Do drinking and theme parks mix?

September 23, 2017, 3:35 PM · Great theme park attractions reflect class storytelling: Heroes battle villains; pilgrims embark upon trying journeys; and tourists strive to get that damned singing dolls' tune out of their heads. Sometimes, the parks themselves become catalysts for dramatic quandaries: What can we sacrifice to afford that trip to Disney World? Is hoarding and scalping souvenirs on eBay good business or bad citizenship? And should be people be drinking all that much when they visit a theme park?

Before we go any further, let's stipulate this: I do not care what you do on your time and dime so long as it does not affect me. What to drink around the world at Epcot? If you can afford it and not trouble anyone else while you do it, go ahead. Want to go through Halloween Horror Nights with a boozy slushy in a blinky cup attached to your lips? Keep your hands and your comments to yourself, and I do not care.

An editor of mine long ago told me that he refused to believe that alcohol was a drug. He said it was just food. But like so many other things that human beings have corrupted over the centuries, it all depends upon how we use it. Some theme park fans would never think of abusing alcohol to the point of becoming drunk and disorderly while in public. But for other fans, getting crocked to that point *is* the point of drinking.

Unfortunately for the "booze is food" crowd, the nasty drunks often force businesses and communities to limit or ban the consumption of alcohol, in an effort to avoid the problems that the drunks can cause. We told you earlier this month about Universal Orlando's new restrictions on the sale of mixed drinks at Halloween Horror Nights — a move that no one disputes came in response to continued incidents of drunken misbehavior by a few guests at the event.

The change, which came about at the last minute (Universal had promoted more expansive alcohol sales on its blog a few days before the event started), sparked a flame war on Facebook groups for Universal fans. But just as that seemed to be dying down, The Orlando Sentinel jumped in to throw a gallon of Everclear onto the fire.

In a column entitled The Halloween Horror Nights Drinking Game [the headline has been changed in this cached version, which otherwise remains as originally published], The Sentinel basically encouraged the type of drinking-for-drinking's-sake behavior that Universal seemed to be trying to stop.

I cannot wait to hear the inside story of what happened when Universal executives saw the story. But whatever went down, The Sentinel walked back the piece, changing it from a drinking game into a description of a scavenger hunt. (Yeah, right.) And Universal followed up with a blog post of its own, Let's Keep Horror Nights Fun and Safe, written by the resort's head of PR, in which he took the highly unusual act (in this business, at least) of calling out The Sentinel's piece.

Let's run through all my disclosures and conflicts here: Obviously, I run a website that covers the theme park industry and have worked with Universal's PR people for years. But I also worked for years teaching journalism at a university, where I edited an internationally-recognized journalism review that required me to evaluate and comment upon others' practice of journalism. I currently write a weekly column for a newspaper chain that competes with The Sentinel's Tronc (formerly Tribune Publishing) in some markets, including in my home of Southern California. And I've been quoted as a source in countless Sentinel stories over the years, and even did a consulting speaking gig for them many years ago.

So you should know where I am coming from when I say... what the f--- was The Sentinel thinking on this one?

Many of my colleagues in the newspaper business fret that local journalism does not get enough credit for making an impact in communities. Well, remember this incident when Universal says "the heck with this" and switches Halloween Horror Nights to beer and wine only next year. Local journalism can make a difference!

Side eye


Replies (17)

September 23, 2017 at 4:44 PM · I made a decision some years ago to give up drinking alcohol, but even when I was drinking, I did not imbibe at sporting events and at theme parks. The principal reason for this was that my children (and now my grandchildren) were with me, and I felt that some places just did not need to have alcohol. I know - I must be some sort of a sports heretic! Too often at the amusement and sports parks, I've had someone who has obviously had a bit too much to drink act in a hostile manner nearby. I've also had to toss several pairs of sports shoes that have been "christened" by over-indulgers. I don't ruin your experience, please don't ruin mine (and my family's).
September 23, 2017 at 11:20 PM · That Sentinel piece must've been written by an alcoholic...
September 24, 2017 at 3:10 AM · Although it did go too far in banning drinking in private homes, when I look at any major town with a youth population on Friday or Saturday night, I can’t help but think maybe the prohibitionists has a good point about banning the “saloon”...
September 24, 2017 at 3:53 AM · I don't see the big deal about the loss of mixed drinks at HHN. First of all, they were mostly ice and mixer with a minimal amount of alcohol to begin with. I would have one and then wonder why I had even bothered waiting in line and paid $12 for essentially a fruit punch with the liquor bottle cap waved over it. And secondly, Universal doesn't need to "ruin" the event as some have intimated. Offer some alternatives - such as a wide craft beer and wine selection, sampler lanyards, etc. For an example of how to do this without impacting the event, just take a look at Busch Gardens and Sea World. Nevertheless, it is always a few morons that cause a problem for everyone. And the world keeps spinning ...
September 24, 2017 at 5:12 AM · What are they thinking? Yet you show a picture of Prince who OD'd on his drug habits. The non-hypocritical thing to do is not sell alcohol, but they do on a night of fun. So what's the difference if they wish to play a game with alcoholic drinks. They are limited by what is sold at Universal. We are getting into extreme brain washing here as if there's a right and wrong way of doing it. Either sell it or don't. Either drink it or dump it.
September 24, 2017 at 5:29 AM · I love going to Epcot and trying a couple international beers, but unfortunately too many go just to get hammered and make a fool of themselves. I've seen way too many drunk people at Epcot in my life.
September 24, 2017 at 7:14 AM · Epcot food and wine on Saturday nights has gotten worse for the drunks than HHN. With epcot inching toward a 365 days a year festival.
September 24, 2017 at 7:42 AM · The owner of this blog site is calling out the Orlando Sentinel for what exactly? Having an opinion within a supposed non-biased article??? The owner of this blog is frequently called out for being biased.

The real question is...
Why hasn’t Universal Orlando moved to a TWO DRINK MAXIMUM wrist band?

Universal has had extensive conversations about drink maximums, but they always end with...
We CAN’T LIMIT our biggest profit center!

September 24, 2017 at 8:12 AM · I see this as a non-issue. I have rarely seen an inebriated person at a theme park. For the most part, it is too expensive, and drinking and being at a theme park is usually not a great combination. I like to imbibe from time to time, but it would detract from my overall enjoyment. I do like to have beer at EPCOT, but that is a unique experience. All that being said, I firmly subscribe to Walt's reasoning that at MK there should be no alcohol. It should be a place for families, and it creates a barrier where the adults can do something that the children cannot. If you want a mixed drink at Halloween Horror Nights; however, that is fine with me.
September 24, 2017 at 10:25 AM · If Mr. VanHouten has never seen an inebriated person at a theme park, he has obviously never been to Halloween Horror Nights.
I wonder how the Orlando Sentinel would feel if Universal Studios announced their own version of the Drinking Game, sorry Scavenger Hunt, where whenever you see a Sentinel reporter or photographer trying to do their job you should get in their face and force them to take a selfie with you. Maybe bonus points for the one who can disrupt them the longest.
September 24, 2017 at 3:48 PM · It seems to be you are putting your personal views on a evening event who's audience is a lot older than that of the Magic Kingdom. You can drink in a theme park and even play a drinking game in a theme park and not act in a way that is inappropriate. If I want to drink at Halloween Horror Nights I should be allowed to do so without your judgment. The people who misbehave should be removed from the park and banned. Deal with the actual people who cause the issue.
September 24, 2017 at 3:54 PM · I vote don't sell inside the parks.
September 25, 2017 at 3:18 AM · The thing is, taking stuff away makes it more desirable for a certain type of group. Take sex, a difficult topic in the US and by limiting exposure resulting in huge amounts of teen pregnancies. The same for drugs, many countries that have a relaxed attitude to softdrugs have hardly any problems regarding the use of it. The problem comes from foreigners (UK visitors to Amsterdam).

Taking something away never made it less. But in the end Universal (and Disney) can enforce their own rules and should do as they see fit. They are in their right and I'm sure lose money while doing it. But it's a shame for the responsible guest who like a stiff drink now and then.

On a personal note, I don't understand why someone would pay a huge entrance fee to pay even more to get waisted. I think these people have a serious problem and should find help.

September 25, 2017 at 3:25 PM · There's a stark difference between drinkers and drunks. Like Marilyn Manson once said, "Drug abusers make drug users look bad."

Many of us like to drink, and it's not as much fun for us if we don't have the option. This is one reason Disneyland excels over Disneyworld--you're never more than a five minute walk away from the bars of Downtown Disney, or, if you stay at a Disney hotel, the pool bar.

We take our kids twice a year to Disney, and we have drinks every day. It's never been a problem for anyone, including us, because we don't flail. We drink, we have a good time, the only difference between us and the teetotalers is maybe our breath.

Bottom line: if people are acting obnoxious, they should be exited from the park. But the reason for their obnoxious behavior is irrelevant. I know people who can have 10 drinks and be cool as a cucumber; I know people who are full time jerks irrespective of what they're drinking or eating.

The problem is not the drinks. The problem, if one exists, is bad behavior. But the two have no connection beyond that point (unless you're the sort of self-righteous person who can't hold your booze and assumes everyone is like you).

September 25, 2017 at 8:36 PM · Well, one theme park chain was OWNED by a beer to answer your question, yes :)
September 26, 2017 at 8:58 AM · To create a truly themed, immersive experience, I think it's impossible without alcohol. Nothing reminds me that I'm not in an area inhabited by pirates in Adventureland faster than not being able to find a single rum drink. I've never been to HHN, so I can't speak to that experience, although I've heard all the rumors. But I've been to Epcot thousands of times in my life, and I can't recall a single instance of seeing someone making a drunk fool of themselves. I'm not saying this doesn't happen, but it doesn't happen on a large enough scale to require total prohibition at the expense of your theme and guest experience.
September 28, 2017 at 9:15 AM · I agree that MK should always be family friendly , I also feel that Epcot should be adults or at least over 14 (random) with adult supervision only in the Pavilion Area after 7PM. There are many of us who do not have young children that would frankly, like a stroller break. That being said , why not place a 4 or so limit on alcoholic beverages in the zone, it can be monitored with a simple punch card. While I have never seen anyone overly wasted at the parks, the potential for that situation is there.

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