Wells: Was it crowded?
Wood: I have to adjust my priors a bit because I’ve never been to Disney World before. I know lots of people who have, and what they always talk about are the crowds and the expense. If you go there now, the crowds are relatively thin. You can walk down the street without bumping into people, and you can go on rides and attractions without having to wait for hours and hours. I think a normal person who knew Disney World and was going there for the second or third time would say it looks like a neutron bomb has hit the place and it’s being repopulated slowly by a trickle of visitors.
Wells: What did the people who were there think about it? Did they find it eerie?
Wood I think that most of them were having a really good time. It’s a little bit hard to tell because you’re looking at people in masks, which is weird. This is a place where everybody is supposed to be having a good time at all times. It’s compulsory. But you don’t see a human face, let alone a human smile, the whole time.
James Hamblin: Who was there?
Wood: To me, a shocking range of people. I wore a button at the park that they give you if it’s your first time there and it says first-time visitor. I’m sure I was the only one at the park wearing that, because not many other people were thinking, Disney is opening after a pandemic that’s killing hundreds of thousands of people in this country, so I think I’ll go for the first time. It was the people who have wanted to go to Disney World for months who have been prevented from it. And who feel like it’s that important to go, because they love it so much.
Wells: How were the rules enforced? If you were to get really close to someone or take off your mask, what happens?
Wood: There are Disney employees, always referred to by Disney as “cast members,” who will come up to you and say, Oh, could you please put on your mask or Could you please raise your mask over your nose? They’ll say it in the nicest possible way. But in truth, I almost never in my whole time there—four days—saw someone who had to be reminded of that. What was really shocking and actually gratifying and pleasing to see was the level of compliance of guests. Everybody was just following the rules. And they were doing it, I think, in a spirit of harmony and goodwill and also respect for the authority of Disney World. It’s hard to exaggerate the difference being in that bubble and the rest of the world. Or the rest of America. Or even the rest of the famously unruly state of Florida, which literally surrounds Disney World.
When you get to Disney World, you immediately find yourself in something that just doesn’t feel like America. It has a really good public-transportation system. It has a level of invasion of your privacy that Americans wouldn’t abide in other contexts. That is, you put on what’s called a Magic Band, kind of a Fitbit-like thing around your wrist, and anytime you walk past a sensor, Disney knows you were there. And they don’t hesitate to tell you that later by showing you a photograph of yourself there.