Theme Park Bits: Walt Disney World Is Open Once Again

In this edition of Theme Park Bits:

  • Downtown Disney has reopened.
  • Walt Disney World begins its slow rollout to guests.
  • And more!
  • To start off today's Theme Park Bits, let's talk about the biggest news: Walt Disney World is open again. (And you shouldn't go. It's incredibly dangerous to do so, especially in Florida.) Well, it's kind of open. (Seriously, it's dangerous. Don't go.) As your columnist writes these words, the Annual Passholder previews are going on mere hours before the Magic Kingdom and Disney's Animal Kingdom open to the general public. So far, at least, the anecdotal information coming out of the event isn't too concerning, from incredibly short wait times to largely empty parks. Probably the grossest image so far has been this one captured by a Twitter user who spotted a lot of people leaving the Magic Kingdom with plush characters from Splash Mountain, whose exit area gift shop sported wait times of four hours.

    That's not a typo, please note. Your eyes do not deceive you. People are waiting for four hours in line to buy stuff at the Splash Mountain gift shop? Could it be people angrily hoarding what's sure to go away once the flume ride is redesigned to The Princess and the Frog? Sure. It could just as easily be people planning to resell the items on eBay in a few months' time at a marked-up price. Either way, the answer is: it's gross.

    From gross to creepy – let's talk about this video you may have seen, heralding the return of Walt Disney World. I get the appeal of saying that it's a fun and upbeat video. I do! There's a small part of me, too, that found something to enjoy in the sight of the Disney theme parks looking bright and shiny again. But the thing is, it's incredibly creepy to see lots and lots of people wearing face masks, staring at you from a camera. It's just weird. That sight is also a firm reminder that if you end up returning to the parks during a pandemic, you're still in the middle of a pandemic and the many hundreds of Cast Members greeting you are doing it as much because they're happy to see you as they're happy to be paid again.

    Something that's both fairly depressing but not unexpected: the Disney College Program, which has been a key part of the Walt Disney World experience for so many students (as well as guests who get to interact with these students once they become cast members), has been suspended until further notice. This is a really crappy situation to report on, but it's also the kind of thing that should inspire you to wonder: if the DCP is being shut down for now, why should the park itself be open?

    But okay, you've decided to head to the Disney theme parks now that they're open. (You really shouldn't.) You're responsible, of course, so you want to ensure that you're wearing a face mask at all times. But what, you may wonder, actually counts as a face mask? Or, moreover: what doesn't? The two big ones you want to avoid: bandanas and face shields. (The latter are OK as long as you're wearing a mask, too.) So if you only have bandanas at home, you'll need to get a mask first. Or failing that, don't go to the theme parks.

    Star Wars Galaxy's Edge Oga's Cantina

    But hey, you still want to go. Damn all that caution. You may want to have a drink or two, which may be concerning since the recent ban on bars in Florida that make at least half of their money on alcohol. Well, good news: both Oga's Cantina in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge and Jock Lindsey's Hangar Bar are back open! Why's that? Well, Disney's not flouting the edict laid down by – as /Film's own Ethan Anderton calls him – the sack of rats masquerading as a person known as Governor Ron DeSantis. No, since they both are restaurants that serve both food and drink, they're back open. So...have fun?

    One last point: you may have noticed that today's Theme Park Bits column has a bit more of a bite to it. If you're here, you probably enjoy the Disney theme parks, if not theme parks as a whole. That's certainly the case for this writer. I love the parks. I can't wait to go back. But I also can't stop myself from realizing that the coronavirus pandemic hasn't gone away. We are not in the second wave. We're in the first wave, especially as states such as California and Florida experience them in full intensity. So if you're at Walt Disney World or Universal Studios or Six Flags or wherever, ask yourself why. Are you there because you want to ensure that these businesses survive the pandemic? Are you there because you just can't imagine being stuck in the house any longer? Do you register how terrified the Cast Members might feel at having to risk their lives because the government refuses to pay them during a time of extreme stress and physical danger?

    Don't go to the theme parks right now, folks.