Disney is going to screw the pooch

Donald Trump deciding to hold an indoor rally in Tulsa was a bad idea. As I noted in my last post, Herman Cain likely contracted COVID-19 at the event, along with probably many others, which is likely singularly responsible for most of the recent rise in COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma.

After Trump’s recent event at Mount Rushmore, the girlfriend of his son Donald Trump Jr. reported testing positive for COVID-19, prompting the couple to drive back to New York.

After six months even Donald Trump is starting to realize the optics look bad. Yesterday, he was seen wearing a mask in his visit to Walter Reed Hospital. The Republican Party is considering moving their convention to an outdoor venue. They would be much wiser to act like the Democratic Party and hold it virtually. If they hold a convention, I bet half the invitees won’t attend.

So why the hell is Disney opening up Disney World on July 11? In the history of bad corporate decisions, if they follow through, this is likely to be seen in retrospect as one of the stupidest corporate decisions of all times. If Trump’s optics look bad, consider what Disney’s short term pursuit of profits is likely to do with their family-friendly, squeaking-wholesome brand. If I had any Disney stock, I’d be putting in a frantic sell order.

Yes, of course Disney is claiming that it’s all quite safe. Attendance will be limited. Everyone will be required to wear masks. There will be social distancing. Doubtless they will be sanitizing surfaces regularly. But this is not just any theme park. This is the biggest theme park in the world. It brings in people from around the world. There are too many people in too confined a space coming from and going to too many places for this not to become a new super spreader event. Unlike a one-time Trump rally in Tulsa this is a super spreader that is likely to keep on spreading, making moot a lot of the efforts elsewhere to control the disease. It is likely to ensure a continuing set of COVID-19 casualties in the months ahead.

Consider what happened in and around New Orleans during Mardi Gras this year. It resulted in a spike of cases in the city and the state, but because people came from all over the world for the event, attendees carried the virus back home. It likely did a lot to spread the disease and likely killed thousands. It’s hard to say for sure.

Who knows what the effect of reopening Disney World will be? Umm, anyone with a brain. This is a state that had over 15,300 new cases of COVID-19 yesterday. In any rational state, the Department of Public Health would lock the gates. It would be a no-brainer.

But Trump apologist “Governor” Ron Desantis, who is having a hard time even shutting the bars down, is running Florida. He wants to open the schools next month too, five days a week, damn the torpedoes, not to mention the students and teachers. St. Donald tells him it will all be fine.

Trump sent in the troops to quell protests in Washington D.C. If he wants to do some good, why not send in the troops to shut down Disney World or any other theme park that thinks it is safe to open up? This is a public health emergency. What Disney is going to do will be Mardi Gras on steroids. It’s going to spread the virus across the country and, if other countries lift their airline restrictions on our country, the rest of the world too.

This is just an appalling lapse of judgment on Disney’s part. Walt would be appalled, but more importantly perhaps its shareholders will be appalled when they discover the value of their brand is going to sink along with its share prices when this thing takes hold and the finger pointing starts.

This should go without saying, but don’t go to Disney World. If you have reservations, cancel them. If you have friends who have been there recently, shun them. Petition your governor to require Disney World attendees to go into a two-week quarantine if they are foolish enough to go there, or really any place in Florida.

This one company is likely to infect millions of us and kill tens of thousands more of us. Shut it down now, Disney, to protect your brand and what’s left of your good name.

Howl-o-screaming at Busch Gardens

Need to scream a bit? I didn’t particularly feel the need to do so. But when our adult daughter suggested that we drive down to Williamsburg, Virginia to join her for a day at Busch Gardens during the Halloween season, we took her up on it.

We’re not much for theme parks, but if you have to go to a theme park then Busch Gardens during the off season is the place to go, particularly after 6 p.m. when they crank up the fog machines and the haunted houses open. My memories of theme parks usually involve three things: summer, sweat and long lines. Busch Gardens on an autumn Friday had temperatures in the sixties, no sweat and only modest lines to the various attractions. For someone not into theme parks, Busch Gardens was almost fun. Even the traffic cooperated. Amazingly, there were no traffic tie-ups or slowdowns on I-95 and I-64. This may be a first.

I have a pathological hatred of Disney World, and was only reluctantly prodded to go there in 1996. I went on the insistence of my wife, who said our daughter “still has the magic” at age six to believe in the crap Disney was selling. I still have memories of trying to take her out on her first Halloween at age three. Her mother made her a beautiful Mary Poppins dress but Halloween proved too traumatic for her, so she observed it from the safety of her room. Now at age twenty-two, she is quite comfortable regressing to age six. I wondered if she was high on candy corn, so often was she tugging at our arms leading us into rides, shows and various haunted houses at the park.

Busch Gardens is a right-sized theme park, neither too small nor too enormous, pretty, family-friendly and with plenty of screaming even when it was not the Halloween season. The screaming is provided year round, courtesy of the roller coasters at the park. If you ask me, riding some of those coasters after dark with about ten million fog machines cranked up to maximum was likely the scariest part of their “Howl-o-scream” weekend. When you watch some of their roller coasters in action, particularly the Griffin, you wonder why anyone in their right mind would get on one of those machines. They certainly make its occupants scream. Jeffrey Dahmer himself could not get more vitriolic screams out of his victims. The Griffin in particular is a feat of fright engineering: designed by sadistic engineers for masochists. Give me a funnel cake instead.

Griffin roller coaster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg
Griffin roller coaster at Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Busch Gardens goes with a European theme, specifically a western European theme, and bad themes at that. Depending on what “country” you are in, you will get frequently annoying stereotypical music of that country ringing in your ears. Don’t you know there is nothing more to Germany than Bavaria? Moreover if you were to visit Bavaria, it would be 1920 or so, they would be all be in native dress and playing accordion music. And what’s with Handel’s Water Music in “England”? Yes, it was written for English royalty, but Handel was German. A map of the park was essential because signage was not great. I wondered how people made it out of the park when it closed at 10 p.m. with the lights so low and little in the way of directions. Maybe they were chased away by various assorted clowns and zombies.

The highlight of our day was not the rides (some of which were converted into haunted houses), but the many shows you could take in instead, all near Broadway quality, all with a Halloween theme and all quite fun. Considering we paid about $50 each to get in (with discount coupons) we easily got our money’s worth, although Busch Gardens picked our wallets in other ways with parking fees ($13) and mediocre meals ($60 or so). One thing I can say for Busch Gardens is despite its somewhat kitschy “countries”, it is a beautiful theme park that manages to integrate nature rather well.

Would Busch Gardens deliver the goods with its haunted houses? This is, after all, a family theme park. For those of you into haunted houses, what you get is a PG-13 version of Halloween. Kudos on all the fog machines, Busch Gardens. It’s hard to imagine how you could have generated more artificial fog; even in our jackets we were downright cold. The haunted houses though turned out to be relatively tame. No dismembered corpses. No blood on the floors. In fact, there are only a relatively small number of quickly mastered tricks to these haunted houses:

  • Use lots of darkness and strobe lights.
  • Enforce feelings of claustrophobia from time to time. One of them did it quite well by hanging plastic sheeting three to four feet above the ground.
  • Have people in ghoulish costumes hoisting fake weapons appear randomly from dark corners or out of windows.
  • Have those same people invade your personal space but not actually touch you.
  • Use air horns religiously.
  • Use plenty of clowns if possible. There was a kind of “clown alley” where you were accosted by creepy clowns all very much in your face and not afraid to follow you. Who needs zombies when clowns are so much scarier?
  • Make sure you run into things unexpectedly in the dark, particularly stringy stuff.
  • Dirty toilets and urinals are okay.
  • Go with a theme for each haunted house. I preferred the haunted house with the man-eating chicken and the bee man; now that’s creative.

In truth I had more fun interacting with the performers than they had performing for me. I enjoyed giving them stink eyes and trying to get into their personal space. After all, where is the fright when you know they won’t actually do anything to you?

In short, you may howl more from laughter than from fright, particularly if like me your heart medicine controls your heartbeat, so you know you won’t get an adrenaline rush. Still, altogether the Howl-o-scream is well worth the price of admission. However, if you demand lots of blood and guts in your haunted houses, better pick a more violent venue.