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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Run Disney Fiasco

(This is officially the longest post ever in the history of a blog. It's also something that I am really mostly writing to be cathartic. God bless you if you attempt to read it, but please don't think any less of me if you do. Thanks.)

I am not sure if I mentioned it here, but my running trip to Walt Disney World in October ended up being a giant fiasco, and I ended up not getting to complete the race. Only a few folks in the whole world knew the whole story because it was embarrassing. Until now. I really feel like I need to share my story because I really need to get all of the information out there about what happened. This week, as I was planning a non-running trip to Disney later in the year, I started to have anxiety about it. Even though I am not running, I still have negative feelings associated with what happened, and I still worry that The Happiest Place on Earth just might not meet my expectations on future visits.

I don't want to bad-mouth Disney. For the most part, their customer service always exceeds expectations. They do so much to make sure each and every guest to their properties has an exceptional experience. But, that can be a blessing and a curse, because that is why I am so pissed off about the whole situation.

A few days after the fiasco happened, I sent this letter to Disney. A few weeks after that, I received a package in the mail with a race shirt that I will probably never be able to fit into, a necklace and a pin. I never did get my medal, but the biggest issue with this package was that there was no accompanying documentation. No letter, no note, nothing. I'm assuming I was given some swag because they felt bad for me after the fiasco, but there wasn't even a post-it note with a frowny face to let me know that anyone cared.

I needed someone to let me know that they heard my concerns. I would've preferred that person apologize, maybe have offered me a discount to try another race later. That doesn't cost them anything. After all, they got my $130 registration fee, not to mention hundreds of dollars in souvenirs, tickets, freaking waters all day long on race day, etc., for a race that never happened. But, perhaps most importantly, I want to know that nothing like this will ever happen to me again at Walt Disney World, and that nothing like this will ever happen to another human being at Walt Disney World. No one should have to go through what I did.

I am not going to rehash what happened. I hope no one will judge me for what you are about to read. I have made my peace with what I did in this story. I am sharing it so you can see my account and the information that was relayed to Disney. Perhaps you'll even think that I am justified in being upset that I didn't receive any feedback from what I told them.

I think that's my biggest issue here. Companies all over the world train their employees to be more like Disney. If you've ever been to a Disney park, you know that it is a well-choreographed spectacle designed to provide exceptional customer service. It isn't even really the actions of the original employee who yelled at me and intimidated me that bother me at this point, it's the fact that I feel like this company that is known for it's top-notch customer service has completely and totally dropped the ball on guest relations here.

Oct. 10, 2013
Walt Disney World
P.O. Box 10000
Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830
To whom it may concern:
On Saturday, I was scheduled to run in the Tower of Terror 10-miler, but I was unable to participate. I wanted to share some feedback from the event in hopes that changes can be made in the future so that what happened to me does not occur again. And while my situation was disappointing and embarrassing, most Disney cast members did what they could to ensure that my visit to Walt Disney World met my expectations. A few even went above and beyond and deserve to be commended, which I will do later in this letter.
We started our trip at the Expo at ESPN Wide World of Sports. While it was busy, the lines moved more quickly than I expected and I made some new friends while waiting for my bib and official merchandise. All of the cast members and volunteers at the Expo were great, and the experience even convinced my family members who were with me – my brother, aunt and four-year-old nephew -- to try a Run Disney race in the future! I also appreciated the tips to get ready for the race the next day, and I tried to follow them as religiously as possible.
Unfortunately, that is where I ran into trouble. Because of the race-day heat advisory, I took special care to remain properly hydrated for the race. This might have been OK had there not been traffic that turned the normal 11-minute commute from the hotel to ESPN WWOS into over an hour commute. This might have been OK if I had known there would be no restroom facilities available at ESPN or if at least six people – including cast members, volunteers and the bus driver – hadn’t told me that I would be allowed to use the bathroom on the bus. Because after drinking all that water and being stuck in traffic, I really needed a bathroom break, and the bathrooms on the bus were locked. When I got to Hollywood Studios and spotted the lines for the porta-potties (at least 40 people in each line), I knew there was no way I could make it, so I went up to the first cast member I saw (whose name I did not get). I told her that I had to use the restroom emergently and that everyone at ESPN had told me I could go on the bus and it was locked and if I didn’t get to a bathroom very soon, I was going to have an accident and not be able to race.
That cast member pointed at two porta-potties behind a tent and told me just to go over and use them because there was no wait and I wouldn’t miss the race. I took off as quickly as I could and headed over to those restrooms. However, as I am on my way over there I hear someone yelling and realize he is yelling at me. A cast member named Pat from North Miami stopped me and told me that I could not be in this area because it was only for cast members and volunteers. I then explained my situation and told him that a cast member sent me over here to use the restroom.
I will be the first to admit that I was not behaving as the ideal Disney guest at this point. I was in the throes of having a panic attack and I know I yelled at him and probably used poor language. I was desperate and upset and on the verge of having an accident right there in the parking lot. I had been training for eight months and all I could see was the failure and disappointment of not completing this race. He got upset with me and wouldn’t let me through. He told me I had to wait in the line with everyone else, not understanding that I didn’t have time to do that. When he got upset with me and raised his voice, it scared me and because I already had to go to the bathroom, I wet myself. No way could I run with wet pants for ten miles, so I just asked a team member to put me on a bus that would take me back to ESPN and gave up on my dream to complete the race.
 I know he was just doing his job, but every single other cast member went out of their way to make sure I that I was able to participate in the race. After I had my accident and went back on the bus to ESPN so my brother could pick me up, the cast members there even offered to get me a shower and find some shorts so that I could run, but by then I was so upset that I didn’t have the mental energy to run. When you look at that example, what would it have hurt for him to escort me over to the restroom so that I wouldn’t have wet myself and been unable to complete the race, especially after another cast member had sent me over there to use the restroom?
After spending hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars and dragging my family to Orlando, not to mention logging months of training, so I could do this race, it was very disheartening that this happened. First of all, I felt like Pat could have had a little more compassion. It didn’t hurt any of the other team members to be kind. They all understood how hard I worked and wanted me to complete the race as much as I did. But mostly, I think it is important in the future to have a few porta-potties at ESPN before people get on the bus, as well. Honestly, if so many people hadn’t told me that I could use the bathroom on the bus, I would have found a way to go beforehand, because completing this race meant a lot to me. I also probably would’ve stopped somewhere to go if I would have realized that a) there were no restroom facilities until the starting-line porta-potties (those always have lines) or b) that the last bus didn’t really leave at 8 p.m. sharp. In fact, when I left ESPN at 9 p.m., there were still people boarding the buses.
The whole situation was a comedy of errors and fraught with miscommunication. Like I said, there were some cast members who did hate to see me miss out and did want to make the situation right, including an ESPN cast member named Jamie and a Run Disney cast member named Megan (Jamie said Megan was the onsite manager for the event). Megan tried to find whatever solution she could so that I could run and even offered to mail me my medal when I told her that I just didn’t think I could mentally regroup in time. Except for being unable to run the race (which was a huge negative), our trip went well and so many great cast members provided us with a stellar experience. But I know that lots of folks participate in the races and I feel like I need to offer feedback that can help you improve in the future.
Most likely, I will be back for another Run Disney race. It is a big expense, and I am not sure when I will have the money to do it again, but it is something that I hope to experience in my lifetime. I am very sad that I missed the whole thing when I see the photos on the RunDisney website and when I saw everyone walking around Sunday in their medals and shirts. I should’ve been there with them! While I did not get the whole experience, which was unfortunate because Hollywood Studios is my favorite park and I really was looking forward to running there, Jamie and Megan did work hard to make sure that I didn’t go home with hurt feelings and I truly appreciate that. I just wish that all cast members had been so understanding so that the situation never happened in the first place.
Hopefully you will take this letter to heart and use my feedback when planning future RunDisney events.
Thank you for your time. If you would like to contact me to follow up or with any questions, my information is below.

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