Photos by Chris Green, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.00
Walt Disney World Resort Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830
Year Opened: 1971
Running Through Disney World
The runDisney Marathon weekends have become a staple of Disney’s sports scene. After starting with just a marathon every January, the schedule now includes no less than four race weekends a year with 5k, 10k, half, and full marathons scattered throughout each weekend. Different themes offer fans and runners a different experience each time, making this one of the more unique and memorable marathons in the country.
Without a doubt, this is certainly a special event to be seen by fans and runners alike. In addition, the runDisney expo and merchandise experiences are coupled with race registration and bib pickup at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex during race weekends.
Food & Beverage 3
During races, the finish line complex at EPCOT features several food trucks set up that offer the basics of coffee, soft drinks, breakfast pastries, and various food options. For races that include a run through Magic Kingdom, Casey’s Corner is open the entire morning, offering its full menu of hot dog variations. A chili cheese dog starts at $11.49 and goes up to $13.49 for a footlong, as does the Bacon Mac and Cheese dog. A standard hot dog is $9.99 to $11.99, while the plant-based slaw dog costs $11.49. Most popular are the corn dog nugget meals for $8.99, while various options for French fries run $6.49. Drinks include bottled water, apple juice, and sodas for $3.50-$5.50, while the mint julep lemonade slushy costs $6.49.
The Disney Marathon weekends are incredibly fun for fans and runners. Each race weekend has a different theme, from the traditional full marathon weekend (January) to the Disney Princess (February), Star Wars (April), and fall themes (November) – each weekend offers a different feel to them. DJs are present at both the start gates and the finish line to get runners and fans energized (you are after all starting each run around 5 am), and they keep the energy going the whole time. Each time a corral of people is let onto the course, fireworks and pyrotechnics are shot off from the starting gate. When the winner of each respective classification crosses the line, confetti cannons and a breakable finish line greet them at the end of the course.
For courses that run through Magic Kingdom, fans are allowed to travel from the parking lot at EPCOT to the Magic Kingdom via Monorail to watch the runners traverse the course through the park. In addition, each race features various characters that are available for photos with both fans and runners at the main finishing complex at EPCOT.
The race complex is located on the parking lot of EPCOT (except for the Fall Feast 5k, which is traditionally run at Disney’s Animal Kingdom), which is deep in the heart of Walt Disney World. Because of this, you’re not far from pretty much everything you need on your trip. For obvious reasons, the best place to stay would be at any of the Disney Resorts – guests of the resorts get free bus transport from the hotels to the starting gates, and then from the finish line back to their hotel.
For food, anywhere on Disney Property is a go-to; Kona Café at the Disney Polynesian Resort is a popular stop for sushi and a south seas flavor for dinner, while California Grill at the top of Contemporary Resort is also a popular go-to for a more upscale experience. In addition, popular tourist stops include EPCOT, Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and the Animal Kingdom theme parks. Also, Disney Springs, which is accessible via bus and car, is home to countless restaurants, bars, and shopping opportunities for the whole family.
The fans here are unique, as they are almost all family and friends of runners participating in the events. Because of this, there’s a special feeling as runners run the courses and finish the races. Each fan has someone they’re rooting for and helping cheer on. No matter what, you feel the excitement in the air at all times, from the moment the first athlete crosses the line to the time when the balloon ladies who pace the back of the field arrive at the finish.
Getting to the race parking lot is pretty easy, but traffic for certain races can be a pain. Parking is free for the race at EPCOT (or Animal Kingdom for the Fall Feast 5k), but there is a decent walk from the parking lot to the corrals and finish line.
Fans can also go through bag checks and security checkpoints in the parking lot as well. Depending on how the course is set up, traffic getting into the races can get backed up throughout Disney property, as many races block off commonly used roads (which are utilized as part of various courses). In addition, after the race is over parking can once again back up a bit getting out, as by that time regular park guests are arriving for their day at EPCOT.
Return on Investment 4
Getting into the running complex and the grandstands is free, with most viewing areas also free – grandstands are set up all along the finishing stretch as well as at the start line for fans to root on their athletes. For longer races, such as the half and full marathons, fans can line up at various stages along the route to cheer on their loved ones. For races that go through Magic Kingdom, you can get a chance to see your loved ones race under Cinderella’s castle or run down Main Street USA, and for a price of $65 you can join the chEAR Squad during longer races (half and full marathons). This guarantees you a reserved grandstand seat near the finish line to get the best view of the runners crossing the line, as well as free beverages, snacks, and your own set of restrooms.
Whenever races go into Magic Kingdom, those packages also offer special viewing areas in front of the castle to watch the runners pass under the arches in the park; for $120 the Race Retreat package offers runners and fans the chance to relax in an air conditioned area near the race finish line that includes food, drinks, a live video feed of the race, and live timing for runners.
Runners and fans descend upon Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports complex, as race registration and bib pickup is located here all weekend, as well as the runner expo and race merchandise. Here, you can shop for all the official runDisney gear and keepsakes you need, as well as check out some of the latest offerings from various companies for runners.
Athletes taking part in the races also traditionally dress up as various Disney characters for each race, usually joining in with the respective theme for each event.
This is easily one of the more unique experiences for sports in Central Florida, and it has become a fan favorite. From former Olympians to everyday people, thousands descend upon the Walt Disney World resort for runDisney marathon weekends. Once you have been to an event, it is easy to see why people have made these events a part of Disney’s rich sports history.