It’s been a roller coaster of a week for Walt Disney World.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis completed his wave of retaliation against The Walt Disney Company this week by signing a bill on Friday, April 22 that looks set to dissolve the theme park Resort’s special treatment in the state.
Now, without any official statement or comment from Disney or its CEO, Bob Chapek, Guests are wondering what Disney World will do next.
Amid a political boycott of The Walt Disney Company due to its stance on a recent education bill, the Florida Governor’s revenge plot against Disney seems final, taking out the Walt Disney World’s Reedy Creek Improvement District.
Since 1967, the Walt Disney World Resort has been able to reside in Lake Buena Vista unregulated, basically acting as its own “government”. The act involved creating a special taxing district that acts with the same authority as a county government. Local taxpayers – residents of Orange County and Osceola County – do not have to pay for building or maintaining Disney’s essential services like water and electricity.
But now, after over 50 years, it looks like this is all about to end due to retaliation on Republicans’ part for Disney CEO Bob Chapek’s stance on Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Bill passed last month.
Disney initially shied away from making a public statement regarding Florida’s new bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which targets the LGBTQ+ community and restricts conversations about gender and identities in schools. Disney’s statement against the bill caused a feud with DeSantis, but how will Disney now react?
For DeSantis, the attack on Disney is his latest in a culture war waged over race, gender, and the coronavirus, attacks that have led to controversy and division. At the bill signing ceremony, DeSantis said Disney lied about the content of the education law and the company’s vow to fight the law was unacceptable.
But is this all just political theater? Some say that DeSantis is using the battle against Mickey Mouse as a distraction from the redistricting map that cuts the number of minority districts in half and eliminates two Black-access Congressional Districts.
Questions have also been asked about whether or not the procedures used by the state’s Legislature to pass this bill were legal. According to Florida state statute 189.072, a majority of the Reedy Creek residents would have to vote in favor of dissolving the district.
Furthermore, lawyers specializing in constitutional law believe that Disney would win a First Amendment lawsuit. Dissolving Reedy Creek and Walt Disney World’s special treatment has clearly been explained by Republicans as retaliation against Disney’s opinion on the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Lawrence Walters, a managing partner of Longwood-based Walters Law Group, explained:
“Once the government provides a benefit, that benefit can’t be taken away in a way that is unconstitutional. In other words, the government cannot retaliate against the company in response to the exercise of the company’s First Amendment rights.”
In other words, is it truly “American” (and legal) for Republicans to attack Disney simply for exercising their right to have an opinion? For a political party so focused on the American Constitution and the right to “Free Speech,” it seems interesting that Disney is being publicly punished as a company for its opinion.
Even President Biden chimed in this week at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser in Portland, Oregon, saying “It’s not even conservative in a traditional sense of conservative. It’s mean. It’s ugly. It’s the way — look what’s happening down in Florida. They’re going after Mickey Mouse. I mean, seriously, think about it.”
The move could not only have huge tax implications for Disney World, but also for residents of Orange County and Osceola County, who may have to assume Disney’s liabilities of anywhere between $1 billion and $2 billion if the Reedy Creek Improvement District is dissolved.
So, what will Disney do in response? File a First Amendment lawsuit? Stay quiet? Or start its own series of retaliation?
Many Disney Park Guests are wondering if Disney will revoke the Florida Resident discount on Park tickets and/ or the Florida Resident Annual Pass. If Florida State is removing financial benefits for The Walt Disney Company, what is the incentive to Disney in providing a benefit for the state?
Currently, Florida Residents can save 40% on 4-Day Tickets and 30% on 3-Day Tickets compared to the non-Florida Resident price of a 3-Day or 4-Day Ticket. Moreover, one-day, one-park tickets start at $109, depending on the date and the theme park and whether the Park Hopper add-on is chosen.
- Disney Pixie Dust Pass: $399 plus tax—or $19 per month with the down payment. For Florida Residents only. The Pixie Dust pass is valid for use most weekdays, subject to blockout dates including peak and holiday periods
- Disney Pirate Pass: $699 plus tax—or $45 per month with the down payment. For Florida Residents only. The Pirate Pass is valid for use most days, subject to blockout dates including peak and holiday periods
- Disney Sorcerer Pass: $899 plus tax—or $63 per month with the down payment. For Florida Residents and eligible Disney Vacation Club Members only. The Sorcerer Pass is valid for use most days, subject to blockout dates on select days during select holiday periods.
- Disney Incredi-Pass: $1,299 plus tax—or $99 per month with the down payment. No blockout dates.
Guests have to show identification at the Disney Park entrance that confirms that they are currently a Florida resident. This can be a valid Florida driver’s license, state, or military ID, or Guests can show proof of mortgage, utility bills, car registration, or insurance.
Guests can now have their residency confirmed in advance using the My Disney Experience app. When you purchase your tickets through the app you’ll be able to present your ID during the “Customize Your Tickets” step.
If Disney were to remove these Florida Resident Discounts and Annual Passes, it would be a big disappointment to many people. The Florida Resident Discount is a huge incentive for families in Florida to consider a day trip to Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
The discount serves as a thank you to Florida residents and lawmakers for welcoming Disney into the state back in 1971 and allowing the Reedy Creek Improvement District to happen. If DeSantis goes ahead with dissolving the tax district in June 2023, it would be interesting to see if Disney responds in this way.
Removing Disney’s bubble also means that routine maintenance, attraction refurbishments, and improvements will take longer. Disney World right now does not have to go through Orange Country to get work approved, reducing project timeframes dramatically (though it does follow laws and processes correctly). Things like potholes, ride refurbs, and other projects will almost certainly see longer completion times with more procedures, approvals, and paperwork to go through.
The Reedy Creek District covers 4 theme parks (Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom), 2 water parks (Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach), Disney Springs, 175 lane miles of roadway, 67 miles of waterway, the cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, water, electrical, and waste management facilities, as well as over 40,000 hotel rooms and 100s of restaurants and retail stores.
So far, we’ve heard no comment from Disney CEO Bob Chapek on the matter, but stay tuned to Disney Tips for all updates on this developing story.