I’ll take Disney theme-park magic over Gov. Ron DeSantis’ fascist excesses anytime — and happily wear silly, flowered mouse ears on my head all day to broadcast my enthusiasm.
On a recent breezy Sunday, I did just that to get a sense for how the governor’s bad-mouthing and his vengeful actions against iconic Disney — plus the MAGA-called boycott over manufactured culture wars and the spread of QAnon lies about pedophiles running the place — are affecting the most famous theme park operator in the world.
Short answer: Not much, other than its stock is trending down.
Its theme parks and resorts are as expensive and crowded as ever (unless you arrive before 9 a.m., like I did).
“Ouch!” I mutter, starting with the $148.09 Florida-resident cost of a one-day pass, plus $25 to park the car.
Nobody is holding a fire sale.
In fact, only Epcot, hosting its annual International Flower & Garden Festival, was available to book if you hadn’t bought tickets way in advance.
As for atmosphere and what you pay for — suspending disbelief in anything but family fun and memory-making (OK, some adult drinking, too) — Disney continues to live up to its billing as the “most magical place on Earth” from the moment Minnie and Mickey wave you in.
You will forget that COVID-19 exists. I only saw a handful of people wearing masks during the entire day at Epcot.
Vaccinated and boosted, I didn’t wear one, either, although I brought two in case I felt uncomfortable. It was my first time being in such a big crowd since 2019. But I figured that, if I was recently forced to sit for hours during jury duty shoulder-to-shoulder with, among dozens of others, a guy who was coughing, I would survive the fake-French theater singing along with songs from “Beauty and the Beast” next to my Disney-loving family.
“To Florida, COVID has ended,” remarked my daughter.
Surely, the COVID pandemic tested the profitability of running this citylike conglomerate of parks and resorts — built, not on public land where politicians in Miami want to put the soccer stadium complex — but by good old-fashioned land purchases made in 1965 that turned a pretty penny for the Floridians who owned them.
Although the company kept some its workforce employed when its theme parks shut down, COVID upended the lives of thousands who lost their jobs or were furloughed. People and parks are bouncing back, so here comes Florida’s strongman governor and the GOP to rock operations by eliminating the 1967 Reedy Creek Improvement Act that allows the Walt Disney World Resort to run as a self-governing, independent taxing district.
It’s as if DeSantis were a ruinous political cousin to Fidel Castro, confiscator of industries and businesses.
But DeSantis may have miscalculated the political math when he angrily retaliated against Disney’s corporate decision to support the gay community and end political donations to haters like him. It’s what an inclusive workplace should do in light of the state’s cruel assault on gay and trans children’s education and health care.
DeSantis already had a reputation as an uptight, self-possessed demagogue, but now he not only has angered gays and allies nationwide, but also Disney park lovers and the taxpayers of Orange and Osceola, the counties straddled by the 39 square-mile Disney parcel.
The governor may find out that not even a Trump disciple can compete with things like fiber-optics fireworks on your kids’ Ariel bed headboard at a Disney hotel. Or, with the Epcot Test Track ride where you get to design your own fantasy car — and then, for real, take a heart-stopping curve at 65 miles per hour.
So far, DeSantis’ extremist politics and the falsehoods from fanatics don’t seem to be making a dent on Disney’s appeal. But the company’s legal, lobbying and public relations teams are working overtime to counter the Republican Legislature’s meddling.
It shouldn’t be too hard.
DeSantis already is getting an earful from Orange County leaders and residents, who will see a whopping increase in taxes if they have to foot the bill for the GOP’s dogmatic tomfoolery.
Taxpayers stand to inherit upwards of $1 billion in bond debt they would have to pay if the state breaks the Reedy agreement and the special taxing district is dissolved. This means, experts say, an estimated $2,200 a year increase for the average family of four until the bonds are paid off.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said at a press briefing last week that revoking the special district would be “catastrophic” for the county’s budget and for taxpayers, who would be shouldering the cost of paying for services such as fire and law enforcement that Disney now covers at 100%.
Orange County has 854,911 registered voters; Osceola 244,055.
DeSantis, up for reelection in November, won the 2018 gubernatorial race by 32,463 votes.
Revenge may cost him the job, you think as you giddily sip an $8.95 mimosa in sight of Epcot’s Eiffel Tower at the France pavilion.
And it’s what you’re thinking again, as you down a $15 handcrafted classic margarita infused with tequila reposado.