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Robert Niles

Disney adds a Star Wars-themed half marathon weekend to its 'off-season' calendar

Published: May 28, 2014 at 9:05 AM

RunDisney this week announced its latest Disney theme park weekend: a Star Wars-themed half marathon at the Disneyland Resort. And, thus, one more lightly attended weekend disappears from the calendar at Disney theme parks.

Star Wars Half Marathon
Nice bib number, Chewie! Photo courtesy Disney

Running events have provided one of the more popular ways for Disney to raise attendance at its theme parks during times of the year when people traditionally haven't visited much. Being family-focused attractions, theme parks typically find their crowd levels following the school calendar: packed during vacations and empty when class is in session. That, plus weather concerns for outdoor parks, leads most parks in the United States outside Orlando and Southern California to close during the school year.

Disney's theme parks remain open year-round, but they didn't used to be able to escape the influence of weather and the academic calendar. More than a decade ago, you could visit a Disney theme park during non-holiday weeks in January or February and find every attraction a walk-on. Sure, operating hours would be shorter to reflect the smaller crowd, but that wouldn't keep you from being able to bag more rides than you could on an 8am-midnight summer day, thanks to the lack of crowds and lines.

While empty parks are great for fans, they're terrible for the businesses that run the parks. So they've looked for ways to encourage more people to visit their parks during the off-season. That's why we see events such as Epcot's Food and Wine Festival and Universal Studios Florida's Mardi Gras concert series running during these non-summer, non-holiday months, in efforts to provide extra attractions to entice locals and tourists into the parks during those periods. That's also why parks discount during these times, offering deals such as free dining packages and discounted hotel rooms.

But no events or promotions have done a better job at packing theme parks and hotels with free-spending tourists than runDisney's.

Disney held its first marathon at the Walt Disney World Resort in 1994. Today, runDisney holds nine event weekends at the Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts. Anyone who's mistakenly booked a trip for a runDisney weekend, thinking that they'd be visiting near-empty Walt Disney World parks, can testify to how well these events bring people into the resort. Disney struck gold by focusing its events on female runners, creating events that emphasized camaraderie, entertainment, and fitness over competition, while embracing themes such as Disney Princesses and Tinker Bell. But Disney's never satisfied with capturing half of a potential audience. The recent addition of Marvel and now Star Wars-themed events should show that Disney's intent on expanding the appeal of its running weekends beyond Mom to include everyone in the family.

The Star Wars weekend, on Jan. 15-18 next year, gives the Disneyland Resort four runDisney events, to go with Walt Disney World's five. With less space at Disneyland, the west coast runDisney events operate on Anaheim streets as well as within the resort, which potentially could limit the number of running events Disney could offer there. But Disney calls the shots at its Florida property, and only existing crowd levels restrict the company's ability to add new events there.

So if you've found a good weekend with small crowds at a Disney theme park, enjoy it now. Because eventually Disney's goal appears to be to create events that will balance its crowds by bringing as many visitors as it can pack into its parks, every weekend of the year.

Replies (2)

Published: May 28, 2014 at 9:20 AM

My only gripe is this isn't in Orlando! Where oh where is Star Wars land...
TH Creative

Published: May 28, 2014 at 5:00 PM

I think Disney should promote one weekend a year as "The Official Lightly Attended Disney Weekend."

It would be a HUGE hit. Literally hundreds of thousands would show up!

And Niles, screw your TOS limits, if they glom this (my) concept ... I'll litigate Mickey's butt!

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