A lot of that was spent offstage and was pretty awful. There was not much to see, and it was tedious. I did enjoy running down Sunset Boulevard, and up Hollywood Boulevard, though. The park had lots of Christmas decorations up, so it was very pretty. The best part of the Studios was running through the Streets of America and experiencing the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. I was in zombie mode by this point, but once I made that turn onto the Streets of America I was dumbfounded. My draw dropped, that I know. I'd never seen it at night in person. It was beautiful and amazing. Christmas music was playing, lights were twinkling, Tweedle Dee tripped on a was magical. (Don't worry, it was just someone dressed as Tweedle Dee)
We left the Studios and ran past the Boardwalk, the Swan and Dolphin and Yacht & Beach Club. Then, the final stretch...into Epcot we went. I know we entered through an offstage area, but I have no idea what was there...I was back in zombie mode. I do clearly remember the ginormous crowds of people lining the way as we ran through Future World. They were cheering so loud and they were 10 deep on either side. It was really quite emotional. Especially when I realized they were only there because they couldn't cross the race course and were waiting for us to get past! I'm not sure when I started crying. Was it when I realized one of my Disney dreams was coming true, and I was about to finish my first Disney 1/2 Marathon? Was it when I saw the amazing "light tunnel" I had to run through to get to the finish line? Was it when it occurred to me that the chaffing on my thighs was finally going to stop? Or was it when I knew I had 2 free beers waiting on me after I finished? Regardless, I was very emotional (I think it was the beer). I saw the finish line up ahead. I heard the emcee's announcing the names of the runners as they crossed they finish line. Then I saw Dan and the look on his face told me he was so proud of what I'd accomplished. As I crossed the finish line I was amazed at what I'd done, too. And as the medal was placed around my neck I was a blubbering mess. But at least I didn't throw up, like some others had obviously done. So, that was in my favor. I was also thrilled that I didn't have to run anymore! Although, I did have to walk, and that was quite a chore in itself.
The After Party at EPCOT was, shall we say, crowded? It was ridiculous. We were able to attend since we ran, but we didn't stay. So back to the room we went to shower and sleep. After all, it was only 3:30 am. We didn't do much at all Sunday. Dan felt great (of course), but my feet hurt.
Our next event was Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party. This was our first time having an opportunity to attend this event, and we were excited to see it snowing on Main Street! This party was really amazing. The snow on Main Street was really magical! Being from Chicago, snow is nothing new, but this was Disney snow!! It was all so beautiful...truly beautiful. Having been to Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party 8 times, we knew the big draw, for us, was going to be the parade and fireworks. We went on a few rides, then got a spot in Liberty Square for the parade. We had no idea what to expect in this parade, and even if we had it wouldn't have made any difference. This parade was just incredible! One thing about these parades is that characters you may not see anyplace else take part. Jiminy Cricket, Clarabelle Cow...other than a parade, you rarely see them! The highlight of the parade were the dancing toy soldiers. They marched and danced with such precision. I can't imagine the practice time put into their routine. It was excellent. After the parade we staked out a spot to watch the fireworks. As wonderful as they were, I didn't think they were really anything spectacular. Having seen Hallo-Wishes numerous times, they couldn't compare. Regardless, they were beautiful and would love to see them again!
Also, in the Magic Kingdom, we finally got to see the Castle lighting ceremony. I've seen video's of this, and it brings tears to my eyes. But seeing it in person left me speechless. The Castle is draped in lights, that make it look like colored ice. It was really impressive, to say the least.
We were fortunate enough to witness some Disney Magic in the making. Many of the resorts were going through their transformation into Christmas wonderlands. We happened to walk into the Wilderness Lodge as they were putting up their magnificent Christmas tree. This all happens overnight. You go to bed with your resort being it's normal beautiful self. Then you wake up the next morning to find everything transformed into Christmas! We saw this happening at the Lodge, Pop Century & Art of Animation. It is quite something to see. Nobody does Christmas quite like Disney!
If you like gingerbread, Disney is the place to be at Christmas. It's everywhere! In the Contemporary there was a wonderful display with a gingerbread Christmas tree. In the lobby of the Grand Floridian is a gingerbread house that, once complete, becomes a little shop where you can buy gingerbread! We watched the "construction" of this fantastic house. There were about 8 pastry chefs working on it all at once, and one was even using a lift to work on the roof! The entire house is made of gingerbread, chocolate, sugar flowers & white confection. It is really quite amazing.
We experienced and saw and ate so much more on this trip, than what I've shared here. But I think I'll share more later on other happenings!
Sadly, at some point, every trip to The Bubble has to end. I am never happy when this happens, and every trip it gets harder to leave. The morning of our last day I was in the lobby area of our resort and a little girl was laying on the floor screaming and crying. Her parents were just standing there watching her, not doing anything. I thought, "How do you let this happen? Take her outside." When I found out she was having a meltdown because they were leaving, I joined her.
No matter how many times I have been to The Bubble, it is never something I take for granted. I never know if I will be able to come back, and if so, when. Every trip we discover something new, or we are re-discovering something. The Bubble is always changing, so it never gets or dull.
Next time we will look at some things that have changed, or are new (think, Fantasyland). I hope this hasn't bored you too much, and you come back!
Keep moving Forward!

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