In this edition of Theme Park Bits:
- And more?
You might have noticed there hasn’t been a Theme Park Bits column in the last week-plus here at /Film. I probably don’t need to tell you why; maybe it’s more accurate that I shouldn’t have to tell you why. As the coronavirus pandemic has all but closed the entirety of the world, it’s impacted many of the major entertainment hubs of the world, from sports to movie theaters to theme parks. Of course, because the Disney theme parks are spread across the world, not just the United States, the closures aren’t all universal.
Shanghai Disneyland, for example, partially reopened right at the same time when the coronavirus was beginning to have a clear impact in the United States. Of course, “partially reopened” here means “a limited number of shopping, dining, and recreational experiences”. So…not the actual park. That story from Deadline was posted on March 9, but as of March 20, nothing had changed. And in Tokyo Disneyland, while the park remains closed, there were recently spotted sightline balloons, implying that someone, somewhere, was doing work.
But the impact to the parks is indescribably massive. When Walt Disney World closed on March 15, they had a big goodbye party on Main Street, USA, with the park president Josh D’Amaro posing for pictures. To be clear, first of all, it’s both incredibly stupid and incredibly irresponsible to, in the middle of a worldwide pandemic, host a big party with lots of strangers getting close to each other. It’s also baffling to see people act like this is the end of an era, when the parks will no doubt (at some point) reopen. And yet, this party went on, even as Disney was immediately closing its College Program and stranding plenty of students to figure out how to get back home safely.
Of course, one of the hardest-hit industries from the pandemic is the restaurant business. And so, it’s been both sad and unsurprising to see layoffs and closures among some of the restaurants at Disney Springs. The employees at Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ and Splitsville have lost their jobs, though those from Homecomin’ will at least get health insurance paid through the end of April. It’s likely cold comfort, but better than nothing. It’s stated in that story that the restaurants hope to reopen once things calm down, but…y’know, who knows when the hell that will happen?
Understandably, among the things taking a pause are construction projects. Walt Disney World, ever-expanding in its 43 square miles of space, has plenty of projects in the pipeline, but they’re taking a break for now. What kind of projects are affected? Well, everything from the TRON Lightcycle attraction to the Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser hotel was in some form of construction. Those projects’ original arrival dates are now pushed back to who knows when.
Though the Walt Disney World celebration was tone-deaf, it was almost certainly a bigger concern to think of what might be happening aboard the Disney Cruise Line ships. The last such ship on the open ocean, the Disney Wonder, made dock in San Diego recently, and good news! No one had coronavirus symptoms. No jokes here – it’s a genuinely good thing that no one had symptoms, and that the ships are taking a break, through April 12.
Disney and Universal had, on March 12, announced a widespread closure of all of their parks in the United States as well as overseas. That closure originally extended just through March 31, a date which the savvy among us all will note is coming up fast. Even more so, you may have noticed how the CDC issued an expanded set of guidelines in the middle of the month, suggesting that large gatherings needed to be limited for the next eight weeks. It was no surprise, then, that Universal extended its closure through April 19. As of press time, Disney hasn’t extended its own closure, but if you’re expecting to go back to the parks on April 1, someone’s going to be getting a nasty April Fools’ prank. That Disney has waited so long to announce what’s surely obvious is head-scratching, but it’s a safe bet that they’ll extend their own closures soon enough.
Of course, who knows when the parks will be open again. California is essentially shut down for the next four weeks, and Governor Gavin Newsom has said he can imagine that shut down being doubled. In fraught times such as these, it’s especially frustrating that we can’t have escapism such as the theme parks to forget our troubles. For now, do what I’m doing: watch YouTube videos of theme-park rides, shows, and more. Listen to Disney theme-park background music. And most importantly: whoever you are, wherever you are, stay safe and healthy.
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