Notes From a Hired Pen

Four things Disney can do to improve running for vacationers

For the first leg of this trip, I spent a week in Walt Disney World with my family. Since I am also marathon training, I knew I’d be running while there too.

Disney is a racing juggernaught. The Disney Princess Half Marathon and Disney World Half Marathon are the eleventh and twelfth largest half marathons in the world. The Disney World Marathon is the thirteenth largest marathon in the world too. And that doesn’t count all the shorter races, or the events in Anaheim. runDisney, as it’s called, is a major force in the amateur racing world.

But when I went to looked for what guides or activities they had for runners vacationing at their Florida property? Track suits and jogging. I still think this photo was taken in 1990, which was the last time my family visited together.

This seems a major lapse. I don’t have much interest in running Disney races, but I am a fan of going to their parks. Disney thinks of everything — everything. When I turned on the lights in my Disney resort room, it came on dim and then got brighter gradually so my eyes would adjust. Every bus stop at the resort had water fountains. When I ran through Disney Springs one morning, I saw a flock of Disney elves putting everything back again, from cleaning up the shrubbery to repainting light fixtures. Their app, the Magic Band program, the Magic Bandits for the Magic Bands — really they have thought of everything in terms of making your experience better, and separating you from more of your money.

Except when it comes to visiting runners. This is such a gap that I assume they have to be working on something.

But in case they’re not, I have four suggestions.

1. Create better running guides, with suggested routes to cover everything from one to 10 miles. How about a running-specific paper map, too, that I could carry with me while out on the run? They’re already somewhat there with the “jogging” site, but it’s piecemeal and incomplete. Inspiration: Kimpton. I’ve used their running guides every time I’ve stayed at one of their hotels.

2. Hire a running concierge. Not only would this person be an ambassador for running at Disney, but he or she could answer questions via social media, post updated running route suggestions, and be a resource for vacationers who want to get a few runs in while at the Happiest Place on Earth. He or she would run the Disney races, and write and tweet and Instagram along the way, plus write custom content for a Disney running website. Inspiration: Westin.

3. Create opportunities to run in the parks. I would have paid to run in one of the parks before or after opening. A guide (or two or three to accommodate different paces) can make sure we don’t see things we’re not supposed to see. How about tying it to a special breakfast or coffee after the run (especially if something’s needed to justify a fee) or participants getting some kind of Disney pin or Magic Bandit for participating? My grandfather’s a veteran, and he was given a vet-specific pin by a Disney cast member because he wore his Korea hat. Something like that could be done with runners too.

4. Open up the merchandise to vacationers. For one Disney race, New Balance created a Donald Duck running shoe. You could only buy it at the expo, but I checked out eBay to see if I could score a pair. Cost: over $200. I don’t run in New Balance shoes and I still, briefly, thought about it. I couldn’t find Disney running-specific gear last week, not even in the running store in Disney Springs. I found a few generic workout tops and pants, but only a few. I usually buy one running item everywhere I go — a running hat in Ft. Worth, a tank top in Asheville. I spent way too much money on Disney stuff last week, and would have spent more for a Donald Duck running top, or even a Walt Disney World tank with a pair of running shoes on it made out of sweat wicking material. SOMETHING. I get that part of the attraction of selling running items at expos is exclusivity, but the Disney pin program seems to do just fine with pins sold all over the parks.

It’s not that I had a terrible experience while running there, but I was stuck on the same route, over and over. The running community is huge — the running community dedicated to Disney is already huge — so they could do much more.

So, Disney, that’s how you can take more of my money. No need to thank me — a better running experience next time I come around will be more than enough.

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