What’s going on behind the gates of shuttered Disney theme parks

The coronavirus has closed Disney theme park resorts worldwide, with analysts projecting that the beloved amusements may not reopen until 2021.

Even if the only rides to enjoy are virtual, there’s still plenty of action happening behind the gates.

Animals are still looked after, topiaries are pruned into the shapes of characters and the American flag is still ceremoniously hoisted daily, according to Reader’s Digest.

Even while Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla., is shuttered, a care team attends to Animal Kingdom’s 2,000 animals across 300 species. Its purview now includes an adorable baby girl porcupine — also known as a porcupette — born on Feb. 25 at the Animal Kingdom park. The little ball of red fluff and quills is the daughter of prickly mom Peri, who’s even done stints on Good Morning America.

About a month later — on March 21, five days after all parks officially closed — another creature made her debut. Meet a Hartmann’s zebra foal, named Asha, who was standing within 30 minutes of birth. She was born as part of the Species Survival Plan program and after bonding with her mom Heidi they were both set free in the savanna of the Kilimanjaro Safaris area. Asha is the third zebra birth at Disney World this year.


Even if visitors aren’t there to see them, Disney’s flora is still in tip-top condition. The president of Disney World, Josh D’Amaro, visited to Epcot this week and discovered that the topiaries — even one of Mickey Mouse in dressed as a sorcerer — and flower beds were perfectly maintained.


“Like many of you, I spend most days at home, but every so often I come in to thank the small group of Cast maintaining the magic at WDW,” D’Amaro wrote on Instagram. “On a visit to #EPCOT this week, I was struck by the beauty and inspiration of our Flower & Garden Festival topiaries, which are still here. They are a testament to how amazing our horticulture team is.”

Another Disney ritual that remaining staffers continue to observe is a daily flag-raising. Every morning at the Magic Kingdom, security guards hoist the American flag up a pole on Main Street and salute it in a contemplative moment — even with no audience to bear witness.

After dark, even most of the essential workers have left, the parks don’t go completely dark. On April 7, Disney World’s Cinderella Castle was lit up in blue to honor emergency workers, with security guards holding up signs saying “Thank You.”

At Shanghai Disney Resort, messages of gratitude were projected in different languages and colors onto the Enchanted Storybook Castle. A floral arrangement spelling out “Merci” was displayed in front of the castle at Disneyland Paris, and, over in Southern California’s Disneyland, the custodial staff arranged spring blossoms to read “Thank You” and “Gracias.”


Day or night, visitors or no visitors, there is one light in Disneyland that burns bright at all times. The lamp inside Walt Disney’s second-floor apartment glows over the park’s Town Square.

“Today, even in a world filled with so much uncertainty, that light still shines, bright as ever,” Disneyland Park President Rebecca Campbell wrote on Instagram. “I’m looking forward to the day when families can make memories once again.”


For their part, employees — called cast members in Disney parlance — are staying performance-ready. A barbershop quartet, the Dapper Dans, is usually found on Main Street, tap-dancing and harmonizing while dressed in colorful pinstripe suits. They’ve take their vaudevillian vocals to the internet, belting out “There’s a Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow” via video conference.

Meanwhile, the JAMMitors, a janitor percussion group that roams around Epcot banging on makeshift instruments like buckets and trash bins, pieced together an impressive montage for Disney fans to enjoy. Instead of using items around the park to keep the beat, members seize upon items from their homes, like a gas canister, an old tire and regular kitchen garbage cans.

The parks are closed indefinitely, so these glimpses of the magic inside will have to suffice for now.

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