Saving Money on RunDisney Events

As a kid, I loved traveling to Walt Disney World with my family.  I loved visiting the unique parks, taking in the the futuristic feel of EPCOT, and going on the classic rides in the Magic Kingdom.  

Today, when it comes to Disney... I am just a slightly older kid.  Now, in my "second childhood," I get to enjoy both visiting the parks and running through them as a regular participant in RunDisney races 

I have completed multiple RunDisney events at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. On the east coast, I've participated in the WDW half marathon (Donald) and the one-time Chip & Dale Relay.  At Disneyland, I've done the Tinkerbell Half Marathon and this year's new Star Wars Half Marathon weekend Rebel Challenge.  I’ve earned my Coast to Coast medal twice.  

RunDisney races are not cheap.  The registration prices go up each year.  For most, a trip to either park also involves a flight and a hotel stay.  Add in food, merchandise and park tickets, and the dollars go up.

So what can you do to save money on your RunDisney experience?   In this post, I'll talk about what I do to spend less while traveling to both Disney parks for their races.

Know the Differences Between the Parks
The race experiences in Walt Disney World and Disneyland are different.  WDW races are held entirely on their own property, while Disneyland races venture into the city of Anaheim.  I find Disneyland races to be less congested as they have less participants, and the off-property roads used are wider.   

For Walt Disney World races, you are either driving, taking a bus, or riding a monorail to the start, while at Disneyland, most participants can just walk over from their hotel.  You need to get up much earlier for WDW races than you for DL events.  Getting to the start area at Florida races is more complicated (bus to waiting area to 20 minute walk to corrals), while California races often involve a walk of a half mile to a mile.  Also, the finish to most DL races can lead to directly to Downtown Disney, giving you a place to get a full meal before heading back to your car or hotel. 

Walt Disney World races are personally tougher on my joints as they are held on mostly cement roads.  This is something we're not used to in the northeast, and some of us get training miles in on sidewalks instead of on asphalt roads to get used to it.  Also, depending upon where you live and which coast you are traveling to, time differences can either help with the early wake ups or make them tougher on your body.

I definitely think it's worth doing a race at each park to see the different courses and to experience the unique rides and attractions found at each location.  There are differences in the rides offered at both parks (such as Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion, and Pirates), and there are some rides and shows only offered on one coast.  

Watch for Race Sellouts
The biggest priority for Disney races is to get registered in time.  Just a few years ago, you could wait a few weeks (or even months) before deciding to register.  Now, most races sell out on the same day that registration opens. 

General public registration for the Disneyland 2015 Star Wars Half Marathon sold out in 22 minutes, and the 2015 Wine and Dine Half Marathon races sold out in less than an hour.   The multi-race challenges at both parks fill up in minutes.

If you plan on registering for a Disney race, you should have your schedule planned out months to a year in advance, and know which races you definitely want to do before general public registration opens.  Also, have your account already set up so the registration process will go faster.

Do not bother asking for or checking for race discount codes.  There will not be any.  Also, if you are a member of Active Advantage, know that RunDisney races will waive the first $10.00 of the registration processing fee, but you will be charged for the processing cost beyond that amount.

Disney annual pass holders and vacation club members often have the option to register before the general public, and are sent special registrations links. The general public needs to be ready at the computer, credit card in hand, to get their spots once registration goes live.  

If your work schedule, your time zone, or other commitments mean you can't register yourself when registration goes live, then I would suggest finding a trusted family member or friend who can register you.

If you do sign up for a RunDisney event and you either can't make it or are no longer able to participate due to an injury, there are no refunds or transfers, but there is a deferral option.  Read the terms on the RunDisney website for more information.  

Also, before registration opens, seriously consider if the multi-race challenges are right for you, and if you really want to do more than one event.  I skip the 5Ks because I am not interested in them, and I'd rather save the money for other races or park tickets.

The force was with me at the 2015 Inaugural Star Wars Half Marathon

Getting There
While planning your race trip, determine if it is cheaper and/or more convenient for you to drive or to fly to your destinationThe best option may be determined by a number of factors, such as where you are staying, how long you will be there, how long the drive will be, and where you live.

For example, if you are traveling by yourself, it may be better for you to fly as you'll get there faster than driving.  Follow the tips in my book for earning rewards points for your preferred airline so you can save on your flight, or even get your tickets for free.  

From my experience, the cheapest flight fares are the ones booked as early as possible.  Check your fly in/fly out dates to see if it would be cheaper for you to arrive earlier or leave later.  

Also, be sensitive to the time of year and the weather.  When I fly for January races, I give myself a buffer travel day in the event that bad weather delays or cancels my flight.  

If the whole family is coming to celebrate your race and visit the parks, driving may be cheaper than buying plane tickets for everyone.  Driving gives you the chance to pack all the food and supplies you'll need for your vacation, and offers a means to easily go off Disney property for food and groceries.  Some even pack things like toasters, coffee makers and Crockpots to save on food expenses.  

Walt Disney World Races

For WDW races in Florida, you have the option to either stay in a Disney property, or to stay off property, either in another hotel or in a rental property.  There are pros and cons to each.  Your final decision for where to stay may depend on several factors, including whether you are flying or driving in; how many people are traveling or staying with you; how many races you are doing; and how long you plan to stay in the area.

Pros of staying in a Disney property:

  • Disney’s Magical Express will take you to and from the Orlando Airport for free, saving you from renting a car. 
  • Disney provides buses to most on-site resorts for transportation to and from the race. For some hotels, you can also use the monorail for transportation.  (Check to make sure your resort is a host hotel- not all Disney hotels participate in all RunDisney events).  
  • You don't have to worry about traffic getting to and from the race. 
  • If you are doing multiple events, knowing your transportation is taken care of for you = one less thing to think about.
  • If you plan on hitting the parks after your races, it’s much easier to take the Disney transportation back to your resort, then rest, shower and change.

Pros of staying offsite:

  • You may be able to get a cheaper hotel room, or have several friends or family members join you in a hotel or condo rental, for a significantly cheaper rate.  Some rental houses have room for five to twelve people. 
  • Those sharing a condo or a rental may have the opportunity to cook their own food versus going to restaurants for meals.  

Some local hotels may offer transportation and special deals to attract those coming for Disney races.  For example, the Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek offers special rates and round trip transportation from the race. 

When I go to WDW for RunDisney events, I either stay in Pop Century or I stay with a friend who lives in the area.  I don't splurge on the hotel room or go for the more expensive resorts because I don't plan on spending time in the room unless I am resting or sleeping.

Going through Cinderella's Castle at WDW

Disneyland Races
Disneyland and California Adventure have several non-Disney hotels and resorts within walking distance of the park entrances and the race start.  Race participants can opt to either stay in one of the three Disney properties, or stay in an off-site hotel.  I often room share or suite share with several friends at a nearby off-site hotel, greatly reducing our costs.

When I travel to Disneyland, I fly to Los Angeles and use Super Shuttle to for round trip transportation from the airport.  Super Shuttle is a Southwest Airlines Rapids Rewards partner, so I make sure I book my shuttle through their rewards link to get rewards points for each leg of my trip. If you are only going to spend your time at Disney while in California, then a car is not necessary.  If you want to visit some regional tourist sites, many companies offer tours that will pick you up and drop you off at your Anaheim hotel. 

There are also many local and national chain restaurants outside of Disney property, including IHOP and Denny's (and both are open 24 hours).  If your hotel does not include breakfast, you can definitely save money at these locations.  Research the restaurants near you and bring coupons.

Fundraising Your Way In
When RunDisney events sell out, many athletes turn to official charities to secure their race entry.  RunDisney partners with many wonderful non-profit organizations.  Fundraising for a race is a great way to support a cause you care about, and is a means to dedicate your miles to a greater purpose.  

I would advise anyone who is fundraising for any race to thoroughly check the fundraising requirements and the terms of the charity's program before registering.  Some charities include hotel and airfare in their fundraising minimums; others cover just the race entry.  Some charities offer special discounted park passes for their fundraising participants.  

Saving Money During Your RunDisney Trip
If you are flying to the parks, pack and bring the food, snacks and nutrition bars you prefer in your suitcase.  This is especially important if you have specific personal food or electrolyte products you need that you might not find for sale at the expo or in the area.

If you or a friend you are staying with is driving in for either race, have that person bring the supplies and groceries, such as cases of water.  You will definitely pay more to buy water, drinks, and other food while at the parks.  Everyone sharing a room or suite together can chip in cash to cover a group purchase.

Some runners who stay at Disney for several days will have food delivered to their room by a local delivery service.  Or, you can ship food to your hotel room via an online order at retailers like Wal-mart or Amazon.  You may get free shipping if you hit the retailer's order minimum.  You can even order and ship things you can't carry on the plane, like Gatorade and water.

Never pay full price for Disney park tickets.  You can get discounted tickets through official Disney registered travel agents, through the Disney Ticket Site (race registration number required). through AAA, or possibly through your work benefits office.  Some people volunteer for Run Disney to get a free park ticket (the shift requirements to earn the free ticket differ at each park- check out the volunteer links from Run Disney for more information). 

When I go to the parks, I bring my own food and water bottle with me.  I carry snack bars in my bag or in cargo pant pockets.  Disney will allow you to bring in food and beverages (but no glass bottles and no alcohol).  I refill my water bottle at the water fountains in the park or at some of the restaurants.  If I am getting food, I often order a child's portion if I just need a snack, or I share a meal with a large portion size with a friendWhile I will splurge on certain restaurants (having dinner in Japan in EPCOT is a personal favorite), I do try to keep myself on a food budget, and make sure I am only spending top dollar at the better restaurants.

One of the things to consider is how many days to get park passes for and when to go to the parks.  I do not recommend going to the parks the day before the half or full marathon, especially if you are doing the Goofy or Dopey ChallengesThese are the days you need to rest your legs, and go to bed early for your early wake up.  Even if you are an experienced runner, I would error on the side of caution with pre-race park time.  You want to enjoy both your park and race experiences.  All the extra walking and standing in line can have an impact on your performance.  If you are tired or still sore after your races, think about rides and shows that have you seated for a long time, like the Universe of Energy, the Land, or performance theater shows like Finding Nemo.


If you can, save your park days for after the races are over.  The parks tend to be more crowded on the weekends than the weekdays, and many race participants head home on Sunday or Monday.  Also, consider if you really need a hopper pass or a single park pass.  I've purchased the hopper pass for Disneyland, but done single-day park passes for WDW, saving money by staying in one park per day.

Some people choose not to go to the parks at all while visiting for a race, especially if they are doing a multi-day series.  They get their "park time" while running through the different parks during the race, and save park visits for when family can come along.  Others also rotate their park visit and RunDisney race years depending upon changes in the race medals or new attraction openings at each location.  

Others who have the vacation time and plan on doing more than one Disney race in a year actually found it cheaper to become annual pass holders versus buying daily single-park or hopper tickets.  Annual pass holders save on food and merchandise, plus get early registration for Run Disney races, so if you are a serious Disney fan, this might be your best option.

Disney often extends discounts on hotels and park tickets to active and retired military personnel and their families.  Check directly with Disney for more information. WDW and Disneyland offer different military discount programs.

When you go to the RunDisney expo, there will be lots of cool, tempting merchandise.  Ask yourself if you really need a race extra shirt, mug, hat, magnet, pin, and the like.  Pre-set a spending budget, either as a dollar limit or an item limit.  The commemorative merchandise items can add up very quickly.  Don't forget that annual pass holders and Disney credit card holders can get merchandise discounts, which can include expo merchandise.  

If you have buyer's remorse and you are still at Disney, you can return your purchase at any Disney shop with your receipt.  Another option people do is either try to sell extra/no longer wanted/wrong size merchandise in Disney Facebook groups or on eBay.  

Another option is to wait on merchandise and check out either the Disney outlets or ESPN stores after the race.  Unsold race merchandise usually winds up at these locations, and sometimes at a discount.  Stock can be limited and may not be in your size, but if you are a collector, it's worth checking.  

Some RunDisney merchandise and clothing are available on the Disney Store online (  I've waited for sales (such as Black Friday promos) and ordered RunDisney items there at 25% off.  

Finally, be prepared for possible drastic changes in the weather.  I've done Florida races in extreme heat and humidity, freezing temperatures, heavy winds, and downpours.  Pack an assortment of race gear and bring a poncho.  Also, bring throwaway clothing, such as a warm sweatshirt or flannel shirt, and old gloves or socks for your hands.  RunDisney races start at 5:30 am in the dark, and it can get cold.  Do what you can to prevent yourself from having to make last-minute overpriced purchases for additional race clothing. 

Note: this post is not endorsed by or affiliated with Disney or RunDisney.