Executives from the House of Mouse reportedly lobbied in Florida, urging legislators to grant Disney World an exemption that would lower the drinking age in the parks to 18, allowing Guests 18 and up–rather than 21 and up–to purchase and consume alcohol at Disney World.
Disney has had involvement in Florida politics since the 1960s when Walt had his eyes on land in Central Florida on which he planned to build his second theme park. In 1965, Walt and his older brother Roy also held a press conference with then-governor of Florida Haydon Burns, during which the Disney duo unveiled their plans for a massive Disney theme park near Orlando.
In 1966, Disney began lobbying legislators the establish the Reedy Creek Improvement District, giving the company autonomy over the land and the things that took place on that land. When it went into effect in 1967, it functioned as its own governmental authority.
Earlier this year, Disney was loudly involved in legislation once again–this time in legislation that only affected parents of children in grades Kindergarten through third, their children, and the educators who taught those children. When Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis passed the Parental Rights in Education Bill in March 2022, Disney vehemently fired back with a statement, condemning the passing of the law and vowing to see it overturned.
Since that time, tensions have run high between Gov. DeSantis and Disney, and Florida has passed legislation to dissolve Disney’s Reedy Creek District–as well as a handful of other special districts in the Sunshine State–in 2023.
A recent report says Disney’s execs once lobbied Florida legislators in a different regard, and their efforts, if accepted, could have easily increased Guest spending–specifically for Guests ages 18 to 21–and might have ultimately led many in that age group to flock to Walt Disney World.
Disney execs reportedly lobbied Florida legislators to pass a law that would lower the legal drinking age in Florida to 18 years of age, three years younger than the current legal age of 21. Such legislation would have not only allowed Guests 18 and up to drink in the parks, but it would have also allowed Disney to sell alcohol to Guests, beginning at age 18.
MouseTrapNews reported the following with regard to Disney’s lobbying efforts:
“Disney World is looking to defy the minimum drinking age act. The Walt Disney Company is currently battling the state of Florida in the courts over the minimum drinking age. Disney is attempting to lower the minimum drinking age on Disney property to 18. They are clearly doing this to increase their revenue at EPCOT and across Disney World. We all know how popular drinks are at EPCOT. Whether you are having a few different concoctions or drinking around the world, alcoholic drinks are a big part of the EPCOT culture.”
The outlet went on to post a video, touting the same “news.”
“Disney World is lobbying to lower the drinking age to 18. Disney World is battling the Florida government in court to get a resort exemption,” the narrator says in the video. “The exemption would allow anyone 18 and older to drink on property. This is clearly an attempt to generate more money for the Disney company.”
It’s a move that would have been in direct defiance of Walt’s wishes when he first opened Disneyland. But then again, so was Disney’s decision to begin selling alcohol at Magic Kingdom in 2012, as was Bob Iger’s decision to allow alcohol to be sold at Disneyland in 2019 when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge first opened in the park. It was well-known that Walt didn’t want alcohol served in his park.
In an interview with Pete Martin of The Saturday Evening Post in 1956, Walt explained the reasoning for his decision:
“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. I feel when I go down to the park, I don’t need a drink. After I come out of a heavy day at the studio, sometimes I want a drink to relax. I work around that place all day, and I don’t have one.”
It was one of the many ways Walt endeavored to differentiate his “amusement park” from others.
But no sooner had Walt passed away, than executives at Disneyland made the decision to allow the sale of alcohol at his beloved park.
Walt’s Disneyland debuted a new section at the park in 1966, just months before Walt’s death in December of that year. New Orleans Square cost Disney roughly $15 million–more than the United States paid in the Louisiana Purchase transaction, by the way. In his final public appearance at Disneyland, Walt welcomed Guests to his take on the Louisiana hotspot.
The Pirates of the Caribbean attraction opened in the spring of 1967, and by that summer, Guests could purchase alcohol at the California park.
While it’s not beyond the scope of believability that The Walt Disney Company would lobby in Florida for such an exemption in an effort to increase revenue, it’s a bit hard to believe that Disney would do so, following Florida’s passing of a law to dissolve the longest-standing buffet of special exemptions granted to the company in the 1960s. It’s also difficult to believe that Disney would lobby for something that has been illegal and might even lead to underage drinking.
The people at Snopes.com thought so as well, so they did some digging and discovered that the “news” post from August was “nothing more than a bit of fun and satirical Disney fiction.” Snopes didn’t label the post “false,” but they did label it “satire,” a bit like our posts here at DisneyDining about Walt’s head being unfrozen by Imagineers and Disney’s halt on all live-action remakes of classic films, per Walt’s will.
And except for getting a few 18-year-olds excited at the prospect of drinking young at Disney–and maybe infuriating their parents–we suppose this piece of Disney “news” presented no harm, so no foul.