Fun at the finish line

AT: John W.C. Robinson

When my father, William H. Robinson, was marketing several small amusement parks in the 1980s and 1990s, inevitably all parks had weekends and days that it felt nearly impossible to attract people. Promotions were the key then, tying in with local brands, radio stations, and offering steep discounts such as carloads.


In more recent years, parks throughout the industry have found a new way to spin their turnstiles on normally quiet weekends. With an increasing number of people filling their spring and summer days with a more active lifestyle, amusement and theme parks have been tapping into these activities that would normally compete for their seasonal attention and have been inviting participants through their gates by hosting their own events.

Running events as small as a 5K — and as large as the Walt Disney World Marathon — are being held annually and bringing new attention and guests to parks. 

Disney’s events have become so popular that the runDisney brand was created to showcase the events on social media and on clothing. Multiple Cedar Fair parks have begun hosting events for the company’s “Run and Ride” series, encouraging participants to come for the run, then stay with their families and ride the coasters. 

Family-owned Quassy Amusement Park in Connecticut hosted an Ironman triathlon recently. Lagoon Amusement Park of Utah and Pittsburgh’s Kennywood have each hosted a combination of half marathons, 10Ks, and 5Ks.

I took my own family on a vacation to Kings Dominion a couple summers ago for the park’s Run and Ride event. The whole family participated in the 5K together. The 14-year-old ran alongside me throughout the race and often remarked how cool it was to start the race under a running Dominator coaster and through the Dinosaurs Alive attraction. That 30-minute run on a Saturday morning was what drove us eight hours out to visit the park for our family vacation. Less than an hour for a running event opened the door for an unforgettable vacation that lasted several days, all within the gates of a theme park. The run got my attention. I brought my family.

All that is required is land and a place for the competitors to run. A park midway, early in the morning prior to opening the gates, is perfect for this. Fire up the lights, spin the carousel, let the coaster roar along its tracks and have employees and park mascot out high-fiving runners as they pass by … a unique, one-of-a-kind running course is almost instantly created.  And, afterwards, a gathering of park guests to enjoy a day at the park is instantly ready and waiting.

This article appears in the JULY 2019 issue of Amusement Today.
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