Florida is Disney World's Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrowland
The Most Magical Place on Earth™ isn’t going anywhere
In the SpongeBob SquarePants episode “Sandy, SpongeBob, and the Worm,” the residents of Bikini Bottom are terrorized by a giant “Alaskan Bull Worm.” The Bikini Bottomers gather in the Krusty Krab to debate how to stop the rampaging monstrosity, which has already cut a wide swathe of destruction. Wishing to exact revenge on the creature because it ate her tail, Sandy Cheeks channels her inner Quint and promises to defeat the beast. SpongeBob, aware of its true size, accompanies his mammalian buddy on a futile quest to get her to abandon her futile quest. Once they go, the other inhabitants turn their attention back to SpongeBob’s best friend Patrick Star, who had earlier made his own proposal for dealing with the threat. His solution? “Take Bikini Bottom and push it somewhere else.”
The notion that you can take a city and push it to a new location is ludicrous. That’s what makes it funny. It’s also why the writers put it in the mouth of Bikini Bottom’s 90 percent idiot, 10 percent idiot savant. Its sheer nonsensicality is precisely why it’s not meant to be taken seriously.
Yet in the wake of the conflict that erupted between Disney and Florida Republicans over Disney’s opposition to the new parental rights in education law, taking it seriously is just what a brigade of Twitter blue checks and other progressives have been doing. If Florida Republicans revoke Disney World’s self-governing authority, they cry, Disney should leave Florida and push Disney World somewhere else.
How they’d dismantle Cinderella’s Castle and Spaceship Earth they don’t say. But both that doing so is feasible and that it should be done they take for granted.
Hilarious to believe, indeed, but not for the reason suggested. To inoculate itself from the potential loss of revenue by shutting down its Florida flagship, Max Kennerly, a lawyer and well-known “resistance” tweeter, proposed keeping Disney World open while its successor is built, allowing it to gradually wither as customers shift to its replacement. Getting out of Orlando, he claimed, would also permit Disney to get ahead of the global warming curve. Talk about killing two birds with one stone!
Though the idea had been kicking around for a while, it really picked up steam after Florida Republicans followed through on their threat to pass a bill revoking Disney World’s self-governing status last week. Erstwhile tea party GOP congressman turned Donald Trump primary foe Joe Walsh tweeted that Disney “should leave Florida.” This elicited a flood of possible alternatives: Mexico, Puerto Rico, Branson, MO, Maryland, Delaware, and northern California, to name a few. Colorado Gov. Jared Polis had already offered Mickey and Minnie “asylum” in his state while proclaiming its readiness to host “Mountain Disneyland.”
Twitter progressives have all Florida Republicans in their sights, but they want Mickey and Co. to target one in particular: Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has become as much a bête noire of the left as he has a darling of the right. DeSantis is cruising to reelection and is a leading contender for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination. Democrats are desperate to take him down. Hence, many of those urging Disney to abscond from the Sunshine State openly yearn that doing so will prove his death knell.
By departing the state and taking its thousands of jobs with it, averred the podcaster Brian Taylor Cohen, Disney could “crash and burn Ron DeSantis’s re-election bid.” Which is possible because, according to Daily Beast entertainment editor Marlow Stern, the potential consequences for Florida’s economy are catastrophic.
One respondent to Stern, filled more with enthusiasm than sense, opined that it is Disney’s fiduciary duty to quit Florida to protect its shareholders. And if fiduciary duty means anything, it means spending tens of billions of dollars to build something that already exists.
It seems so simple: pack up Disney World and haul it to another state. Spaceship Earth? Roll it up I-4. Cinderella’s Castle? Take down its parapets and deconstruct it like Ikea furniture. Just get the broom from “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” to carry it all.
The English language has a lot of words, yet I’m not sure it has enough to convey just how staggeringly and astonishingly idiotic the idea of transporting Disney World out of Florida is. It is mind-bendingly, mind-bogglingly stupid—easily one of the most empty-headed, offensively dumb ideas in the history of Twitter. Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank’s declaration that “Disney is the place where dreams come true,” and his is for Disney to “abandon Florida entirely” confirms the obvious: that there are some ideas so absurd only a Twitter intellectual could believe them.
The idea of sticking it to Ron DeSantis, who has aroused the left’s ire, is understandable. But for a host of factors, the world’s largest theme park isn’t going anywhere.
The weather is one. There’s a reason Disney World is located in Orlando. That reason being the ability to operate outdoors in December, January, and February. Only a few states have comparable temperatures. Arizona does, but then you face the problem of summer in Arizona. Colorado is very nice in the summer, but it’s no accident it’s a popular winter destination. Las Vegas? Somehow, the Strip doesn’t seem quite in keeping with Disney’s family-friendly image. Parts of Texas, Louisiana, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi have the right conditions, but it’s doubtful those very red states would roll out the red carpet for Disney. And frankly, several of those states are too small and underdeveloped to handle Disney World 2.0.
The economic circumstances are no more favorable. Tourism accounted for $75 billion in economic activity, 463,000 jobs, and nearly $6 billion in tax revenue in Orlando in 2018. A significant amount of money, but still a modest sum compared to Florida’s $1.1 trillion GDP. Florida would take a hit if Mickey deserted, but it would hardly be the cataclysmic one DeSantis’s foes envision.
The hit to Disney, on the other hand, would be considerable. Its market cap is around $240 billion, or a quarter of Florida’s GDP. The company just completed a $1 billion expansion to create a Star Wars attraction in Florida. It’s not throwing that money away. That’s just one project. To move Disney World, Disney would have to move everything. And with Disney World, everything is enormous.
Disney World consists of: four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom); two water parks; at least 40 hotels; several golf courses; a campground; a shopping complex; multiple entertainment venues; a sports complex; miles of underground tunnels; several artificial lakes; a transportation system that includes multiple ferries, a monorail with six terminals and 15 miles of track, and hundred of buses; and one humongous saltwater tank. All of which is situated on an area larger than Manhattan.
Which brings us to the final—and real—reason Disney isn’t fleeing Florida. It can’t. It has no way out. Disney World is simply too entrenched, too firmly rooted in Florida’s soil to be pulled out. Going anywhere else would require finding a space bigger than Manhattan, in a region with year-round warm weather, located in a population center with access to several interstate highways and an international airport. Major metropolitan areas aren’t, last I checked, built in a day.
The people who blithely suggest Disney can walk out on Florida like someone walking out on their spouse seem to have an image of Disney World in their heads that’s stuck in the 1970s. It’s as though they’ve never heard of Animal Kingdom. Or even Hollywood Studios, which opened in 1989 (albeit under the name Disney-MGM Studios). Relocating Disney World isn’t like relocating last year’s baseball All-Star Game from Atlanta to Denver. That didn’t actually involve moving anything. Everyone just went to a different city.
Moving Disney World wouldn’t just require moving to a different city. It would require creating one. Most visitors don’t stay or eat at Disney World, but at the thousands of hotels and restaurants beyond its grounds. Disney itself couldn’t possibly accommodate them otherwise. An entire tourism and hospitality ecosystem has evolved in central Florida to serve them, one that has grown not just with Disney, but with Sea World, Universal Studios Orlando, and the other attractions in the vicinity. That, too, would need to be recreated wherever Disney went. Leaving Florida wouldn’t mean just moving Disney World; it would mean moving all of Orlando. Those who advocate doing so nonetheless are saying, in effect, that Disney should not only build its own Disney World, but that it should build its own Florida, too.
$100 billion—that’s the conservative estimate for the cost of recreating Disney World elsewhere. Not that anyone would actually want a new Disney World in their backyard. The very folks clamoring for Mickey and Co. to decamp are the same ones who demand a dozen environmental impact reviews to build a 7-11 and want to stop the high-density housing project down the street because it would ruin their view. NIMBYism was one of the forces that thwarted Disney’s plans for a park in Virginia in the 1990s. That was the ’90s. It has only grown more potent since. “Build it, just somewhere else” is the mantra of the very people who want Disney to build a new Disney World somewhere else. $100 billion? That’s the current cost of California’s oft-delayed high-speed rail project. It started at $33 billion. No one would be surprised if the same happened with Disney World the Second. And I haven’t even mentioned the carbon footprint yet.
In the end, the very reason Twitter progressives want Disney to forsake Florida—the abolition of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, as the entity through which it oversees Disney World is known—is why it can’t. Disney World as we know it exists because of RCID. It’s an arrangement that simply cannot be replicated anywhere else, either in physical or practical terms. Disney World is a polity unto itself and has been administered as such since RCID was created in 1967. Letting the House of Mouse rule it autonomously has been advantageous not only for Disney but for Florida as well.
Both supporters and opponents of abolishing RCID make compelling arguments. On the one hand, authorizing a corporation to set up its own fiefdom smacks of special privilege and imperium in imperio. Those who assert that it’s an appropriate response because conservatives can no longer allow themselves to be bullied and intimidated, or corporations to be conscripted into the left’s campaign to extirpate them from polite society, aren’t wrong. On the other hand, given that Disney’s opposition to the parental rights bill had no measurable impact, punishing it anyway reeks of vindictiveness.
My own view is that killing RCID is a mistake. Not because I believe it violates Disney’s free speech rights or is an example of “Gangster Government”; I don’t. Rather, RCID should be retained because it has worked really well and killing something that’s worked really well is dumb and gratuitous. Disney World is awesome, and a big part of why it’s awesome is Reedy Creek. Letting Disney World govern itself has made for more efficient, effective administration. That shouldn’t be undone wantonly or out of spite.
Spite is just what those fantasizing about Disney leaving are guilty of. Or they would be if they had any power to make this most farfetched of wishes come true. Latching onto outlandish schemes because they lack any power save that of their own imaginations has been a defining trait of the online left for the last few years. The “get rid of Trump” UFO never landed, so the same “resistance” numpties who spent five years waiting for it have now turned to an even more ridiculous vehicle for their longings, the “move Disney World out of Florida” UFO. That spaceship, too, will never land.
As for the Bikini Bottom-threatening worm, after they track it down and Sandy realizes the enormity of her mistake, she and SpongeBob run for their lives as it chases them. At the last second, they jump out of the way and it plunges down a precipice. A precipice into which—in one of the O’Henryesque endings typical of the series—the inhabitants of Bikini Bottom, having decided to follow Patrick’s advice, have pushed the city.
Such a fate will never befall Disney World. Because, to put it in terms of another intellectual property, one Disney recently acquired, it’s here forever.
I moved to Orlando when I was 8, in 1965. I miss the pre-WDW Orlando -- though my father did the concrete work for the Contemporary Hotel and I had a summer job there in my teens. True, the place is much richer, but there are many too many Yankees there now.