At of the close of business this evening, we will see the unprecedented. All six Disney parks around the world will close their gates – from Tokyo Disneyland to Shanghai Disneyland Park, from Hong Kong Disneyland to Disneyland Paris. As of last night, Disneyland Park and its companion Disney California Adventure Park in Anaheim closed its doors. And as of the close of business tonight, the heart of it all (at least for us Floridians), Walt Disney World, will join the rest in shutting its gates.
It is unquestionably the right decision, and was an increasingly inevitable one, as the world joins forces in an attempt to implement social distancing to halt the spread of COVID-19 so that our medical facilities are capable of keeping up with new cases.
But it’s also allowed to hurt. We are allowed to feel heartache at the loss of our safe place. We are allowed to feel it more when the places that have always felt larger than life succumb to what’s happening in the world. Even if your rational mind knows that it was the only right decision to protect the more susceptible members of our population from falling victim to this pandemic.
Along these lines – and perhaps the first blow that felt much more permanent in its reach and implications than the initial announcement of the temporary closure: Yesterday all members of the Disney College Program were told that they would need to go home. They need to clear out of housing by this coming Wednesday, March 18th and will be given credit for having completed the program. And again, while we know that the decision was made for every right reason, our hearts break for the students who fought hard to earn those spots. For those of you affected by that decision, we feel your pain and are so, so proud of you for having earning that spot on the program in the first place, no matter how it ended.
This was also the first decision that felt like it had much, much bigger implications than a temporary closure, as it was effectively the laying off of thousands of Cast Members.
So I will start writing here…and will likely repeat a number of times in this article: The implications of this pandemic for Disney, from a financial perspective, are huge. And I don’t envy for one second the persons in the roles of having to make these decisions. Every Disney park in the world is closed. Every cruise ship is docked. Travel in general is at a halt. Movies are being pushed back. And even after we beat this (because we will) the effects on the travel industry are going to last for a long time.
And so it wasn’t a shock when more news started to roll out last night. Even if it broke our hearts.
First there was an announcement from the beloved Matsuriza performers in Epcot’s Japan Pavilion.
Screenshot from Matsuriza’s Instagram.
Then we heard from British Revolution in the UK Pavilion, which it seems will also be playing its last set this evening.
Screenshot from British Revolution’s Instagram.
And then, today, we heard from Sergio in the Italy pavilion.
Screen shot from Sergio’s Facebook Page.
As a side note, I would not take the very different tone and wording of Sergio’s message to heart. As I’ve discussed with others in my community, I’m sure feelings are running strong right now and there is likely a language barrier in play at times in any case.
My heart is breaking for these performers, for the potential long term implications of all of these changes, and for what sort of Disney we are going to find when we return to the Parks after all of this has ended. But (again) I cannot stress enough to all of you how much I understand that hard decisions are being made right now and I don’t envy the people having to make them.
Let’s all remember that it’s the spirit of this community that holds this magic. It is not in a tangible place or a specific performance or event. Believe me – I understand as much as anyone what it means to close these gates and end these acts. I’ve been nothing if not forthcoming about the fact that I found my happiness in this place after some of the hardest times in my life. Knowing that I cannot walk through those gates tomorrow morning will be hard. Lying in bed tomorrow night and not hearing the fireworks or the Water Pageant will be an eerie and most unwelcome silence. For all intents and purposes, as a dear friend pointed out, for a period of time we will just be Florida residents – not Disney locals. And that pulls the rug out from underneath us in a way that’s very difficult to put into words, even if, again, we know that it is without question the right decision.
If this all ends in a few weeks, these will be the briefest of feelings. But if it stretches for longer, let it be all the more reason to remember that the happiness that we find in this place is grounded in the people, and that is what all of these hard decisions are aimed to protect.
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How are you dealing with this onslaught of news? If you are one of the people directly affected by these actions – as a member of the College Program, a performer, or otherwise, I would love to talk to you.