When my wife first approached me about running in Disney's Wine & Dine Half Marathon Relay, one of the biggest things she used as a selling point is the Finish Line Party which takes place post-race within Epcot. Last year's race was Disney's first crack at this event, and that meant there were many kinks in the system, mostly surrounding the post-race festivities. As a result of many of those kinks, last year's party was a complete bust for us, and we went home immediately following the race. This year would be different, not only because I'd be running this time, but because Disney went to great lengths to assure runners those kinks were completely out of the system.
While I did not participate in the actual race last year, I was at the Finish Line Party and saw first hand many of the problems Disney failed to foresee in advance. For the runners, the biggest complaints surrounded the poorly laid out finish area which became overwhelmed with participants. In addition, the disorganized bag check area was within an unventilated tent, which caused many to become sick. As for the party itself, the crowds were so large that Epcot's World Showcase was filled to a point which would rival New Year's Eve or July 4th, two of the park's busiest nights. The allure of the party was that the booths for the Food & Wine Festival would all be open, and runners were each given two tickets for free food and beverage. They were of little use to many, however, as the lines for most booths were longer than Splash Mountain on a summer's day.
In addition to numerous changes surrounding the finish of the race, the price of attending the Finish Line Party was doubled this year to $70 for non-runners. This had the net effect of lowering the crowds to a degree, and the stat I heard from a race volunteer was only 65% of the tickets had been sold. To help spread the crowds further, Epcot opened many of the more popular attractions, such as Soarin' and Test Track. Finally, runners were given a $10 Disney gift card, which was a much better solution than the previous years tickets for food or beverages. With all of these changes, I was optimistic that our experience this year would be far superior than last. To make that claim, however, would be an overstatement.
As we made our way into Epcot and over to World Showcase, the crowds certainly didn't feel any less. The narrow walkways leading into Future World were packed with family members searching for their runners, and for whatever reason everyone seemed to be corralled through there, as opposed to the much wider areas entering the park. Once in World Showcase, we headed straight for Canada, because I was now starving, and a couple orders of maple glazed salmon were on my mind. The line was enormous, and that was the case at nearly all the booths throughout World Showcase. In fact, the lines were longer than any I saw all weekend, with this being the first, and possibly busiest, weekend of Food & Wine.
After curing my hunger, we made a lap around World Showcase, and I slowly came to realize what the problem was.....me. Loads of people were having a blast, most unaware of the 30 person line in front of them for Kefta pockets in Morocco. And while I was having a great time with my wife and friends, I was definitely not down to "party." It was 2am, I had been up for about 19 hours, my ankle was killing me, and oh yeah, I ran 5 miles a couple hours prior. At that point in the proceedings, if given the choice between Bass and a plate of Chips, or going to bed, I choose the bed every single time. And for me to turn down Bass and Chips is really saying something...
In a nutshell, the Wine & Dine Half Marathon Finish Line Party is a great time, and certainly a unique way to celebrate your accomplishment. But pay no attention if a friend or family member is using it as a selling point to get you to run next year. Call me crazy, but there's a good chance after 5, 8, or 13.1 miles, the last thing you'll want is a plate of steamed mussels and a Stella Artois. If there was one thing I learned, it's that the feeling of accomplishment far out weighs the fun of any party, and that is perhaps the best celebration of all.
Enjoy Your Stay