Splash Mountain at 30

In this edition of Theme Park Bits:

  • Character meet-and-greets are back.
  • Epcot’s hours are scaling back soon.
  • And more!

First, let’s talk about one of my very favorite subjects: theme-park background music. (Do you think that’s me being sarcastic? It’s not. I adore background music. Really.) As you no doubt recall, Disney recently announced that Splash Mountain would be getting a full overhaul, removing any ties to Song of the South and being redone as a Princess and the Frog-themed attraction. The shifts are already in place, and they only require you to listen for a certain song’s absence. “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah”, once a staple of background loops, is now removed from the music you can hear in the Esplanade and Downtown Disney shopping center. Disney confirmed this wasn’t a mistake, and that they’re always updating the experience for more inclusive stories. It’s an interesting move that I understand and applaud, while also thinking this: unfortunately, there’s nearly 75 years of “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” baked into Disney’s aural presence. It’s right to remove the song, but also…if you want to find background-music evidence of the song, just go to YouTube. It’s there. The cat’s out of the bag.

Let’s talk about something a bit more exciting related to the Disney parks. This is something that’s a quintessential part of any theme-park excursion, especially for the younger set: character meet-and-greets. That’s right, get excited: character meet-and-greets are back! …In Tokyo! What, you didn’t think they’d return so quickly to the continental Disney parks, did you? (Remember how our country has more than 200,000 deaths due to the pandemic? …Yeah.) There’s only so many meet-and-greets available and a reservation system is being strictly enforced. But for those visitors to Tokyo Disneyland who are so inclined, you can have just a bit more of the old Disney magic with characters like Mickey Mouse and Duffy. Y’know, Duffy. The big teddy bear. He’s a thing.

Over in Walt Disney World, holiday plans are shaping up but they’re not nearly as grandiose as in years past. Take Epcot, for example. Remember Epcot? Man, I miss Epcot. (I’m typing this sentence the night before my 36th birthday. The night before my 35th birthday, I was in Disneyland. I left the resort for my home in Arizona the next day. I haven’t been to a theme park since then. I miss going to theme parks.) Anyway, Epcot at the holidays must be quite wonderful, but you’d better make sure you’re not expecting to stay there very long. Starting November 27, Epcot will only be open from 12 to 8 p.m. In the before times, Epcot was often open 12 hours a day, but with the holiday season here, and the reality that lots of people simply aren’t going to theme parks, operational hours are scaling back.

Refurbishments will cause a couple of quintessential areas at the Magic Kingdom to close down for a while, too. In the Frontierland and Liberty Square area, the Liberty Square Riverboat and Tom Sawyer Island will be closed starting on October 5. For now, it appears that the two attractions will be unavailable for at least three months, but possibly as far out as early April. Refurbishments are, of course, pretty standard for just about any Disney attraction (or else they’d just crumble into dust), but these are two of the more relaxing attractions in the Magic Kingdom so it’ll be a shame to see them unavailable during the holidays.

Despicable Me Minion Mayhem Grand opening at Universal Studios Hollywood

Let’s end today by talking about the phrase that pays this year: social distancing. You know it. You live it. Social distancing. Kind of important! We’re in the middle of a pandemic, and the closer each of us is to each other, the more likely it is we may contract a deadly virus. You don’t need me to explain this to you. But maybe Universal Studios does. A couple weeks ago, it became clear that a good number of rides at Universal Studios Orlando were maybe, kinda, sorta not doing the whole social distancing thing anymore. Universal says this is in line with their expanded reopening, and of course, the park exists in a state that wants to badly be back open again for business even though COVID-19 hasn’t exactly backed off the Sunshine State.

There’s a good deal of complexity here, of course. It could be argued – quite rightly – that if you’re going to the trouble of shaming people for crowding at a theme park while…you, yourself, are at said theme park, you’re not exactly blameless. And that’s fair! But it would be nice if business leaders valued human life over money (or at least realized that if people get sick at their business, others may not be willing to patronize their business). Short answer: maybe don’t go to the theme parks right now, especially those throwing social-distancing caution to the wind.

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