A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Keven Moore: There are risks associated with Disney vacation but don’t let that keep you from going

It’s that time of the year where many of us are finalizing our summer vacation plans and dreaming of some far away tropical Caribbean beach somewhere.

Then there are those of you like my childhood classmate, Kevin Fugette, who is a self-professed “Disney Crusader” who is always planning their umpteenth Disney vacation trip.

As I write, he is actually visiting Disney World for his 30th visit. He is not alone and yes you know who you are, as many of you are not afraid to admit your affliction.

You are the one who starts to plan your next Disney vacation from your hotel or Disney condo before departing Disney Park. While visiting Disney you have your entire family wear matching family Disney outfits for the purpose of easily spotting each other in the event someone wonders away. Mickey Mouse’s birthday is a national holiday to you, your phone has the Disney ring tone “It’s A Small World After All,” and you proudly display at least 2 pieces of art in your home or at the office ( if not both) while also sporting Disney tote bags, purses, hats, jewelry, t-shirts and sweatshirts.

Keven’s buddy at Disney World

When you want to go somewhere else besides a Disney resort and are given the option of an all-inclusive 2-week vacation to a Hawaiian resort with free nightly Swedish massages, you instead opt for a Disney cruise, to experience the Disney magic while wearing your Mickey ears singing “When You Wish Upon A Star’ from your port window after a night of frolicking around with Disney characters and watching Disney shows.

The truth of the matter is a Disney Park is the number one vacation spot for many people around the world. It is the top global theme park for Disney Crusaders and for the rest of us regular folks.

For all the domestic parks and resorts, Disney earns around S16 billion per year in revenue. In addition to owning ABC, ESPN, Touchstone Pictures, Marvel, Lucasfilm, A&E, The History Channel, Lifetime Channel, they also have six Disney resorts in California, Florida, Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong, and China with a total of twelve parks and a total of 51 Disney resorts.

According to Disney News, the average number of worldwide visitors per day is 410,958 or nearly 150 million people per year. Disney World’s Magic Kingdom remains the world’s most visited theme park in the world, with more than 20 million annual visitors every year.

Hundreds of thousands of guests travel daily to and from various Disney properties via the 300 buses, 12 monorail trains, and the fleet of water taxis and boats owned by Disney.

Disney World is a world within its own world, which explains the reason for the name. This location alone has 2,000 acres of turf, requiring 450,000 mowing miles every year to keep in shape. That’s the equivalent of 18 trips around the Earth at the equator.

The resort’s horticulture staff, plants 3 million bedding plants and annuals, along with 4 million shrubs, 13,000 roses and 200 topiary every year. If you are asking yourself what in the world is topiary? It’s the art of clipping shrubs or trees into ornamental shapes. Yes, you’re welcome.

Disney employs nearly 200,000, in just about every type of jobs you can imagine. In fact, they have hundreds of different types of careers to handle all these guests. From business development, engineering, horticulture, hospitality, accounting, financial analysts, HVAC/Refrigeration Technicians, IT techs, dancers, bellhops, florists, …etc.

For obvious reasons, Disney also employes their very own legal department, dog sniffing dogs, physicians, registered nurses, EMT’s, firefighters, safety managers, risk managers, and have their very own police force.

It’s been reported that to handle some of the undesirables, Disney has its very own detention center where people are held until they can be processed to local authorities for crimes such as counterfeiting, shoplifting, domestic abuse, child abuse, aggravated battery, sexual assault …etc. In fact, in 2009 one visitor was charged and pleaded guilty for groping Minnie Mouse.

Disney parks are among the happiest and pleasant places on earth, but that doesn’t mean horrible things don’t happen. While it may depress you to learn that such a magical retreat comes with risks, the fact is that since Disney opened several dozen people have died under various circumstances on the grounds of a Walt Disney World resort or park.

The truth of the matter is that things are bound to go wrong any time you mix a mass amount of people with machinery, vehicles, moving parts, activities, mowing equipment, large bodies of water, and thrill rides.

In the six decades Disney World and Disneyland have been open, plenty of incidents have occurred and a lot has gone wrong. Whether it was in a stage show, a ride derailing, or a kid sneaking into the park late at night, the causes of these Disney deaths vary greatly.

Guests and cast members have died in both accidents and of natural causes while on rides. While nothing happens to the vast majority of the thousands of people who visit a Disney park every day, freak occurrences do happen.

Here are a few samples:

Disney’s First Fatality Happened While Riding the Matterhorn Bobsleds — In 1964 a 15-year-old boy died after he stood up in the Matterhorn Bobsleds and fell out of the car. It was later reported that his restraint had been undone by his ride companion. Coincidently 20 years later, a young lady was thrown from the same bobsled ride and struck by the next bobsled behind her. Given the fact that she was alone on the ride, it was never determined if it was an accident or she unbuckled herself on purpose.

An Alligator Attack – In 2016 an alligator snatched a 2-year-old boy standing on the shore of a beach area. The boy was dragged underwater at the Seven Seas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa inside the Magic Kingdom resort. His father tried to rescue him but was reportedly attacked by a second alligator and forced to flee.

A Woman Died After Riding Space Mountain – In 1979 a 31-year-old woman became ill after enduring the roller coaster ride and was unable to get out of her seat. While ride operators were trying to get her the help she needed, other employees weren’t notified, so they sent her on the ride again. The second ride put her into a coma, and she passed away within a week. It was later determined that her death was the result of a tumor traveling to her brain after dislodging from her heart.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad Derailed And Killed A Passenger – In 2003, a roller coaster derailed injuring 10 people and killing a 22-year-old man. The ride derailing was due to poor maintenance and irregular safety checks.

Stowaway Drowning on Tom Sawyer Island – in 1973, an 18-year-old park visitor and his 10-year-old brother managed to hide out in the park past closing time by stowing away on Tom Sawyer Island. They decided to swim off the island several hours later and attempted to across the Rivers of America to avoid detection. The older brother swam across with his younger brother on his back, but he grew exhausted and drowned. The younger brother managed to stay afloat by dog paddling and was eventually rescued by cast members.

Ship Accident – On Christmas Eve of 1998, a cleat used to secure the ship called the Columbia to the dock tore loose while attempting to dock, striking three park visitors. A park employee was also injured. One of the victims was declared brain dead two days later when his life support system was disconnected.

The Wall of Death – In 1974, a hostess responsible for greeting audiences at America Sings (a refurbished version of the Carousel of Progress) was crushed between the rotating theater wall and the stationary stage. The walls were later changed to prevent an accident like this from ever taking place again.

Paris Cast Member Dies in Phantom Manor -In April 2016, a cast member was electrocuted while performing maintenance on Phantom Manor, a “fun-filled mystery” with “ghoulish ghosts and spirits” that’s part of Frontierland at Disneyland Paris.

A 4-Year-Old Boy Drowned In The Cinderella Castle Moat – In 1977, a 4-year-old boy climbed the fence surrounding the Cinderella Castle moat in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. The boy drowned in the five-foot water.

Measles Outbreak – In 2014, a measles outbreak originated in Disneyland, resulting in 133 cases of the disease, including 40 visitors. Most of these were unvaccinated children. The likely person to have started the outbreak would have been an international traveler visiting the park from a country currently experiencing an outbreak. In total, at least 127 cases of measles were directly traced to the Disneyland outbreak.

A Cast Member Was Struck And Killed During A Parade – In 2004, a cast member who was dressed as Pluto, was about to enter Frontierland in the parade. The foot of his costume got stuck under the Beauty and the Beast float, and he was struck and ran over before entering the public viewing area.

Stuntman Dies on Captain Jack’s Tutorial – In 2009, a 47-year-old cast member was playing the role of a pirate in the “Captain Jack’s Pirate Tutorial” show. He was performing on stage when he slipped on a puddle and hit his head on a wall. He suffered broken vertebrae in his neck and severe lacerations on his head that required 55 stitches. He later died due to complications from the head injury.

A Monorail Strikes A Teenager Trying To Sneak Into The Park – In 1966, a 19-year-old man attempting to sneak into a Disney park was struck by an approaching monorail. The teen was killed instantly on impact.

Although most Disney deaths are due to negligence and the consequences of park attendees’ failure to follow park rules and guidelines, some of these incidents were not a result of visitor recklessness.

Despite all of this, as risk management and safety professional, I would still take my family back to a Disney park.

The fact is your chances of getting killed at Disney are much lower than being killed by a bear while visiting Yellowstone National Park which is 1 in 2.1 million.

But if you are an avid Disney crusader, like my buddy Kevin Fugette, you may be pushing your odds.

Be Safe My Friends

Keven Moore works in risk management services. He has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He is also an expert witness. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both Lexington and Northern Kentucky. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.

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