How runDisney Events Affect Crowds in the Theme Parksby Fred Hazelton, contributing writer
Ever since the inaugural 1994 Walt Disney World Marathon, runDisney events have grown steadily at Disney parks worldwide. Races at Disneyland and Walt Disney World now feature princesses, super heroes, wookies, and wine & diners. These events have become so successful (and profitable) that we often get asked how the events affect crowds at the theme parks. Let's take a look at where the events fall on the calendar and see if we can determine the impact historically.
The first thing we notice is that the runDisney events are scheduled during times of the year when crowds are not at their peak, usually at moderate or low times of the year. The races were intended to draw in guests during times of the year when attendance would be slower, so when we add in a few thousands guests during times which are historically slow we end up with crowds that are moderate at most. The impact is similar to other events on the Disney calendar like Epcot's Food & Wine and Flower & Garden Festivals. We see a large number of people flock to the resort to take part in a specific event, which keeps attendance up during historically slow times. Disney theme parks are busy year-round these days, in part thanks to events like runDisney races.
When we look at historical wait times in the parks, there is no statistical correlation with runDisney events. Although these events bring in thousands of runners, it takes tens of thousands of guests who would not normally be in the parks before we see a significant impact on wait times in the parks. The key there is "who would not normally be in the parks." In most cases the races have established dates on the Disney calendars and guests who are not participating in the events tend to choose alternate dates to visit the parks such that the net impact of the races is lessened somewhat.
That being said, the events do have an impact. In some cases, the impact is significant even if we do not see an increase in wait times at the parks. Traffic routes can be disrupted, parking lots can be closed to non-event guests, and on-site hotels can be booked solid. We often get asked why we don't anticipate the parks to reach capacity when all on-site rooms are booked. In our experience, hotel occupancy is not a good predictor for how busy the attractions will be in the parks. There are simply too many hotels that service the Disney parks and almost all of them need to be sold-out before we see the parks close due to capacity.
Disney parks do a great job handling large crowds so in some sense they make perfect hosts for large running races. These races are certainly getting more and more popular so it may be the case that soon we will start to see peaks in the wait times as well but for now, run on!