Governor DeSantis Announces Disney Rival Parks Will Offer Free Admission

in Walt Disney World

Ron DeSantis with fireworks at Walt Disney World

Credit: Inside the Magic

Governor Ron DeSantis has announced a new challenge to the theme park supremacy of Disney World: free admission on the busiest weekend of the year for rival parks.

DeSantis smiling with an iconic fairy tale castle and a rainbow in the background.
Credit: Inside the Magic

Until recently, Ron DeSantis and The Walt Disney Company were locked in a heated battle in multiple courtrooms and the media. The feud between the far-right governor and the iconic media company kicked off in earnest when former CEO Bob Chapek publicly criticized the controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law (officially known as the Parental Rights in Education Act) that DeSantis had made a huge part of his political platform.

The conflict between the two quickly spiraled into lawsuits across federal and state courts, most notably Disney v. DeSantis. That lawsuit hinged on Disney’s claim that DeSantis violated the company’s First Amendment rights when he dissolved the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the special tax area where most of the Walt Disney World Resort is located.

Ron DeSantis against a lawsuit with Mickey Mouse
Credit: Inside the Magic

U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor ruled against Disney, stating, “Disney does not possess the legal standing to bring a lawsuit against the Governor or the Secretary. Furthermore, its allegations against the CFTOD Defendants lack merit, as ‘when a statute is facially constitutional, a plaintiff cannot bring a free-speech challenge by claiming that the lawmakers who passed it acted with a constitutionally impermissible purpose.’”

Related: Governor DeSantis Erects New Emergency Response Team, All Disney Parks Affected Indefinitely

After that dramatic ruling, the feud between DeSantis and Disney unexpectedly seemed to halt, with the Central Florida Tourist Oversight District Board of Supervisors announcing a settlement, shelving most lawsuits, and allowing both sides to deny having lost the battle.

Since then, Governor DeSantis has frequently taken potshots at the company, telling a press conference, “A year ago, people were trying to act like all these [Disney] legal maneuverings were all going to succeed against the state of Florida, and the reality is here we are a year later, and not one of them has succeeded.”

At the same time, DeSantis has also seemed to be more cooperative toward Walt Disney World. The governor has committed billions of dollars to upgrade the Interstate 4 Highway leading to Magic Kingdom and even threw the weight of the Florida pension system into defending CEO Bob Iger during the recent proxy battle for the Disney board.

Bob Iger speaking at a podium against a blue-lit backdrop.
Credit: Disney

But that might be changing. Just a few weeks before Memorial Day weekend, one of the busiest tourist periods for theme parks across the country, Governor DeSantis has announced that all Florida state parks will offer free admission (per NBC Miami).

At a press conference in Naples, DeSantis touted Florida’s extensive natural attractions, which include 175 state parks, trails, and historic sites.

He asserted that waiving fees for the parks for Memorial Day will increase tourist traffic and revenue, saying, “I think part of the reason people have come to Florida is we have the best beaches, we have the best fishing, and we have the best state parks in the entire country. In fact, our Florida state parks at 29 million visitors in 2023, and that generates an annual economic impact of $3.6 billion.”

Disney Wilderness Preserve under a clear sky, with lush green grass in the foreground and a dense forest of tall trees in the background.
Credit: Flickr/ Peter & Michelle S

Related: New Disney World Train Service Will Cost Taxpayers $4.4 Billion

The governor also boasted of past efforts (per WFLA), saying,

“Last fall, we introduced a great outdoors initiative, and between October 2023 and January of this year, we provided a 50% discount on Florida state park passes and on gold Sportsman fishing and hunting licenses, and what you saw because of that initiative, we sold more 55,000 passes including more than 40,000 family park passes which is quadruple the number of passes sold during the same period last year.”

While this may initially appear to simply be a move by DeSantis to ease costs in Florida, it is undeniable that it could also be seen as a subtle attack on Disney World.

Waiving fees for state parks will potentially incentivize tourists to go to those attractions rather than pay the ever-increasing costs of a Disney vacation; this would come at a time in which Disney Experiences forms a much larger percentage of revenue for the company than ever.

Florida state park fees will be waived from May 25th to 28th. A full list of state park fees can be found here.

Do you think that DeSantis is undercutting Disney World with this new fee waiver? Tell us in the comments below!

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