The Happily Ever After fireworks show drew a mass of visitors shortly before the park closed for the rest of the month

By Hannah Chubb
March 17, 2020 06:07 PM
Gary Sinese Foundation/Twitter

Despite national concern over the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), a huge crowd of visitors packed in close to watch the last fireworks show at Walt Disney World before it closed for the rest of the month on Sunday night.

The scene of a sea of people forgoing health officials’ recommendation of social distancing, which helps to slow the spread of the virus and protect those most vulnerable to it, drew plenty of criticism on Twitter — most notably from Abigail Disney, the granddaughter of the Walt Disney Company’s cofounder Roy Disney.

Abigail replied to a tweet by WDW News Today, an unofficial Disney Parks blog, that included two photos of the typically jam-packed areas in front of Cinderella’s Castle and Main Street USA and was captioned “Current crowds at the Magic Kingdom for tonight’s showing of Happily Ever After… #DisneyWorld.”

She retweeted the post, commenting, “Are you f—king kidding me??”

Abigail Disney/Twitter

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Abigail, whose great uncle was Walt Disney, is a well-known filmmaker and philanthropist. She is often outspoken on Twitter. Since the coronavirus outbreak began, she has highlighted the need for social distancing on her account, as well as sharing openly her own worries about the pandemic.

Jemal Countess/Getty

A representative for Disney did not reply to PEOPLE’s request for comment.

Many Twitter users seemingly agreed with Abigail’s response to the WDW News Today photos and replied with similar sentiments and support. Her tweet has been liked more than 224,000 times and retweeted over 37,000 times.

“It’s irresponsible. I just can’t believe we can’t come together on something so basic,” replied one Twitter user.

“They even made a special show of it, offering a ‘magical moment’ goodbye. I’m so frustrated,” wrote another.

Others took the side of the thousands of guests who chose to attend the park on its last day open — some saying they understand why visitors would want to go if they already had tickets.

“We live paycheck to paycheck whilst saving for trips like those to be vacation. I understand why they would want to go despite the pandemic. We shouldn’t shame them,” wrote one user.

Disney has stated that those who already have planned a visit to their parks during the closure period will be able to speak with customer service representatives to change or cancel their plans. Disney will also be providing refunds to those who have hotel bookings during the time that they will now be closed. However, the company did not share details on any relaxed rules for the days leading up to the closure.

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Several other theme park blogs shared photos of guests watching the Magic Kingdom’s Happily Ever After fireworks show on Sunday night.

The account @Blog_Mickey posted a photo of Walt Disney World President Josh D’Amaro wearing a Mickey glove and waving to guests from a balcony. “Josh D’Amaro is joined by beloved Disney character to say goodbye to guests,” the caption reads in part.

Disney announced on Thursday, March 12, that they would be temporarily shutting down both the California and Florida parks in an “abundance of caution” and in response to government recommendations discouraging large group gatherings. Disneyland in Anaheim closed on Saturday, while Walt Disney World in Orlando closed at the end of the business day Sunday.

The decision was a historic one. Disney World has only ever shut its doors due to the threat of hurricanes — most recently, Hurricane Dorian in September 2019 — and the day after the 2001 attacks.

This is the only the third time in history that Disneyland has closed completely for reasons other than weather. Previously, Disneyland shut down following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and the national day of mourning after President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963.

Neither park has ever closed due to the outbreak of an illness.

David McNew/Getty

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On Monday, PEOPLE reported that the company had announced they will be closing all remaining parks, hotels and stores in North America this week.

The company shared the decision in a post to their official Twitter page, noting that the changes are being made “in an abundance of caution and in the best interest of our guests and cast members” and are “in line with state and federal guidance.”

According to the statement, all of Disney’s owned and operated locations at Downtown Disney in California and Disney Springs in Florida will temporarily shut down on March 17. All Disney stores in North America will also close their doors on March 17, though customers will still be able to shop online.

Jeff Gritchen/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty

The company also shared that Disney owned and operated hotels at Disney World and Disney’s Vero Beach Resort in Florida will close at 5pm on March 20, giving guests a few extra days to make travel arrangements.

Disney Cruise Line has suspended departures through the end of March, while several Disney parks in Asia, where this coronavirus outbreak began, have also closed.

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As of Tuesday morning, there have been at least 4,482 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 86 deaths in the U.S., according to a New York Times database.

Those most vulnerable to severe cases of the virus are reported to be over the age of 60, particularly those with underlying medical conditions, as well as the immunocompromised. The youngest reported death in the U.S. was a man in his 40s, the Times reported.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.

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