I Went to Disney World

Graeme Wood:

Earlier this month, Walt Disney World began reopening, following almost four months of closure due to the pandemic. I flew to Orlando to experience the magic. The week I arrived, Florida had registered the highest single-day case count of any state thus far. In Orlando’s airport, I felt a vague sense that Floridians considered such statistics a source of secret pride, as if they had set a record for fattest alligator or ugliest serial killer or most senior citizens in a golf cart. The airport where I had started my day, in Connecticut, had required masks, and everyone wore them. Here in Florida, some passengers went totally unmasked, but most wore masks in a defiant fashion, either slung under their chin or with their nostrils gaping out over the top, sucking and spewing potentially viral particles with every breath. A friend who lives a couple of hours away in St. Petersburg likens this latter style to “wearing a condom that covers only the shaft.”

Disney World is in Florida only in the sense that Vatican City is in Italy, or the Principality of Monaco is in France. All the land that touches Disney World is Florida, but it is its own polity, with its own infrastructure, its own transportation, and, to a surprising extent, its own laws and regulations. Florida law applies, of course, but on Disney property—which covers more than 25,000 acres, about 50 times the size of Monaco—you can go weeks without seeing an employee of the local, state, or federal government. When you are at the Disney parks and resorts, you see no letter carriers, no police officers, no city bus drivers—just tens of thousands of Disney employees (always called “cast members”), who recognize no authority higher than Walt Disney (1901–66), the eternal líder máximo.

When you arrive in Orlando, your transit through Florida lasts only minutes. You emerge from the miasma of the airport and reach a check-in counter for the “Magical Express,” a free direct bus to Disney World. The counter resembles the passport-control desk of a benevolent and well-run nation, perhaps Norway or Japan. Upon reciting your name and confirmation number, you cease interacting with non-Disney entities for the rest of your stay. The woman who welcomed me—through a properly worn mask and face shield, plus a layer of plexiglass—gave me a pleasant wave as I walked up. On a typical day before the pandemic, I was told by another tourist, thousands of people would pass through this check-in area. Today there was no line at all.