This week we all heard about the awful story of a two year old boy being killed by an alligator at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa in Orlando, Florida. I cried when I heard about it. Cried for the little boy. Cried for his distraught, heartbroken parents. And perhaps this is self centred of me… but I also cried because that could have been us.
My husband and I took our daughter to Walt Disney World in 2012. We spent the majority of our 10 day stay at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. The Polynesian is one of three Disney hotels that sits on the Seven Seas Lagoon, the others being The Contemporary and The Grand Floridian.
Our room overlooked the beach and lagoon. It was all palm trees and white sands and rippling water.
We’d walk down to the beach most mornings. Sometimes I’d sit in one of the hammocks with a book as my daughter ran back and forth, building sandcastles and whatnot. I was close and she was always in my sightline but let’s be clear about this…had an alligator come out of the water and grabbed her I would have been helpless to do anything about it. And this is why I’m angry. Because if I’d thought for one second that there were alligators in the lake there ISN’T A CHANCE IN HELL I’d have let my daughter on the beach, let alone play by the water’s edge. When I think about it I feel nauseas.
Now I realise some people will look at the tragedy that happened and shake their heads and say “Everybody knows there are alligators in Florida, what were those parents thinking?”. But here’s the thing… it’s a private lake. It’s also in Disney World. This is a place that people take their families, their children. My daughter wasn’t the only child playing on the beach, or paddling ankle deep in the water. Walt Disney World attracts 52 million visitors a year, the majority of whom come from out of state or abroad. Floridians may be used to looking for alligators but other people aren’t.
There were signs saying “No swimming”. This made perfect sense. It was a large lagoon, you could drown. And there were boats frequently crossing between the hotels and the Magic Kingdom. I remember thinking “Why would anyone want to swim in the lake when there’s a pool?” but I just figured it was a health & safety must. They were being careful. They didn’t want any accidents. I appreciated the gesture.
So why didn’t I see any alligator warning signs? NOT ONE. And not a single member of staff mentioned alligators at any point. Not at check in, not when we boarded the boat, not when my daughter was walking by the water’s edge… There was nothing mentioned in any of the hotel literature, nothing on their website. I categorically KNOW I’d have remembered this information because that’s the kind of parent I am. Once one of my friends jokingly called me Mrs Seatbelt. This is because I don’t take any chances with my daughter’s safety. We always held hands when out and about. We waited for the green man before crossing the road. We talked about stranger danger. And then I sat down with a book and let her walk next to alligator infested waters.
Now you may think I’m exaggerating by calling it “alligator infested”. Perhaps this was one stray alligator that somehow snuck in? That’s what I thought when I initially heard the story. But they removed and killed four alligators from the lagoon when searching for the body of the victim. If they found four then I would guess that there are at least double that number remaining, it’s a big lagoon. This wasn’t a case of one rogue alligator. They must have known that alligators were in the water. There must have been sightings. Yet not a single sign or warning.
I spent a chunk of my childhood in South Africa. I’m no stranger to dangerous wildlife. But I don’t expect to bump into free roaming aggressive carnivores at a theme park. Especially if nobody told me that they’re there.
The death at Disney was a tragedy. But in my opinion, an entirely avoidable one. That poor, poor family.