Disney parks were alive with magic days before shutting down

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Disney parks are facing their longest closures in history due to the coronavirus pandemic, but in the days leading up to the park shutdowns, nothing seemed out of the ordinary in the most magical places on Earth. 

Bridey Brown and Claire Litchfield, two TCU students, were enjoying the sunny weather in Anaheim the day they visited Disneyland over Spring Break. Photo courtesy of Claire Litchfield

Even though the forecast for Anaheim on March 11 predicted rain, the weather ended up being 70 degrees with hardly a cloud in the sky. As it was the start of spring break season, college students and families with young children sought to take advantage of the beautiful day and flooded into Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. 

But no one suspected the park would announce the very next day that it was shutting down due to coronavirus concerns. 

“I saw a lot of people using extra hand sanitizer but hardly anyone wearing gloves or masks,” said sophomore Claire Litchfield, who visited Disneyland over spring break. “Other than that, everyone just seemed to be enjoying the Disney magic.”

Litchfield, who lives in Los Angeles and frequently visits Disneyland, said it was the perfect day to visit the park, so there was no noticeable difference in the crowds, wait times or general attitude of the guests and cast members.

She said if anything, people were more affable with each other because they knew they were all trying to enjoy Disney before shutdowns went into effect. 

“Social distancing just wasn’t a thing yet,” Litchfield said. “Complete strangers offered us hand sanitizer twice during the day: once when we were getting off a ride and once while we were waiting for a parade.”

“A ton of people had to cancel their trips,” said junior Emma Henrichs, who visited Disney World on the last day it was open and had to cut her trip short. “So I think everyone who was there had the mindset that they’d take any precaution they could, but they were still going to have a good time.”

Disney announced March 12 that Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure would both be closing indefinitely starting the morning of March 14. Later that day, the corporation also announced the closure of Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and Disneyland Paris Resort beginning on March 15. 

Although the corporation was initially planning on reopening the parks at the end of March, they have since announced the parks will be closed until further notice due to the unpredictable nature of the coronavirus pandemic.  

Megan Bose, a junior who visited Disney World with Henrichs, said, “It’s really cool that we can say we were some of the last people at Disney before it closed for who knows how long.”

While Disney World has been shut down many times for weather concerns, the original Disneyland has only ever been shut down three other times in history. These include the national day of mourning following the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the Northridge Earthquake and Sept. 11, 2001. 

Even then, those shutdowns were only for a few days at most, but the coronavirus pandemic has forced all Disney parks to shut down indefinitely. 

With the parks closed until further notice, the Walt Disney Company is looking for other avenues to financially recover, including entering a 364-day credit agreement with Citibank for up to $5 billion. 

Also, starting April 19, the company has decided to furlough many of its nonessential employees and cast members, whom they had still been paying an hourly wage for five weeks following the park shutdowns. 

“With no clear indication of when we can restart our businesses, we’re forced to make the difficult decision to take the next step and furlough employees whose jobs aren’t necessary at this time.”

Disney’s Official Statement

The furlough agreement states that all employees who are affected will still receive healthcare benefits and that all employee and company premiums will be paid for by the corporation.

However, some staff members won’t be returning to the parks when they reopen. College students who were participating in the Disney College Program had to cut their internships short due to the shutdowns.

Ally Jackson, a sophomore speech pathology major at TCU, was a member of the program and was working in the Magic Kingdom at Disney World when the shutdown came. 

“When word started going around that Disneyland was closing, we kind of expected to get shut down too,” Jackson said, but the cancellation of the college program in March was a surprise. 

“When we got the email saying the college program was canceled, literally everyone was shocked because no one saw that coming,” Jackson said. She said even her bosses were in tears immediately after receiving the news that the college students had to leave.

Jackson said she started her internship in the middle of January this year and was supposed to stay through the middle of May. 

In the days leading up to the shutdown, Jackson said the general mood among park staff and other students in the program was bittersweet. 

“Those last couple of days were the best I’d ever worked,” Jackson said. “People would come up to me and give me candy because they saw I was in the college program, and my coworkers and I had so much fun with it because, for some of us, it was our last day ever.” 

Because the parks are set to remain closed through May, when the program was scheduled to end, the students will be unable to return to finish out their internships. However, Jackson said she’s still grateful she had the opportunity to participate, even if it wasn’t as long as she’d anticipated.