Almost as soon as Serena Lyn stepped back inside the Magic Kingdom, she burst into tears. It’d been four months since the theme park and crown jewel of Walt Disney World’s Florida stronghold had shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. Before the parks closed, Lyn had been visiting them twice a week; it was part of her job as a Disney blogger and an Instagrammer with more than 71,000 followers. As a devoted Disney fan who’d moved with her husband, two kids, and dog to Orlando, close enough to the parks to see their fireworks shows every night, not being able to set foot inside Disney World had been painful.
So when the employees—“cast members,” in park parlance—greeted Lyn and her fellow returning annual passholders on July 9 with a warm welcome outside of the shops along Main Street, Lyn became overwhelmed. “I was bawling,” she said when we FaceTimed a week after she attended Disney World’s grand reopening. “I looked around, and everyone was crying.”
In that moment, the stress of the pandemic disappeared as the atmosphere of the parks wrapped her in “a sense of security and happiness,” she explained. “I think the world needs Disney right now.”
Not everyone would agree, judging by the reactions to the parks’ reopening. To those who have never or rarely visited the parks, going now, amid a spike in cases in Florida, seems a reckless venture—an excellent, expensive way to put oneself at risk. Comedians took aim at the visitors. Satirical sites, too. Twitter users even turned Disney’s earnest “Welcome Home” video into a warning, with the masked cast members urging viewers to “stay at home.”