I normally blog at The Resurgent, but this one is rather personal and I don’t think fits in the tone of that site. Everyone knows about the tragedy that happened at Walt Disney World this week–the worst week in memory for Orlando.
An alligator snatched a two-year-old from the Seven Seas Lagoon at the Grand Floridian resort. I have two young boys, and the horror of that is almost too much for me to consider. My mind rejects it. To the parents of little Lane Graves, there’s nothing I can ever say or write that would be appropriate. All I can come up with is “Oh, God, please help them.”
I want to address what commentator Shaun King wrote in the New York Daily News about how Walt Disney World is to blame for this attack. It’s been less than a day since the boy’s body was pulled from the lake, and King used the word “blame.”
Of course, Disney owns this problem. They made that lagoon. They dug it out of the swamps of central Florida 45 years ago. Yes, Disney is going to “thoroughly review” its alligator warning signage around the resorts.
Media have pointed out that “Disney is now under fire for not warning visitors about the possibility of alligators in the lagoon.”
According to WESH 2 News, only one alligator warning sign was spotted on the property and that was at a small pond. The station reported the sign read, “Do not feed or go near the alligators,” along with a picture of an alligator and a snake.
I am certain that Disney, its lawyers, and the Graves family’s lawyers, will deal with this problem in due course, financially. Honestly, there’s no amount of money that Disney could pay to make it right, and since the people who run the company have souls, they know this. But lawyers will make the soulless claim that the signs were sufficient, because that’s what lawyers are paid to do.
Back to Shaun King. Like his family, mine is all-in for Disney. We cruise with them, we visit the parks, we are Disney Vacation Club members. We love Disney and maybe we’ve run into the King family somewhere. I don’t know.
King destroyed his own argument for “blame” because he knows the answer, but as a parent probably doesn’t want to go there.
Of course, all around this lagoon, and all around Disney in general, signs say “Don’t play in the water” or “Don’t step on the grass” or “Don’t stand on this statue of Mickey Mouse.”
However, as a guest who has been to Disney World dozens and dozens of times with my five young children, the general consensus is “Don’t play in the water” because it’s deep, or because it’s dirty, or because not enough people are around to help you if you can’t swim. Never once in our times there did we ever consider that an alligator was lurking beneath the surface.
We’ve taken paddle boats and guided tours on that lagoon. We’ve walked along the sandy shore of it, at night, just like this young family, and never once were we aware that it was even remotely possible that an alligator was ready to snatch one of us up.
I’ve never seen a single sign anywhere in the park that warns you of such a thing.
In 40 years, no child has ever been snatched up by an alligator at Walt Disney World until now. Apparently, there are signs here and there around the property, but not at that particular beach. But would it matter?
Kids play in the water, step on the grass, and climb on Mickey Mouse. They go places they shouldn’t, climb on things that are off limits, and in general, behave like kids. Mine do at least. My kids don’t read the signs, and in general, I don’t either. I do, however, use parental common sense.
Parental common sense tells me this: It’s Florida. There are alligators everywhere there’s water in Florida. The waterways at Disney are not swimming pools, they are a natural watershed connected by canals. They are not part of the fake landscaping, but they are man-made real lakes, ponds and lagoons, with fish, birds, snakes, and yes, alligators.
One of our favorite Disney resorts is the little-known gem on the Atlantic: Disney’s Vero Beach Resort. There’s a real beach there. There are also, sometimes, rip tides, sharks, and other creatures in the ocean. Disney makes it very clear they don’t provide lifeguards at the beach. In fact, the State of Florida actually “owns” the beach from the mean high water mark to the low tide point–if you’re in the water or on the “wet” sand, you’re technically not on Disney property.
Would that matter if my kids waded in and were taken by a shark? Not really. Disney would have had no control of the shark, and sharks swim in the ocean. Should Disney put up “beware of sharks” signs on all its beach access because sharks swim in the ocean? No shark attack that I know of has been recorded at Disney’s Vero Beach Resort, but would the sign stop me from swimming there? I might question it the first time, but most would ignore it when they see everyone else swimming.
It’s an extreme example, but it does apply to the Seven Seas Lagoon also.
Disney owns over 30,000 acres in central Florida. That land is a habitat for whatever lives in Florida. Disney’s general approach to wildlife in the park is to remove pests with other pests (they use snakes to get rid of rats–I have seen an actual Disney rat running around and I’m glad of the snakes). They use aphids to get rid of mosquitoes.
But there’s nothing you can use to get rid of alligators, except people. And Disney does remove gators from their waterways on a regular basis.
I agree, and Disney agrees, with Shaun King: They own this problem and will do what they have to do. But what King asks is impossible: “For the rest of us, who frequent the parks and see them as a getaway from our stressful world, real measures must be taken to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.”
The only way Disney can ensure “it never happens again” is to (a) close the beaches forever (and someone will still get to them), (b) close the park forever, or (c) move the park out of Florida.
A family suffered an unspeakable tragedy at Walt Disney World. But throwing the word “blame” around doesn’t help them or anyone else. The only way to avoid the (remote) possibility of encountering an alligator is to avoid Florida altogether.