Running Episode 1: Four Resorts and Only One Near-Death Experience
I absolutely love running at Walt Disney World. The Disney races are a lot of fun, but nothing beats getting up early in the morning on my own and running through a nearly-empty Fort Wilderness. I have been coming to the Fort since the early 1970s, so I feel like I grew up here. This is my other home. In the morning, it seems like it's only mine.
So, for my first run, I thought I would start right at my campsite. This picture was taken at another time with better light, but DramaMama and I are proud of our flamingos and like to show them off...
Every runner has a different way of preparing for a run. Some stretch or use various devices to prepare their bodies. My way is more simple: I walk. Usually I try to walk anywhere from 1/2 to 1 mile before running. Today (June 3) the plan was to walk from our campsite to Pioneer Hall.
I took a walk around the loop, confirming that I was the only biped stirring then continued across the Meadow then up the Orange bus route to the Settlement. I couldn't resist a quick stroll by the dock before stopping to pose for a picture by Pioneer Hall.
Pardon the lousy photo quality, but it was still quite dark. I tried various angles to get the Hoop Dee Doo sign in the picture, but none of them looked so great. I wanted the sign because of the special running shirt I was wearing. It says "Fort Wilderness Running" on the front and "So you're running a half marathon? Well, HOOP DEE DOO!" on the back. I wore it for the 2015 Disney Half Marathon. It was good for several laughs along the way. But I digress...
Nicely warmed up (quite warm considering the humidity) I headed out along the path to Wilderness Lodge. I like this stretch although it's not particularly scenic. Just the usual lovely Florida woods. It does have the benefit of being set off the road (yet paved) so you can feel like you are really taking a journey to somewhere distant - especially before the sun rises. I saw a strange (yet eerily familiar) shape lurking on the ground in one stretch of the woods. I thought I identified it, but wasn't sure in the dim light. More on this later.
I arrived at Wilderness Lodge with the intent of running merrily around the buildings and through the beautiful pool area. Unfortunately, much of the area was blocked off for construction. While I could have just dashed straight through the lobby, I settled for running in front of the building and startling a few early-rising guests. The early shift cast members looked at me like I had lost my mind. Smart people. There was quite the amount of leaf blowing and grass edging going on. All very kindly paused to let me run by them.
I headed out the front gate of Wilderness Lodge. I tried taking a selfie while running through the gates. I failed miserably.
Attractive, right? I have to possess one of the worst running faces ever. No matter my state of fitness, I look like I am about to die. Oh, well.
I managed to cross World Drive without incident despite quite a bit of early traffic. I then re-enacted one of my favorite parts of the Disney Marathon: running through the Ticket and Transportation Center. I love this place. Weird, right? I think it's because I grew up in Florida and went to Disney with my schools all of the time. Our Disney fun started right in the bus parking lot!
I ran right past a few startled cast members and ran a loop inside the gates by the monorail ramps. Finding the far gate locked I had to come all the way back past the same people. They kindly humored the madman as he ran through.
I found the walkway to the Polynesian Village Resort (Can I just add how insanely happy I am that Village has returned to the name?) and headed towards the beach side of the resort. If you have never seen the sun rise over Seven Seas Lagoon, I highly recommend it...
Positioning the ferries for the first wave of guests.
Isn't this beautiful? It was all I could do to get to running again when there was so much good scenery behind me! I continued on ahead and came face to face with this:
I'm still not sure how I feel about these waterside bungalows. I will admit that they look like a fun place to stay, but the rest of the Polynesian is treated to looking at them instead of MK across the lagoon. Still, they carry on the theming well. Speaking of which, I absolutely love the theming of the Polynesian as a whole. I have never stayed in this resort, but have fond memories of going to the luau as a child and resort-hopping to the pool. I remember being in complete awe of the pool area as a kid. It's a wonder my parents ever got me out of there and back to the camper. I had to take a picture for old times' sake...
I pondered a quick swim (it was very humid at this point) but decided that wasn't so great an idea. There would be no chance that I would continue running afterwards! So, I pushed onwards towards the Grand Floridian, with a quick glance back behind me...
Wow. This is what gets me out of bed in the morning to run.
I tore myself away from the sunrise and continued on to Grand Floridian with a quick stop by the wedding pavilion. It's an impressive facility, but not really my thing. Actually, that's what I could say about all of the Grand Floridian Resort. It's eye-catching, big, and opulent but the theming never seems to grasp me like the Polynesian does.
The pool areas are nice, but the whimsical elements of them that appeal to me seem a bit at odds with the grandeur of the building as a whole.
It was at this time that I pondered a more detailed tour of the Grand Floridian, preferably with a run right across the lobby, but a quick glance at my GPS told me that I had plenty of miles in already and a long return run ahead of me. So, I turned around and headed for home. However, a short detour was needed for a picture of the Polynesian Village sign.
This could be the best resort sign on property. The water feature, landscaping, logo, and torches are simply perfect. Well done.
I continued back roughly the way I came, choosing slightly different paths through the various areas when possible. Unfortunately for me, I took the same route across World Drive. By this time is was insanely busy. I watched a full cycle of the lights to judge when would be best to cross. I'm not sure what got me confused (perhaps running delirium), but I started across after a bus in front of me had gone through making a left turn. I didn't think anyone was behind the bus. I was wrong. I came within a few feet of being one flat runner. I appreciate the driver's good awareness and my own reflexes (if not judgment) for avoiding an accident. I made my apologies in passing to the driver who seemed to accept them. More likely, he just assumed that I was insane and should be treated humanely. I ran back to Wilderness Lodge feeling like an idiot but very thankful to still be running.
On the way back through the woods I had a chance to check out the strange figure I saw on the way out. Sure enough, it was what I thought it was. Some enterprising artist made an extremely detailed Mickey Mouse head out of pine cones. I was impressed.
I ran back through the Fort without incident and arrived back at 1520, my favorite campsite in the world!
RESORTS: 4 (Fort Wilderness, Wilderness Lodge, Polynesian Village, and Grand Floridian.)
BONUS LOCATIONS: Ticket & Transportation Center, Wedding Pavilion
WALKING DISTANCE: 1.1 miles
RUNNING DISTANCE: 6.4 miles
Coming up next: Running Episode 2: Going Down the Bayou.