Looking Back: Disney World Announced Its Closure One Year Ago Today.

One year ago today, the Walt Disney Company made an unprecedented announcement that would change everything.

Magic Kingdom

Walt Disney World (plus Disneyland and more) would be closing for an extended time for the first time EVER since it opened in 1971.  The initial closures would begin on at the close of business on March 15, 2020 and run through the end of the month. Two weeks.

The initial closure announcement.

This was unthinkable. We scrambled to get the news out and then anxiously looked towards the future. What would our jobs be like? What do we need to do RIGHT NOW to be prepared for the next two weeks?

As Morgan and I look back over the last year, we thought it would be a poignant time to reflect on what those initial moments after the announcement were like as not only humans but theme park journalists.

Morgan’s Story

I had started working with AllEars in early 2020 (a dream job come true), so I was still a relative newbie when March rolled around. By the time March 12th came along, the team had already seen plenty of news reports about the worldwide impact of Coronavirus, and knew that the parks closing down was a very real probability.

Hi, it’s me, Morgan!

I remember it all happened in pretty quick succession — first Broadway went dark, then Disneyland announced it would be closing, followed shortly thereafter by Disney World.

Even a year out I remember pretty vividly the many emotions I felt. Number one, and most overwhelming (as I’m sure it was for anyone) was fear. Disney World is known for always being open, aside from a few days-long closures for hurricanes. Taking away the fact that Disney World is a large part of my job, the parks closing felt like a heavy emphasis on just how serious of a situation the health crisis was.

But, very quickly, I realized that general fear and confusion was how everyone was feeling. As soon as the parks announced they were closing, we got a flood of questions from our readers. “What does this mean for my trip in May?”“I want to cancel, but the phone lines are busy, what do I do?”, and “How do I get refunded for my Annual Pass with the parks closed?” were just a few of the questions we got right away.

At the time, Disney hadn’t released answers to most of those questions yet. Those answers came in over time, with our team sometimes picking up new information in the middle of the night due to a small site update or clarification.  But, it was those answers that could help you, our readers.

Writing for a travel-oriented website, while Disney World and all the other theme parks was closed was…interesting, to say the least. It involved spending many late nights getting details on what Disney would be refunding and when, with plenty of screenshot comparisons searching for the most minute changes in details that could help answers some of our readers’ questions. It also involved listening in to daily government task force meetings, an experience I will truly never forget.

My Favorite WFH Co-Worker

Those late nights and Disney detective work also came with some positives, though. I got to know some of our readers better in helping them search for answers for their questions. Plus (and I’m going to get real cheesy here for a second), the experience truly brought the AllEars team closer together because we were all going through something totally unprecedented both at work and in our personal lives, and felt grateful for the work we were doing.

During this time I’ve gotten incredible musical recommendations from Quincy, I got to start working with my forever fashion icon Breedlove, and I’ve gone back and forth with Molly on who is the best Chris (the correct answer is Chris Evans).

Since the parks initially closed, Disney World has reopened, with Disneyland looking to reopen soon. For AllEars, our team has gotten closer and, I hope, more creative. We’ve been able to bring in new shows, posts, and more content that we hope is both helpful and helps bring a smile to anyone looking for their daily dose of Disney. This time has been trying not because the parks were closed, but because of the uncertainty of it all. I’m so grateful for the people I work with, and the family I’ve made here. This year has certainly not been without its challenges, but I’m thankful for everything I’ve learned along the way.

Molly’s Story

I was walking out of EPCOT, where I had been filming all day, when my phone started vibrating off the hook. This isn’t unusual — when you’re in the greatest text thread of all time with your co-workers, your phone is usually buzzing non-stop. But when I opened the message, I wasn’t greeted with a friendly debate about which Star Wars character is better or someone sending cat photos (Morgan and Quincy, looking at you.) It was official — Walt Disney World had made the announcement we’d all been waiting for: they were closing.

Filming at EPCOT.

Despite the fact we all knew this was a very logical probability, having been tracking not only the international theme parks but also the CDC and domestic trends, it was stopped me in my tracks to see the announcement officially written out. Walt Disney World nor Disneyland have EVER closed for this long. They’ve both shut down for an odd day here and there for weather, and closed early on 9/11, but to shut down for two weeks…possibly more?!…was unfathomable.

My mind was racing a million miles a minute — and one of the first questions I had was, how am I supposed to do my job, which is making videos about Disney World, if Disney World is closed?!

I immediately messaged our YouTube Manager, Meghan, and we got to work. Since we had a feeling this was coming we’d already started stockpiling footage for videos we could turn out when the park was closed. I had just a few days left to film, and we came up with short videos that could be shot simultaneously. Over the next two days, I filmed SIX videos between EPCOT and Hollywood Studios. This, along with videos we had already in the works, would be enough in-park videos to last us a month…just to be safe in case they extended the closure a bit.

As we all know now, the park closures lasted much more than a month and we had to get creative. At one point we stopped and asked ourselves, should we even be making videos right now? Does anyone care about what we have to say about Walt Disney World when the world is literally crumbling around us?

At least I got a new assistant as I worked from home. And dyed my hair pink?!

In total, I shot more than a dozen videos at home, mixing pre-existing park footage in a Q&A style format where I just talked from my desk.  I’m really proud of those videos. Our team worked together, during a very dark time, to think outside the box and create the best content we could and help our viewers. We received dozens of messages from people thanking us — parents who needed something new to show their kids, teachers who were trying to teach on Zoom, and even nurses working the Covid units that needed an escape. Those messages meant more than I could ever put into words. In a time where nothing made sense and there an everlasting feeling of hopelessness and anxiety, it felt good to have a purpose and know we were doing something small to bring joy to others. It created a community between our followers and us. Honestly, it’s what kept me going.

Throughout this past year, I have learned a lot about myself, our team, and humanity in general. These unprecedented closures forced us to become better — better writers, better reporters, and a better team. Every day the parks were closed I was in awe of this group of people. We stayed up late scrutinizing website updates, CDC mandates, and trying to answer questions no one had ever had to ask before. We listened to hours of government task force meetings. We figured out how to write compelling and factual pieces we never would have had to write before 3/12/2020. We had zoom Happy Hours to try and feel normal.  If there’s a silver lining to the Disney parks closing it was that we became the best team we could possibly be, which means we’re providing the best information and content we possibly can to our incredible readers. I am so lucky, to not only have a job at all right now, but one that has made me better in the most trying year of our lives. I am so proud to work with these people, and so honored that our readers trust us and follow us.

I took this photo one year ago. It was the last time I hugged Mickey Mouse. It feels like an enternity ago; the world is a completley different place now. It seems silly to think about this pandemic in terms of Walt Disney World, when there is so much more important stuff out there. I’m not so pixie-dusted to think that it really matters if people get to high five Goofy or ride Space Mountain or not. But Disney has long been a source of joy and fantasy, and to see them shut their doors and change the way they operate is a harsh reflection of reality. It’s hard to wrap your mind around a global pandemic, but it’s easy to understand the symbolism that every single Disney Park in the world is closed. And while I hope to never see a closure announcement again, I also hope I never forget what I’ve learned because of it.

Magic Kingdom Reopening Day

If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that we’re lucky to do what we do, with the people we do it with, and that we’d be nothing with you. Thank you for sticking with us throughout this unprecedented time. We hope we were a source of information, answers, or a smile during a scary time.  Here’s to the year ahead — and just think. If we can all get through the last 365 days, we can do anything.

 

What life lessons did you learn in 2020? Feel free to share in the comments!

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Molly is a lifelong Disney enthusiast, and former Walt Disney World Guest Relations Cast Member and tour guide. Her Walt Disney World favorites include Festival of the Lion King, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Fantasmic!, Mickey-shaped pretzels and rice krispie treats, and anything with Buzz Lightyear! She lives in Orlando with her husband (who she met in Guest Relations) and their two rescue dogs, Kronk and Cruella de Vil (Ella for short!)

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11 Replies to “Looking Back: Disney World Announced Its Closure One Year Ago Today.”

  1. Molly, you and the all ears team have gotten me through this year! Love all your videos and you always make me laugh. Can’t wait to get to Disney to utilize all the information I’ve learned from you.

  2. I haven’t been able to visit WDW since 2014 and, having been a subscriber to the ALLEARS.NET newsletter since a *very* long time (15 years? More? Sincerely, I can’t remember) and as soon as you opened your YouTube channel I have been an avid visitor.

    That said, for me, as for so many people, being able to escape, even for one moment, of the everyday news about the pandemic, has truly been a blessing. I can’t tell you of how many times I have seen and commented Molly’s videos with my wife and my daughter (particularly those with Kronk and Ella, as our family loves dogs).

    So, yes. Thank you for keeping us (more or less 🙂 ) sane thru these months. Thanks to Molly and to all the Allears.net team (and thanks to Kronk and Ella, we hope to see more of them in your videos!!). Here is to many more months and years of Allears, hopefully with this awful virus receding quickly as a bad memory.

  3. Wow. We are here at WDW. Right now. Because of you. You brought us hope and fun and escape during a scary and stressful year. Even for older kids it’s been hard. No prom, no sports, no in-person school, You all kept us laughing and helped us look forward to something in the middle of a dark and scary time. With your help, we watched the parks open, and got excited again about maybe getting to get out and have some fun again. We started planning our trip with YOU! We budgeted and saved and figured it all out with you and your tips and tricks. Our Sunday event is watching All Ears! We’ve enjoyed meeting all of you too. Molly you are awesome! Quincy and Breedlove and Morgan and the RTT folks – so much fun! Thank you for what you do! You are a safe haven in a difficult time. You are an escape from all the ugly things in the world. Your work matters. Just like Walt himself – you bring a little sunshine to our world. A little pixie dust. If you think about it, isn’t that what really matters? Toasting our Mickey Bars to you all!

  4. I’m still salty about the closures. Just 2 weeks. Being in the beginning of our trip and already on site. Just 2 weeks.. ik a month… We all know how that turned out. Yet at the time Disney not only shut down operations, they shut down the refurb and 50th work as well. If they intended to be just shut down for a short time “to help flatten the curve” of hospitalizations, they shut down everything. If they were just shutting down for “a short while” they would have continued the refurb and 50th work they already had underway. But they stopped everything, like they weren’t going to be open for a while and needed to conserve as much money as possible. They knew that they were going to be closing for a longer period of time, otherwise they would have taken advantage of the empty parks to do the refurb work without guests being around. It would have been trivial to distance workers which was all we were told to do at the time.

  5. It’s always refreshing to watch content produced by a team who loves the parks, and despite everything going on, are always positive, unlike other sites such as WDWNT who seemingly resent Disney and everything they do.

    Thank you

  6. My 3 year old daughter and I discovered your videos early on in the pandemic and it made such a difference for getting through the early days of completely staying at home. We were fortunate to go to Disney february 2020 and because of watching Disney world videos she still remembers so much of our trip. (when she was only 2 1/2!) She’s always asking if there’s any new molly videos to watch. I’ve been judging the pandemic through Disney and absolutely cannot wait until Disney is back to normal! We will be there for sure!

  7. Videos like the ones allears do are extremely important because they give people Hope. That is what everyone truly needs right now is Hope. Please continue to do videos and give people the joy and Hope that they truly need. People need places like allears and Walt Disney World now more than ever!!!!!!!!

  8. One of the best things to happen for me throughout this pandemic, was stumbling across these videos. They have truly been a source of joy. Thank you and love you guys!

  9. I just want to thank Molly,Morgan and the entire All Ears team. We had to cancel our 2020 Disney trip, my husband was put on furloug, my son was remote learning and I was teaching from home. Your videos were something we all looked forward to each week. You were our sanity during a time when things were scary and crazy and for that I will always be grateful.

  10. Cant thank you all enough for the videos you made! My 6 year old loved them and your staff and I loved the great insight you offered on everything from hotels to dining so I could distract myself with planning our next “epic” trip! Thank you again, it meant more than you will know!