Last month, a 13-year-old died after drowning at Disney's Pop Century Resort in Walt Disney World, and a 4-year old nearly drowned on the Disney Fantasy cruise ship. This week we asked the Parenting Panel: How to help keep your kids safe at the parks, resorts, pools, and water parks?
Chris, also known as GusMan, is always planning his next family trip to the Walt Disney World Resort and loves to help others plan their trips, as well sharing his experiences. Chris writes:
I live by the motto of “work hard, play hard.” Because of this, I tend to try to leave reality as far behind as possible when at Walt Disney World. I tend to not pay any attention to the news or anything that might take me away from my vacation world. While I know others follow this same mantra, and being that you are in a very happy place, it is very easy to accidentally put your guard down when you probably need it the most.
In a vacation destination that is filled with stimuli, distractions easily overcome even the most detailed observers. From something as simple as walking down Main Street U.S.A. and looking at the buildings then running into someone by accident, to a young child accidently walking into the path of oncoming traffic in the parking lot, there are inherent dangers being in such a large, busy, public place.
With my family, safety starts at home. We talk about some of the basics of the more common safety challenges that we might face while at the parks and resorts.
Resort Pool Safety: We discuss how we never swim alone, or go into an area of the pool that is not visible to lifeguards and parents. Considering that there are some rather large pools at the resorts, this can sometimes be a challenge. With excited children, the responsibility obviously lands with the parents to make sure that this is covered. Additionally, being that adults can get distracted, too, make sure that communication between you and your children is clear so that there is no mistaking where they are at all times. Keep in mind, lifeguards are only at some pools around the resorts, and they do not provide coverage all the time, especially during the evening hours.
Water Park Safety: Many of the same guidelines apply as the resort pools, but on a much grander scale. Because of their sheer size, it is really easy to get separated at the water parks. Stay together in groups, and have a good idea where to meet throughout the day. Consider meeting each other as a group every two hours to reapply sunscreen or have a snack break. That way, the break in the action provides a check in point while disguising it as a logical reason to take a head count. Again—and most importantly—do not swim alone.
Transportation Safety: Explain to your group that when it comes to traveling by bus, monorail, or boat, they need to pay close attention to what is going on. Have your children observe where buses physically stop at bus stops and that horseplay can cause someone to get hurt. Have them listen to the safety announcements and make sure they stand clear of the doors. Maybe even treat transportation as another ride or attraction where they need to keep their hands inside at all times.
Resort Safety: Nothing is worse than your child getting hurt or lost while at a park. Fortunately, Disney does have great procedures in place if something like that happens. Of course, it would better to avoid such situations, but accidents do happen. Make sure you stick together as a group and be observant of where you are walking. I will admit that I have run into things myself or tripped over a curb on occasion. Not only is it somewhat embarrassing, but it is even worse when you realize that it was also preventable. If your group does split up, have a meeting location that is clearly understood by everyone, and do what you can to meet up on time if not early. If you are late, make sure that there is a way you can communicate with the rest of your group so no one worries. (We use both cell phones as well as two-way radios for this purpose.)
This list only touches on the ideas that parents can use to help make the family vacation experience memorable—and for the right reasons. There may not be a need to list out pages of dos and don’ts with your traveling group, but if you make sure these ideas are presented in a way where they are understood by everyone, you will be well on your way to having a safe trip.
Jen, also known as *Nala*, is an engineer, a Disney fan, and a MouseAdventure fanatic. She lives in Southern California with her husband and two future MouseAdventurers, ages 1 and 3. Jen writes:
When my son was 2 1/2 years old, we lost him in CarsLand at Disney California Adventure. He was gone for only a couple minutes, although it felt much longer.
We were in line ordering breakfast at Flo's V8 Cafe and someone remembered a sippy cup was left in the stroller, which we'd parked across the road by Luigi's Flying Tires. I went to go get it and said I'd be right back. I was in a hurry and didn't see my son follow me out of the restaurant. My husband saw him go, but thought I knew he was coming with me, and continued ordering breakfast while also holding our 8-month-old baby. When I got back, less than a minute later, our son was nowhere in sight. That heart dropping feeling is something I never want to experience again. We split up to look for him and my husband found him just a couple of minutes later standing with a cast member, watching the Radiator Springs Racers ride. He was a little scared, very glad to see Daddy, but otherwise just fine.
We've been taking trips to the Disneyland and Walt Disney World resorts since our son was 5 months old. While we were very used to caring for non-mobile babies in the parks, this experience taught us we were overdue on talking about safety now that we had a walking, talking, opinionated toddler. We immediately made a very simple, important rule: whenever we split up for any reason, we confirm with each other who has which kid(s). We've also teaching our son how to identify Disney cast members (a name tag with letters and a picture of a castle) and that he should look for one of them if he ever can't find Mommy or Daddy.
This fall we'll be taking a Disney cruise. Even though the cruise ship is full of friendly cast members and kids' activities, there are also plenty of places where kids can get lost or hurt. The most important thing will be to make sure that the kids are not out of sight whenever they are near water or a railing. While our kids love the water, neither can swim alone yet. Our CarsLand adventure taught us just how quickly kids can disappear from sight. We plan to allow our 3-year-old to play in the kids' clubs, and are glad to know that Disney has a secure check-in/check-out system and the Wave phones to reach us if he ever needs us.
I'm sure my fellow contributors will have lots of great tips for keeping older kids safe in the parks, and I look forward to reading them. But for now, with very small kids who don't yet understand all the rules, for us it's pretty simple: Make sure we know at all times where each kid is and who's watching them.
MousePlanet columnist Chris Barry his wife Diane, 14-year-old Samantha, and twin 10-year-olds, Casey and Alex, live on Long Island and are all major Disney and Walt Disney World fans. Chris writes:
It’s hard to be a parent sometimes isn’t it? It can be even harder being a parent on vacation. You’re there to relax. Your guard is let down. The kids are staying up later than usual. There’s a lot going on everywhere you look. So, how do you manage to keep the kids safe in a place as overwhelming as Walt Disney World? Simply put: You never quit. You never quit being the same parent that you would be at home or on the local playground.
It always amazes me what I see kids doing in the parks and resorts. I have to ask myself, “Do they get away with that at home?” I suppose the problem with that question is there are plenty of cases where the answer would be, “Yes!” But irresponsible parenting aside, the biggest problem with safety in a place like Walt Disney World or Disneyland would have to be parents changing the way that they do things because of where they are. As much as we like to loosen the reigns when we’re at a place like Disney, as parents we can’t. It’s true when they say that kids like consistency. They like routine. Yes, we stay up later and do things that they’re not used to at a place like Disney World. It’s hard not too, but the rules have to still be in place.
At the YMCA pool at home or at the beach, they never are allowed to swim alone. The same goes for the volcano pool at Disney's Polynesian Resort. At home in a crowded place like the mall or Central Park, they’re not allowed to go running off out of sight. The same goes for a busy day at the Magic Kingdom Park. We’re not tyrants with them at home and we don’t have to be tyrants with them on vacation, but we do our best to stay consistent and it’s worked out well for us over the years. They know what they’re supposed to do and what they’re not supposed to do.
Of course there are always moments where things don’t quite go the way you intended despite your consistency. Case in point: When I turned my back and 4-year-old-Alex disappeared at what was then known as Disney-MGM Studios. We were in the L.A. Prop Cinema Storage shop at the corner of Hollywood and Sunset boulevards. If you know the shop, you may know that there is an entrance on Hollywood. There is also an entrance on Sunset and there is a third entrance from a courtyard on Sunset with a wonderful vintage car. That’s three ways in and out—of a very small shop—two of which lead directly onto a major park thoroughfare. I panicked. He was gone. Gone out of one of those three doors and…where?
I called and called in the shop, in the courtyard by the cool car and then out onto each street. The cast member in the shop was helping me, as well. No sign of him. I went back into the shop and frantically took another lap when I happened to spot a small pair of legs behind a rack of T-shirts up against the back wall. After hugging the bejesus out of him, I then very sternly had the conversation with him that this was very, very wrong. He meant no harm of course and was just hiding for the fun of it. Of course, this became a lesson learned on both of our parts. It’s never happened again, and I’ve never let him forget it either!
The one most consistent “Disney rule” that we’ve always drilled into their heads is that the cast members are their friends. If anything is to ever go wrong and they can’t find one of us, they know to find a cast member and ask for help immediately. Keep your wits about you. Keep the kids on task as much as you can and keep the rules consistent and you shouldn’t have a problem.
It's your turn—keep the discussion flowing!
Visit the Parenting in the Parks forum on our MousePad discussion board, and share your opinions about this topic or many others, or send your suggestions via e-mail. Reader-submitted tips might be used in a future article, and you might be selected to participate in an upcoming panel discussion!