Students welcome reopening of the ‘Happiest Place on Earth’

graphic by Emileé Edwards | photographer

By Ava Dunwoody | Staff Writer

After closing down mid-March, Disney parks are in the midst of a slow reopening. Baylor students have suffered job loss and other consequences following the shutdown of the “Happiest Place on Earth.”

All four Walt Disney World parks located in Florida are now open and have been since July. COVID-19 procedures like 25% capacity, park reservations, temperature screenings and face covering mandates are in place. In California, the Downtown Disney District is in a phased reopening while Disneyland remains closed.

Houston senior Peyton Wood said she grew up going to Disney World with her family and is now a travel agent who specializes in Disney vacations. She said she follows a lot of cast members and people in the Disney community on social media and has seen the impact of the closings on each of them.

“I definitely think it was really difficult for the cast members and the fans,” Wood said. “It’s absolutely going to be hard to see the parks that we love and love visiting go away but I think it was definitely harder on the cast members and the former cast members who lost their jobs due to the pandemic.”

The closures have also proved difficult for The Walt Disney Company’s finances, as they have lost almost $5 billion since March. This has resulted in over 28,000 Disney employees being laid off during the pandemic. About 6,700 of these were non-union workers in Central Florida.

College Station junior Jessie Rambo was one of these employees. She worked as a cast member at Disney World as a part of the Disney College Program and was hired as a seasonal employee in January 2020. She was laid off last month.

“It was hard because already being in college, there’s a lot going on, so having more stress and pressures is not a great thing to have,” Rambo said. “I was hoping to go back and work in the summer if conditions improved, but at the moment, I won’t be able to do that anymore.”

Rambo said she and her family had been going to Disney since she was a toddler. She said joining the college program was an amazing experience and one of the best things she had ever done. She is now worried about finding a new job or internship that she equally enjoys.

“I loved my job because I could really see the magic that Disney is capable of providing for guests. I got to work with a lot of children first hand, so it would always brighten my day to see them and their smiles and how much of a difference we could make,” Rambo said.

Now that Disney World is back open, Wood said she and two of her friends are planning a trip for January. She said as long as the COVID-19 restrictions stay in place and cases aren’t increasing, they are definitely going to visit in the new year.

“I’d read that lines were really short and everybody was being safe,” Wood said. “People were saying that they felt safer at Disney than they did in their grocery stores in their home states. It felt like it would be a good time to go.”

Wood said she is excited to be a part of the safe reopening and is interested to see how the COVID-19 guidelines will alter the experience. In addition to face mask enforcement and temperature checks, parades and nighttime spectaculars have been paused to accommodate social distancing. Character meet-and-greets are also suspended, though characters are still in the parks.

Rambo said Disney has done a wonderful job so far implementing safety protocols and she thinks a safe reopening was helpful for cast members and the economy. To her, it made sense to open and she hopes that more entertainment options will continue soon.

“I really hope that I will be a cast member again someday,” Rambo said. “I feel like I am called to work there because I felt like I was at home. I know many other cast members did too … I’m hoping to bring back some of the magic that we have had to miss because of Corona.”