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Disney World in the year 2020

I am writing this column from Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. More specifically, I am in a cushioned rocking chair (thanks for that habit, Uncle Henry) in front of a roaring fireplace at the Wilderness Lodge. It’s warm outside, but the air conditioning is turned up to “hang meat”, so the fireplace looks and feels terrific. And for all the cat burglars out there, by the time this posts, I will be firmly ensconced back in Lanett with my cat-burglar alarm set to high.

Yes, this is an odd time to go to Disney World, but I desperately needed a few days away from the telephone, and, to be honest, curiosity got the best of me. What would the Magic Kingdom be like in 2020? Would it be different? I hopped onto I-75 and dropped south to explore.

It all begins when you make reservations on-line. Your immediate greeting is a health acknowledgment that basically says: “Our lawyers ask that y’all to please not sue us if you catch something and get really sick.” Consider me warned.

When you arrive on the grounds, the first thing you notice is the lack of traffic. The Magic Kingdom holds about 60,000, but right now they are at historically low figures—less than one-third of that. Those are their numbers; I don’t believe that many people were in the park.

The low numbers, which means that it should be easy to get onto rides, draws a lot of people in.

When you go inside the park, a significant number of shops and stores are closed. Those that are open have designated entrance and exit doors that are manned by staff members. Every store I walked into had a big sign asking you to help them “protect the magic” by not handling the merchandise. That makes shopping a little bit tough and a lot less fun.

Some of the restaurants are closed, too. Pecos Bill’s is a Disney favorite. Built like an old western saloon, it has a terrific taco bar. Not any more. Food is never set out. And they limit the number of people allowed inside. The restaurants allow you to order online—they call it mobile ordering—and they send you a text when your food is ready.

Masks are not only mandatory, but mask-wearing is enforced. You have to wear one full-time unless you are sitting and eating. You can’t take the mask off to walk and drink. If you do, a Disney cast member will ask—politely, generally—that you put yours back on. Warning signs are posted everywhere, and a gentle voice comes over the public address system to make regular announcements about it. That feels like something out of a bad movie.

What is it like to wear a mask while walking around on a humid October day in central Florida? Wear it, they say; you’ll get used to it, they say; you won’t even notice it after a while, they say. Don’t believe a word of it. I never got used to it, and it was always in my way. It caused my glasses to fog up no matter how many ways I tried to avoid it. And it was always hot.

Small children have to wear them, too. How much fun do you think parents of young children have when they have to remind their tired and hungry toddler to pull her mask up.

Rides are not any easier to get onto. They’ve suspended the Fast Pass system (a system that allows you to get tickets that push you to the front of the line a couple of times every day). Now everyone has to wait the same amount of time. The biggest change was to the line system. I liked this change. Instead of being crushed in line next to Fred from Pittsburgh, a man who believes that a daily shower is just so unnecessary, you are now about six feet away from the people in front of and behind you. The lines don’t wend and wind inside a themed area. Now you go from inside the old queue line to outside the building, back inside the old line, eventually to be spilled out at the ride. The lines are shorter, but they clean the ride between passengers. They keep people apart by filling the rides and shows to only about 20% capacity.

As I was leaving the park, I stopped in at the Main Street Confectionary, which is my favorite sweet shop in the world. They hand-spin cotton candy as you wait, and I’ve never smelled anything better in my life. No more. I went in to buy a big bag of Mickey Mouse-shaped Rice Krispy treats, only to be told that they were sold out. I’ve never seen that shop sold out of anything. And they don’t make cotton candy in the store.

So, should you go? If you’ve been there before, and you are an adult, by all means go. But know that it is not the Disney World you are used to. Things are definitely different. The nightly fireworks show is no more. They send the occasional single float around, but they cancelled all long parades. You go there to escape reality, to fold into child-like fun. That child-like fun is now seasoned with dire warnings and ubiquitous cleanings. It just isn’t the same.

If you have small children and haven’t been there before, I’d suggest you wait until better days. A theme park is tough on small children anyway, but these new limits and restrictions not only suck out a significant amount of the available fun, they make it a lot harder to get to the fun that remains.

Here is to hoping that the world gets set aright sooner rather than later. We spoke last week about how we need to toughen up. I stand by that. But when they diminish our fun as much as they have in Disney World, maybe we look for our fun somewhere else. For now.