I did my first Wine and Dine half in 2012 and have gone back every year since. That year I had just gotten into running and was intrigued by the Disney races. My in-laws had never been to Disney, so my husband and I decided to bring them down with us. We stayed at All Star Music in a cute suite, and I got to see RunDisney in all its flash and glory, which obviously got me hooked.
This was back when you could register for RunDisney races a few weeks in advance, rather than getting on the computer right when the regi
stration opened, praying that you’d get in. I think my husband and I both registered for the 5k about a week before the race, which would be my husband’s first ever race and start his slow pull into running. A lot of changes have happened since that year. Overall, RunDisney became really popular, making registration stressful and forcing people to register nearly a year in advance. This definitely could be a turn off to people, and it seems that race demand is in decline. RunDisney has already moved next year’s marathon registration back to April, versus the February it was this past year. That’s helpful, particularly if you don’t allow for transfers, deferrals, or refunds, and makes it nicer if you want to try to make a more “last-minute” trip to do a race.
The Wine and Dine Weekend has also changed, now offering a challenge for completing the 10k and half. When I started running it in 2012, it was the 5k on Saturday morning with the half marathon that night, finishing with a party at Epcot, where runners could stay until three or four AM. There was something really neat about starting a race at 10 pm and running through Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, the Boardwalk, and Epcot at night, but that has changed. Now the race weekend extends over three days, with the 5k on Friday, 10k Saturday, and the half Sunday afternoon, with the party that night, which can be difficult to take off of work for another day if you are an out-of-towner. This change, to me, has decreased the uniqueness of the Wine and Dine, and I think the fact that registration was still available going into race weekend shows that I am not the only person who feels that way. However, I digress.
I brought up change because the expo underwent many changes for this race weekend, which were obvious from the start. My husband went down early this year, and he texted me from the expo, telling me how different it was. I didn’t really know what he meant until I got there. First of all, the buses drop you off in a different spot, likely due to construction, but it seemed substantially closer than the old locations. You used to walk a fair amount just to get into the ESPN complex. Now it wasn’t so bad. The first stop to get your bib was in the same building, but here’s where the changes started. When you walked in, going one way would take you to bib pick up, the other way would take you to a merchandise location. There was always an area to get the coveted RunDisney race merchandise near bib pick up, but now it was in a different room. As we walked to the race merchandise, my husband warned me how different it would be. I couldn’t even fathom it when we walked in.
You used to be crammed into little areas with people pushing each other just to get to items. I’ve seen people yelling, throwing things, and breaking things in order to get stuff. Usually this behavior was more around Princess weekend, but I’ve seen aggressive shoppers during other weekends as well. It was always drama filled.
This year the merchandise was basically in its own level of the arena, in a sprawling area where people could easily navigate and pick out the items they wanted. There was a section of generic RunDisney stuff, an area for men and women apparel for each race, and miscellaneous drinkware, with the preorder stuff along the back wall. I couldn’t believe it! It used to be very stressful to get your merchandise, and this was so peaceful and laid back. I was able to look at everything and really see it, instead of being jostled over items that were the most wanted. People were milling around rather than rushing to get things. I don’t know if the fact that RunDisney didn’t release any race merchandise previews helped, but it was a totally different atmosphere. My husband had been there right when it opened Thursday, and we were both there right when it opened Friday. There was no overcrowding or issues at all. I also feel like they are doing a better job with ordering enough stuff. There were a few things that sold out, but some of the more popular items were still available at the end of the weekend, such as jackets, Tervis mugs, and other race shirts. I know this is a smaller race, but I was still so surprised by the positive changes.
After the merchandise and bib pick up, we still had to go to the other building to get the shirts. They still have it at the back of the arena, forcing you to walk through the vendors to get there. It’s good marketing, but still is a bit of a pain to have to go over there. There wasn’t any race merchandise in this building like there normally is, so everything was much more spread out in there and made it easier to walk around and browse the various stalls. We quickly picked up my shirt and shopped, before stopping for a drink to get the RunDisney cups that you can get when you purchase a beverage. This time they were clear with glitter, and we’ve gotten a number of different colors over the years. We were able to enjoy our drinks outside, people watching and musing over how much easier this expo had been than previous years.
So, while I discussed some changes that may not have been for the best at the beginning of my post, I do have to say that the changes made to the expo this time around are very positive. Kudos to RunDisney for addressing a problem that has been building up for awhile now. I hope that they use this system for marathon weekend. I’ll report back for that one and let you know how that expo goes in two months!