Shane Lindsay and Kristina Hawkins know their quest might be impossible or just crazy: Go on every ride at the four theme parks in Orlando's Walt Disney World in just one day.
“There are lots of people who are Disney fans,” said friend Ted Tamburo, who along with Lindsay runs a website chronicling what’s known as the Parkeology Challenge (parkeology.com). “There’s not many who can say they’ve done this.”
Lindsay and Hawkins realize that luck must fall their way to reach and ride all 46 open attractions at the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.
About 6 percent of the 325 official Parkeology teams that have tried so far since 2014 have completed the challenge, which can involve more than 20 miles of walking and running through the parks, often zigzagging among them.
Plenty can go wrong. A torrential rain shut down the final two rides the first time Lindsay attempted the challenge in 2013 with Tamburo, who didn’t quit even when he broke his toe that day. Once, a herd of stubborn rhinos parked themselves on the road at the Animal Kingdom safari, refusing to move for 20 minutes.
“If you’re a regular guest, it’s amazing,” Lindsay said. “But on challenge day, it’s terrible!”
On your mark, get set, ride
Challenge day starts on a recent Wednesday at 6:30 a.m. It is a brisk 45 degrees.
Hawkins, 30, a stay-at-home mom of four from Clermont, Florida, has packed an impressive array of snacks — energy bars, cheese sticks and Oreos. Lindsay, 45, a software developer from Davenport, Florida, has a head full of Disney statistics. He has memorized which rides close early and how long each one takes — from a speedy roller coaster to the Carousel of Progress that lasts more than 20 minutes. The creator of the challenge, Lindsay has finished it twice.
Lindsay’s and Hawkins’ first ride of the day seems like a surprising choice. It’s Main Street Vehicles, an old-timey car that putzes along Main Street USA to the Cinderella Castle. It only runs early in the morning, so Hawkins and Lindsay knock it off the list at 7:51 a.m. “Only 45 more to go,” Lindsay says cheerfully as we hurry to Animal Kingdom
They dart from park to park using Uber, the Monorail and Lindsay’s car, where a cooler is stashed with Gatorade and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
Lindsay and Hawkins jog slow enough to not get yelled at by Disney workers. We go single file; I follow. Their pace is steady, darting around double-wide strollers and couples holding hands.
Dealing with the unforeseen
Part of the Parkeology Challenge means dealing with the unforeseen — the Expedition Everest roller coaster, for example, is shut down this morning. We follow certain rules, such as not asking Disney employees for special favors and always staying together.
The game requires that we post photos on Twitter of every ride we successfully encounter. There are actually 49 rides in all, but three are down for renovations. Much of the day, Hawkins and Lindsay scroll on their phones, frantically searching for FastPasses to save time. “This is the unfortunate boring part of the challenge,” Lindsay says.
At 3:40 p.m., we have finished all nine rides at Epcot, and it’s back to Animal Kingdom where Everest is finally running. In an adrenaline-filled run, sweat dripping on our faces even in the cold, we sprint across the Animal Kingdom parking lot and then to the roller coaster. The ride over quickly, we are back running again, off to Hollywood Studios.
By 6 p.m., it’s clear we won’t finish, but Hawkins and Lindsay don’t relent on the pace. We reach Seven Dwarfs Mine Train before the park officially closes at midnight, so we’re allowed to stand in line for one final ride.
The roller coaster was our 38th ride. We finished all of the rides at Epcot, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios and two-thirds of them at the Magic Kingdom. Disney is closed now; the clock expired on the challenge. Our team logged 19 hours on Disney property and 21 miles of running and walking.
We limp past Cinderella Castle, where the dozen or so other Parkeology Challengers gather. We share Ibuprofen and stories of ride breakdowns and miracle, last-minute FastPasses.
“I’ll be sad when it’s over,” I had told Hawkins before we reached our cars at the Animal Kingdom at 1:30 a.m.
Hawkins smiled at me wickedly. “Well, then, you’ll just have to try it again,” she said.