For the past few years, Disney Cruise Line has offered a free 5K on their private island, Castaway Cay. For those sailing to the island paradise, they could participate in an untimed 5K event that included a race bib and finisher medal. (Note: the medal was actually plastic.)
In spring of 2014, runDisney took the Castaway Cay 5K one step further – the Castaway Cay Challenge! Participate in any race (5K, 10K, half marathon, marathon or challenge) during Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, sail on Disney Dream during the specific 4-night sailing, and run the Castaway Cay 5K for an additional challenge medal! The challenge sold out within days, followed by an announcement of another Castaway Cay Challenge opportunity during Princess Half Marathon Weekend.
To sign up for this inaugural challenge, you had to be registered for a Marathon Weekend race. You then had to book a stateroom on the Disney Dream (sailing January 12, 2015 for 4 nights), then sign up for the Castaway Cay Challenge once registration opened. (You had to include your cruise booking number in your registration.) The cost was $65 per person and included a shirt, Castaway Cay 5K medallion, Castaway Cay Challenge medal, post-race refreshments and activities onboard.
Since Megan had booked that specific cruise prior, she considered the Castaway Cay Challenge a bonus to her anniversary trip. However, it is worth noting that what could have been a more empty ship, was now filling up due to the challenge. (While on the cruise, we learned the ship was not to capacity.)
Prior to Marathon Weekend, not much information was available regarding the challenge. The medal was revealed (and is beautiful!), but runDisney didn’t include information about the cruise, where to pick up our packets, etc. When the official event guide came out for Marathon Weekend, there was a booth in the Field House that was named “Castaway 5K”, so it was assumed that is where packet pick up would occur.
About a week before Marathon Weekend, final race instructions were finally sent out to race participants and was available on the runDisney website. Similar to other runDisney races, this pamphlet included information about packet pick up, race safety, the race course, etc. It also included information about the cruise including official race merchandise and a speaker panel.
Packet pickup was very smooth and there wasn’t a line at all. Along with a gear check bag, we received a white short-sleeve tech shirt, race bib, race instructions and safety pins. Then it was time to run the Marathon Weekend race (or races)!
On Monday morning, we headed to Port Canaveral to board the Disney Dream. The first night included the opportunity to get race merchandise. It was located in Sea Treasures onboard, however the store doesn’t open until after the Dream sets sail (around 5:45 pm). As per usual, the merchandise line was long! However, it moved fairly quickly (they were only letting in a certain amount of people at a time). Merchandise included “I Did It” shirts, race specific shirts, magnets and Bondi bands. Although there were a lot of runners purchasing merchandise, it was very well stocked – even days into the cruise!
On Tuesday afternoon, there was a speaker panel that included runDisney nutritionist Tara Gidus, Runner’s World editor Elizabeth Comeau and the runDisney course director. Along with training and nutrition advice, we were given information about race day, the course, the medals and it opened for question and answers. Here are a few highlights:
- It is a new course, specifically for the Castaway Cay Challenge
- There are around 750 runners
- A Castaway Cay 5K rubber medallion will be awarded for every 2015 run
- The “regular” 5K run will occur after the challenge 5K
- Characters will be on course and post-race (challenge only)
- Food will be available after the race
- Photographers will be on the course and those photos will be available at Shutters (with your other cruise photos)
- Reedy Creek medical personnel will be on course
- If you wanted to spectate, you had to come with the runners
- The island would not open until 8:30 am, so you had to return to the ship after the race if finished prior
- There are “no current plans” for additional Castaway Cay Challenges, however they always are open to suggestions and will see how these two challenges go
The next morning, we made our way to the Walt Disney Theater at 5:45 am (in true runDisney fashion!) There was a buffet at Cabana’s starting at 5:00 am for those interested, as well as fruit, bagels, water and coffee outside the theater. Inside the theater, we sat in our corrals (three total) where we were reminded to have our Key to the World cards AND photo ID in order to get back on the ship later.
Soon we were making our way off the ship, where the sun had not yet risen. It was a sight to see the Dream all lit up at Castaway Cay! If you wanted to check a gear bag, you dropped it off and they brought it to the finish line area for you.
The walk to the start/finish (along the airstrip) was almost a mile, but with the sunrise occurring – it was beautiful! We entered into our corrals and listened to the music of the DJ. The cruise director, Christian, along with Mickey provided entertainment before the race start.
At 7:00 am, Corral A was off! (There were about 5 minutes between corrals.) The course started on the airstrip, where you made your way to Serenity Bay, the adult beach. Donald was at the beach for a character photo. We made a right, along a narrow path near the cabanas. Goofy wasn’t far away for another photo opp. After the 1 mile mark, there was a turn around and you followed the path back to the airstrip. (The path was quite narrow, which made it difficult to pass other runners as we were going both ways.)
Along the airstrip was a water stop, which included small Dasani water bottles. You then made a left toward the Observation Tower, which included a loop for just over a mile. Near the tower were two cruise cast members, dressed in jogging suits, keeping us pumped up! (In fact, they were trying to get us to do the wave!) When you made it out of the loop, you took another left and the finish line was in view. Christian was announcing as you finished, claimed your two medals, along with water, Powerade and the runDisney snack boxes.
After the finish, Minnie was near a backdrop to take photos with your new medals. Then it was the hike back to the ship until 8:30 am, when you could get back on the island. (Or take a shower – it was HUMID!) At 9:00 am, the “regular” 5K began. There were no characters on the course, however they did follow the same course (which will not be the norm).
Since many of the runners wanted a photo with ALL of the medals they had earned over the past few days, they did set up the backdrop in the atrium area later that evening for photos. Dopey even appeared on Wednesday for a great photo opportunity for the Dopey Challenge runners!
Overall, this inaugural event was handled very well! While communication was lacking at the beginning, the event itself was a lot of fun. The only things they could improve upon are:
- Possibly another character on the course. (Both characters appeared before mile 1.)
- More activities onboard the ship. The initial information regarding the challenge states “VIP experience” for the runners onboard, and there really wasn’t much beyond merchandise and the speaker panel.
While the Castaway Cay Challenge is most definitely unique, it is worth noting that the “normal” Castaway Cay 5K is much different than the challenge explained above. Here are a few details regarding the Castaway Cay 5K (held for any sailing going to Castaway Cay):
- Sign up is onboard. Go to the Port Adventures desk to sign up for the race. The 5K currently has no charge, however there is an age requirement of 10 years or older.
- The Castaway Cay 5K includes a race bib (given to you on the day of the race) and finisher’s medallion. For 2015, the rubber medallion will be given at all Castaway Cay 5K races!
- On race day, you will meet at the location stated on your registration ticket (or it can be found in the daily Navigator). The location time will be around 8 am for a 9 am race start.
- The course follows the airstrip, as well as the loop around the Observation Tower. One thing to note is that you loop around the Observation Tower twice, so be sure to study that course map!
- Water is provided on the course, near the Observation Tower loop.
- If you would like a Castaway Cay 5K shirt or other merchandise, they are available in one of the shops on the island.
- The course is not officially timed, however there is a time clock located at the finish.
We are very anxious to hear if this challenge continues in the future!
*For another look at the Inaugural Castaway Cay Challenge, listen to the Mickey Miles Podcast (episode 244) as Megan joins in on the fun!