Honest Recap: What It Was Like to Visit Disney World in 2020

A pre-post note: I don’t need to reference the latest COVID-19 statistics to convey how severe the situation is globally. Many would consider theme parks in Orlando operating to be a controversial issue, and back in July, I was one of them. After a few days at Disney in early December, I can say I believe they’re doing everything possible to protect Cast Members and keep visitors safe. To put things in perspective, I felt safer at Disney, with all of their restrictions, than I have in grocery stores, shops and even takeaway restaurants across Ireland, as well as in Georgia and Pennsylvania. All this to say, the below post is a recap of my experience, and only that. In no way am I encouraging unnecessary travel at present- especially with holiday surges in COVID cases and the emergence of a more transmissible virus strain.

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When Disney re-opened its parks in Florida, I recall exclaiming, What are they thinking? Cases are rising in Florida and the rest of the States, how can they operate safely with crowds?!

With the divineness of the past year felt across everything from racial injustices, to elections in the US, to how to handle a deadly global pandemic, I’ve been working hard to understand the opinions of others before reacting. And, so, even though Disney’s decision to re-open in July cued anxious thoughts, I sat back, watched and listened to those with first hand experience.

Back in July, I was comforted to hear the same level of skepticism in potential to operate safely from the Disney pod hosts I listen to monthly. They too, said they weren’t in a rush to get back to the parks given COVID concerns, but were curious to better understand how Disney had planned re-opening with safety at the forefront.

At this point, I should confess I’m not a huge Disney fan, but my mom and sister are. In service to my mom’s passion for all things Disney, we’ve been on more family vacations to the parks than I can remember off-top. While I usually enjoy visiting Disney- especially as an adult when the agenda is more laid back- my sister is the one who inherited my mom’s love for Disney magic. Even when the parks re-opened, I wasn’t considering visiting Disney in 2020. Back in the summer, I assumed my next visit to House of Mouse would be when RunDisney races resume.

As the weeks went on, no reports of ‘super-spreader’ events were traced back to Disney. Everything I heard from online personalities who visited, as well as from friends in Florida who ventured to the parks was overwhelmingly positive- everyone felt Disney was taking safety seriously.

Still, I was skeptical. I questioned if the parks being open encouraged travel during a time when people should be restricting movement, and how entering a space with thousands of people could be done safely, especially in the US where adherence to pandemic guidelines varies widely.

Over the course of 2020, I, like most of the world, began to figure out how to adapt to the ‘new normal’. With a job that fortunately could be done remotely and the ability to have groceries delivered, I still sought to figure out how to travel safely around Ireland (when permitted), and went on regular walks to support local cafes and small businesses. Staying home indefinitely may be the ‘safest option’, but it simply isn’t possible for a majority of Americans (and others around the world).

My guiding rule?
As long as I could wear a mask, keep my distance from others and sanitise, I felt okay. Throughout the entire pandemic, I’ve erred on the side of caution- spending most of my time at home, avoiding indoor dining and travel outside of Ireland to other parts of Europe even when permitted, and routinely consult news from varying sources to pin together advice from multiple experts.

In September, I started discussing returning to the States for the month of December with my family. With annual leave banked, plus the ability to work from another country for a couple weeks, we worked out a plan that would allow me to ‘isolate’ with my sister and her boyfriend (both healthcare workers with regular, potential exposure to COVID) for a few weeks before driving north (Georgia to Pennsylvania) to spend time with my parents.

Around the time of figuring out logistics for an end of year visit, my sister and her boyfriend (who live three hours from Orlando) drove down to Disney for a weekend. Their reports echoed everything I’d heard and read- they acknowledged visiting wasn’t a necessity for them, but treated it as a calculated risk. Visiting on a Saturday in October they did everything in their power to remain safe- masks, distancing, no indoor dining, sanitising, and limiting exposure to others where possible pre/post trip. Both reported they felt safer visiting Disney than they do in the healthcare systems they navigate daily, because of Disney’s strict adherence to safety precautions and forced visitor compliance.

Planning to fly into Orlando from Dublin, we decided to pencil in an early December visit to Disney. The plan, so to speak, would be for me to arrive a week in advance and stay at a hotel where I could order coffee and food via UberEats, and be close enough to walk to a Walgreens. We bought tickets and reserved park days, but discussed the possibility of cancelling if any of us became ill.

Fortunately, all went to plan and we came back from Disney COVID free. I’ll share a bit more below about what to expect and my thoughts on visiting the parks, but I do think it’s important to express even though we had a positive experience, I wouldn’t advise planning a vacation just to visit Disney, flying there, and counting on being well enough to visit the parks.

Part of the reason we formed our plan was the flexibility associated with it. The reason I flew back to the States wasn’t to visit Disney- two days in the parks just happened to be something I did as part of coming back for a few weeks. We knew there was financial risk with cancelling our park days if needed and were okay with that trade-off.

Opinions will differ, but I don’t think I’d be willing to take the same health or financial risks if I were planning a holiday to Disney from somewhere in the States- e.g. a quick trip, where the sole purpose was visiting Disney World. There’s so much to consider- what if you don’t feel well upon landing? what if you need medical care while in Orlando, will your provider cover hospitals in that network? what if you’re unable to visit the parks as planned and you’ve paid for a week’s worth of activity?, and so on.

For me, it’s just not worth it for a quick trip just to ‘go on vacation’. We knew the risks we were taking- I obsessively checked the New York Times incidence rate tracker in the weeks leading up to our trip- and planned ways to take care of ourselves, and ensure we were doing our part to keep others safe.

The final thing I’ll note before I get into other tidbits- I felt safer during the time I spent on Disney property than I have in any other situation in the States or Ireland. Disney isn’t messing around when it comes to observing safety precautions- so much so, that I genuinely believe if other businesses took operating cues from Disney, transmission rates would look a lot more hopeful.

What You Need to Know About Visiting Disney During COVID

I’ll reiterate here- I’m not advising making a trip to Disney before a vaccine has been readily rolled out. I’m simply sharing my experience for those interested or seeking to understand a bit more about how Disney is operating during this time.

  • First things first, attendance caps are in place. At the time of writing, attendance is capped at 35% of each park’s capacity. Even visiting during the beginning of the holiday season, the parks were no where near as crowded as prior visits in early December.
  • Temperature checks are required to enter the parks and Disney Springs- anyone with a temperature above 100.4 F will require additional screening and may be denied entry.
  • Disney is strict in face mask compliance and specific in what kind of mask must be worn– masks must be made of at least two layers of breathable material, fit snugly against the side of your face and under your chin, and be secured with ties or ear loops that fully cover your nose and mouth. Masks must be worn at all times, unless eating/drinking and stationary. They’re even required for photos. During my two days in the parks, Cast Members had no issue reminding visitors the necessity to comply with this rule. Was absolutely everyone in compliance? No, but I’d estimate 99% were, and for the handful of visitors who weren’t, I kept my distance and let a Cast Member handle.
  • Attraction queues are primarily distanced and outside, which makes some seem a bit longer than they are, since they tend to wrap around places. In queue areas that are partially enclosed or inside, plexiglass has been installed to limit exposure to surrounding parties.
  • Social distance floor markings, signs and barriers are present throughout the parks.
  • Hand sanitiser is available throughout the parks, as well as before and after all ride entrances/exits.
  • Reservations are required to enter the parks, and must be made in advance.
  • Many restaurants, especially QuickService ones, are operating on a mobile ordering system through the My Disney Experience app, which helps with crowd flow and dining queues.
  • Cleaning frequency for rides and public spaces has been increased throughout the day.

Nearly everyone I encountered during my two days in the parks complied with Disney’s safety restrictions. Of course, there will always be people who try to push the limits, which is why Disney makes it well known anyone refusing to comply will be removed from the parks.

A few times I had to remind people to keep their distance in queues, but that was more so because judging which marker you’re heading to can be challenging if the line moves a lot. In fact, whenever I asked people to step back and respect a minimum of six feet, most quickly apologised.

There were only two incidents that I’d class as ‘less than ideal’ during my two days in the parks, and neither left me feeling like my safety was at risk.

First incident: In a queue for a ride in Animal Kingdom, we hung back as the line moved because we could see the floor markings alternated rows to ensure six feet of distance on all sides. If you’re not paying attention though, that kind of detail can be easy to miss, and honestly, I’d rather Disney just install plexiglass than try to do this kind of ride distancing, because it is somewhat confusing. When we didn’t move up in this one instance, a group of people behind us started complaining that we were being ridiculous, that the distancing didn’t matter and we should just move up. We simply told them we were following the ride distancing markers to keep ourselves and others safe.

Second incident: The other questionable incident was at the Magic Kingdom, where I watched a Cast Member ask a mom to pull up face masks on her children (looked to be ages 4 and 6). The Cast Member was respectful in her request, which the mom completely ignored. After the Cast Member tried asking several times, she went directly to the children (they were about 30 feet away from the mom, posing for a photo), and at this point, the mom went ballistic, screaming at the Cast Member the mask mandate was ridiculous thing to ask of children. Thankfully, the grandmother was nearby and intervened to fix the children’s masks, before encouraging the mom to move on. This entire exchange took place in the proximity of dozens of other families and their young children- all of whom were in compliance. I know asking children to comply is tough, but it’s not impossible, and it’s certainly not required to visit Disney during this time.

Aside from those instances, nothing really raised an eyebrow. There were a few instances of people with masks below their noses at times, but Cast Members were always nearby to ask them to comply. A few times in Animal Kingdom, we even witnessed Cast Members patrolling with megaphones, reminding people of the rules and calling out anyone not in adherence.

What to Keep in Mind During a Disney Visit During COVID

Beyond Disney’s restrictions, there are a few other things to keep in mind if you’re going to be visiting Disney before COVID is fully behind us.

There’s risk in visiting: This much should be obvious, but with COVID spreading uncontrollably in the States, that’s reason enough to rethink a visit to Disney (or anywhere) right now. I felt safer on Disney property than I have during weekly grocery store runs, but there’s risk nonetheless.

Some experiences may be missing: Loads of people have written about missing the Magic Kingdom’s fireworks, as well as character meet and greets, but for us, neither was a significant trade-off to visiting.

Dining options will be limited if you’re avoiding indoor dining: For me, indoor dining is a non-starter- transmission rates have shown to be much higher, and it’s not a risk I’m willing to take. And, if outdoor dining isn’t appropriately distanced, I’m not comfortable with that either. We tried to eat before/after peak times so that outdoor spaces would be less crowded.

Wearing a face mask all day can be uncomfortable: The Florida heat is nothing to shrug off. We were lucky with milder temps during our days in Orlando, but wearing a mask all day in 90 F heat sounds pretty damn unpleasant to me. Whether it’s hot or not, bring extra masks so you can swap in fresh ones, or have back-ups if your mask breaks.

Bring your own sanitising spray and wipes: Yes, there’s hand san everywhere, but sometimes it’ll be empty while Disney works to refill it. And, I’d rather have guaranteed / instant access to my own than rely on finding a station nearby.

There are no FastPasses: Queues for some attractions are unbelievably short, and others feel nearly as long as if you were visiting pre-pandemic. We were in the parks to enjoy the holiday decor and atmosphere, so the wait times didn’t bother us, but if you’re visiting Disney for the first time or trying to ride a lot of attractions, now likely isn’t the best time for efficiency.

Visiting Magic Kingdom, I arrived around ~10:30 am and left around ~7 pm to avoid crowd swell at park opening/closing. At MK, I rode seven rides and caught a few character cavalcades, plus visited a few shops. Wait times for the rides I went on, based on starting a timer at the beginning of the queue until getting on the ride itself:

  • Space Mountain: 20 minutes
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad: 20 minutes
  • Haunted Mansion: 10 minutes
  • Jungle Cruise: 50 minutes
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: 45 minutes
  • Mickey’s PhilharMagic: 25 minutes
  • Carousel of Progress: No wait

And, during our day in Animal Kingdom, we arrived at 11 am and left around 7 pm. As we recall, wait times were:

  • Na’vi River Journey: 50 minutes
  • Avatar Flight of Passage: 60 minutes
  • Kilimanjero Safaris: 15 minutes
  • It’s a Bug’s Life: 25 minutes
  • Dinosaur: 15 minutes
  • Expedition Everest broke mid-afternoon so we were unable to ride

By and large, wait times were less than what was posted outside the attraction- sometimes by 20+ minutes, and sometimes only by 5-10 minutes. If a queue was too long, I simply tried again another time later in the day- another bonus of visiting Disney as an adult and having the flexibility to just wander the parks.

In terms of park crowds, it should be no surprise Animal Kingdom felt far less populated than Magic Kingdom. I visited Magic Kingdom on a Friday, and although I didn’t feel unsafe, I also had moments of having to mindfully avoid crowds and re-position myself. Our day in Animal Kingdom was much chiller- there were far fewer people in the park, so observing distance was a lot easier. We were even able to relax while enjoying frozen peppermint mochas and holiday treats in a tucked away, back corner of Africa.

In terms of transit to/from the parks, we felt fine using the buses- there are dividers between seat groups, open windows, and parties are seated with distance in mind. Twice, we called Ubers to help save time in getting to/from the parks since we had to route through Disney Springs and walk to our hotel.

What About Disney Springs?

We stayed in the The Wyndham at Lake Buena Vista, which is a quick five minute walk to Disney Springs.

Why the Wyndham? Nightly rates were affordable, and it’s conveniently located adjacent to the Springs. It was our first time staying there, and we loved it. It’s on Disney property, so their COVID restrictions are fully enforced. There’s a Joffrey’s in the lobby, plus great snack and drink options at a small shop. And, it’s super easy to have UberEats from any of the nearby restaurants (Chipotle, Panera, Starbucks, etc.) delivered to the lobby.

With our hotel so near the Springs, I visited three times during my week on property. Once to visit on my own mid-week, roaming around stores, and leaving with treats from Amorette’s Patisserie to enjoy in my hotel room.

Another time with my sister so she could pop in a few shops and get takeaway from Chicken Guy.

And, one more time early Sunday morning for an outdoor brunch at Wine Bar George. We brunched early (10:30 am) because we wanted to eat before a lot of people showed up, and because we had to travel back to Georgia early afternoon.

As we expected, the Springs were more crowded on the weekend- so much so that, if that was the only time I’d visited, I don’t think it’d be worth it. My mid-week visit was my favourite because there were far fewer people, so everything felt calmer, safer and more enjoyable.

If you’ve made it this far, I usually hope my posts inspire a bit of trip planning for future travel. With this one, I’m less aiming for inspiring trips to Disney in the near-term, and more sharing my experience, because COVID isn’t going away anytime soon, and I believe 2021 is going to bring more instances of businesses and countries adapting to the ‘new normal’ while we wait to move beyond in entirety.

Whether you’ll visit Disney later this year or it takes you longer to venture to the ‘happiest place on earth’, I hope your next trip is full of magic- we all need some these days.

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The Most Magical Time to Wear Ears: Christmas at Disney

Isn’t the saying, ‘Dis the season? 😉

In all seriousness, spending a magical time of the year, the holiday season, at the most magical place on earth is incredible. House of Mouse spares no detail when it comes to decor- it’s stunning- and with so many special events and delicious treats at the parks, Christmas at Disney is the best kind of indulgence.

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Every year, there are new treats, shows and events, and plenty of bloggers who cover every detail- Google ‘Disney World at Christmas’ to see what I mean. This post isn’t a step-by-step guide for enjoying Disney at the holidays. Instead, I’m sharing my favourite bits from our two week trip in 2017/2018.

I’d been to Disney in the lead-up and post-holiday season a few times over the years for runDisney races in November and mid-January. But, I hadn’t been to the parks in the midst of peak holiday season since my sophomore year of uni.

I couldn’t have been more excited to spend almost two weeks with my family at Disney last year. Instead of flying to Pittsburgh, my mom planned the trip of a lifetime for all of us at Walt Disney World.

We spent most days at the parks, which meant we had at least 2 days in each park. Since we weren’t in a rush to see everything in one day each time we visited a park, our visit felt fairly relaxed. Of the two days we didn’t go into the parks, we spent one at Disney Springs / relaxing at the hotel, and on the other one, my parents visited resorts while my sister and I went to Target. Ah Target, something I never thought I’d be so excited to go to until I moved abroad.

We wanted to soak up as much park time as possible, so we opted to stay on property, but at a ‘value’ resort- All Star Sports. I’ve stayed at the All Star resorts many times for races and always have a great experience.

Generally, the rooms are spacious, and I appreciate the trails that connect all of the resorts- perfect for morning runs and walks. They’re designated value because they’re ‘no frills’ in comparison to some of Disney’s more luxe properties, like Animal Kingdom Lodge, the Yacht Club or the Polynesian. More families also tend to stay at them because of the convertible room options- our room had two bathrooms, a master bed, kitchen, and huge living room which included a sofa bed and sleeper chair. Value resorts are a great option if you want to be on property, but not dole out an insane amount of money (Disney’s expensive enough as it is ;)).

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By the way, if you’re a Disney novice, the biggest benefit to staying on property is your ability to use the park’s shuttle system- by far, the easiest way to get from hotel to park or even park to park.

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One more thing before we get to the parks: If you decide to stay on property during the holidays, bring a few things from home with you to make the experience more enjoyable.

Think: Favourite holiday treats for the room, wine/beer/drinks you enjoy, holiday lights to decorate with, and Christmas crackers to pop outside. Even the simplest touches in the room ensure every part of your stay is magical. If you fly to Orlando and can’t bring food/drink with you, Disney has a grocery order service partnership that delivers to its hotels.

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At the Parks + Hotels

Epcot

Perhaps my favourite park during the holidays, the World Showcase puts on quite a show.

Each country is decked out for the holidays with storytellers, decor and special touches. It’s fun to learn about traditions around the world while roaming the park. As part of the International Festival of the Holidays, each country also has its own festive tipples and bites, a few of our favourites:

-Mexico: Not quite the picture of Christmas, but margaritas are no less delicious!
-Germany: Don’t miss the cider flight or gluhwein (mulled wine). The fondue is also cheesy deliciousness
-America: Giant turkey legs and firenog (fireball and eggnog)
-France: Mickey Macarons and a sweet cranberry Grand Marnier cocktail
-Morocco: Hot moroccan mint tea in the Tangerine Cafe for warming up
-United Kingdom: Hot applejack cider (mulled cider with whisky and spices)

Throughout the park, there’s fun garden art, and a dazzling tree at the beginning of the World Showcase.

One thing that can’t be missed: the Candlelight Processional, a retelling of the Christmas story by a celebrity narrator along with a choir and live orchestra- exceptional.

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We chose to spend New Year’s Eve in Epcot, and after an excellent dinner at Canada’s Le Cellier Steakhouse, watched the fireworks over the lake. Before we settled in to wait for the show, we walked around the showcase, take note: Italy does a rockin’ party 😉

While we waited for the fireworks to start, we sipped on pints from the UK and cocktails from France. The fireworks show in Epcot is amazing, we found our view in front of the UK/Canada to be a great vantage point for the entire performance.

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Magic Kingdom

While I appreciate the seasonal offerings of Epcot, it’s hard to argue anywhere is more decked out and ready for the holidays than the Magic Kingdom.

Don’t miss a walk down Main Street USA, watching the Christmas parade (we stopped to see it a few times- never gets old!), or the nightly firework show, Wishes.

Pop in the bakeries to ogle the festive treats, enjoy a cinnamon roll shaped like Mickey’s ears, and if you’re looking for an extra special treat Christmas morning- head to Starbucks (the line moves quickly, promise) for a fun frappuccino.

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The New Year’s Show at the Magic Kingdom is said to be one of the best, but also most crowded, fireworks displays in the world.

Pro tip: On the 30th, they run the same show to practise. We watched the first show on the 30th, and could not believe how incredible it was. If we weren’t also keen on seeing Epcot’s show, I would have definitely returned to see it a second time on New Year’s Eve. If you’re skeptical of how good it is, I’ll say this: 360 fireworks- seriously, they’re happening all around your head. Actual magic.

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Animal Kingdom

With seasonal decor throughout the park, including a Goofy Santa in Dinoland, AK is a joy to wander through at the holidays. It’s not as traditional Christmas as the other parks, but if you keep an eye out, you’ll notice wreaths in Africa and festive touches in Asia. Because Animal Kingdom is open late night, it’s less decorated and with fewer holiday shows than the other parks.

Not specific to the holidays, but beautiful nonetheless, the River of Light show in the evening is gorgeous.

And, if you’re looking for a fun tipple while in the park, try the dole whip with dark rum or cocktails from the Nomad Lounge.

PS. The Flight of Passage avatar show in Pandora is unmissable. Make sure you book this ahead of time on a FastPass so you definitely get to experience it.

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Hollywood Studios

Whilst the Osborne Spectacle of Dancing Lights are no more, there are plenty of other holiday touches in the park to warrant a visit.

Indulge in the hot chocolate flight (or mini martini flight if that’s more your style), grab festive photos with characters, and take in Sunset Season’s Greetings show- a projection of vignettes from some of Disney’s top films, along with lasers, tunes and a flurry of snow. Anywhere on Sunset Boulevard will be the perfect spot to take in the action.

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Disney Springs

Just like the parks, you’ll find tons of festive fun at Disney Springs. Better yet, Disney Springs is free to enter. There’s no shortage of shopping and dining to be done, but don’t miss the tree trail – each tree is decorated to fit a fun theme.

And, treat wise, Sprinkles has delicious seasonal cupcakes, and Goofy’s Candy Kitchen is seriously well stocked for every craving you could have. Sunset drinks at The Boathouse are always special, but feel even more so when the Old Fashioned has a holiday touch.

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Hotels

If you find yourself in need of a break from the parks, consider resort hopping. All of the resorts are decked out in gorgeous holiday decor this time of the year-.

Short on time? Take the monorail from Magic Kingdom to see three resorts in one go.

Starting at the Contemporary, grab a churro cupcake at the Contempo Cafe. Then, head onwards to the Grand Floridian to see a giant gingerbread house that’s also serving up frozen hot chocolate. Interested in a different kind of drink? Head upstairs to the lounge to enjoy an espresso martini whilst listening to jazz. When we visited, they were playing Christmas songs, the epitome of lovely.

And, finish out your monorail crawl with a stop at the Polynesian. Holiday decor here has a tropical spin to it. In need of a drink? Head to what I believe to be Walt Disney World’s best bar, Trader Sam’s for a tiki inspired tipple.

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One more thing to note…

Disney during the holiday season means intense crowds. All of December is significantly more crowded than any other time of year, but especially during the week between Christmas and New Year’s.

We found the crowds a bit tough to navigate at times, but had no real complaints. After wall, despite all the crowds, we were spending the holidays in the happiest place on earth.

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Have you ever been to Disney World during the holiday season? What was your favourite part of your visit? 

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#Take12Trips: February

I know February is a short month, but it seems like it flew by in no time. I’d originally planed on doing a day trip to Oxford in between my return from Edinburgh and a trip to the States at the end of the month, but, you know, life happens.

The good news though? I had time to explore more of London on the weekends I stayed here, and was still able to fly to Orlando for a weekend in the sunshine.

I grew up loving Disney, and while I enjoy spending time in the parks, I’m by no means a fanatic. However, I was super excited to return to Walt Disney World for a weekend to run one of my favorite races, the Disney Princess half marathon.

Some people may think dressing in character and running around Disney is silly, but as Walt said, “That’s the real trouble with the world. Too many people grow up.”

Plus, the best reason to do a Disney race? Visiting the parks afterwards!

Running a Disney race is unlike a typical road race. They’re about the experience, not going for a PR. I’ve done a quite a few Disney races and can honestly say this Disney race is my favorite.

The course goes through the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, and there may be a lot of highway in between, but there’s also a lot of spirit from other runners and Disney’s entertainment. Also, I loooove that so many people dress up as the different princesses for this event. If you think running 13 miles is the furtherest thing from fun, but are kind of interested in trying to do a half marathon, this is the race for you. It’s the perfect experience for half marathoners who aren’t super serious runners [read: me 😉 ].

PS. My 10 tips for running a Disney race

On this trip to Disney, we took it easy- spent a few days exploring the other resorts, the new sections of Disney Springs, and relaxing. We only went to the parks one day, and chose to spend our time at Animal Kingdom and in Epcot.

One of the things I love about Disney as an adult is checking out the drink scene. Especially in the World Showcase, some of the options are so fun and practically scream, vacation.

It’s looking like my family will be spending the holidays at Disney this year, already excited to be back in this magical place in a few months.

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My travel plans for the year aren’t fully planned, but here’s what I’m thinking so far for #Take12Trips:

  • January: Moved to London (!!!), weekend trip to Edinburgh, Scotland
  • February: Weekend in Orlando and Disney World for the Princess Half Marathon 
  • March: A brief return to Austin and couple of days in Marfa, Texas, day trip to Oxford, and weekend in Paris
  • April: Weekend trips to Stockholm/Gothenburg, and Milan/Venice (praise hands for bank holidays)
  • May: Week in Asia, visiting Hong Kong & Tokyo, possibly a day trip somewhere in the UK (Bath, Cambridge)
  • June: Weekend in Barcelona, possibly a day trip somewhere in the UK (Brighton)
  • July: Cartagena, Colombia to officiate a wedding and Seattle for a bachelorette party / bridal shower
  • August: TBD, thinking a weekend in Oslo, Prague, or Zurich/Geneva, and considering spending the bank holiday at the end of the month in the Faroe Islands, gallivanting around Greece, or on a return to southern Italy
  • September: Vancouver and Seattle for a wedding
  • October:  TBD, potentially weekend trips for a race in Lisbon, and planning on running a marathon in Dublin at the end of the month
  • November: TBD, likely a weekend trip somewhere reachable with a short flight, or a weekend in the English countryside
  • December: Weekend trip to Germany to visit a Christmas market, return to the States for a wedding in Philadelphia, then likely a quick jaunt to Mexico City for a bachelorette before heading to Orlando to celebrate the holidays with my family in the sunshine

WHAT IS #TAKE12TRIPS?

#Take12Trips in 2017 is a continuation of the only resolution I made in 2016- a promise to commit to doing something once a month. Anything counts- it can be dinner at a new place, visiting a new museum or spending the weekend at a cute B&B in the country. It doesn’t need to be an epic trip to a foreign country, just the chance to discover something new.

How about you? Are you planning any trips this year that you’re excited about?

10 Of My Favorite US Cities

With a move to London on the horizon, I’m growing increasingly excited to live in another country and see as much of the UK and Europe as possible during my time there.

I’ve done a lot traveling around the US the past few years, and will definitely miss the breadth and diversity of cities across the country. I say it all the time, but travel doesn’t have to be expensive or far flung- so many places in America are the perfect (affordable!) destinations for a long weekend.

10 Of My Favorite US Cities

Seattle

When I hear the “Emerald City,” a few things come to mind: Quirky music and art, the great outdoors, first-rate local produce, and, of course, adventure. Every time I visit Seattle, I’m reminded of how eclectic of a city it is.

Having visited the Pacific Northwest many times, I’ve had the chance to explore a lot of Seattle’s neighborhoods, and because I know a lot of people automatically think “Space Needle” whenever they hear “Seattle,” I’ve put together a list of my favorite places to go in the city, as well as my must-sees for Pike Place Market.

Between the food, the music and the shops, you can’t go wrong spending a few days in Seattle. And, it’s close enough to Portland, Victoria, B.C., and Vancouver to warrant spending more than a weekend in this part of the country.

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Los Angeles

Every time I visit the Golden State, I fall a little bit more in love with the land of laid back. It’s a refreshing break from the East Coast- palm trees, sunshine and warm weather year-round, what more could you ask for?

Contrary to what many people may think, LA is not just Hollywood. During most of my trips to LA, I’ve stayed in Santa Monica or Venice to get my fill of beach vibes. And, if you head outside of the main areas, Malibu, Palm Springs, Joshua Tree State Park, and even Disneyland are great places to kickback and unwind while soaking up some sunshine.

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Austin

I haven’t written about Austin yet for this blog, but after living there for a few months a couple of years ago, I fell hard for the city. Known as the live music capital of the world, Austin is all about seriously good eats, strong drinks, great beats and being outside. It’s the only place I’ve ever been where people applaud sunsets.

One of the best parts about Austin? It’s compact enough to see and do a ton of stuff during the shortest of trips. I’m planning on spending a few days here as part of a visit back to the US in early March. Already excited to discover how much the city has changed since I’ve been there, and revisit a few of my favorite spots.

NYC

After calling New York City home for over six years, it’s really tough for me to imagine settling down anywhere else. Even though I (and many New Yorkers) have a serious love-hate relationship with the city, it’s a place brimming with energy morning, noon and night- you can’t help but feel so alive when you’re here.

Aside from never-ending options of things to do, I also love how walkable New York is, and even though I complain about subway delays, the public transit system really is top notch. There’s no question this city is somewhere everyone should visit at least once in their life.

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Miami

In Florida, they salt margaritas not sidewalks. My first time in Miami was during a particularly brutal February in the northeast, but it’s the perfect escape any time of the year.

With stunning beaches, a bustling art scene, great food and nightlife, and some seriously cool art deco architecture, there’s no shortage of things to do in Miami. And, because I know a lot of people think of the South Beach party scene when Miami comes up, I haven’t spent much time there, and have still loved every trip I’ve taken to the city. Although, I love a good night out, I’ve spent more time in Wynwood, Little Havana and Key Biscayne.

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Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World conjures up images of kids in strollers, characters roaming the parks and a lot of mouse shaped things. And, sure enough, as soon as you walk into the parks, you feel like a kid again- you’re excited to get your picture taken with Pluto, wait in line for Space Mountain, and buy a pair of sparkly mouse ears because, magic.

Disney may be extra special for kids, but I’ve come to appreciate it more as an adult through vacations and runDisney events. One of the best parts of visiting Disney as an adult? Seeking out the best spots to grab a drink when you need a break from the magic madness.

Whatever your reasons for visiting Disney, you have to appreciate the attention to detail everywhere from the resorts to the parks- it’s truly astounding. And yes, I recognize Disney isn’t technically a city, but it sure is big enough with enough to do to warrant a spot on this list.

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New Orleans

New Orleans is a city bursting at the seams with Caribbean vibes and Cajun attitude.

In Nola, it’s all about the details. Strings of beads are draped on cast-iron balconies year-round, an assortment of cultures, and live music bring Bourbon Street to life. There’s savory beignets for breakfast and steamed crawfish for dinner. It’s the perfect place to spend a long weekend.

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Charleston

Charleston is the epitome of Southern charm. Quaint streets lined with sprawling, pastel homes and palm trees. Some of the nicest people I’ve ever met. And, seriously good eats.

After spending a long weekend in downtown Charleston, I realized nothing is truer than this statement: north is a direction, south is a lifestyle.

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San Francisco & Napa and Sonoma

San Francisco is the kind of city that never gets old, no matter how many times you visit, because there’s always something new to do or explore. Having been to San Francisco a few times, I have my go-to recos for things to do or see, but also have a slew of things I still want to do on return trips.

Located on a peninsula surrounded by water, San Francisco’s climate is mild year-round, although summers tend to be on the cool side. If the weather is a bit chilly during your visit, and you’re in the mood for warmer temps, plus some wine, head an hour north to Napa and Sonoma.

My first visit to wine country felt intimidating- so many wineries! According to Lonely Planet, there are over 600 wineries in Napa and Sonoma Counties. But it’s quality, not quantity, that sets the region apart – especially in Napa, which competes with France and doubles as an outpost of San Francisco’s top-end culinary scene. Sonoma prides itself on agricultural diversity, with you-pick-em orchards and roadside fruit stands.

Fortunately, one of my girlfriends has grown to love wine as much as me, and every year we plan a weekend back to the region. Rolling hills, blue skies and vineyards as far as the eye can see make California’s wine country a relaxing and fun weekend getaway.

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Portland

If you like to shop and eat, Portland is the town for you. Usually, when I’m in the PNW, it’s to visit Seattle, so I haven’t spent as much time in Portland as I’d like. If you’re visiting for the weekend, get ready for days filled with walking all over the city, popping into shops and eating and drinking all of the delicious things.

And, like in Seattle, just outside the city, there are a lot of outdoorsy activities to do, including hiking the Oneota Gorge. Off I-84 near Mulnomah Falls outside of Portland, Oregon, the Oneonta Gorge is one of those bucket list natural wonders- you kind of have to see it to believe it.

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Chicago

The third largest city in the US (by population) is known by a multitude of nicknames- The Windy City, the Second City, the City of Broad Shoulders- and for good reason. There’s a lot to do in Chicago, from cultural gems like the Art Institute to exploring the city’s booming food scene.

If you’re only visiting for a weekend, it’s impossible to do everything, but there are some things that shouldn’t be skipped over. It’s been a while since I’ve been to Chicago, but I’m hoping I’ll be able to spend a few days becoming reacquainted with the city on a return trip to the US- already excited to revisit a few of my favorite places and check out some new restaurants and bars that have popped.

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Honorable Mentions to: Denver, Savannah, Pittsburgh and San Diego.

On my list of cities to visit on return trips to the US over the next few years?

  • St. George, Utah
  • Phoenix and Scottsdale, Arizona
  • Marfa, Texas
  • Billings, Montana (aka Big Sky Country)
  • Portland, Maine
  • Nashville, TN (I’ve only been there once for a conference)
  • Oahu, Hawaii

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Where to Drink in Disney World

Walt Disney World conjures up images of kids in strollers, characters roaming the parks and a lot of mouse shaped things. And, sure enough, as soon as you walk into the parks, you feel like a kid again- you’re excited to get your picture taken with Pluto, wait in line for Space Mountain, and buy a pair of sparkly mouse ears because, magic.

Disney may be extra special for kids, but I’ve come to appreciate it more as an adult through vacations and runDisney events. One of the best parts of visiting Disney as an adult? Seeking out the best spots to grab a drink when you need a break from the magic madness.

Note about Disney Drinking: Most vendors cater to American taste preference (read: sweet, frozen). Drinking in Disney is nothing like ordering a cocktail made by a mixologist in New York, it’s a different experience that’s fun in its own right.

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Favorite drinks at Walt Disney World

Resorts

  • Polynesian Village: Trader Sam’s & Tambu Lounge
    • Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto: Easily the best bar at WDW, Trader Sam’s is a tiki bar tucked in the back of the Polynesian resort. It’s a little speakeasy-esque, a wooden door hides a dark, tropical paradise. The drinks are strong, the servers are always cracking jokes, singing or dancing, and the walls are covered in tchotckes, many of which are animated. Order a Shrunken Zombie head and sit back to take it all in- coming here is like watching a show

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  • Tambu Lounge: If you’re staying at the Polynesian or doing a monorail bar crawl, the Lapu Lapu is a fun drink to order at this lounge on the second floor of the resort. If you’re a Disney fan, you’ve probably seen photos of it before, it’s a rum and tropical fruit juice drink served in a fresh pineapple

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  • Animal Kingdom Lodge: If you’re staying at AKL or visiting to dine at Boma, enjoy a taste of South African wines at Victoria’s Falls Lounge. The lounge overlooks Boma and lets you take your wine to the nearby fire pit if you want a more low-key drinking environment
    • Bonus tip: Jiko offers a wine tasting every Wednesday, where you can sample South African wines and complimentary cheeses. I haven’t had a chance to do this on any of my trips yet, but I’ve heard it’s a great experience 
  • Yacht Club: The Ale & Compass Lounge is great for a beer, glass of wine or chocolate martini. Their food also rules- the tomato, basil, mozzarella sandwich is so good
  • The Boardwalk: Jellyrolls is a fun spot for late nights if you’re staying at any of the resorts in the Boardwalk area (Boardwalk, Yacht Club, Beach Club, Dolphin & Swan). It’s a dueling piano bar with a cover charge and average drink menu. Definitely more about the experience than enjoying a good drink
  • The Grand Floridan: Mizner’s Lounge
    • A live orchestra playing nostalgic tunes and some seriously good martinis, what more could you ask for?

Parks

Hollywood Studios

There aren’t a lot of standout drink options in Hollywood Studios. If you’re really craving a drink, you can grab a beer, glass of wine or frozen drink at many of the food stalls throughout the park. 

  • Peevy’s Polar Pipeline: If you’re looking for a quick drink, Peevy’s (a quick service stand near echo lake) has a pretty good frozen coke and rum slush
  • Hollywood Brown Derby: No need to dine at the restaurant to have a martini or margarita flight in the adjacent lounge. In my opinion, this is the best option for enjoying a drink in Hollywood Studios

 

Magic Kingdom

  • Be Our Guest is the only restaurant in the Magic Kingdom that serves alcohol, and even then, it’s only offered at dinner. I’d skip having a drink with dinner and just hop on the monorail after you’re done at the park for the day to enjoy a great cocktail at Trader Sam’s in the Polynesian

 

Animal Kingdom

  • Dawa Bar: The Watermelon mimosa, African Bloody Mary and African margarita (with tangerine liquor) are all good choices. This outpost is right next to Tusker House Restaurant and close to Festival of the Lion King, which means you can grab a drink after reveling in the show

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  • Tamu Tamu: Dole whip fans, order yours with dark rum here
  • Harambe Market: The orange rum slush is a refreshing treat on a hot day

 

Disney Springs

  • Jock Lindsay’s Hanger Bar: Fun, aviation/Indiana Jones themed lounge with unique cocktails. Recommend trying the Cool Headed Monkey or Bedtime Story
  • The Boathouse: Order off the martini menu at this waterside restaurant, sit back and watch the vintage amphicars float by outside. If you’re eating here, the wedge salad, lobster mac ‘n cheese and baked Alaska are solid choices
  • Raglan Road: Authentic Irish food and Irish dancers for entertainment. On our last visit, I ordered the Iced Irish and Portobello Beauty- both were fantastic
  • Dockside Margaritas: Handcrafted margarita outpost
  • Morimoto Asia: Head to the rooftop for a Japanese inspired cocktail- love the ones made with sake

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Epcot’s World Showcase

I’d recommend starting your journey around the world in Mexico. The drink options are better on this side of the Showcase and worth enjoying before you have a few in you 😉

  • Mexico: Don’t waste your time getting a margarita at the quick service stand, head inside the pavilion to La Cava del Tequila for specialty margaritas and a tequila flight. The blood orange and pineapple margaritas were our favorites

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  • Norway: The cart outside of the restrooms and the bakery offer Danish Carlsberg beer and a Scandinavian liquor called Linie Aquavit Glacier, which is served by the shot. As someone who enjoys spirits more than beer, I’d gravitate toward the shot- it’s flavored with herbs and tastes a bit like licorice
  • China: The Joy of Tea booth offers specialty cocktails, which are all pretty sweet. We tried the Canto Loopy (cantaloupe juice and vodka), Green Tea Plum Slush, and Tipsy Ducks In Love (which tasted like chocolate cake and a lot of bourbon). Next time, I’d probably go for the Canto Loopy since it’s a little less complicated than other options
  • Germany: In addition to solid German beers to choose from, the Wine Cellar shop has a nice selection of German wines and offers wine and cheese tastings

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  • Italy: Head to the Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar to try a flight of Italian wines. Other drink options in Italy I’d recommend: Capri Natura Lemon Liqueur or Villa Marzia Limoncello
  • America: I’m not a beer drinker so I skipped America, but with the addition of Block & Hans, you can try craft beers from around the country
  • Japan: Get the plum wine at the Kabuki CafĂŠ stand or opt for the sake tasting inside the pavilion to try three different kinds of sake
  • Morocoo: We didn’t stop here, but trust me- we made up for it with how many drinks we had in France. I’ve heard Morocco used to be limited in terms of drink choices, but that changed when Spice Road Table opened. If you’re stopping here, try the sangria
  • France: You have to try the Grand Marnier Orange slush. Is it sweet? Yes. Is it served in a plastic martini glass from a kiosk? Yes. Is it touristy? Yes. But, ultimately is the drink delicious? Yes. It’s so good, we ordered several of them
  • United Kingdom: The Rose & Crown pub offers a lovely selection of British beers. I’m always a fan of Strongbow on tap, but the Cider & Dark (Strongbow with a shot of Crème de Cassis) was delicious. Another drink not to be missed here is the Snake Bite (Guinness and Strongbow layered)
    • Bonus tip: Grab a spot for IllumiNations outside of the UK- it’s the perfect spot to watch the show
  • Canada: We skipped this country in favor of a second drink at the UK. Canada really only offers one cart that sells beer, so its drinking appeal is limited if you’re not visiting during the Wine and Dine Festival

What are your favorite drinks at Disney World?

And remember- if you do decide to drink while in the happiest place on earth, try to be mindful of those on family vacations and enjoy responsibly.

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#Take12Trips: January

The first month of 2016 saw me spending a lot of time in Florida, so I’d say we’re off to a good start. 😉

Kicked off the New Year by spending a few days in Orlando with some friends from college. It was a great, low-key weekend spent relaxing, walking around lakes, playing golf, and visiting wineries. Even though I’ve been to Disney and Universal numerous times, I haven’t spent much time in the actual city of Orlando. It was cool to see more of the city on this trip.

My favorite place we went was outside of city proper in Winter Park, Florida. Credo is a cute and colorful not-for-profit coffee shop. Pay-what-you-wish drink profits are used to support Guatemalan farmers. Loved spent an afternoon working at this place, would definitely recommend checking it out if you’re in the area.

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After spending a few days with friends, I headed to Disney World for a week long vacation with my family. More to come on that, including my favorite places to drink and eat in Walt Disney World 🙂

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Yale’s do Disney

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Grand Marnier slush at France 🙂

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Racecation! Family vibes after Donald Duck, Daisy Duck, Goofy, Mickey Mouse & Minnie Mouse finished the Walt Disney World 10k

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So happy Disney decided to extend the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights!

After our vacation ended, I headed back to NYC for two weeks. Then, again at the end of the month, I traveled back to Disney World to spend a weekend with my mom. Because we’d just spent a week in the parks, I used this trip to spend time at some of Disney’s great hotels, including the Yacht Club, the Beach Club, the Boardwalk and The Swan & Dolphin.

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Vacation treat for lunch at Beaches ‘n Cream

Wading in our hotel’s sand bottom pool, relaxing in big, white rocking chairs on the back porch and soaking up Florida sunshine was a nice reprieve from the city. I’ll never complain about the chance to take a trip somewhere warm in the middle of winter.

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Now, in February, I don’t have any plans to leave New York until the second week of March when I visit Charleston on a weekend trip. I’m looking forward to resting and gearing up for a travel-filled spring. This month, I’m ‘traveling’ to Astoria, Queens to check out some local favorites that’ve been on my “Explore To-Do” list for quite awhile.

Weekend Getaway: Miami

In Florida, they salt margaritas not sidewalks. As winter settles in, it’s only natural for north-easterners to dream about a sunny getaway. After this weekend’s massive winter storm, I’m reminiscing of a weekend trip to Miami last February.

Albeit I wasn’t in Miami for long, it was the perfect escape.

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On my trip, we stayed with a friend in Brickell. Even though we were on vacation, we woke up both mornings to watch the sun rise- over Brickell Bay one day, and then on South Beach the next morning.

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Aside from one morning in South Beach, I haven’t spent much time there. Although, I love a good night out, I wanted to check-out Wynwood Art District and Little Havana as well.

If you do find yourself in South Beach, highly recommend having migas beachside at the Front Porch Cafe. Tip: We watched the sunrise on the beach and then headed to Front Porch for breakfast as soon as they opened to avoid crowds. After breakfast, we walked down Ocean Drive and admired the Art Deco architecture.

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20 minutes from South Beach, the Wynwood Art District is an eclectic neighborhood, home to over 70 galleries, museums and collections. This part of Miami felt comparable to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, e.g., art mecca with trendy eateries and cocktail bars.

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My favorite part of Wynwood are the Wynwood Walls, created in 2009. Artists from around the world have contributed to the Wynwood Walls, making it a must-see collection.

The idea for Wynwood Walls started as a community revitalizer, taking a large stack of warehouse buildings, all with no windows, and turning them into a canvas for the greatest street art ever seen.

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If you visit Wynwood during the day, grab a refreshing, healthy juice at Jugofresh or swing by Panther Coffee for ultra-strong and ultra-delicious coffee. The outdoor, tree-shaded seating at Panther makes it a good place to rest for a few minutes if you’ve been wandering all over Wynwood. If you’re hungry while you’re in the area, stop-by Coyo Taco for a quick and tasty meal.

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Another part of Miami I’d like to explore more on a return trip is Little Havana. We only had one evening in Little Havana, so we stuck to Calle Ocho, the main street, full of shops and restaurants.

The area is called Little Havana because of its strong Cuban concentration. We’d heard parking would be a problem since the streets aren’t wide enough to accommodate current-day traffic in the area, but didn’t have a problem finding a space on a Sunday night. Walking is definitely the best way to experience this area.

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We’d heard Ball & Chain, a watering hole whose roots go back to the Depression era, was a great way to experience local music while enjoying a drink. We didn’t stay late enough to see the live acts set-up, but I’d definitely come back here on a return trip. Would recommend trying the Bananita Daiquiri or Jam Session. Tip: Come here first for the 2-for-1 happy hour, leave for dinner and then come back later in the night to enjoy live music.

After drinks, we had dinner at El Exquisito. Everything we tried at this family-owned Cuban restaurant was good, but I particularly enjoyed the cajun shrimp and sweet fried plantains.

And, while you’re in the area, don’t forget to check out Domino Park– it’s usually bustling with activity.

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Bonus Tip: Although it can be hard to find time on a short trip, the beaches in Key Biscayne are worth a visit. Not only are they quieter than South Beach, but the number of palm trees alone will make you feel like you’re on a tropical island.

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24 Hours in Key West

On a winter weekend getaway to Miami, we set aside two days to drive down to Key West. Travel time aside, we had roughly 24 hours to enjoy this laid-back island city.

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The drive to Key West is beautiful and while it’s understandable if you’re eager to get to Key West and want to minimize stops, I recommend stopping at the cutest tiki bar (Holiday Isle, rumored location of Kokomo) on Islamorada. Nothing like a good rumrunner to make you feel like you’re really in the Keys.

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Once you make it to Key West, a few must do’s:

  • Walk Duval Street
  • Visit Hemingway’s House
  • Savor key lime pie at Kermit’s (seriously, so good!)
  • Relax at Fort Zachary State Park
  • Check out the Southernmost part of the United States (yes, it’s touristy, but still a fun photo opp)
  • Rent a bike to explore the island (biking Key West is an ideal way to see as much of the island as possible if your stay is short)

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When the sun begins to set, head to Mallory Square for the nightly sunset celebration. Each night, dozens of people line up on the pier to watch the sun set, cheering when it finally sinks into the skyline.

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End your day by grabbing at drink on (or near) Duval Street at:

In the morning, begin your day with breakfast al fresco with the roosters at Blue Heaven, the most darling island spot. The pineapple pancakes are to-die-for, and you can’t leave without having a slice of sky-high key lime pie.

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If you’re visiting the Keys for beach time, I’d recommend driving 40 minutes outside of Key West to Bahia Honda State Park on Big Pine Key. Secluded white sand beaches, crystal-clear turquoise water and fewer crowds make it a great place to relax for a few hours before leaving the Keys.Screen Shot 2016-02-08 at 5.20.55 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-08 at 5.21.04 PMScreen Shot 2016-02-08 at 5.20.11 PM

Tips for Running a Disney Race

Some people may think dressing in character and running around Disney is silly, but as Walt said, “That’s the real trouble with the world. Too many people grow up.”

Plus, the best reason to do a Disney race? Visiting the parks afterwards!

Running a Disney race is unlike a typical road race. I’ve done quite a few Disney races and can tell you first hand, they’re all about the experience.

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How Disney races I’ve run have stacked up for me: 

  • Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend: I did the 10k and half marathon in 2016, and ran the full marathon in 2014. The marathon experience was great and served as a catalyst for me getting back into running Disney events. However, while I liked these races, they didn’t hold the same magic as my favorite runDisney event does- the Princess Half
  • Tinkerbell Half Marathon Weekend: Held on Mother’s Day in 2015, I enjoyed running  with other runners dressed as princesses or fairies. However, I did enjoy the 2014 Disneyland Half Marathon course more- it felt like we were in the parks longer and we ran through the Angels stadium. Overall, I’m hesitant to do another Disney race in California because travel costs are higher than in Florida (cross-country plane ticket, fewer resort/hotel options, crowding more people into a smaller space, etc.)
  • Disneyland Half Marathon Weekend: Ran the half in August 2014 and really enjoyed the experience. Loved the course at the time, not sure if it’s still the same, but there’s also something to be said for the level of support from the town of Anaheim- really motivating!
  • Wine & Dine Half Marathon Weekend: I did this race in 2015 when severe weather cut the course short by 6 miles and resulted in some pretty frustrating organization issues. While we didn’t get to run the half distance, the after-party at the Wine & Dine Food Festival was still a lot of fun. I’d give this race another chance- it feels less “Disney” than some of the other themed runs, but it’s fun in its own way. And, you can’t beat a race that ends with wine and food bites from around the world!
  • Princess Half Marathon Weekend: After running the half marathon for the first time in 2012, doing the Glass Slipper Challenge in 2015, and running the half again in 2017, I can honestly say this Disney race is my favorite. The course goes through the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, and there may be a lot of highway in between, but there’s also a lot of spirit from other runners and Disney’s entertainment. Also, I loooove that so many people dress up as the different princesses for this event (including men in tutus!)
  • The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10 Miler: Sadly this nighttime run through Walt Disney World, ending in Hollywood Studios with a villain themed after-party is no longer offered. If it was, I’d definitely recommend doing it- I ran it in 2014 and loved the experience
  • The Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend & Disneyland Paris Half Marathon are both on my list of races I’d like to do in the next two years

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Tips for Running a Disney Race:

  1. Choosing to run a Disney race is really about expectation setting. When you look at runDisney’s site, it’s easy to get caught up in what your experience will be like: Pictures of runners high-fiving characters, confetti tossed at the finish line. The truth: Unless you’re the first to finish, it’s going to be just like any other race finish, and there will likely be lines to take a photo with characters. Don’t expect it to be a perfect experience. Go into it with the mindset of having fun.
  2. Plan early, entry feels go on sale 6-8 months before the races and usually sell out within hours or days. The Disneyland Half Marathon weekend sold out in a single day, and the Princess Half Marathon has been known to sell out in hours. Registration fees are also pricey, so start saving early.
  3. Most Disney races start early (5 am), so I recommend staying at a host resort or a good neighbor hotel the night before the race. WDW provides buses to the start line/from the finish line back to the hotel, so it’s one less thing you need to worry about. At my first Disney race, I stayed with friends in Orlando and tried driving to the start. My friends live 20 minutes from Disney and we sat in traffic for almost 2 hours on the way there.
  4. Whether it’s your first race or ninth, take advantage of the training plans Disney offers.
  5. If you’re flying, pack your running gear in a carry-on bag so you have it when you land.
  6. Since Disney races start so early, it’s often chilly at the start line. Bring warm clothes (garbage bags work well) to take off when you start running. Disney donates clothes left behind to charity.
  7. Experience is what sets a Disney race apart. Yes, you’ll likely pay a lot of money in registration and travel fees (not to mention cost for hotels or time spent in the parks), but the expos are some of the best I’ve ever attended, the medals are beautiful and t-shirts are top quality. There’s also great on-course entertainment, and something to be said for the level of organization throughout (it’s top-notch).
  8. Wear a costume or at least a fun running outfit. Trust me, everyone runs in tutus or dressed as characters. Pinterest is go-to for inspiration, but I like this Etsy shop for ordering character skirts, this Etsy shop for custom mouse ears, and this store for wings/sparkling skirts.
  9. Try to get to the expo on the first day it’s open. They’re great expos, but usually pretty crowded and official race merchandise sells out quickly.
  10. If you’re checking a bag at the race, dry socks and a shirt change can make the post-race experience much more enjoyable (especially if you’re running one of the nighttime races and going to the after-party).
  11. Take pictures with the course characters. Make sure you have your phone and camera ready, stay charged throughout the race with a back-up battery.
  12. Spend some time at the finish line– Disney provides water, Powerade and a box of snacks. There are also fun photo opps with characters.
  13. More so than at other races, Disney runners are so encouraging. My first half marathon was the Disney Princess half in 2012. Around mile 9, I just wanted to sit down and give up. The runners around me wouldn’t let that happen. Even though I didn’t know any of them, they challenged me to run with them when I slowed to a walk.
  14. Don’t forget your confidence. When in doubt, I always tell myself: The voice in your head that says you can’t do this is a LIAR.
  15. Obviously, you’ll be bringing a photo ID and running clothes/shoes, but there are a few other things I bring to every race: energy gels (obsessed with these salted caramel gels); hydration belt; mini foam roller; headphones, sunscreen, chapstick; flip flops to change into post-race.