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September 13th, 2021

Walt Disney World In A Time Of Plague And Crazy Republican Governors

I did Epcot this afternoon. I had a reservation at Biergarten for 7:50, and I wanted to sample some favorites at the food and wine festival, and maybe find a few new ones. But it was not to be.

Last time I was here, back in March, masks were still a requirement and the park reservation system kept the numbers inside the parks down. The only sit down restaurants that were open were ones that had enough space inside to keep everyone apart and maintain plenty of air flow. Biergarten’s buffet was closed, the server brought you the food as well as your drinks, and you were only seated with the party you came in. No more Oktoberfest seating. It made for a somewhat less enjoyable time, since my favorite thing about Biergarten was I could meet people and chat, which you normally can’t do at a sit down restaurant. But I felt safe.

This time, almost immediately upon entering Epcot, I started feeling uneasy about the crowds, and the new mask policy. I don’t know what the park reservation system is buying them now, but it doesn’t seem to be about keeping the numbers down inside the parks anymore. Epcot was as packed as I’ve usually seen it on a September day. Maybe Disney has some numbers to show that it really isn’t as packed as usual, but above a certain point it makes very little difference: walking around World Showcase Lagoon what I experienced was the same human swarm I always have. This is made worse by the new mask policy, which is you only have to wear them indoors. This would actually be okay if the numbers inside the park was about half what they’re letting in. The weather was nice and there was a steady breeze, which I think would have kept everyone safe if there weren’t so many of us. I wore my mask the entire time I was inside Epcot.

I got to Biergarten early, and peeked inside to see how they were handling serving now. It was basically back to normal, except maybe they were seating groups at every other table now. Okay…fine. But the buffet was back open and I looked and nobody, Nobody, was wearing their masks or keeping a safe distance from the others in line.

I went to a bench outside of Epcot Germany and gave it some heavy thought. I love Biergarten, and I don’t know if I’ll be able to do Disney very much, if at all, after I retire. This might well be my last Disney trip…or at least to the parks. The ticket prices have gone through the roof, the new annual pass system they’re rolling out is horrible, it looks like they’re keeping the park reservation system going forward, COVID or not, and park hopping is only allowed late in the day, and only if there are still reservation slots available where you want to hop to. This, plus all the obnoxious changes they’ve made to the parks since I started going, changes that break the theming, changes that either erase or disrespect what Walt Disney created, have been driving me to an uncomfortable place: I may not want to come back anymore, because it isn’t what I kept coming here for.

Yes, yes…at first it was I wanted to reconnect with my high school crush…that first beautiful guy who made my heart skip a beat. He was the one who encouraged me to come to Walt Disney World when I told him I wasn’t really all that interested in theme parks.

“Come on man…it’s your Heritage! Baseball, Mom, Apple Pie and Mickey Mouse…what’s wrong with you!”

So I came. And when I walked through the park gates into Epcot that first time, it all came back to me.

And now…it isn’t. Well…sometimes it comes back…but it’s like a fading echo. And the cost of admission keeps going up. It’s too much money, and not enough Walt Disney. And now there’s a deadly virus in the air, and there are simple, straightforward practices for keeping yourself and others safe, and they aren’t being followed. I suppose Disney Corp can point their fingers at the insane Florida governor and his helpful crackpots in the statehouse, but now Florida is leading just about the entire planet in new COVID-19 cases and deaths and the biggest employer in the state could, it seems to me, take a stand and I’m not seeing it happening. In fact, the new Disney World COVID-19 warnings they put at the top of their web pages now, basically, at the very end, places the entire responsibility for guest safety from the plague, on the guests:

COVID-19 Warning

An inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present. COVID-19 is an extremely contagious disease that can lead to severe illness and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, senior citizens and Guests with underlying medical conditions are especially vulnerable.

By visiting Walt Disney World Resort you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19.

An inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present. COVID-19 is an extremely contagious disease that can lead to severe illness and death. So let’s pack more people into the parks and make wearing masks optional in the crowded walkways. Take your chances guest…and have a Magical Day!

There’s a scene in Die Hard with two FBI agents discussing the casualty rate to expect when taking out the terrorists…

“Figure we take out the terrorists. Lose twenty, twenty-five percent of the hostages, tops.”

“I can live with that.”

And I’m wondering how often a similar discussion has occurred in the boardrooms of America. How many Americans do we lose after opening up the bars and restaurants, beaches and theme parks? Twenty-five percent? Tops? Thirty-five? We can live with that…

I simply refuse to believe Walt Disney would. He’d have figured something out, some way of keeping his guests safe while still allowing them to enjoy the parks…he was an innovator who was always thinking about ways to make his parks and rides better. Before he died he was working on his biggest project yet, his Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. I think he would have dived into the problem with gusto. Because it was a problem…something to figure out a solution to. No way would he have simply left his guests, let alone his staff, to fend for themselves in an airborne plague. But it’s not Walt Disney’s World anymore…it’s the Disney Corporation’s World.

I opened my iPhone and started my Disney App…but it was too late to cancel the Biergarten reservation, so I reckon I’ll just be a no show for the first time. I try to cancel when I can’t make it, so they can give my seat to someone else. But given the circumstances would I have been doing anyone any favors…really?

I went back to my DVC room…my lovely one bedroom villa…and got onto the Disney website and cancelled all my other reservations for the trip. You can actually have a very nice time just staying at your DVC resort…because they really are their own self contained resorts too. Saratoga Springs like Boardwalk, has three nice pools, and the small ones aren’t crowded at all. There are lovely, really lovely hiking trails, a nice restaurant, snack bar and small grocery. It really is a great place to just hang out and de-stress and that’s the vacation I’ll have now. I’ll hang out on my private balcony with a drink and a snack tray and watch the beautiful Florida skies.

Maybe going forward I’ll keep my DVC points and just do the villas when I come down here, and play music from the old Disney movies on my iPod, and remember what it was like to watch Walt Disney’s TV show when he was still alive, and there was a great big beautiful tomorrow shining at the end of every day.

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