In the saturated field of endurance races, runDisney events stand alone in many regards. From the number of participants (up to 25,000!) to the setting (Where else can you run through Cinderella Castle?), the entertainment to the expo, race weekends can feel like a non-stop party in the most magical place on Earth. But as anyone who has participated in one of these events can tell you, you have to have an ironclad strategy to make the most of your run-cation. The venues are spread out across property, the traffic and parking are daunting, and the early start times mean your alarm clock will be going off at 3:30 am, if not earlier!
One of the best things you can do to ensure a stress-free experience is choose the right resort for your stay. Over the course of six years and 12 runDisney races, one thing has become abundantly clear: stay on Disney property, even if just for the night before the race, but ideally for the duration of your stay. All Disney resorts share one major race weekend perk in common: dedicated bus transportation to and from all events, including the Health & Fitness Expo at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex and the races themselves. Trust me, I’ve both hired taxis and taken my own car to get to these events, and it is a hassle. Disney property on a race morning is a tangled web of closed and congested roads that can baffle and frustrate any driver. The last thing you want plaguing you is the very real possibility, no matter how early you head to your destination, that you could miss the race start. After all, you’ve planned, saved, and trained for this special day — why not enjoy free and efficient transportation to the start line?
Beyond the reasonably simple choice to stay on property, there comes the far more complicated task of choosing which Disney resort to make your home for the weekend and possibly beyond. Drawing on years of experience, both good and bad, I’ve assembled the following list of the top 5 resorts for your runDisney vacation.
5. Disney’s Pop Century Resort
Located a stone’s throw from the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Pop Century offers a no-frills, lower cost option for runners and their families without sacrificing convenience. Get in your shake-out run on the 1.1-mile running path encircling Hourglass Lake. Take advantage of the wide menu of options at the resort’s Everything Pop Food Court, or take a short walk across the bridge to Disney’s Art of Animation Resort, where Landscape of Flavors provides selection and quality unmatched by any other food court on property. The rooms are clean and newly renovated, the theming quirky and nostalgic, and with three pools, you shouldn’t have an issue finding a lounge chair to laze on the day after your race. Transportation to and from the Health & Fitness Expo is particularly quick, owing to the resort’s location, and is ideal for the athlete who wants to visit the expo more than once. I’ve chosen Pop Century as my race weekend resort three times and never regretted it.
4. Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort
Coronado Springs takes the fourth spot on this list because it combines select deluxe-level amenities with a moderate-tier price point. Appealing to both its convention center clientele and the runDisney athlete, the resort features both a palm-lined 0.9-mile running path and a 24-hour fitness center. The running path takes you around Lago Dorado, and while it lacks shade in most areas, it is scenic and easy to navigate. As for the fitness center, the La Vida Health Club is the only such facility in a moderate resort. The gym offers cardio equipment, Life Fitness machines, and free weights in a good-sized space that is nearly always deserted. The adjacent spa boasts a limited menu of massages and facials to treat yourself after a hard run or training session.
Beyond its recreation options, Coronado Springs is a solid choice for your race weekend for other reasons. Like Pop Century, the hotel is home to three pools, but is elevated by its sprawling Lost City of Cibola, a pool complex with a 123-foot-long waterslide and a large hot tub. The resort offers a variety of dining options, from Pepper Market, a fast casual restaurant reminiscent of Chipotle, to Rix Sports Bar and Grill, to sit-down dining at Maya Grill. Also, Coronado Springs is the only moderate resort to offer full-fledged room service, which is available daily from 7 am-11 am and 4 pm-11 pm, and is perfect if you’d rather kick up your feet and have some alone time post-race.
3. Disney’s Art of Animation Resort
Coming in at number three is Disney’s Art of Animation Resort. Located across Hourglass Lake from its sister hotel, Pop Century, it is likewise extremely close to the Health & Fitness Expo held each race weekend at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. It also shares the same running path, but in many ways, this is where the similarities end.
Art of Animation is a value resort in name only, outdoing the older value-tier options in both quality and price. Unlike other value resorts, which have conventional rooms linked by external, motel-style walkways, over half of Art of Animation’s rooms are richly themed suites capable of accommodating up to six adults. You can whip up a healthy meal in your en suite kitchenette, or explore Landscape of Flavors, where the five food court stations offer “better-for-you” options like fruit smoothies and tandoori chicken. And for those of you concerned, you can meet your pre-race carb needs at the pasta station! Looking to recharge? Relax at the Big Blue Pool, a Finding Nemo-themed behemoth sporting underwater speakers.
1. Disney’s Yacht Club Resort and Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
Yes, there is a tie for the number one resort destination for your runDisney escape, and with good reason. Both Disney’s Yacht Club Resort and Disney’s Wilderness Lodge are exceptional resorts with similar amenities, but their different locations on property makes each more or less suitable for individual runDisney races. For the Wine and Dine and Star Wars Dark Side half marathons (which have previously begun in the Magic Kingdom parking lot) the Wilderness Lodge’s vicinity to the start line is an advantage. For the Walt Disney World Marathon, the Disney Princess Half Marathon, and any 10k or 5k race (all of which begin and end in the Epcot parking lot) Yacht Club’s position on Crescent Lake is ideal.
Disney’s Wilderness Lodge is situated among the trees on the shores of Bay Lake, where its serene elegance draws on the American Craftsman style. While very close to the Magic Kingdom, it does not share the Monorail, which affords the resort a more relaxed vibe. The public spaces are grand — especially the lobby, with its soaring ceilings and immense hearth — but it is simultaneously warm and welcoming. The resort celebrates nature’s beauty, and you are compelled to explore the great outdoors with its recreation offerings. You can venture into the woods by bike on the nature trail, or charter a boat and fish to your heart’s content out on the lake. Once you’re worn out from a day of park hopping or exploration, you can choose from a range of dining options, including the quick-service Roaring Fork and the upscale Artist Point.
As for its fitness amenities, Wilderness Lodge is home to both a 2.5-mile jogging trail and a well-equipped, 24-hour fitness center. The facility offers treadmills, elliptical machines, and stationary bikes, as well as a Smith machine and variety of Life Fitness strength training machines. Tired from your workout? Enjoy a pedicure at the newly built Salon by the Springs, or get a massage at Sturdy Branches.
Disney’s Yacht Club Resort is located right on Disney’s BoardWalk, which not only provides a footpath to both Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot, but is also part of the course for many runDisney events. Get in a morning training run on this picturesque promenade followed by a coffee and croissant at the Boardwalk Bakery. Grab an early dinner the night before your race at Trattoria al Forno, where pasta dishes abound, or at Kimono’s, a chic sushi restaurant located in the Swan, before crawling into a bed that’s too comfortable for words. Relax in the lazy river, part of a sprawling pool complex, after your race; or get a massage at Ship Shape, the resort’s fitness center and spa.
Beyond its location, conveniently positioned as it is between two theme parks and within a short walk of numerous restaurants, Yacht Club’s recent overhaul is impressive. The Ale & Compass Lounge offers a sophisticated space in which to order a light repast and a craft beer. The Market serves up espresso beverages and grab-and-go sandwiches, including a waistline friendly egg white, spinach, and roasted tomato wrap. Looking for a quick breakfast the morning of your race? This is the place to snag a pre-packaged runner box, which includes a plain bagel, peanut butter, granola bar, banana, and a 12-ounce bottle of water.
Regardless of which resort you choose for your runDisney weekend, don’t forget the most important race-day essential: a positive attitude! You’re running at Walt Disney World after all, and whether you’ve been drawn by the characters, the castle, or the possibility of a personal record, it’s going to be a great experience. Enjoy yourself!