The Grief Process – The Special Love of a Person with a Pass for Their Parks and Cast Members

Note: As always, the following reflections are my personal opinions and reactions and do not represent anyone else.

“So show me family…”

This week some more changes were announced by Disney about entertainment in the parks. And per the rumor mill, the cutbacks might not be done yet and more may be announced in the coming weeks and months.

The announcements were made in a carrot and stick fashion.

First: Disney California Adventure is getting back their Food & Wine Festival starting April 1st! This news was well received even though the DCA version of this event was always considered a poor cousin to the EPCOT extravaganza.

Second: The Mad T Party is closing March 30th. Umm, WHAT?! Not only was the DIAMOND ANNIVERSARY version of the show supposed to run throughout the Disneyland Diamond Celebration (which does not end until September), but there’s a little movie coming out a few weeks later – namely the sequel to the movie that inspired the Mad T Party! Alice Through the Looking Glass is set to release to theaters in May. WHY WOULD THEY CANCEL A SHOW WITH THE SYNERGY TO PROMOTE A NEW MOVIE A FEW WEEKS BEFORE THE MOVIE COMES OUT?! *smh* Let me run down a few other announcements before I get to the exact impact of this particular decision.

Third: A new show is coming to Walt Disney World Resort’s Magic Kingdom – “Mickey’s Royal Friendship Faire”, which of course features Frozen characters amongst others because there’s clearly not enough Frozen in the parks.

Fourth: It is replacing Dream Along With Mickey, the castle show at Walt Disney World Resort’s Magic Kingdom featuring many classic princess characters with their princes, along with some great villains. Dream Along With Mickey is closing April 2nd.

While I understand that some may have felt it was time for a refresh of the castle show, I’m sad to lose yet another venue for classic Disney characters who are being replaced by modern ones. Not that I don’t love Tiana and Rapunzel too – and yes, it’s easy to feel spoiled having them both so well represented at the Disneyland Resort these days. But it’s sad to lose one more place to see the older characters.

But here’s what I really want to talk about in all of this – why it means more than just a different attraction in the park from one month to the next…

The reason I started this blog was because a few years ago, I started recognizing the true talent and special magic of the performers at the Disney Parks & Resorts, and seeing the impact they had on my life and the lives of others I’ve come to know. And that comes from having a pass to the parks.

When you’re a tourist visiting the parks for maybe your one and only time in your life, you want the weather to be good, people to be friendly, the parks to be clean, the lines not to be long, the meals to be good and the hotels to be restful and relaxing. And hopefully you can afford everything you want to do and buy.

But when you have a pass to the parks, they become something different. They become your second home. And the Cast Members become your extended family.

It’s pretty much impossible not to get to know some Cast Members when you regularly go to the park. You start to recognize everyone from the servers at the restaurants to the folks sweeping the streets to the merchandise salespeople at the stores to the performers in the shows. And if you’re nice and make a good impression, they may remember you, too, and often treat you with a little extra magic when they see you – be it a smile, a wave, a tip of the hat, a special song or a pin trade.

When you’re a regular, you look for those Cast Members and try to make their day special in return by bringing extra positivity their way, too, with a smile, a thank you, some patience, or a repeat visit just to see them and say hello.

And if you’re incredibly blessed, some of them even become your friends.

Which is why when cutbacks are made – in any capacity – but in my case, especially in the entertainment area – it’s more than just losing a show. It means that people you care a lot about a) just lost their jobs and b) you may or may not get the chance to see them perform again. And that’s a worse feeling than I can express. One of my favorite performers recently left, and I haven’t been able to go back to that show as all I see is a hole where he should be.

And when it’s an entire show – like Aladdin or The Mad T Party, especially, which is the show that was the gateway to my discovery of all of the performers I love so much – it’s not just a hole in the park for me, it’s a crater.

And I’m not alone. While there are fans for everything in the Disney Parks & Resorts – from character autograph hounds to train enthusiasts to merchandise collectors to DisneyBounders – I have never experienced anything like what T created. It was a community of a few hundred people who discovered this talented team of performers at the show and started coming weekly (and some even nightly) to see it. Over and over and over. I lost track after the hundredth time I’d seen the show. It didn’t matter. I loved it and never tired of it. I never got enough of watching the talented performers I continued to discover as a result of it. And I am so grateful for all of the people on stage and off who have become part of my life because of it.

Without T, I never would have rekindled my great love for music and dancing. I never would have met all of the incredible, beautiful, talented people I now know and can call many of them friends. I wouldn’t have pushed myself back out into stretching my writing muscles with this blog to celebrate what I have seen these past few years since T started.

And I don’t know what my life is going to be like without it.

I will continue to be a fan of these performers and hope to follow them on to other shows and locations and performances in the future. But it will not be the same as these years we all had to come together week in and week out for T. And that’s a loss I still won’t be able to come to grips with yet for a while.

What I do know is that it’s a loss not only to the performers and to the fans but to the park itself.

With the removal of the bands at Tomorrowland Terrace last year (not to mention everything closed for the construction of the Star Wars Land), it means the only nighttime live music in the parks will be the swing bands on Saturday nights. And sorry, but it ain’t rock ‘n roll.

The only nighttime entertainment options will be World of Color at Disney California Adventure and the fireworks and Paint the Night parade at Disneyland. And the crowd traffic for those is simply awful now at night. It’s totally claustrophobic and nearly impossible to try to get in or out of the park at any point prior to, during or after those shows with the already overflowing amount of people there. And now there’s yet another loss of an alternative for evening entertainment. And nowhere, aside from Saturday night swing, to dance at the park anymore.

This is just heartbreaking to me.

And with the House of Blues leaving Downtown Disney this year, it will leave only the small stage near ESPN zone as an outdoor band venue.

Do I think eventually some form of live music will be brought back to the parks at night – especially during the summer nights? I do. But I have no idea when or for how long that will last. Nor if the people I care about and want to support will get to be part of it.

When you have a pass, and the park is your second home, you care about its upkeep. You take pride in its appearance. You want visitors to feel welcome and enjoy themselves. You want your Cast Member family there to be well taken care of by the homeowners.

You understand that your home will be periodically redecorated – and you hope it’s for the better. But when your family is suddenly evicted from their home that they love and you love and have to watch it be torn down – whether you get invited to return to another home in the neighborhood or not, it’s painful and you feel it personally. And home will never quite be the same again because that place you lived in for years is gone.

And in that time of eviction and transition, you grieve.

Many of us went through this grieving process once before when the original Mad T Party was abruptly canceled. We spent a long time in denial, anger, bargaining (petition writing) and sadness. But I don’t think we ever got to acceptance because for most of us, we didn’t think it was truly over then. This time, I think most of us are still so worn out from dealing with that first loss, that we’re jumping right into sadness and acceptance (of things we cannot change).

But that doesn’t mean we agree with it. Or think it’s a good decision. Or aren’t angry as heck for our friends and performers we admire whose lives and livelihoods are affected by this closing.

We’re just… tired. Tired of losing good things and not seeing them replaced by something better. Tired of having to work harder to find ways to support the performers we love. Tired of decisions being made that make no sense to those who are directly impacted by them – the Cast Members and guests – and only make their park experience lesser with each cherished thing that’s taken away.

Yes, every park regular knows that everything eventually will change. But it doesn’t mean we have to be happy about it when it happens.  Or really think it’s magical at all.

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