Invasion of the Large Family: Using a 'Runner'

by Joe Needham, contributing writer
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By Joe Needham, contributing writer

When touring with a larger family or group, you usually have a high degree of variability in stamina levels. If you have a group that wants to try and stay together as much as possible, then employing a strategy that utilizes a “runner” is a good way to save a few steps for the group.

A runner is someone who goes ahead of the group and gathers Fastpass tickets or checks on wait times. While actual running is not required (and for safety reasons, we don't advocate running in the parks), the ability to walk a little faster than the rest of the group is a good asset to have. When deciding on the best candidate to be your runner, ask yourselves if the person:

  • Has extra stamina – Your runner should have a higher level of stamina than your average person, or at least in your group. This person might change from day to day, depending on how tired everyone gets as the vacation continues. I’ve heard that the average person can put in as much as five miles a day in the parks. If that is so, then the runner will definitely put in that much if not more.
  • Is familiar with the park – Your runner should know the park or at least be able follow the park maps with ease. An inability to follow a map or lacking a good sense of direction, could mean your runner will be in for even more walking than necessary.
  • Can log more miles – Your runner should be willing to log a few extra miles than the rest of the group. If you don’t have a willing participant, then they won’t do as good of a job, and in the end they won’t be much of a benefit.
  • Is dependable – Your runner will be holding onto a good number of (if not all) of the park tickets for your group, so make sure you can trust that they won't get lost or misplaced.
  • Understands Fastpass – Your runner can keep up with the times and make a plan for the order in which to get the Fastpass tickets, making it possible for your group to go an entire day and never wait more than 20 minutes or so for a single ride, even when crowded.

Once you have identified your runner, then here are a few tips:

  • Once your group gets to the park and gets through the turnstiles, everyone should hand their admission media to the designated runner, freeing the runner to go on ahead to the first Fastpass dispenser. The rest of the group can follow at a slower pace, head to a different attraction, or wait.
  • Before the runner leaves the group, plan what the group will do, whether this means following at a slower pace, heading to a different attraction, or waiting for the runner to return. This way, the runner knows where to find them.
  • Always note the times listed on the Fastpass tickets that indicate when you can obtain the next Fastpass. This provides the cue for the runner to know when to break away from the group and get another set of Fastpass tickets.
  • Be willing to reassign another person to be the runner as fatigue sets in or willingness changes. 
  • Before getting into an attraction queue, check the time and send the runner off to obtain another set of Fastpass tickets. This takes advantage of the Fastpass system, which opens up your ability to go and get the next Fastpass once you are in the time window to use your current Fastpass.
  • Note which attractions are using the Fastpass system that day, as well as which ones are near your current location. The park maps identify Fastpass locations, so have one handy.

Note: Historically Walt Disney World has been lenient by allowing Fastpass holders to enter the Fastpass line even though the time on their passes have expired. This has changed recently, with cast members being stricter about the return time. This means that groups have to be more regimented in following behind the runner and showing up within the specified time limits.

Assuming your group starts the day at rope drop (when Disney allows park guests into the ride area of the parks), consider these options to best utilize the runner system.

Magic Kingdom

For the Magic Kingdom, choose a runner who doesn't mind not riding The Magic Carpets of Aladdin in Fantasyland. This strategy is designed to allow your large group to enjoy upwards of five attractions in the morning.

  1. Once through the turnstiles, send the runner off to get Fastpass tickets for Space Mountain.
  2. In the meantime, the rest of the group heads to Adventureland and rides The Magic Carpets of Aladdin.
  3. Once the runner catches up, the group rides Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean.
  4. By this time, the Fastpass tickets for Space Mountain are probably ready. The entire group can head over to Tomorrowland and first grabs Fastpass tickets for Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin before riding Space Mountain.

Epcot

For Epcot, this strategy has the group following behind the runner instead of going on another attraction, and allows you to go on three different attractions in the morning (including a second ride on Soarin').

  1. Once through the turnstiles, send the runner to get Fastpass tickets for Soarin’.
  2. The rest of the group can follow along at a slower pace, and meet the runner at the entrance of the standby line for Soarin’. Everybody then rides Soarin' as standby, including the runner. At this time of day the wait will be around 20 minutes.
  3. Once you are off Soarin', ride Living with the Land. Your Soarin’ Fastpass tickets are probably ready; go on it a second time.
  4. After your second ride through Soarin', send the runner to Test Track.
  5. Alternatively, if you have a member who doesn’t care to ride Soarin’ twice, that person can then become the runner. Send them to the Fastpass dispenser for Test Track.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom

At Animal Kingdom, this strategy can help your group enjoy four attractions.

  1. Once through the turnstiles, send the runner to get Fastpass tickets for Expedition Everest.
  2. The rest of the group can head over to Kilimanjaro Safaris. Once the runner catches up, everyone can go on the Safari using the standby line.
  3. Once finished, head towards Expedition Everest.
  4. If the weather is hot, pick up a set of Fastpass tickets at Kali River Rapids before riding Expedition Everest. Otherwise, get a second set of Fastpass tickets for Expedition Everest before riding using the Fastpass tickets your runner got at the start of the day.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios

At Hollywood Studios, it is possible for your group to ride Rock 'n' Roller Coaster without the runner; make sure your runner doesn't mind this.

  1. Once through the turnstiles, send the runner to get Fastpass tickets for Toy Story Mania.
  2. The rest of the group can head to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. Here, it is possible for members of your group to go ahead and ride Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster using the standby line, and maybe even getting in a couple of rounds by the time the runner catches up.

Utilizing a runner and the Fastpass system can go a long way in making your trip more enjoyable. It is a great way to save energy for those in your group who have little to spare. It also brings enjoyment to the runner, who gets a sense of pride in being able to shepherd the group through shorter lines and wait times. I have also found that if you have an actual runner or jogger in your group, they usually relish the job, as they see it as a way to get a little more exercise in while on vacation.

 

Comments

  1. By petesimac

    Ah how I love being the designated "runner." I do, really! And I agree that it makes good sense to employ this strategy, even if it's a small group; it just saves wear and tear on the individuals in the group. Although I have a couple of caveats. In Epcot, as I go get fastpasses for Soarin', the rest of the family waits for me at Spaceship Earch; that's a great 1st ride of the day, and the rest of the group doesnt have to make the walk to Soarin' first thing in the am.

    In AK, for us, instead of fastpassing Everest, the two youngsters usually run off to do that first thing in the morning when the line is short (or single rider line is anyway), and I get fastpasses for the safari, something we all ride. Then, later in the day, we fastpass the rapids, and that just about takes care of AK.

    In DHS, the Toy Story fastpasses are almost always either gone or have return times so late in the day (unless you are a gate opener, which I am certainly not)that it doesn't make sense to use them; instead, we take advantage of the fact that neither of the elders in our group ride either of the big rides, Tower and Rockin' Rollercoaster, nor my daughter, Tower, so my son and I grab fastpasses for Tower, and with the remaining three entry cards, we get three fastpasses for the Aerosmith ride; that's two big rides saved for the day instead of the one ride (Toy Story). Then the five of us usually do the movie ride and then the three younger members of the group do a walk on at Toy Story. Sure, it's usually about an hour's wait, but typically less than that, and typically it's only about a half-hour until you reach the point in line where the fastpassers enter the line. Plus, it's such a fun queue that I actually don't mind the wait. Thankfully, Star Tours, even with a line, is rarely that long a wait, so we don't have to waste fastpasses for it.

    At Magic Kingdom FPs are less of an issue, at least for my extended family. I agree that Space Mountain is a great first fastpass for the day. However, this year, as I can no loger ride that great ride, we'll probably use the two elder's entry cards for the Space Mountain FPs for my son and daughter, and then I can use the remaining 3 entry cards for Splash Mountain. That leaves only Thunder Mountain and mayber Peter Pan and perhaps Pooh for the rest of the day.

    I digressed a bit from the point of the article, but, as you can see, there are so many strategies that you can employ using the FPs. So, select a runner in advance, have a strategy, to a certain extent, and have fun with it. If you start feeling stressed out, forget about it and try to enjoy the park; use the FPs whenever the opportunity presents itself.

  2. By Joysnote

    I agree, usually in our family my husband is the runner, but sometimes if family comes to visit and he is at work, I become the runner. It can be a lot of fun, and I get a real work out in too We moved to Orlando last summer but had been traveling here for vacations for years! We are trying to teach some of our new friends here about being runners and getting fast passes, I will have to send them link to your article.

  3. By Spelurker

    The runner strategy worked for well us when my kids were 5 and 6. The only difference is that I sent the rest of the family on to Splash Mountain at the back of the park, while I got some fast passes for Peter Pan and just walked so quickly I caught up with them before they got on. That will burn off breakfast calories fast !

  4. By olegc

    I'm usually the runner (and I was thinking of writing something like this for Disneyland) but I just wonder if the new enforcement policies on return times would affect some of your strategies. It would take some thinking about scenarios I guess. I see you mentioned it but I would be interested over time if this is revisited.

  5. By Roan Poulter

    For many years now I have served as the runner for my family of four. When other families have joined us, my responsibilities grew, because I was the only one who could keep track of everyones passes and fastpasses. My only word of caution is that it is a lot to do and keep track of. With a group of ten or more people, the stack of media you'll be juggling can get unwieldy. It also means you end up missing out on spending time with your family.

    We have tried to move past the great rush, the belief that more rides in a day is a better experience. We try several times a day to notice something we have always missed. Also, unless there is a crush of people between us and the fastpasses, we try to stay together and work out a plan that doesn't force us to cross the park every ride. I still hate waiting in a long line, so I do suggest watching your clock, just be sure you don't miss your vacation in the process.

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