There’s something extra magical about Disney parks in the morning. And I’m not talking the time in the morning you might be thinking of–when the crowds start rushing in, excited for what the day has in store. I’m talking about way before that: when the park is empty, and the sun is just barely rising over the horizon. I’ve been lucky enough to experience the parks like that a few times throughout my time with Disney, and it’s where I found myself early last Sunday morning.
My alarm went off at 1:30 AM that day, partially because I was terrified I was going to sleep in and miss my shift, and partially because I was just so excited. My Partners family and I had been working with the Be Well Cast Fitness team over the past few months, getting everything prepped and ready for the big event: the Cast & Family 5K Fun Run at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
I made my way to the front of the park, where I met up with my colleague Juliana. Even though it was pitch black out and unbearably early, we were both wide awake, eager to see the event unfold. We were stationed at the front table where we’d be able to help check in any runners who hadn’t yet picked up their bib. As people started arriving, I noticed so much Disney pride: runners who had dressed up as their favorite characters, cast excitedly sharing that this was their first Cast 5K, and even family and friends who had woken up in the wee hours of the morning to cheer at the finish line.
While I had come to the event to assist the Be Well Team with logistics, I had also brought along my camera to take some photos and videos. When it became closer to 6 AM, the official race start time, Juliana assured me that she had the check-in table under control and encouraged me to head inside the park to start capturing the event. I made my way through Dinoland, following the sea of bright green shirts towards the start line. Before I knew it, the runners were off, making their way through the various lands.
Animal Kingdom is by far my favorite Disney theme park. And I’m not just saying that for this article…it really is my favorite—hands down! So, while I was beyond happy to work this event, I must admit that I was a little disappointed that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to run through the park alongside everyone else. That’s why I did the next best thing: I grabbed my camera and ran off into the park after the runners, stationing myself along the way to capture as many moments as I could.
I was able to experience running through Pandora – The World of AVATAR, which was stunning as it glowed in the dark, the bioluminescent pathways guiding the way. I ran past the Tree of Life, which stirred awake with colorful projections as we passed it and saw the mighty Mount Everest as the sun rose behind it.
At the finish line, runners were handed their medals and went off to reconnect with friends and family. Mickey, Pluto, and other special guests were there to congratulate the runners on a job well done. There was such an amazing sense of community as everyone came together to celebrate the morning.
Events like the Cast 5K really remind me how fortunate I am to be a part of this community. I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes, as a cast member, it can be easy to forget how special this place is. (Especially if it’s during the middle of the day, in the dead of summer in Florida, and you want nothing more than to leave the crowded parks and stay at home in air-conditioning for the rest of time.) But seeing the beautiful park come to life in the morning, surrounded by fellow Disney cast and family—it was absolutely magical.
I took one last look behind me as I left the park; everyone had gathered at the foot of the Tree of Life, hugging and taking photos. I had one thought: I couldn’t wait until next year’s 5K! Well, that, and that I could really use a nap…
Formerly authored by Sarah B. at Partners