by Beth Keating
March 16, 2020
It was a bit surreal last night, watching the final live streams from the Magic Kingdom as it prepared to pull up the proverbial drawbridge for two weeks (at minimum). Overhead, the skies were that perfect shade of Florida blue, with a couple of puffy white clouds for effect. The new paint job on the castle was underway, and there were more than a few last-minute tourists milling about.
It was reminiscent of the final hours we experienced in the parks before Hurricane Dorian hit last September, when the weather was perfectly sunny, and rides were easy to get on. It was hard to believe anything was about to go wrong. It wasn’t until we were eating dinner later that evening at Disney Springs, the last “park” left open, that the rains came pouring down. We headed back to our hotel, and by the next morning, the sun had returned. Despite having started out earlier in the week as a category 5 storm, Dorian had downgraded and left little damage in its wake in Central Florida by the time it arrived days later.
Unlike Dorian, though, where the parks only closed early for a single afternoon, Disney World will be down for the count for two weeks – or more, pending future pandemic developments. The park is expected to remain closed through the end of March. It seems the coronavirus has done what Atlantic hurricanes could not.
Watching the live streams last night had an air of mourning to it. I know it is just a temporary – and critically necessary decision - and that Disney will be back open as soon as it is safe to do so. As a teacher, I’m well aware of the disruption to everyone’s lives caused by this virus – our local schools are shuttered for the next two weeks, store shelves are stripped bare of essentials, and we just had a mad scramble to get family members home amid the chaos. The local economy will undoubtedly take a hit with so many of us having lengthy, unplanned stays at home. More significantly, others will suffer physically from contact with this new strain of virus.
In one of the most poignant moments of the park closing last evening, a pop-up pep rally of sorts broke out at the Town Hall end of the park. Up on the train station balcony, Walt Disney World Resort President Josh D’Amaro appeared, sporting a giant white Mickey glove, waving good night to guests. At the opposite end of the park, fireworks exploded over Cinderella Castle, while a couple of dozen characters ranging from the Fab Five, to Cinderella, Stitch, Jasmine, Chip and Dale, and Mary Poppins, joined Josh on the balcony. Hundreds of guests quickly packed into the Town Square hub, calling out each character’s name, at one point chanting, “We’ll be back! We’ll be back.” What an awesome and emotional end to the evening.
In the face of this global crisis, it admittedly seems frivolous to feel sad about the loss of the live streams. I, like many other Disney fanatics, will sorely miss not having daily contact – albeit virtually – with the parks. This is an enormously difficult situation for Disney executives, especially for Bob Chapek in his first days as CEO, and like everyone else, I eagerly await the moment that the crisis is over and life returns to normal. Disney is but one part of that picture.
In the meantime, however, our prayer is for everyone to stay safe. And the mom in me wants to remind you, “Please go wash your hands.” Often.
Beth Keating is a regular contributor to DisneyBizJournal.