“The course is strong with this one.” Walt Disney World held their annual Star Wars Half-Marathon weekend two weeks ago at the Magic Kingdom. The course started at Magic Kingdom, ran through Hollywood Studios and ended at the Epcot Center.
Disney is famous for their races that started back in 1994 with their first Walt Disney Marathon that runs through all four Disney parks. In 1994, there were 8,200 runners and now there are seven major running weekends between Disney World and Disneyland, California with over 163,000 runners combined.
Each race weekend begins with their themed Disney expo featuring products associated with the race. The Star Wars Half-Marathon weekend obviously featured Star Wars running gear, shirts, shoes, headbands, light sabers, frames, pictures… you name it, Disney had it.
The Star Wars weekend consisted of a 5k race on Friday, April 21st, 10k on Saturday, and the half-marathon on Sunday. And if you were up for the challenge, you could’ve participated in the ‘Dark Side Challenge’ which consisted of running both the 10k and the half-marathon to get 3 total medals.
Not only is there major prep work for the runners in terms of conditioning, strength, food intake, and more but Disney staff or ‘cast members’ need to make sure their parks are fully equipped to handle the runners but also the thousands of visitors that enter the parks at 8a-9a everyday.
Races begin between 4a-5a to ensure that runners will finish in time for park openings. Fun fact: runners need to maintain a 16min/mile pace in order to complete the run and receive their medal or they will be picked up by the infamous red balloon truck and driven to the finish line.
I know this because I stopped at numerous character stops on the Star Wars 10k route and cast members warned us that the red balloons were seven minutes behind… I did finish in plenty of time though.
These races, although fun and whimsical, do take a ton of prep work from Disney maintenance staff. Much of the 10k and half-marathon is run on the actual highway, so staff is responsible for barricades, re-directing traffic, and making sure debris is constantly maintained for runner safety.
This is just the tipping point of the actual maintenance Disney does inside their parks. So let’s take a look at the day to day operations and ‘may the force be with you all.’
9 Things to Learn About Disney’s Maintenance You Must
Disney’s theme parks operate 365 days a year, and often stay open passed midnight. So when do they have ‘downtime’ to refurbish and scrub the walkways, rides, tables, and more? With magic… okay, not real magic but cast members work overnight.
Here are 9 secrets that happen at Disney when the lights go down.
- The Security Sweep– Disney has to make sure the theme parks are completely empty before maintenance begins. Guests have been known to try and ‘camp out’ in the parks overnight, but park security is well aware of the good hiding spots aka Tom Sawyer Island.
- Refueling– Every night, a team of oiler-truckers sweep into refuel the boats and attractions.
- Safety Inspections– Like all theme parks, Disney is under obligation to ensure all rides run smoothly and safely. Engineers inspect roller coasters and other rides by walking along the tracks to check for defects, completing performance checks, and carry out necessary fire, alarm, and sprinkler inspections.
- Repairs– It’s not just the rides that need repairing and inspection, but also all tables, umbrellas, chairs, walkways, etc. that cast members are responsible for. For example, at Disneyland in California, some cast members sole responsibility is to check and replace 800 umbrellas, 25,000 chairs, and 7,000 tables in various restaurants and snack bars in its two theme parks.
- Devouring of rodents– This one sounds a bit off, but Disneyland actually has feral cats that feed on rats and other creatures that are in the trees and shrubs on property. They setup permanent feeding stations in Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. Disney World actually uses Black Racers to thrive on its property; they are non-poisonous and help keep the rodent population contained.
- Underwater Maintenance– Each resort employs dozens of scuba divers who are responsible for maintaining and fixing attractions in extensive waterways. The scuba divers are also electricians and machinists. After the parks close, the scuba divers check tracks, undersides of vehicles, and animatronic characters usually in the pitch dark using headlights.
- Cleaning: The Basics– As you may or may not know, Disney does not sell chewing gum in hopes of eliminating some of the ‘goo’ that gets stuck around the attractions. Still, custodians pry it off every night. Pressure washers are also used and the resorts consume over 700,000 gallons of bleach in one year.
- Plant Life– Every Disney park features dozens of species of plants. Walt Disney World plants 3 million begging plants and annuals, along with 4 million shrubs, 13,000 roses and 200 topiary every year. Most of the flower work takes place at night.
- The Health of Characters– Engineers and mechanics are in charge of checking all the animatronic characters throughout the park for proper functionality. For example, the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland has 225 moving birds, plants and tikis, and the show runs every 17 minutes. The only way to check their functionality constantly is to watch the entire show…repeatedly.
So as you can imagine, Disney does a ton of ‘behind the scenes’ magic to make sure that each visitor has a magical experience. This is again true not only for the parks but for the runners on race day.
Disney may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but you can’t deny an organized system. ‘Now, witness the power of this fully operational battle station.’
May the fourth be with you all.