Thursday, January 2, 2014

Character Photo Ops at the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend

Welcome to the first ever virtual runDisney blog hop! If you've never attended the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend before, this group of bloggers has all the information you need! Check out the directory by clicking on the icon below and explore all the topics. This post details one of the most unique parts of a runDisney race- the characters!

Virtual Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend Blog Hop Directory

It's no secret that runDisney races are incredibly popular for a number of reasons; the course, the bling, and the atmosphere to name a few. They also provide excellent entertainment on course including DJ's, live bands, parade floats, etc. But ask any runDisney enthusiast and they'll probably tell you nothing compares to getting a photo with your favorite character mid-race.

This post will outline all you need to know about character photo ops during the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend.  We'll break down each race and list possible characters in chronological order. We'll also break down each park and who you may find there. And we'll add some tried and true techniques that have helped us get some great photos with characters.

Everything presented in this blog represents the first-hand experience we have from four years of participation in WDW Marathon Weekend: Matthew has completed the WDW Marathon in 2010, 2011, 2012 & 2013; the WDW Half in 2011, 2012, 2013; the WDW 5k in 2012 & 2013. Sarah has completed the WDW Half in 2013 and the WDW 5k in 2013. Both are going Dopey for 2014.

All the characters discussed in this post are who we have actually seen during runDisney race weekends. Keep in mind the characters along the course have varied each year. What we present here is what we have seen in the past; there is no way to know for sure who you will see cheering you on along the race course.

WDW 5k
Pre-race, you can usually find some of the characters that appear on the medal. For 2012, it was the Three Caballeros. For 2013, it was the "Fab Five"- Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy, Pluto. For 2014, Pluto is featured on the medal.

This 5k course is entirely in and around Epcot property so you can refer to the "Epcot" section of the post for a detailed list of who you may find and where.

For the 5k, there are usually 7- 10 characters on the course.

WDW 10k
2014 is the inaugural running of this Minnie-themed 10k. Expect to see Minnie at the pre-race festivities, starting line, and finish line. We speculate that other "Fab Five" characters may be in attendance pre-race.

Similar to the 5k, this course is mainly in and around Epcot and Disney's Boardwalk Resorts. You can again refer to the "Epcot" section of this post for a detailed character list.

While there may be additional entertainment/characters on the roadways before entering Epcot, we don't think there will be character spots on the Boardwalk or surrounding the resorts (we've never seen characters there during WDW Marathon Weekend or during the Wine and Dine Half Marathon).

WDW Half Marathon
At the pre-race festivities, you can usually find some of the "Fab Five" characters. Since Donald is featured on the half medal, there's a good chance he will be there. However, you'll want to get there early because the lines can be quite long for these characters.

The first 4 miles of the half marathon course are in the shadow of the monorail as you make your way to the Ticket and Transportation Center (TTC) and Magic Kingdom (MK). There are several parade floats and characters in the median. Here is a list of characters we have seen in these miles:
  • Pirate Ship float with Jack Sparrow and other pirates
  • Hot air balloon
  • Stilt-walkers
  • Group of Villans OR Princes (we've seen these characters at WDW Princess Half Marathon in this same stretch of miles)
Pirate Ship float on the way to Magic Kingdom
Miles 4-7 take you through the TTC, through MK, and around Bay Lake to the Grand Floridian.  Please refer to the "Magic Kingdom" section of this post for a detailed character list.

In 2012, Matthew found Mary Poppins and friends near the Polynesian Resort
Miles 7- 10 follow the highway back towards Epcot. On a clear day, you can see the tops of The Swan and Dolphin resorts. Here is a list of characters we have seen in this section:
  • Golf Minnie/Mickey/Donald, sometimes with a golf cart!
  • Flik from A Bug's Life
  • Atta from A Bug's Life (seen at WDW Princess Half in this location)
  • Lilo and Stitch
  • Genie
Miles 11- 13.1 follow the overpasses and exit ramps back to Epcot. You may find these characters along the way:
  • Army Men from Toy Story on the exit ramps
  • Gospel Choir at mile 13
  • Donald/Goofy/Mickey at the finish line

WDW Marathon
Miles 1- 8 of the marathon course are virtually the same as the half marathon course- right down to the characters and their locations.

Mile 8 includes an almost mile long tour of the Richard Petty Experience Speedway. You will find a number of vintage and muscle cars here as well as a possible appearance from Lightning McQueen and Mater from Cars.

On your way to Animal Kingdom (miles 9- 11.5), you may see the following:
  • Pocahontos/John Smith/Meeko
  • Flik from A Bug's Life
  • Country Bears
  • Assortment of Christmas characters- reindeer, elves, nutcracker
Miles 12- 14 travel through Animal Kingdom. You'll find a detailed list of characters seen in the "Animal Kingdom" section of this post.

From miles 14- 17, you make your way to Disney's Wide World of Sports (WWOS). Miles 17- 20 are in and through WWOS including Champion Stadium. This was a new part of the course for 2013 in celebration of the 20th anniversary of the marathon. Here are some characters spotted last year in these miles:
  • Lumiere/Sebastian/Genie large puppets
  • Mickey/Donald/Goofy on stage at mile 20

Miles 20- 22 traverse over more exit ramps as you make your way toward Disney's Hollywood Studios (DHS). You may find more Army Men from Toy Story on the hills of the exit ramps.

Once in DHS (miles 22- 23), you may see characters from Disney/Pixar films. You can see the full list in the "Disney's Hollywood Studios" section of this post.

From miles 24- 26.2, you will make your way from DHS to the Boardwalk and into Epcot. We have not seen characters on the Boardwalk section, but the spectators here are really phenomenal. Once you've made it to Epcot, you'll lap World Showcase entering near Canada/United Kingdom and exiting past Spaceship Earth. Please refer to the "Epcot" section of this post for more information about specific characters in this park.

Make sure you take the time to enjoy the Gospel Choir as you near mile 26- you'll really think the heavens have opened up as you are only .2 miles away from being a marathoner.

Also, there will be characters at the finish line similar to other races. You can always stop there for a photo before you finish, however once you've finished, you cannot go back across the finish line to get a photo with the character. We have found that runDisney officials are quick to usher you towards the finisher's chute and away from the finish line.

Magic Kingdom
In Walt Disney World's signature park, you may find characters from all your favorite classic films. There are a number of great photo ops to be had in this park. Here, we break them down land by land.

Main Street-
  • Castle picture PRO TIP #1- instead of getting your picture on Main Street, round the corner and head towards Tomorrowland. Right before the bridge, there is a little alcove on your left where you can get a great shot of the castle. We have found it to be much less stressful than trying to get a photo on a crowded Main Street.
  • Mayor- you may find him on the sidewalk outside of the shops.
  • Castle picture PRO TIP #2- you can also get a great picture of the castle on the OTHER side, right before you run through.
Main Street Castle

Buzz Lightyear in front of The Lunching Pad

Mad Hatter and friends
Peter Pan, Wendy and friends
  • Princesses (Belle, Ariel, Cinderella)
  • Royal couple (either Mickey & Minnie or Donald & Daisy)

  • Woody and Jessie or the Country Bears
Frontierland- Princess Tiana and friends
Magic Kingdom Train and Parade Float with princesses (Aurora and Prince Phillip)- In previous years, we have seen one of Walt Disney's steam trains (and conductor!) and a parade float with various characters as you make your way backstage after exiting Frontierland. These are your last opportunities for character photos within MK.

In our experience, Epcot has been difficult to predict when it comes to character photo ops on the course. Here we will list what characters "live" in the different countries of World Showcase and a few pictures of whom we've seen during the races. However, just because they "live" there, doesn't mean they will be on the course. You can always visit World Showcase after the races to get a victory picture with your favorite character.

World Showcase Residents
  • Canada- Canadian Donald
  • United Kingdom- Mary Poppins; Pooh, Tigger, and Eeyore
  • France- Belle & Beast; Marie (from AristoCats); Ratatouille
  • Morocco- Aladdin, Jasmine, Genie, Abu
  • Germany- Snow White and Dopey
  • China- Mulan
  • Norway- Anna and Elsa (from Frozen)
  • Mexico- Mexican Donald; Three Caballeros

Who We've Seen During Races
Canadian Donald, WDW 5k 2013
Dopey, Marathon 2013
Prince, Snow White, and Dopey, WDW 5k 2012
Jasmine, Aladdin, and Abu, WDW 5k 2012
Three Caballeros, Marathon 2011

Disney's Hollywood Studios
In and around DHS, you usually find some of your favorite characters from Disney/Pixar films. Here is a sampling of who we've seen here:

Frozone, Marathon 2011
Mr. Incredible and Elastigirl, Marathon 2010
Sully, Marathon 2011
Mike, Marathon 2010
PRO TIP #3: As you near the entrance of DHS, be sure to move to the side of the course and turn around- you can get a great shot of Hollywood Boulevard and the Sorcerer's Hat.
Disney's Animal Kingdom
If you are hoping to see Princesses here, you are "barking up the wrong tree!" Here you may find all your favorite animal and animal-related characters like the ones pictured below:

Tips for Great Character Photos
1. Decide before the race who is a "must-see." There are a lot of characters that will have long lines. Think about who you would be willing to wait in line to see.

This guy ALWAYS has a long line! Here he was near Innoventions during the WDW 5k 2012

2. You can easily snap pictures of characters without having to stop and you can time it right so you won't have a random runner in the photo.

No. This is bad. But you may see them in the parking lot of MK.
This is better. Rafiki in AK.

3. Instead of just standing with the character, mimic the pose he/she is doing. It makes for a great picture and an awesome memory.

Army Man, Marathon 2011

4. Along each route, you can create some great pictures that don't involve characters. MK's Castle, Epcot's Spaceship Earth, AK's Tree of Life, and DHS's Sorcerer's Hat all can be great back drops for unique race photos.

See "Magic Kingdom" section above for the secret to this picture.
Being silly at the WDW 5k 2013
World Showcase on the morning of the WDW 5k 2012
Spaceship Earth in the distance during the WDW Half 2013- around mile 11

5. Arrive EARLY to the race. Really early. Like on the first shuttle bus early. As mentioned earlier in this post, there are usually a number of characters at the pre-race festivities and lines form quickly.

If this is your first runDisney event, get ready for an experience like no other. The character photo ops are just one teeny tiny part of what makes this one the most magical events on the planet. No matter what distance you are attempting, be proud of what you about to accomplish. Congratulations on reaching the starting line and enjoy the 2014 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend!

- Sarah & Matthew


  1. Fantastic thorough! I've wondered about a lot of this since my first runDisney race will be at Princess Half Marathon weekend. I'm so excited. Thanks for the advice!

    1. Thanks, Amy! Luckily, the WDW Half route and Princess are the same so a lot of the same characters are out and about! However, you will see so many more female characters (including some rare ones like Megra from Hercules!) and princesses for that race. Princess 2012 was my first half and first runDisney experience- you'll have a blast! Good luck!!

  2. One of these days I'd like a photo with the character I'm dressed as. I've done Minnie, Alice and Sleeping Beauty and with the exception of Sleeping Beauty (who I totally passed and then didn't want to go back) they haven't been out on the run courses. I'm doing Rapunzel for the WDW half. We'll see. She's been out at the last three Anaheim races I've done.

    1. I haven't been able to get a picture with a character I've dressed as either! I'm running as Tiana/Minnie/Snow White for the 5k, half and full. We'll have to see if I see any of those characters during those races! :-) I can't wait to see your Rapunzel costume!

  3. Oh my Gosh...I Love, Love, LOVE this post! Such great info. THANK YOU!!

    1. Thanks, Tricia! Hope you have great races next week!

  4. Great post! I'm going to use the 5K, 10K and half to get my photo fix. The marathon's going to be all about forward momentum and finishing.

    1. Same here, Tabetha! This is my first marathon so I am just focusing on getting back to Epcot! :-) Good luck next week!

  5. You and Matthew have some amazing character photos. We usually only stop for photos during the shorter races....may need to rethink that in the future! See you soon!

    1. Thanks! It's our favorite part of a runDisney race! Next week, we'll be stopping for the 5k, 10k, and half. And, depending on how we're feeling/our time, we might stop in the last half of the marathon. Either way, we are just so excited! Can't wait to see you both!

  6. Thank you for this amazing post! The WDW Marathon will be my first full marathon and first runDisney race in Florida. I was hoping to find something exactly like this post to let me know what characters are out and where they might be. I've avoided the character stops in past runDsiney races. However, with the marathon I really wanted to get some character photos. This post is something I will totally want to remember while I'm out on the course. THANK YOU!!!

    1. Thanks so much, Greg! This past September was my first trip to DL and it was amazing! The great thing about WDW races is that because the ENTIRE race is on Disney property, there are characters everywhere, not just in the parks! It's a great pick-me-up when you are on the dreaded highways :-) Good luck with the marathon!!

  7. The characters are definitely what makes Disney Races so special! I hope to get some pics with a few, but doubt I will stop at all of them!

    1. I agree 100%! I usually only stop at rare characters (ones that I don't normally see in the parks) or ones that have a short line! Good luck at your next race! :-)

  8. Sarah- I hereby dub you the "Queen of Disney Characters"! You have seen and done it all; what sensational shots you have. Thank you for this very complete and fun post on character photo opportunities!!

    1. Thank you!!! We just love runDisney events, especially the characters! :-)

  9. The only race where I have seen characters hanging out pre-race was the Wine and Dine--never saw them at either princess races until after the race. Am I just in the wrong place pre-race? I am doing the goofy challenge in 2015, so want to make sure I get them in if they are there!

    1. Hi Brooke! No, you weren't in the wrong place- runDisney stopped putting the characters out before the races in January 2014- what a bummer! :-( It sucks for those of us that are slower- there are usually major lines to see the characters at the end of the race. The pre-race characters were a nice touch- I hope they bring them back!