Alcohol at Disneyland: The Letter vs Spirit of Walt’s Wishes

By Brian Lemay No comments

I just got back from a trip out of town, and so this week I’m taking a break from the normal
history video to make more of an op-ed piece on Disneyland. It’s an idea I’ve had for a while now,
but some recent Disney news has presented itself as the perfect opportunity to bring
it up. So today I’m going to talk about alcohol
at Disneyland. Just last week Disney released some exciting news about the planned cantina for Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge We learned that the location is going to be
called Oga’s Cantina or Oh-ga’s or Ooga’s. I don’t- however you pronounce it and the press release teases that it’ll be somewhere where you might encounter either a friend or a foe. However beyond just the colorful backstory
and themed detailing, there’s one line in the press release that has been making the
news: Now over on the east coast, this news isn’t
really big news. We knew a cantina was coming and it’s nice
to finally get a name and some concept art, but there’s nothing here to write home about. However with the west coast Galaxy’s Edge
being located in Disneyland, that last line is a big deal, because with the opening of
the cantina next year it will mark the first time in Disneyland’s history that alcohol
will be sold to the general public. This decision directly conflicts with Walt’s
original edict of keeping Disneyland a dry park, and that’s upsetting some Disney fans. Now I don’t want to be one of those outlets
that cherry picks one or two angry tweets and tries to pretend everyone is outraged. The reality is that in the big picture most
people are completely fine with this news. In fact there are plenty of people thrilled
with the idea. However there are some who feel that Disney
is making a mistake in going against Walt’s wishes, and it’s that idea that I want to
address. In order to do that, we have to go back to
1955 and first ask: why? Why was Disneyland a dry park? Was Walt Disney part of the temperance movement? Nope. He, like most adults at the time, drank. In fact not only did he drink, but he wasn’t
opposed to serving alcohol at Disneyland during special occasions either. Many people like to point to the private club
at Disneyland, Club 33, as an example of how you can get alcohol at the park, but you don’t
even have to go that far ahead to find it. Just days prior to the opening of Disneyland
they threw a 30th anniversary party at the unopened park for Walt and Lillian, and it
offered plenty of cocktails. So we know for a fact that Disneyland wasn’t
a dry park because of his personal stance against alcohol, because he didn’t have
one. No, instead, it was a dry park because of
the reputation that Walt was trying to cultivate for Disneyland. You see, up until that point, theme parks
weren’t a thing. There were amusement parks and carnivals and
state fairs though, and they all carried a somewhat poor reputation. So it was important to Walt to make sure that
Disneyland wasn’t written off by everyone as just another another one of those. Now Walt and his team would ultimately make
countless decisions to try and ensure that Disneyland stood out from the rest as being
different, but I want to focus on just two. One was that it was decided that male cast
members at Disneyland had to be clean shaven. It was the dominant style at the time, and
Walt wanted to make sure that there was as little chance as possible of cast members
being looked upon as carnys, or carnival workers, who were often thought of as being unsavory
characters. The other was the decision to not offer any
alcohol at the park. During an interview in 1956 Walt was quoted
as saying: “No liquor, no beer, nothing. Because that brings in a rowdy element. That brings people that we don’t want and
I feel they don’t need it.” That quote is crucial, because it goes beyond
just the decision and offers us insight as to the reasoning behind it. Let’s be blunt: he didn’t want his Disneyland
park crawling with a bunch of drunk idiots, and really, nobody can blame him for that
when that’s part of what you’d get at carnivals and state fairs at the time. So the policy made sense. Now it’s over 60 years later and times have
changed. In short, Walt’s decisions worked. We don’t typically think of Disneyland as
just another amusement park or carnival today. However beyond that our culture has changed. The reason I mentioned the rule about facial
hair is because it was a rule that was eventually dropped because we don’t live in a time
where having a beard or mustache makes us think of carnival workers. We generally don’t think that having a beard
means you’re somehow untrustworthy or dirty. Disney, focusing on the spirit of the rule
rather than the letter, still requires that the facial hair is still well maintained and
neat. That’s the right idea, and since beards
are less controversial than alcohol, you didn’t see many instances of people lamenting the
loss of Walt’s legacy by changing the rule. So is Disneyland about to draw in that rowdy
element now that the Star Wars cantina is about to start serving alcohol? No. Anyone who has been to the Magic Kingdom since
Be Our Guest started offering alcohol can tell you that much. And the answer is no because as we’ve seen
through Disney’s policies, it’s not a black and white or binary issue. It’s proven that you can introduce drinks
into the park in a way that reduces the ability for someone to get drunk and rowdy, whether
it’s limiting the drinks to the venue, limiting the number of drinks per guest, or just slapping
the drinks with those typical Disney prices that would make it prohibitively expensive. Now some might point to Epcot as a warning,
and they wouldn’t be entirely wrong. The whole tradition of drinking around the
world has caused plenty of instances of rowdy guests. But contrasted to the other parks at Walt
Disney World, it just further proves that it’s the implementation that matters, not
the base decision to offer drinks. As long as Disney remembers that, there won’t
be a problem. And so what we’ve seen Disney doing, and
what I hope we’ll see all Disney fans doing when it comes to these new changes, is worrying
less about sticking to the literal word of Walt’s wishes and decisions when it comes
to the Disney parks, and instead focusing on the spirit of those decisions. Ultimately, it does a disservice to Walt to
cling to old policies and not progress just because they were his words. We should being asking ourselves not what
he wanted with the rules, but why he wanted them. It’s only then can we properly adjust the
current policies to reflect the spirit of those rules while still bringing them up to
reflect contemporary trends and cultures. That’s how Disneyland can still remain Walt’s
park without feeling antiquated. Now I’d love to hear what you think on the topic. Whether you’re for the change, or against the change, or maybe you just don’t care at all Let me know in the comments below. Again, this is just my personal stance on the issue at hand So I want to know what everybody else is thinking and get a dialogue going. Thanks for watching and I’ll see you next time!

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