Castaway Cay 5K race report

I have a confession to make: I did not Turkey Trot this year. The Fresno Turkey Trot has been a longstanding tradition for me, especially in the years since I’ve moved back to Fresno. However, when confronted with the opportunity to either stay in Fresno for Thanksgiving or go on a cruise, the cruise won out. Sorry, Fresno. It’s been a long 2017.

This is not to say that I didn’t run a 5K during Thanksgiving week because come on, we’re all (most of us) runners here and can admit seeking out a race in a vacation destination — because we’re going to be there anyway — is a totally normal thing to do.

In my case, it was the Castaway Cay 5K on Disney’s Castaway Cay, which is a port on Disney Cruise Line’s Bahamian and Caribbean cruises. It’s put on by runDisney, the same group responsible for the company’s series of races in Walt Disney World and Disneyland (RIP, West Coast Disney races).

The Castaway Cay 5K, though a feature on all of Disney’s cruises that make a stop at the company’s private island (because of course Disney has a private island), is not heavily publicized. It’s not listed as an official port excursion and isn’t heavily talked up on board, either. You can’t even register online in advance like you would for a normal race (or for your other port excursions) — you register at the Guest Services desk once on board.┬áThere’s no additional registration fee.

I don’t remember if I first heard about the race from friends who had done it or from a Disney blog, but I’ve been aware of it for several years. I registered for the Wednesday morning race on Saturday, our first night on board.

Having left port in New York City, our first days at sea were chilly. However, things had warmed up by the time we got to the Bahamas. So despite the late November date, I chose the same gear I would for a spring or summer race in Fresno: shorts, tank, hat, sunglasses.

On race day, runners and walkers met in one of the ship’s lounges at 8 a.m. to pick up race bibs and go over the course and where the one water station would be. Truthfully, the bibs really aren’t necessary, as the race isn’t timed, but they do make for a nice souvenir for those of us who save them.

We disembarked the ship together and walked about a mile to the start. The minimum age for participation is 10, but parents were able to take their younger children off the ship with them and drop them off at their age-appropriate kids clubs on the way to the starting line. I did, however, see a few registered runners and walkers pushing very young children in strollers during the race.

Once everyone had made it to the starting line — and again, this is a small, non-competitive race so there were no corrals or chips to worry about — we were off. The course consists of an out-and-back with a loop in the middle you run twice. (You can even cut off the second loop and head to the finish, if you’re so inclined. That’s what my son did.) Because it’s Disney, it’s well manicured and scenic, though I’ll admit I was more focused on running than taking it all in or stopping to take pictures. The long, straight section is referred to as the “airstrip” and the loop is part of the island’s bike loop. It’s a paved course, which was a relief. I had been somewhat worried that part of it might be sandy (and in the photo, you can see a bit of decorative sand along the edge of the course), being on a tropical island and all, and I had packed my good running shoes. (I’m not as opposed to running on sand as I am to getting sand in my shoes.)

Castaway Cay 5K course map, courtesy of my Nike Run Club app.

There’s very little shade on the airstrip. I heard people complaining about this. And look, it wasn’t what I would call ideal, but all that summer running in Fresno has to be good for something, right? That, and it truly was a short section of the course. The bike loop was shadier.

If you’re used to running in a hot, dry climate, or a cooler climate, the humidity may be a shock to your system. It’s been almost a decade since I’ve lived and trained in Chicago, but part of it must have stuck with me because I wasn’t bothered by the humidity. I’ve always found Fresno’s dry heat and bright sun to be far more violent and energy sapping. I know that’s not the case for everyone, so consider this a warning if the humidity is a deal breaker for you. (According to my phone, it was 77 degrees. No idea what the humidity level was.)

There is one water station manned by one Disney cast member. It’s on the loop, so you’ll pass it twice during the run.

The relatively flat, paved course led to some impressively even splits for me, and while it wasn’t a PR effort I was happy with my time of 24:34, which was enough to snag second place among the female participants. (Yes, it was unofficial. Yes, I was keeping track.) It was a good vacation effort.

Even though it was a non-competitive race, everyone (yes, even my course-cutting son) got a medal. It’s not metal, but rather rubber, like the medals they used to give out at other runDisney 5Ks and kids races. Other than water, there’s no post-race spread, but you can always go back to the ship and grab ice cream from the soft serve machine. Although we had other activities scheduled on the island later in the morning, we did go back to the ship to shower and eat breakfast — the gluten free pastries and orange juice I’d ordered from room service before we left were waiting for us in our cabin when we returned.

My family thoroughly enjoyed our Disney cruise and the Castaway Cay 5K was, for me, a definite highlight. I absolutely recommend it if there’s a Disney cruise in your future.

To recap, some things to remember if you plan on doing the Castaway Cay 5K on your Disney cruise

  • The 5K is only available on sailings that include the Castaway Cay port (weather permitting, I assume).
  • Registration — which is free — takes place at the Guest Services desk on the ship. You’ll receive a ticket as your receipt/reminder.
  • “Packet pick up” takes place on the morning of the race, prior to leaving the ship. This is where you’ll show your ticket to get your race bib.
  • There is no hard and fast “start” time. I realize this can be frustrating to those of us who depend on punctuality, but the group disembarks and walks to the start together and the race begins once everyone has arrived.
  • Children must be 10 or older to participate. Parents are able to drop younger children off at their youth clubs on the way to the race.
  • The Castaway Cay 5K is an un-chipped, non-competitive race. Everyone gets a medal.
  • You don’t get a finisher’s shirt, but you can buy one (I saw both cotton and tech options, in child and adult sizes) at a gift shop near the finish line.
  • It’ll be warm — you are running in a tropical climate, after all. A section of the course is unshaded, so don’t forget your hat and sunglasses. Sunscreen, too.

Have you run the Castaway Cay 5K? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

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