Friday, November 20, 2020

A Review of WDW During a Pandemic

 We just returned from a week at the most Magical Place on Earth. This trip was planned for Wine and Dine Half Marathon Weekend, which was just another canceled race weekend. Even though the race went virtual, I opted to get the full refund but run the races on property anyway. How many times have I said, "I run for the bling." Apparently I'm a liar and truly just run because I love it.

 So many people have asked, "How was it?" that I figured the best way to get all the nitty, gritty details out was to pop up a blog post. In short, it was great, we felt safe, and I'd definitely recommend it if you are a WDW fan. (But let's be real, you came here for the long version, so here we go!)

We flew American Airlines with one connection each way. AA has not reduced their capacity as some other airlines have, and our flights were surprisingly full. We take up a whole row, so for our immediate surroundings it didn't make much difference. They were very strict with the mask mandate and did not do drink/snack service (though you could ask for some if you wanted it). We found the plane and airports to be very clean and well stocked with soap and sanitizer. "Wash your hands." and "Here's some hand sanitizer." was definitely a theme of our trip! The kids did great and we had little complications on the way there (home was rough, as we missed our connection due to a delayed first leg). 

We rented a car for the trip. With two little ones, free parking with our annual passes, and reading about so many long lines for transportation, this was a great solution! I loved driving to the parks everyday, leaving our stroller in the car, and mask-free transportation time. The only downside was having to lug our carseats along for the trip, but once we were there, all was good. We booked using and got a great deal (this was actually our only real expense of the trip--we kept it very cheap).

We stayed at Hilton Lake Buena Vista Palace. There were small differences, like sealed rooms and remotes after cleaning, to show that they have taken some increased precautions when cleaning (definitely not a bad thing). They also did not have their breakfast buffet open, which meant we had a daily $30 credit for grab and go breakfast. It worked great for the whole trip, and that money pretty much fed all 4 of us each day. 

Onto Disney World! If you aren't aware, they have temporarily suspended park-hopping. Instead, you can visit one park per day and you must reserve the park in advance. We had our first 3 days reserved (that's the limit when you don't stay on property, but have annual passes). We were able to add each additional day after park closing of the day we used. The only time we had a small hiccup was trying to change an Epcot day to a Magic Kingdom day. It eventually worked, but we had to wait for others to change their plans since MK was full. 

Dining has also changed, and personally, I think it's for the better. You can reserve table service dining 60 days in advance (down from 120), and mobile ordering is highly encouraged for all quick service locations. We did mobile ordering every time and it was the BEST! I was able to use gift cards and rewards dollars to pay for every meal, we ordered what we wanted, waited a very short time, and there was always a place to sit after we picked up our meal (since they were controlling who could come in and sit--no saving seats and people bringing their own food taking tables). I found it very easy to navigate on MDE. For table service, you also were able to check in on MDE, which limited any crowding at the front of restaurants. All in all, the dining changes were awesome and only impacted us positively!

Of course, most of you go to Disney to ride the rides, right? Overall, the wait times were longer than expected, but not terrible. They felt much shorter due to all the spacing/distancing. This meant we never really stopped moving, except when the ride closed for routine cleaning. With no Fast Pass service, we actually didn't waste time zipping around from end to end of the park. The longest we waited was 70 minutes for Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway (and spoiler alert: it was worth it!). There were a few rides that were walk-on, especially early in the day, but overall we did everything we wanted, repeating our favorites often.

The masks. Everyone wants to know about the masks. Yes, you have to wear them. No, you can't get around it. Seriously. If you're going, just be aware that unless you're sitting and eating, masks stay on. There are "relaxation zones" that are designated places to take them off, as well. This also means all of your pictures will be masked. Walking around outside will be masked. If this gives you pause, I highly suggest you wait until these mandates are changed. Also, just an FYI, Orange County, FL has a mask mandate for the whole county. Nothing changed off-property; masks everywhere.

Disney has done a great job of cleaning and providing lots of opportunities for guests to do the same. There is hand sanitizer everywhere! I actually hope they keep this! We got ourselves into the habit of using it before and after every ride. We washed our hands often, but especially before eating. Cast members cleaned tables after each party, spraying and leaving the disinfectant on for a minute, then coming back to wipe it down. They wiped down chairs, poles, handrails, EVERYTHING on a regular basis. Disney, which was already clean, was even cleaner! 

The characters popped up throughout the park and interacted with guests from afar. We got a few quick picutres, but our favorite memory was Joy playing imaginary "catch" with Ryan. He was mesmerized, and knew exactly how to throw it back. It was in that moment where everything felt so normal. The pop-up calvalcades were great! We saw princesses, the fab 5, Christmas characters, and even Santa. With no nighttime shows, we just scooted out of the parks a little early and got ready for our next day. Yes, we missed some of our favorite shows, but there was a lot to do without them.

Overall it was a great experience. I definitely felt safer at WDW than when going to my grocery store. They did it right, and I have confidence that they will stay open as we continue to battle this pandemic. With all the changes, this may not be the best time to visit for a first visit, but if you frequent Disney Parks, I think you'll enjoy some of the little extras and coming home to the magic!

What questions do you have? Did I leave anything out? I'd be happy to answer them!

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Dopey Training: Month 2 Review

 As I write this, we are 19 weeks from the start of the Dopey Challenge. It's nearing the end of August and quaratine fatigue is still running strong, no pun intended. August started out pretty weak for me, honestly. With this being the first month of reduced unemployment, we have had even more stress as Bill still hasn't found full time work. I've been working nights and early mornings, making short bursts of 3-4 hours of sleep followed by a small nap a regular occurance. No, none of these things are directly related to running, but it all contributes to high stress and my overall health being out of whack.

August wasn't all a wash, though. We got our family registered for Star Wars (thanks to the refund of the Wine and Dine races). Robby will be running his first 5k, and he's so excited. We actually have to stop talking about it, because for a 4 year old, the concept of time and patience is a little troublesome! I had some good quality speedwork this month and some cooler temps have made for some better runs. Maybe most exciting is the opening of the gym on August 27th! Even though we are keeping classes outside for a while and have to wear masks when inside, this is at least some progress. My gym family is truly like family and I love sharing my passion for fitness at Sportsplex. Seriously, if you're ever in NY, stop by! It's a great place to workout!

August was also the start of the Strong Nation Challenge. If you've been following any of my social media, you know I've been posting themes, workouts, and the guide to this contest. Honestly, it's all about connecting people and getting them moving, more than any challenge or prize. The prize is commiting to all parts of your health for 6 weeks. Week one was strength, which is the easy part for me. Now it's onto thinging like Yoga, mindfulness, stretching. All things I need to be better at!

Let's get to some running numbers. Runners are inherntly data geeks, and I've had a lot of fun tracking my progress during this training cycle. 

Total miles in August: 85.2

Average pace: 11:25 minutes/mile

Missed workouts: 1 (only counting running for this one, I missed a lot of cross training)

Sunday, August 23, 2020

How We Saved Thousands on Our Disney Trip (seriously)

If you're a regular follower, you know we love to go to Disney, and we go A LOT! Definitely more than the average person. We are not millionaires (far from it); we have a mortgage, a car payment, and all those other pesky bills, just like everyone else. We think, though, that we also do a pretty good job of keeping our travel expenses down, which affords us the opportunity to see the world (in this case, the Disney World). We try to take advantage of every deal possible, and we're always looking for more ways to save. 

I finally sat down and started to look at how we are saving money on our upcoming November trip. I hope this gives you some ideas to spark your own savings and make your family's Disney dreams come true!

We are flying from our small, local airport to Orlando. This definitely is a huge benefit for convenience, since we can have family easily drop us off, saving on parking. The flights cost us $41.60 for taxes that cannot be waived. We paid the rest with airline points. We also upgraded our seats to the extra leg room seats for free. Now that we are flying with 4 paid seats (Ryan is 2), we opted for coach, but we do get to fly first class often for free, as well. We saved over a thousand dollars on our flights.

How to save: Bill is an Executive Platinum level frequent flyer with American Airlines. We also have the AA credit card. We use this card strategically, since it actually has the least "value" when it comes to points, but we work with what gives the most points. American Airlines also recently partnered with Jet Blue, so we are looking forward to more affordable flight options, should we need to pay for some with points and some with cash. This is definitely one place that knowing your brands and being brand loyal pays off. 

For this trip, we are staying at the Hilton in Disney Springs. It is right across the street from the Marketplace, and has a fairly nice pool, free transportation to Disney parks, restaurants on site, and even a character breakfast option on Sundays. (Note, as of now, character breakfast is suspended, as are all character meetups due to Covid-19) For this trip, we are paying $0 for the hotel, which saved us over a thousand dollars! 

How to save: We are Hilton Honors rewards memebers and have a Hilton American Express credit card. We are fortunate that Bill travels a lot for work, so he amasses a large number of points for being brand loyal when traveling. For example, he gets 8x points on any Hilton stay. He is also a Diamond member, which further benefits us with free breakfast daily, bottled water, and free upgrades when they are available. We always book the cheapest room, but almost always get some sort of upgrade when we check in. 

Getting a deal on Disney tickets is tricky, but this year we opted to get annual passes. We have 7 trips planned, so this was definitely the way to go. We have had passes in the past, and usually opt to take a few years off in between. We stack as many trips as possible into the pass year to get our Disney fix, then take a little time away from the parks. The whole year would have been before Ryan turned 3, thus giving us his trips for free, but thanks to Covid, we will have to get him a ticket for our last 2 trips.

How to save: Being part of Disney groups on social media saved us big on this one! The day Disney increased their annual pass prices last year, Sam's Club had a limited amount of passes at the old price. We saved $808.38 on the 3 passes. As an added bonus, I also got our Sam's Club membership for free by redeeming an offer for free food coupons and a gift card after joining. Always search for coupon codes! Don't forget that having a pass also gives us Memory Maker for free. That's another $169 saved on this trip (and each trip we go on this year). 


I will definitely update this part when our trip is over, but our plan is simple: use our Disney Chase Visa and Annual Pass discounts as much as possible and pay using Disney Gift Cards and Chase Rewards. The discount is generally 10% at any eatery that offers a discount (and I always ask). We are heading down with over $1300 in gift cards and points. Most of that amount is "free money" for us, but we do occassionally purchase discounted gift cards when the deal is good to save a little more.

How to save: Let's start simple--the Disney Chase Visa is a great card if you are a Disney lover and use it right! Like I said above, I take the time to read the fine print and find a balance of getting the most rewards from each card. I always check for offers on the Visa, for example this month and next, we are getting 5% back on gas and groceries. That's way more than any other card, so Disney it is! There are also a few extra perks, like special photo opportunities, discounts, and exclusive events. I always check right before our trip and note what special things we can do. 

Disney gift cards can be a little trickier. First and foremost, we always ask family for gift cards for gifts. It makes it easy on them, and they know we love it! I also use a free survey/ad app called Dabbl. When you earn points, you can redeem them for Disney gift cards (they have other brands as well, but I always get Disney). I've earned over $50 through Dabbl-ing when I'm waiting around, in the car (as a passenger), or just scrolling on my phone. You can download the app HERE, and we both get extra points! This isn't life changing money, but I figure it's one more meal that's covered.

Most people know the Sam's Club/Costco/Target hack of buying gift cards at a discount. You can save 3-5% everyday. I actually have never done that, because it just didn't seem worth it. Instead, I wait until Christmas shopping season. Target always has one weekend where gift cards are 10% off with your red card, including Disney. I scoop those up! Our local grocery store (ShopRite if you're in the NY/NJ area) also does great gift card deals around the holidays. I can usually get a couple hundred in gift cards at 20% off. Stack on some credit card rewards and you really save a good amount!

As I post this, we still need to decide on transportation. We are leaning towards renting a car for the trip. Of course, we will save as much as possible, but we are budgeting a few hundred for that purpose. With Covid concerns and convenience, renting a car feels the most comfortable at the moment (and bonus, we have free parking with our annual passes). I will also be sure to track our spending during the trip to get a final number.

At this point, we have saved OVER $4,500 on this trip! The nerd in me really wants to figure out the exact number, so stay tuned for part 2 coming in November. 

I'd love to hear how you save on Disney! What hacks do you use? 

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Speed Work Makes the Dream Work

 If you've been following along on Instagram or even somewhat here on the blog, you've seen I've added some targetted speed work sessions in my weekly plan. "Speed work" is a phrase you'll hear a lot when people talk about training plans, and it really encompasses all the mid-week workouts where you put in effort to work on speed. This can be accomplished in many ways, so I thought I'd dive into the two workouts I've been focused on in my modified run/walk/run plan.

First, to be clear, this is not part of Jeff Galloway's plan as he prescribes it on the runDisney site. He does not specify differences in effort or speed. In fact, other than length and the magic mile, his plans are very "get out there and run" focused. This is one of the reasons I take his run/walk/run theory but apply my own training plan. I like to have specific focuses for each run. 

Right now, I'm running 3 days per week with no back to back running days. Of course, when preparing for any of the challenge races (Dopey for me right now), this will change soon, as will my general schedule for speedwork. I choose one of these days for a shorter, speed work session. Here are my 2 workouts:

Track intervals--I do quarter-mile intervals on the track with a quarter mile recovery. This workout is pretty perfect for me, as the high school track is one mile from my house, so it's a nice warmup there, then I head right into my work. This workout is very Yasso 800-esque, but because I run intervals anyway, I think this distance fits better into my overall running plan. I keep the quarter mile to around a 7:30 minute mile pace, and my recovery is a short walk, jog, then walk to start again. Each week I add one lap, and my goal is to get up to 10 before Dopey. This is intense, but I'm loving the accomplished feeling at the end.

Tempo-ish run--Again, I'm a run/walk/run girl, and these speed workouts are definitely for the straight runner, but that doesn't mean you can't adapt to the Galloway method. Tempo runs are basically where you try to hit a certain pace, usually faster than your long distance race pace. For me, my runs are around a 10:00 minute mile for 4 miles right now. I will progressively increase the distance of the tempo run, but I don't think I'll change pace much before Dopey.

Speed work definitely does not end there! There are many options, and I personally think speed work should be fun. Do you add speed work to your training? What's your favorite? 

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Dopey Training: Month 1 Review

Month one is done! This month has been a roller coaster--my birthday, the cancellation of Wine and Dine, another month of unsuccessful job hunting, and the pandemic is still raging on in many parts of the country. You can't open social media for a minute without someone asking, "Do you think Marathon Weekend will happen?" and quite frankly, I'm in need of a social media break because of it!

With July behind us, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on my own goals and the first official month of Dopey training. In short, it was perfect! Rarely do you get a month where you can just run according to your plan, but I guess that's the benefit of quarantine and Bill having inconsistent work. I've prioritized my runs and got out 3 days per week, working on speed and building to a 10-mile long run. It's felt comfortable and invigorating! I kept up with HIIT and strenght workouts, but I definitely need a bit more consistency in those. I need to add more core training; I let that go in quarantine.

Nutrition was meh at best. I've started tracking my food, and saw a slight tick down on the scale. The days around the long run are the hardest. There is good reason people say losing weight when marathon training is hard. I'd love to get off (and keep off) 5-10 pounds, just for speed and impact on my joints.

I also started a log to track my quest of 40 races for my 40th birthday! Having a little creative time to make stickers, bullet journal, and color has been a nice break. I'll sit down with Robby and we draw together. He gives the best compliments!

So now we look ahead. I've decided August is my month of acceptance. I need to accept that the gym is not open. I need to accept that I am not teaching and training as much at the gym. I, therefore, need to accept a home workout routine that fills in the cross-training gaps that I usually put zero thought into, due to my job. I'll continue to work on speed with track workouts. I'll increase my long run to a half marathon. I'll also continue to tighten up nutrition for my own health and weight loss. 

I still have no plan or goals to how I will run Dopey. I think I'll have a better idea when the simulation weekends come around. I know I will definitely follow the run/walk/run intervals and I'm certainly not going for any sort of speed. 

My marathon weekend friends, have you started training? How is it going?

Friday, July 31, 2020

Friday Five: 5 Tips for the Run/Walk/Runner

I'm going to make a WILD assumption: if you're here, you probably run Disney races or want to run Disney races. Since that's the case, you likely already know of Jeff Galloway, the father of the run/walk/run method and the official runDisney running coach. His plans are laid out beautifully on the runDisney website and are followed by tens of thousands of runners each year. I adopted this method when I took on Dopey in 2014, and it helped me PR my marathon (during Dopey, after running for 3 days) by over 26 minutes! I was sold! It also got me through both pregnancies, post-partum journeys, and a half marathon 6 weeks post-knee surgery. I'd say that gives it an A+ in my book. If you're a beginner, it's my go-to recommendation, but I also caution you that it's not just for beginners. Many runners can benefit from this type of running. 

6-weeks after knee surgery!

Before I go down that rabbit hole though, let's get to our Friday Five! I've put together 5 great tips for those Galloway runners out there! Let me know what you think!

1. Make your runs faster and your walks slower. Duh! Isn't that the point? About a month ago I saw someone giving advice in a big Facebook group saying "Your run and walk are almost the same pace." Um, no. That defeats the whole purpose! Run, and run fast. Walk, and walk to recover. There should be a difference. For reference, right now my run is about a 9:30 pace and my walk a 14:00 pace. Find what works for you, but don't sell yourself short. 

2. Stabilize your hands to help you catch your breath. I'd put this tip more for training runs than the actual race, but especially as a beginner, if your aerobic fitness isn't the greatest, you will find yourself winded after the run (see point number one). That's okay, and to help catch your breath, put your hands on hips, on your head, even on your running stroller. By anchoring your hands, you are allowing your chest to help expand your ribcage (and thus, your lungs) because it doesn't also need to move your arms. This is why we fall over and put our hands on our thighs, huffing and puffing, when we need to catch our breath. 

3. 30 second walk breaks are the special sauce. If you've followed Galloway for some time, you know he used to recommend a one-minute walk break. Over time, he's actually changed it to a 30-second breat, noting that runners slowed significantly in the second half of a minute and took longer to get up and go again. After doing both, I'd agree! Try different combos; that's what training is for, but seriously consider minimizing your walk break to just enough to get you ready to run again.

4. When in a race, please signal your walk breaks. It is commonly recognized that when you put your arm up, you are going to walk. Start practicing that now. When it's time to walk, KEEP RUNNING, put your arm up, take a quick look behind you, THEN begin your walk break. Putting your arm up does not give you a free pass to halt mid-step and put other runners (and yourself) at risk. Every single race I see major collisions. Don't be one of them. You should also aim to be towards the right side. Races follow the rules of the road. 

5. Utilize technology that you love. The options are endless. I use either the Gym Boss timer or Run Keeper. Both have served me well over the years. Jeff Galloway has his own app. You can pretty much set intervals on any device. Play around with a few and use what works for you. But for the love of everyone racing, TURN OFF THE BEEPING on race day! Hahaha! All you hear is that beep for miles and miles. Use the vibrate feature on your Gym Boss! 

Don't forget to follow me on Instagram to see these tips in action! Happy Friday!

Friday, July 24, 2020

Friday Five: 5 Favorite Wine & Dine Moments

It's Friday, why not do a Flashback Friday/Friday Five all rolled into one! With the announcement of Wine and Dine being turned virtual, it had me thinking of my favorite Wine and Dine moments. Even though I've only run this race 3 times, it still holds the top spot for me in runDisney events. Food, Wine, a small race, and always a great theme, Wine and Dine never disappoints (okay, well never until now--sad face!).

1. The infamous "Splash and Dash, 2015"
Every race has a story, and this one was FULL of rain. It was still a night race at the time, and right around 9:00 (for a 10:00 start) the rain started slowly. Not bad, but it held out for the big 10:00 start! It poured the entire 2 hours I was running. Huge puddles where water would come over the top of your socks into your shoes. It was SO MUCH FUN! 

2. Closing the after party in 2015
After the Splash and Dash, there were lots of runners that headed home, but since we had previously skipped the after party, we threw on some ponchos and rallied! We ate, drank, rode rides a million times, and closed down the party with Spaceship Earth one last time as they shut down the park at 4:00 am. Little did we know this would be our last night race, and I'm definitely glad we partied hard!

3. The last Coast to Coast, 2017
We had done the Coast to Coast Challenge many times, so it actually didn't even occur to me that I'd be earning the 10th anniversary medal at Wine and Dine. Also, sadly, this was the last Coast to Coast. I'm hopeful that someday we'll see Disneyland races again, but until then, this may be my favorite. The classic design, but given some weight (quite literally) as they increased the size to celebrate the anniversary of the challenge. 

4. Our gender reveal in 2017
Okay, so not actually part of the race, but part of the race weekend! We decided to keep the tradition alive and planned our gender reveal in Disney World. We had the results in an envelope, found a ballon-selling cast member, and she revealed the gender with a surprize blue balloon! It was a great way to add some Disney magic to Ryan's pregnancy. This weekend was also his last half marathon before coming into the world in March, 2018.

5. The parties!
Wine and Dine is the BEST for parties! Depending on when your race-cation falls, you can usually book a Halloween party or a Christmas party. Plan it right and you can do both! We've done both during different years, and it's always a fun addition to our vacation. 

For those of you who have not yet run this event, don't give up! I know we'll all be back soon, running together again! Continue to train, run it virutally (even if you don't get the medal), and enjoy the journey of running. I know I'll be back someday to my favorite race!