You’re all probably wondering what a druid like me was doing at Walt Disney World in Florida. The answer is quite simple, my partner loves it and had a significant birthday so I agreed to go – and spend 10 days in the parks! My primary objective was to make sure that my partner had a great time and I quickly realised that I wouldn’t be able to fake it – if they just thought I was tolerating it for their benefit it would have ruined the whole thing so I had to do my damnedest to have a good time while I was there too.
Disney World certainly does have it’s good points (even for a spiritually conscious and environmentally aware person such as myself), for example in Epcot we learn that they are doing lots of research into improving the productivity of the land – increasing the crop yield and developing crops that can grow in more challenging environments. While doing this research they actually grow quite a lot of food which is then used in the restaurants of Epcot.
In Animal Kingdom there is an area where they will happily tell you all about the environment and how important it is that we all do our bit to help by reducing consumption, thinking about (and minimising) our environmental impact etc. All very good.
As someone with an interest in IT I was very impressed with the use of technology there. There was good (free) WiFi coverage in all the parks and resorts – a not insignificant feat as I can very well appreciate as I struggle to do the same over a vastly smaller area). Also the wristband system was very impressive – the band didn’t just open our hotel room but allowed us into the parks and (throught the meal-plan) and allowed us to pay for meals and snacks. In fact if we’d chosen to attach a credit card to the system we could have paid for pretty much everything simply by holding the watch-like wrist-band up to a sensor.
I was also very impressed with the logistics – I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands of people visit the parks each day – surely a logistic nightmare to get so many in and out, onto and off of rides and of course fed, but it was done very efficiently.
The most important lesson you quickly learn there is patience, of course. You have to queue for absolutely everything – and yes, I really do mean everything. Just to get into the park you have to queue to have your bag searched, then for the airport-style metal scan and then again to actually get into the park – this is before you queue for any rides or food. Such patience is surely a good lesson to learn.
Did I mention the queuing?
Seriously though there were several points which caused my great concern. Despite the fact that at least two of the parks are happy to offer advise on minimising ones environmental impact one has to think about the extreme impact that these parks actually have. Pretty much all food is served on disposable plates, with disposable cutlery and all drinks are served in disposable cups – a logistic necessity I suppose but this alone must generate an absolutely vast quantity of rubbish – the disposal of which must be a whole new logistic nightmare! Although there was the option for recycling plastic bottles and cans everything else went into general trash and a lot of people I saw just put their recyclables into the general trash anyway, rather than carry it a few more yards to a recycle bin.
Staying with the food, because of the generous quantities and set-meal options I witnessed a very large amount of food being thrown away.
The whole Walt Disney World site covers about 40 square miles or 25,000 acres and has hundreds of thousands of visitors each day. I can’t help but wonder where all the food comes from, where all the materials for the disposable cups, plates and cutlery comes from – where all the toilet paper comes from! How much water is used each day just to flush the toilets? And how much electricity to power all the rides and lighting? The environmental impact is difficult to imagine.
Walt Disney World is described as being the happiest place on earth, but at what cost comes such hedonism? And is it really so happy? Nearly everyone walks around with a smile on their face, to be sure but how many are secretly worrying about the bill when they get home? Then there is the overall rudeness as people rush to get to their next FastPass ride or get to the next queue in front of as many others as possible. I witnessed a lot of selfishness and arrogance there, all thinly veiled behind the facade of those happy smiles.
In Animal Kingdom you will find the “Tree of Life” you would thing that, as a Druid, this would be listed under “The Good” but let me tell you, this tree of life is quite dead. Indeed it has never been alive as it is an entirely artificial construct, made of concrete and plastic. What could be more oxymoronic, more of a contradiction in terms, that a tree of life that has never and will never live.
I had a good time a Walt Disney World but I won’t go back. I’m sure Disney fans think I’m raining on their parade (of which there are many) but this is a place of pure escapism and hedonistic fun. For many, I feel sure, this is enough. Most are, I feel, happy with the bright and colourful facades and have no desire to think about what goes on behind the scenes – about the waste and excessive consumption that goes on. For me, as a Druid, I feel I have to think about such things – in many ways you could say the Walt Disney World (and other similar institutions) represent all that is wrong in the world in a (large) microcosm – the pursuit of happiness at all costs, waste, excessive consumerism and, above all, turning a blind eye to the true cost to the planet.