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in the Park
Tips and ideas for the traveling family
|Adrienne Krock, editor|
Kids get lost at Disney Parks. It happens
everyday. Recently, I've had the opportunity to speak with some wonderful Cast
Members [Disney- speak for employee, CM for short] from Disneyland who have
shared with me a plethora of information and stories to share with you!
Describing her experiences with lost children, one Cast Member said, "It happens to good parents!" There are a few key things to be aware of when planning a trip with children. First of all, don't panic. Disney has excellent systems in place to deal with lost children. Second, plan ahead, just in case this does happen.
Disney has established systems for helping to reunite lost children and their adults. (Children go to Disneyland with parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends, so for the purpose of this column, I'll be using the term "adults".) Here is how the system works at Disneyland:
Once a Cast Member (CM) finds a lost child 12 or under, (s)he is released by his / her lead to help the child. Immediately, the CM contacts Lost Children (LC.) LC registers the child's name, age, location, and the name of the adult in charge of the child. This way, if the adult notifies a CM that (s)he is looking for a lost child, that CM can call LC to see if the child is registered yet. Hopefully, the two can be reunited quickly.
After registering the child with LC, the CM is trained to help calm the child. They spend ten to fifteen minutes looking for the child's adult. They will retrace the child's steps. If the child was told to go to a meeting place, the CM and child will check that location. If this search is unsuccessful, the CM escorts the child to the Lost Children Room on Main Street. This is located on the north end of Main Street, next door to Central First Aid.
When children arrive at Lost Children, they have usually been calmed down.
The LC room is decorated as a garden setting. Silk flowers and greenery hang from lattice work, light is diffused by plastic clouds on the ceiling, and wicker chairs, stools, and even a rocking chair furnish the room. The LC is staffed by a kind CM and offers a selection of Disney videos to watch. There is also a Lego table with Duplo blocks available.
When an adult arrives at LC to find a child, the CM knows who they are because the child reported the name of the adult when (s)he was first registered with LC. Of course, the child and adult are also usually quite relieved to see each other, too.
If you're reading this column, I assume you speak English. However, it's good to know that the CMs at Disney Parks speak a multitude of languages. One day, a man who only spoke French arrived at LC looking for a child. The CM there made a phone call to see if any French speaking CMs were available. Within minutes, several CMs arrived, some with admittedly limited French, but all were willing to help in anyway they could! Multi- lingual CMs can be called to comfort lost children and adults alike.
The twelve year old age limit is a guideline. Some older children have used this service depending on the maturity level of the child. Lost Children has been used to help adults with developmental impairments, such as Down's Syndrome, also. For lost adults, City Hall has a message book. Adults can leave messages there for others to try to reunite. Disneyland will not page people in the park except for rare cases of extreme emergency.
The CMs who have worked at the LC over time have noticed patterns which complicate lost children situations.
Children are most likely to become lost during parades, Fantasmic! showings, and on crowded days. During these times, children are more likely to look up to follow their adults, but they find a sea of giants and at times get disoriented and lost. Believe it or not, there are adults who leave children in strollers while they go on rides! Disneyland has provided the Child Switch service (see right) for adults to take turns riding these rides without having to wait in line twice.
Adults can hamper efforts by not asking for help. They may not realize that Disney has such an efficient system in place. By asking a CM for help, children usually can be found quickly. Another problem occurs when large groups split up. One group assumes that the child is with the other group, and vice versa. No one realizes that the child is "missing" until the two groups reconvene, so the child may remain "lost" for quite some time.
There are times when older children do not want to be found!
Preteens (ten to twelve years old,) may enjoy their new found freedom and so they don't "turn themselves in." Furthermore, children have a distorted sense of time. One pattern typically occurs when children have been told to arrive at a pre- determined meeting location don't wait long enough for their adults to arrive. After waiting just a few minutes, they think they've waited much longer. Scared, the child may then tell a CM that (s)he is lost. Finally, some children are found crying and refuse to talk to the CMs which hampers the process.
So what can you do to plan ahead?
There are several steps you can take to prepare children in case you get separated. Don't wait until you are at the park to make or explain your plan. By that time, the sights, sounds, and excitement of the atmosphere are distracting children who are determined that they "Must Ride Dumbo."
Present the information so that the children are empowered rather than scared. Let them know that Disney CMs know how to help kids and adults find each other and that if they get lost, everything will be OK. Once at the park, take children up to CMs and show them what a white CM namebadge looks like. Many people at Disney parks have souvenir badges on, so you want the children to know to find a person who has a white CM namebadge. Remind them that if they are lost, CMs are safe people. Reassure your children that you will not leave or go home without them! Many children arrive at Lost Children scared that their parents will do just that!
Make sure children have necessary information on them.
This includes the name of the adult in charge of them and phone numbers for cell phones those adults may be carrying. A cell phone can be an invaluable tool. If you have one, however, make sure that the battery is charged and the power is turned on!
There are a few ways to help kids carry this information safely. A name badge on a necklace (such as from tour groups or conventions) can be worn inside a child's shirt. A sticker can be stuck inside a child's pocket. One resourceful adult had two ten-year olds pull up their t-shirts and she wrote her cell number with a ball point pen on their upper arms near their shoulders! These techniques keep such information private but make sure that the children have it if they need it.
Before you arrive at the park, discuss a meeting place. Once you are there, go to that place so the children know exactly what it looks like and where it will be. My husband's family often announced before trips to Disneyland: "Let's meet in front of the castle." One group would meet in front of a bench to the right while another convened on the drawbridge! The castle is a big, non-specific location. Find a more specific location for your meeting place. The "Hub" at the north end of Main Street has several statues of Disney characters, for example. You can pick one specific character like Donald Duck for a meeting place. Remind the child that it may take you a few minutes to arrive at your meeting location, so (s)he should wait there until you arrive.
By being prepared, many lost children incidents can be avoided or resolved quickly and with few tears.
So often at the Happiest Place On Earth, adults lose their tempers. Some have been so scared that once reunited, they yell at their children. Urban legends about kidnappings only aggravate these situations. Hopefully, armed with this knowledge, you can remain somewhat calm if it happens to you. Remind your children and yourself that you have a park full of kind CMs ready to help you.
Child Switch is available on several of the faster attractions which have height requirements in order to ride. Here is how it works:
With my too- young- to- ride child, I approach the Cast Member attending the entrance to the attraction. Then I request a Child Swap Pass.
While my husband and the rest of our group rides the attraction, I wait near the exit with our son (or I can go shopping!).
After the rest of my group rides the attraction, I meet my husband, hand him the little one, and then I can take one person with me and ride it without waiting in line. Usually this means entering the ride through the exit.
Because I can take someone with me, they can either wait with me so I'm not alone or they can ride twice!
Adrienne gathered experience taking kids to amusement parks when she worked as a day camp counselor and director. She was an elementary school teacher before she started her favorite job, being Matthew's Mom.
Adrienne and Matthew visit Disneyland several times a month, usually with Daddy, too.
Besides Matthew, Adrienne and her husband Kevin created and maintain The Happiest Potties on Earth website.
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