By Stephanie Rouse
There are many great images that run through one’s head when planning a trip to Walt Disney World: that view of Cinderella Castle, Spaceship Earth or maybe the one of your child meeting Mickey. Whether it’s your first trip or your twentieth, all of these images evoke pleasant thoughts. However, if you are a parent, these images can quickly be tarnished by the extremely unpleasant thoughts of your little one wandering off while on vacation. Walt Disney World is as large as most major cities in this country. It is easy to become overwhelmed by the challenges of keeping your children next to you. I find that it is easy for me, an adult, well… mostly, to become enamored in the magic that goes on all around me while at Walt Disney World. Imagine how my kids must feel! Child safety is an important issue. Parents may benefit from the child safety tips gathered in this article when planning that next visit to the House of Mouse.
First of all, before I scare everyone too much, I want to mention there has never been a documented case of child abduction at Walt Disney World. There are numerous internet rumors that have floated around. I mention this because it seems every time I tell people we are going back to Disney, someone tells me how they heard from a friend of a friend (usually by e-mail… interesting) that there have been numerous child abductions taking place. According to most urban legend internet sites, it seems this is just another thing they can add to their database…in other words… nothing more than a myth. Personally, I like to believe Disney is safer than many of your tourist locations. The odds are in its favor. No documented cases of abduction, highly trained Cast Members to handle the situation of a child wandering off, and a hefty price tag to get in. Not sure that last one is really relevant, but it does make some sense in my mind!
One of the most important tips is to teach your children what to do if they become separated from you. They need to learn how to locate a Cast Member. It is a good idea to take a minute in the morning and introduce your child to one. Show your child the white Cast Member’s nametag (red nametags may be purchased as a souvenir, but only white is official). Point out the type of uniform the person is wearing. Be sure to let your child know that all of the Cast Members do not have that exact uniform, some will vary, but it is a good starting point. Also, make sure they know only to wander as far as that nearest CM. When a child knows to not go any further than necessary it makes it much easier for Mom and Dad to retrace their steps and to locate them.
As I mentioned above, Cast Members have been trained to handle these situations. I cannot imagine how many cases of “child wandering off” these people deal with each day. If you find yourself separated from your child, even for an instant, the Cast Members are the people to contact. They have great ways of contacting one another and unlike some other places, they have a clearly mapped out plan for handling “lost parents.” When a child approaches a Cast Member, they will wait with that child and reassure the child. If, within 15 minutes, the parents are not found, the Cast Member will then take the child to the Baby Care Center where they will wait to reunite parent and child. They will alert another Cast Member in the area that they are leaving for the Baby Care Center so that if the parents come back, there is someone to inform them of where to go next. The Cast Members stay in public areas with the child at all times. You should contact a Cast Member as soon as you realize your child is “misplaced.” The person you contact will call security and their supervisor along with the Baby Care Center of that park. Other Cast Members are alerted and they will look in their designated areas for the child. Another thing worth mentioning is that Cast Members will not just hand the child over to anyone. They will look for signs to assure them that the child recognizes the adult and may even ask some questions.
There are also some things we, as parents, can do to ease our minds. Those of us with digital cameras can take a photo of our child each morning. If the worst happens, and you need a description of your child and what he or she was wearing that morning, you won’t have to think about it. You can simply pull up the photo and go from there. Also, be sure your child carries your contact information with him. This can be done in various ways. There are bracelets you can slip on, there are shoe-lace tags, or it could be something as simple as just putting an index card in the child’s waist-pouch. Just make sure that the information is not visible to the casual observer and your child knows to show the information only to a Cast Member. You should include any information someone could use to reach you. This would include what resort hotel you are staying at as well as a cell phone number where you can be reached. Remember, your home phone number won’t be of much use to the Cast Member who is trying to reach you while you are on vacation. If you do not have a cell phone, then be extra sure to put what resort you are staying at and even if it is a Disney resort, put the phone number on the card. Every second you can save when you are waiting to be reunited with your child can seem like forever.
There are also products on the market that can be helpful when on vacation. I mentioned earlier the ID bracelets and shoe lace tags. Use your creativity to find a way that works for you. There are lanyard tags, dog tags that can be printed at Wal-Mart, luggage tags and many other ways to give your child the information he may be too young to remember or too nervous to recall. Some parents choose to use a child restraint system, which may attach as a harness, at the wrist, or even as a backpack. With technology at such a high level, there are even devices that you can place on your child, most in a bracelet form, that beep when your child wanders too far away from you.
Disney is also known for doing their part when it comes to safety at the parks. We all have seen the security guards that stop guests at the entrance and look inside the bags. These guards are there for our protection. There are other forms of park safety that we do not see. An example of this would be plain clothes security officers, who, while looking for shop lifters, also keep an eye out for other problems including missing children. There is also talk of Disney incorporating a system in the future that would track your party in the park. Each member of your group would wear a wristband that could be scanned at various locations throughout the park. When you scan your bracelet it would show you where the other members of your group are at during that given time. This system is currently being used in some water parks throughout the country.
Remember, Disney is a safe, fun place for families. It is natural to worry about how you will keep your children safe at Disney, just as we all worry about how we will keep our loved ones safe at home. With a few precautions and some conversation with your kids you might find that your mind is once again at ease…and you are again just dreaming of Cinderella Castle.