Guest Post (Resort Review: Disney’s Wilderness Lodge)

Allen wrote a few posts about his experience at the Star Wars Half Marathon – The Dark Side, and touched on our awesome stay at the Wilderness Lodge. But I wanted to expound on his perspective and share mine – basically, how we had an amazing time and want to stay there again immediately.

Even though we only planned to stay one night at the resort, we made plans to ensure we’d have plenty of time to explore and take advantage of the resort’s offerings. We made our way over on Saturday morning, with the intention of taking the boat over to the Magic Kingdom for a few hours (one of the resort’s many perks!). It was so cool to approach MK from a different angle.

It was a gray, humid day, and also Dapper Day! We enjoyed seeing everyone all dressed up. Unfortunately, coupled with the race weekend, the park was extra crowded. That was fine with us – we headed back to the Wilderness Lodge to spend some time there.

When we got back to the resort, we were able to get into our room. We had only stayed in Disney resorts with an outside entrance (more of a motel, if you will), so this was a nice change of pace. The only downside was, the resort was doing some significant construction, so our view wasn’t spectacular, but the room was very nice and had some cute details.

Luckily, we had some time before our dinner reservation at Whispering Canyon Café, so we were able to hang out in the resort’s stunning lobby. It actually reminded me of the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park. It felt very authentic, like we weren’t even on Disney property (I mean, okay, there’s a Mickey/Goofy/Donald totem pole, but you get the idea).

My favorite part of the resort was the absolute abundance of wildflowers on the property. They were gorgeous, and I couldn’t stop taking pictures of them. Again – it was all very authentically outdoorsy.

Our dinner that night was unbelievable. The special drink was something called Moonshine Lemonade – and it was delicious. We (along with our friends, Chris and Meredith) ordered the All-You-Care-To-Enjoy Skillet, and certainly ate all we cared to enjoy of chicken, ribs, sausage, mashed potatoes, salad (well, Meredith and me), brisket, and pulled pork. And did I mention they have bottomless milkshakes? Sign me up!

While Allen went off to bed (he had such an early morning the next day!), Meredith, Chris, and baby Caroline and I took the boat over to MK – this time at night! It was, once again, beautiful.

I’ll take this moment to say that while Allen’s race morning transportation was not ideal, mine was great – I walked over to catch the bus at 6:30, and it arrived around 6:36. We popped right over to the ESPN Wide World of Sports, and I was able to cheer on Allen at around 12.5 miles. It was very easy!

Luckily, we had a few more hours to take advantage of the resort. Cue taking the boat over to MK once again, and my taking a million more wildflower photos – pure perfection.

We headed home that afternoon, totally jazzed about our stay and the prospect of staying at the Wilderness Lodge sometime in the future. I highly recommend the property and everything it has to offer. I wish we could’ve stayed longer!

Next up on the resort docket: Port Orleans – Riverside!

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2016 Chicago Marathon

Almost 2 months ago, I blogged about some of the things on my “bucket list,” including running the world marathon majors. One of those marathons is the Chicago Marathon, which is held in October.

A few weeks ago, I put my name in the lottery for the Chicago race and I found out last week that I got in! I am super pumped to run this marathon on October 9th!

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Over the past few days, I’ve been working on finding us a hotel and plane flight. I think we will spend a long weekend up in Chicago. I know Rachel is excited to come support me and hang out in one of our favorite cities!

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And while I’m very much looking forward to running this race, I’m not thrilled about training for a full marathon during the summer months of Atlanta. But I know it will be worth it when I cross that finish line in a little less than 6 months!

 

 

Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend Part 3 (Race Recap)

Finishing up my 3-part series of the Star Wars Half Marathon weekend with the actual race itself….

2:30am is early. I feel like I should have been prepared after 4 early mornings of the Dopey Challenge in January. But nope. 2:30 is flat out early. I awoke several times in the middle of the night as I typically do when I have a race the next morning. By the time my alarm went off, I think I had slept maybe 4 hours.

Now, we were staying at the Wilderness Lodge, which means I was able to take Disney transportation to the race start. This was a first for me, as typically we stay off property for Disney races. The lobby had signs that encouraged runners to be on the buses no later than 3:30 that morning. (Buses were supposed to be running continuously from 2:30am on.) I was aiming to be outside and ready to go by 3:00-3:15, just to be safe.

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Flat Allen

I got my stuff ready to go and headed to the bus pickup at 3am, and this is where the fun began. There were about 20 people already waiting, and some had been waiting as early as 2:30. No buses had shown up yet! By 3:30 there was a good 60-70 people waiting, and still no buses. Apparently we got lost in the shuffle.

Eventually, several buses begin to arrive and by 3:45 I was on my way. Needless to say, not exactly the plan I had in mind before a long race. By the time we got to the Epcot parking lot, walked through the bag check line and then walked to the corrals, which are about 20 minutes away – by this time it was already 4:50. The race started at 5am, which means I had about 10-15 minutes to get myself ready to go. I was in Corral C, which means I would be starting about 7-10 minutes after 5am.

Finally, Corral C was up to the starting line and we were off. I was excited to run this race, as I’ve only done the half marathon at Walt Disney World in January, which is a different course. We started making our way to Epcot and by mile 1 we were running through the World Showcase. I love running through Epcot when it’s all lit up.

After Epcot we made our way through the Boardwalk/Beach Club Resorts before heading to Hollywood Studios. We ran through a small portion of Hollywood Studios, including Hollywood Boulevard and Sunset Boulevard, where the Tower of Terror is located.

From Hollywood Studios, we spent the next several miles running through the Disney property as we made our way to the Animal Kingdom. This part doesn’t have the best scenery, but there were quite a few Star Wars characters out and plenty of crowd support along the way.

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Coming into the Animal Kingdom

Once we got into the Animal Kingdom, we make our way through a lot of the park. I stopped several times to get pictures, as there was so much to see.

Leaving the Animal Kingdom, you enter into the final stretch of miles as you make your way to the ESPN Wild World of Sports and the finish line.

I was texting with Rachel a little bit at this point and knew she was planning on meeting me at the finish. When I got to around mile 12.6, I saw her standing there among some of the crowd. I was so happy to see my biggest cheerleader and fan!

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Rachel!

The final half mile seemed to fly by and before I knew it, I could see the finish line in sight. I ran across the finish line, grabbed my medal, towel, water, and runner’s box and started making my way to find Rachel.

Rachel and I made our way to the buses to head back to the resort so I could get a shower. We had to check out by noon, so I wanted to shower and lay down for a few minutes before we had to leave.

As we got back to the resort I wanted to grab a couple of pictures of me with the medal at the Wilderness Lodge. I really like this medal a lot. One of my favorite Disney medals for sure!

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Finisher Picture at the Wilderness Lodge

All in all, it was a great race and great course! Everything (minus the late buses at the Wilderness Lodge) went very smoothly. I am very glad I did the inaugural Star Wars Race at Disney World and hope to go back and run it again in the future.

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Official Finisher Picture

Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend Part 2

Continuing from yesterday’s first blog post on our trip to Walt Disney World for the Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend – The Dark Side…

Saturday morning, we drove over to Wilderness Lodge, where we were staying Saturday night. We got a great deal on a room for the night several months ago, so we were very excited to stay there. We even got to take the Wilderness Lodge boat over to the Magic Kingdom for a few hours before officially checking into our room.

After we got back from the Magic Kingdom, we spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the resort and taking in the beautiful scenery. This was definitely the nicest Disney resort we had stayed at.

Also, our friends, Chris and Meredith, were driving over (they live about an hour away) for dinner that evening with their 2 month old Caroline. We were so excited to see them and meet sweet Caroline. She is precious!

Dinner that night was at the Whispering Canyon Cafe, which is at the Wilderness Lodge. We got the All-You-Care-To-Enjoy Skillet, and friends, it was amazing! I had to remind myself not to overdo it as I had a very early morning and a half marathon to run the next day.

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Rachel ended up heading back over to the Magic Kingdom with Chris, Meredith and Caroline later that evening. I called it a day as I had a 2:30am wake up call. (Also…how great is this picture below of Chris, Meredith and Caroline in front of the castle!?)

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Star Wars Half Marathon Weekend Part 1

This past weekend, Rachel and I headed down (yet again) to Walt Disney World for another RunDisney event: Star Wars Half Marathon – The Dark Side. This was the first year of the event and being a huge Star Wars fan, I definitely wanted to run this race.

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Go BB-8 Go! (Powered By Mickey Mouse)

We left Thursday afternoon and drove all the way down to Orlando to stay with our friends Nick and Ciara for the first 2 nights. They are always so gracious to host us whenever we need a place to stay. And you can’t beat a free place to stay near Disney!

Ciara was off work during the day on Friday, so she tagged along with us before working at Disney that evening. We headed over to the expo first, so I could pick up my race number and shirt. We walked around for about an hour or so, checking out the booths/merchandise. I even got to chat with Jeff Galloway for a few minutes. He is a huge  inspiration to so many runners.

Next, we headed over to Hollywood Studios for a few hours. We walked around, mostly checking out where the new Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land will be. This park is going to be a huge draw in a few years when they finally finish both new sections. We even caught some of the Star Wars show at 12:30.

After Hollywood Studios, we headed over to Epcot for the rest of the afternoon. They are in the middle of the Flower and Garden Festival, so there is a lot of cool stuff to look at right now. Plus, as annual passholders, there is a small gift each month of the Flower and Garden Festival, which is a nice bonus.

That night for dinner, we met up with Nick and our friends Ellis and Colleen for dinner before heading over to Disney Springs. We had a great evening walking around and catching up with our friends before calling it a night.

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Nick Wilde and Judy Hopps were hanging out in Disney Springs.

 

Book Review: Creating Magic

I love reading leadership books. So when I had the opportunity to read a leadership book from one of the former top executives at Disney, I knew it would be a great read.

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Yesterday I finished the book, “Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney,” by Lee Cockerell. I really enjoyed this book because it provided unique insight into leadership from one of my favorite companies in the world. Below are the highlights from each of the 10 strategies that Lee talks about.

Strategy #1: Remember, Everyone Is Important

Lee introduces the concept of RAVE (Respect, Appreciate and Value Everyone). Good leaders create an environment that makes every employee and every customer feel special. Give everyone, regardless of his or her position, the opportunity to be heard.

Strategy #2: Break the Mold

Leaders, as well as all employees, must question everything. This does not mean being argumentative. It simply means asking if there is another way to perform a task, for the betterment of everyone involved.

Strategy #3: Make Your People Your Brand

Finding and keeping great employees is critical in leading excellent companies. Lee’s mantra: “I knew I had mastered the art of hiring once every person who reported to me was someone I would gladly report to myself.”

Strategy #4: Create Magic Through Training

The more an employee understands and appreciates his or her own mission and vision in the company, the more their individual “usefulness” factor will be enhanced.

Strategy #5: Eliminate Hassles

In order for an organization to run well, leaders must ensure all rules and policies make sense for all involved. Leaders welcome problems, as they are opportunities to make better policies, procedures and processes.

Strategy #6: Learn the Truth

Truth is defined as “complete information and accurate, pertinent facts.” Leaders will benefit from learning how to use feedback to access meaningful, necessary truths for all decision making. Leaders listen not only to words, but to nonverbal messages.

Strategy #7: Burn the Free Fuel

Lee uses the ARE (Appreciation, Recognition, Encouragement) method. It’s a cost-free and invaluable resource; one begins each day with a new “full tank.” This method helps employers and employees alike foster greater productivity, which is important in any industry.

Strategy #8: Stay Ahead of the Pack

Leaders need to be “knowledge sponges” by filling the gaps, keeping up with colleagues, and expanding horizons. Nowhere is this more important than within fields where change is rapid and cutting-edge techniques appear almost daily.

Strategy #9: Be Careful What You Say and Do

Leaders should always display passion and commitment by maintaining a positive attitude. Set the bar high, and personally live up to every standard you set. Know when to step back and let others lead. Remember: leaders are always “onstage”!

Strategy #10: Develop Character

Leaders should know what they stand for, and live by those values every minute of every day. Be kind, sensitive and respectful to all, even when you are coaching and counseling them on their performance. Create a diverse workplace, and then respect the differences in everyone around you.

Friday Favorites

What up everyone! Welcome to another addition of Friday Favorites, where I take a look at a few things that are awesome in my world.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I saw The Force Awakens twice in the theaters – that’s how much I love this movie. I’ve been waiting for this movie to come out on blu-ray, and it finally did this week! We picked it up on Wednesday and have already started watching it again.

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In other news, my wife has a small crush on BB-8. In fact, two of her most favorite things in the world are WALL-E and BB-8. Not sure what she’s trying to tell me…

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Nike Pegasus Running Shoes

I met an old friend up at Sugarloaf Mills yesterday for lunch. It’s been probably 6 months since we’ve connected, and it was good to see him. I got up there a few minutes early, so I figured I would pop into the Nike Outlet since it is inside Sugarloaf Mills. And friends, I scored a pair a Nike Pegasus running shoes for $29! They aren’t necessarily my favorite design, but you can’t beat that price. I was super pumped!

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The Big Short and Steve Jobs

This past weekend was super laidback, which was awesome. It’s been a while since I’ve had a weekend without multiple things on the agenda. We ended up renting two different movies, “The Big Short” and “Steve Jobs.” Both were very good,especially “The Big Short.” I had heard very good things about this movie specifically and it did not disappoint. I think Rachel and I would give “The Big Short” a solid A grade and “Steve Jobs” probably more of a B to B-.

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