Dangerous Disney Cruise Ship Swimming Pool: Thoughts from a Concerned Cruiser

Earlier this week I wrote an article about a 4 year old boy who almost drowned in a pool on the Disney Fantasy cruise ship.

I advocated having a lifeguard at every pool on a cruise ship, especially on Disney ships which cater to families with kids.  Lifeguards are needed because parents are not perfect, and there is a tendency for parents to let their guards down when they are on vacation.  And why shouldn't Disney do it?  Like Carnival, Disney pays no U.S. taxes on its enormous cruise revenues by registering its ship overseas. It has money to burn. 

Disney Cruise Ship PoolDisney also claims that it trains over 1,000 lifeguards each year for its resorts and cruise ships. 

Kids deserve to have their parents and the cruise line working together to keep them safe.

A few people agreed, but most were quick to blame if not condemn the parents of the child who was pulled from the pool. The comments on my Facebook page were harsh.

Today I received a nice email from a concerned cruiser. She makes some good points, which Disney should consider:

"Hi Jim,

My family and I disembarked from the Disney Fantasy in Cape Canaveral on Sat March 30. While we had a terrific time, I was saddened to hear that a 4 year old boy nearly drowned getting on that ship just hours later. That news has pretty much spoiled my good memories because I have trouble bearing to reminisce about my good time in the midst of another’s tragedy. My prayers are with the boy and his family.

While on our 7 day Eastern Caribbean cruise aboard the Fantasy (Mar 23 to 30), I noticed that the pool areas where extremely chaotic and in my opinion an accident just waiting to happen. The design of the “Donald Pool” where the boy nearly drowned is what I would consider unsafe. The pool is over 5 feet deep but has very small width and length. It cannot accommodate the number of kids on the ship safely without kids being jumped on and kicked in the head etc. Also, because of the very small length and width compared to depth, there is not enough room around the edges for parents to adequately supervise the children. When my kids were swimming I had a very difficult time finding any room around the pool to watch them. I tried to get into the pool with my children and the lack of room in the pool resulted in my being jumped on, kicked in the face, etc. Also, the perimeter of the pool has a shallow area that pushes parental seating (and therefore supervision) even further away and obstructs the view of the children in the deep water.

In addition, there is a gigantic screen TV showing Disney movies that easily diverts people’s attentions.

Crowded Disney Swimming PoolThere are a very limited number of deck chairs around the pools but these are inadequate to allow supervision of the children and often only serve to block the view of other adults relocated to being further back away from the pool due to its design. I was very uncomfortable that Disney had no lifeguards at the pool but they had more than one person coming around to the deck chairs asking if you would like an alcoholic drink.

Finally, Disney in most of its show’s encourages adults to relax and allow their kids to roam the ship unattended. In fact one of the comics that they have in their shows makes a joke about parents not letting kids out of their sight and says “it’s a ship, where can they go”!

The design of the pool, the atmosphere of the ship, the easy access to alcohol and the lack of lifeguards are simply drownings waiting to happen, no matter how vigilant the parents. Unless Disney makes some changes to their procedures, and assumes a better level of corporate responsibility, I unfortunately suspect we will see more drownings on the Disney Fantasy in the years to come.

With deep concern and prayers for all . . ." 

 

April 8, 2013 Update:  According to the Orlando Sentinel, the child is struggling with his recovery at the Arnold Palmer Hospital in Orlando.  

Photo Credit: USA TODAY
 

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Comments (29) Read through and enter the discussion with the form at the end
NMoore - April 5, 2013 7:10 PM

Wonderfully thoughtful and insightful comment. For the life of me , I can't understand how Disney, ( warm , fuzzy, Disney) wouldn't create a designated childrens water park area, with larger, shallow pools, a parental observation seating area, and life guards....and NO alcohol served. It blows my mind that a company who put so much effort into design of it's parks could totally screw up designing a safe, play experience for children . It tells me that Disney is totally indifferent to it's youngest customers, and for that I hope this corp collapses.

Carolyn - April 5, 2013 10:11 PM

I will have to disagree with you sir. I believe you do not know the full story. According to all reports the parents LEFT the child unattended! That makes this the parents responsibly IMHO. Lifeguards at the pools give parents a false sense of security and more often than not lead to more parental irresponsibility.

Not only do I believe this sad accident was the responsibility of the parents of the little boy, it is also the responsibility of the parents of the youngster that was allowed to jump into the pool where he landed on the smaller child. The older child's parents should have stopped this behavior.

The rules for the pool are clearly stated! Children are not to be left unattended, no running, no diving and no jumping in the pool.

Jim Walker - April 6, 2013 8:18 AM

Carolyn: It sounds like the cruise line does not bother to enforce its own pool rules which is another reason for a lifeguard.

Paul - April 6, 2013 10:39 AM

While concerns about having a lifeguard are valid, why would any parent leave their kid to swim in a pool under the conditions you described? I don't care what anybody says about who is responsible for watching a kid at a pool (or anywhere else). When you are a parent, you are responsible for your kids 100% of the time. 99% isn't good enough. I raised 3 girls, who are all adults now. If we were ever put into a situation where we couldn't see our kids or be able to react quickly if they got into danger, then the kids were not allowed to be in that situation. If you don't like the crowded conditions on Disney ships, then take your business elsewhere. It's that simple.

Don Sayman - April 6, 2013 10:40 AM

well done folks. guess who pays for the "lifeguards"
I do sure make the cruise ship put a guard for every
child also a guard for every drunk. we can
afford it. then cry and complain about the cost
of a cruise going up. there is no free anything
you pay. thanks D

Jim Walker - April 6, 2013 11:12 AM

Don: The cruise lines pay less than $1,5000 a month for a activities deck supervisor on cruise ships which is what a lifeguard would cost. With 16,000 passengers a month, that's less than 10 cents per passenger for a lifeguard.

Ruth - April 6, 2013 11:26 AM

It is nice to see that everyone on this website cares about what happened to the boy. At least we all have that in common. What happened to the boy cannot be changed and so it is a waste of energy harping on the inadequacies of his parents' supervision. I am sure they are reviewing their own mistakes and have been reminded enough to watch their children closely. The goal now is to prevent it from happening again and that is what Jim has dedicated his life to and so let's assist him and Disney and the families by coming up with some suggested improvements to safety on the Disney ships. Having been on a Disney Cruise myself I can say that they generally do a phenomenal job. Disney crew constantly ask, "how can we improve". So they do want to hear our suggestions to them and Disney doesn't take it as an attack. It is statistically proven that lifeguards save lives and so I agree with Jim that implementing lifeguards at the Fantasy pools would be an improvement Disney could make to reduce the chance of another drowning.

Ruth - April 6, 2013 11:49 AM

Paul the last thing that Disney wants is for people to take their business elsewhere. Disney wants to partner with families to create safe and enjoyable family experiences. Indeed parents should watch their children closely but Disney is always surveying people during the cruise and asking the question, "How can we improve"? My answer to them is add a life guard at the ship's pools. Paul how would you respond to Disney's request for suggested improvement as it pertains to this blog? Continuous improvement is a goal of Disney and all other successful businesses.

Don Sayman - April 6, 2013 12:18 PM

talk about missing the point. does it matter if the cost is $15,000 $500 or 35,000 it will be the
paying passenger who pays. sure shift the responsibility to someone else, not me.

Mandy - April 6, 2013 3:46 PM

Thanks for sharing her letter, Jim. It is well written. parents and lifeguards should be working together, although I do share that same concerns as Carolyn, in that lifeguards may create a false sense of security.

Certainly the rules regarding the pool are not being enforced and that should be addressed.

Regarding making the pools' design, large bodies of water, even very shallow water can make a vessel very unstable. The fix is not as easy as making the pools larger and more shallow.

nmoore - April 6, 2013 6:52 PM

Mandy, Clearly the brilliant engineers at Disney could have and can create something a wee bit safer than something " narrow and deep" for children to play in. Their stock and trade is children, so accommodating children safely should be front and center. I think it would be refreshing for Disney to focus less on getting the parents loaded, and instead take the high road in how they do business.

Reene - April 6, 2013 8:30 PM

I like the idea of life guards, but they definitely give parents a false sense of security. One of my daughters was a life guard at well known water park (I don't know if I can state the name) and she would come home telling me constantly that so many parents of little ones would just walk away and go about their fun and leave them on their own in the pools or even just running all over the place. It drove the life guards crazy, especially in the Summer when the park is packed. Life guards do the best they can and are good at what they do, (my daughter pulled two people from the pool last Summer, a woman and a 5 yr old boy), but they are only human and parents need to watch their children.

Harriet - April 6, 2013 10:37 PM

I was on the Fantasy Cruise and at the pool when the 4 year old almost drowned. It was the beginning of the magical cruise, all were happy, excited and ready for a great time. I was right there and didn't notice a problem until I saw an emergency person running near me. It was cleary posted that there was no life guard and that parents had to be in the pool with their kids but who reads signs when you are so excited about the week ahead. Disney should make a point of announcing the depth of the pool , the lack of a lifeguard and that the parents need to be vigilant. I was traveling with parents with a 5 year old and they never let her out of their sight. I guess some parents need more help knowing their responsibilities. Both Disney and parents need to do more. At the time of the incident, there were 4 staff persons keeping the deck clean of excess water. Maybe a lifeguard would have helped more.

Teresa - April 7, 2013 6:39 PM

There also is a shallow pool available. Is the Mickey pool not a better design and depth for the younger kids? We were on the Fantasy last April and when my kids (8 and 12 at the time) were in the pool when it was busy we were sitting on the edge watching them and telling them which kids to watch out for (you know the ones who jump in without looking and the parents aren't telling them to look out for others). The best pool time we had was around breakfast or late at night. Busy pools are just plain dangerous.

Barara - April 7, 2013 11:07 PM

Having been on a Royal Carribean Allure of the Seas in January I sent a question to the Cruise Director in reference to no lifeguards at their pools after witnessing agressive and rambunctious behavior of children in the childrens pool and was given the same answer. They don't have any lifeguards and also rely on parents. One thing about having a lifeguard aside from being on-site and available quicker in an emergency, they can monitor behavior and tell kids to behave with AUTHORITY. Many times if you correct your child, the others around don't stop whatevr it is they are doing, and if you correct children other than your own you can be met with disrespectful kids or irate parents.

Debbie - April 8, 2013 8:50 AM

I use to be a lifeguard in my younger days and I have to tell you that parents are responsible for the safety of their own children even when a life guard is on duty. If your child is in the pool or on the deck, if you are more than an arm's length away from your child you are too far. A child can drown in as little as a bucket of water. There are signs clearly posted on the Disney ship that there is no life guard on duty and that people swim at their own risk and no parent should leave a child unattended. This parent left the pool area while their child was in the water which makes them 100% at fault for the near drowning. Parents need to start taking responsibility for their actions.

I can't tell you how many parents put on a pair of blow up water wings and "think" that their kid is safe. This is very wrong. In the pool I supervised there were no water wings allowed as well as no inflatable boats or toys. If a child couldn't swim they had to wear a CSA approved life jacket. Oh the parents use to bitch at the rules but it was to keep kids safe. Like it or not the water wings and other inflatables provide a false sense of security.

Jim Walker - April 8, 2013 8:56 AM

Debbie: Did you ever save a child's life when you were a lifeguard?

Kay Leon - April 8, 2013 9:08 PM

Debbie the lifeguard is right. I too was a lifeguard and my three kids never used water wings or inflatable to swim. They played in a kid pool with me, or in my arm or on the steps of a big pool with me. "with me". Not with me watching from a lounge chair, and not me talking to a friend on the other side of the pool. Kids sink, they are silent, they don't struggle or make noise. But, being a parent of three this is a reminder to never feel " comfortable " around water and let your guard down. Even a good swimmer can drown if they can't get to the surface, get exhausted, or get knocked.

It takes just 4 minutes of lack of oxygen to the brain to begin brain damage. After 10 minutes, it's death. The boy is lucky to be alive. The cruise should have been more diligent on enforcing the pool rules, or using lifeguards regularly, and they should be ready to respond QUICKLY to a life threatening emergency. The parents, so sad what they have learned and thank the good lord it wasn't me. Every parent has at one time taken their eyes off their kids, let their guard down, and usually with minor consequences.

God bless this child and all who love him!

Debbie - April 9, 2013 7:50 AM

Yes I've had to save the life of a child. At the camp where I first started out as a life guard we had 4 pools. One large one for lessons and 3 smaller above ground pools for free swim. During free swim we had two life guards per pool and then camp instructors also watching the kids. I was assigned to rotate between two pools because we were short staffed. As I went to pool number two and stood on the deck I noticed a child floating face down and another kid holding the drowning child under the water. I immediately pulled the drowning kid out of the water onto the deck and she was not breathing. I did CPR and revived her. She was within a few meter of a camp instructor chatting up her boyfriend not watching her water. The kid holding her under water said that he was trying to teach her how to breath under water and the child who almost drowned was special needs and didn't know enough to struggle to come up to breath. That was a lesson that stuck in my head never to take your eyes off the water because accidents can happen very quickly.

Tim - April 9, 2013 11:16 AM

I was on this cruise where the boy almost drowned. My wife and 3 small children and I were leaving the mickey pool when I saw the boy being attended to. I am a firefighter/paramedic and immediately went over to check to see if i could help. It was very sad to see the little boy laying there cyanotic and lifeless. I was able to help the cruise staff and other bystanders with the rescue and resuscitation until the boy taken by the ship staff. It was very scary to think that could have been one of my children as it was very chaotic in the pool area. I was already nervous about the number of kids that were in the pool, after that i watched my kids like a hawk for the remainder of the cruise which like many others have pointed out was difficult due to the numbers of kids. my kids were kicked and jumped on several times also. what upset me was the very next day someone came up to me and told me my 3 year old daughter had to get out of the pool because she had a swim diaper on. Where were those people the day before. That night my wife was so upset that she didnt want to be on the ship anymore because of what our family had witnesed. My families prayers go out to the little boy and his family and hope he somehow pulls through this.

Jill - April 11, 2013 12:31 PM

I unfortunately learned about the little boy's near drowning while researching the Disney Cruise Line on the Disney forums. My family and I were thinking of taking our family on a Disney Cruise in November. However, it's very expensive and I figured I would research first. Now, I don't want to go. I can't stop thinking about this little boy and I have been reading his FB page and Caringbridge daily.

The reason I don't want to go is when this tragedy occurred many people on the forum were speaking about how crowded the pool area was on their cruise and how some parents are not supervising their children or enforcing the rules. Many said there are too many people in the kids pools and could see how a child could get hurt or drown. My children will be 8 and almost 3 when we were planning to take the cruise. I know they are both going to want to swim. However, I can't risk their safety. My 2 year old is quick and with all the crowds I think it would be worth it to wait until she is older.

I agree with many of the posters. Disney needs to look at the designs of their pools. I get they are themed, but a rectangular pool would maximize the space and allow parents to better supervise. Plus they have a pool that is strictly for adults. They need to rethink that too. Most people on a Disney Cruise is there with young children or families. I think for the safety of our children they should open the pool up to everyone. We are all paying customers and should not be limited to two tiny pools that are overwhelmed with children and parents trying to supervise. It's a Disney Cruise Line, as an adult you should expect that there is going to be a ton of children! If you don't want to cruise with a ton of children than they should look into another cruise line.

Karen - April 22, 2013 8:05 AM

One point you are all missing, a parent should be a parent first. Where were this child's parent. I have been on the Disney Dream. Disney cruises are designed for parents who want a vacation with their kids without dealing with there kids. Period. Parents are so busy enjoying themselves, they forget the danger. Many a times I sat under the big tv screen, never to be distracted by it. The kids club - do you know how many parents put their kids in it and then go offshore on excursions? Where is the family vacation? The waiters are supposed to even cut up your kids food for you.

The pool deck #11, is overcrowded. The last day on board and at sea, you could not even get on the deck it was so crowded. The deck is constantly wet, a huge waterslide waiting for someone to slip.

So, don't blame Disney. The ship is overcrowded, dark and has horrible food, yes...the decks slippery, yes..waiting over an hour to meet characters - horrible...I will NEVER take that line again.

Mimi - April 22, 2013 2:33 PM

My concern is that if they have a lifeguard parents might assume its OK to stop watching their kids in which case one lifeguard is not enough. It would take several lifeguards to properly monitor the pool because, unlike parents who are watching their own child, a lifeguard has to sweep the entire pool area constantly. One person couldn't do it. Have you ever watched the lifeguards in waterparks? They sweep the pool area constantly, they walk the area, there is more than one, and they change positions and have breaks often to avoid burn out. We are not talking here of the lifeguards in a movie set where they sit in the tall white chair and chill out. Also, if the lifeguard is trained that safety always comes first, how many parents would complain and say their cruise was ruined because their kid wasn't allowed to "have fun" in the pool because the "mean" lifeguard said they couldn't do "x." You know this would happen. In this case it might be better to say parents are responsible for watching their own children. Disney is caught between a rock and a hard place whether to add lifeguards or not. Having said all of the above, my heart goes out to the family of Chase. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.

Karen B - April 23, 2013 1:55 PM

I too was on the Disney Cruise the day of the accident and we were going by the pool. My grandchildren are age 9 (Triplets ) and 1 is 11 years old. There were so many children in the pool that we explained the situation and did not allow our children to go in the pool that day. Yes, there is not enough room for the parents to all have front row seating when watching your children. Before sailing, as people are boarding, many children go in the pool until everyone gets settled in. I feel for the parents,it is so easy to accuse the parents of what happened, but until you walk in those shoes, do not be so fast to critize.
I vote for a lifeguard and was shocked that there was none, as more than one pair of eyes never hurt. Parents must realize that they must still watch. Then there are the children that do not listen to their parents or anyone else, at that time the authority of a Lifeguard would be a good thing.

smathis - May 10, 2013 1:14 PM

We embarked on the Fantasy on 4/20/13. The only complaints we have about DCL and our trip would be the pools. My children are 6 and 7 and are relitively good swimmers. I still utilized floatation devices on them(even in the shallow pool) because the pools were so poorly managed. These devices also helped me keep an eye on them. The pools were stressful. I actually sat alongside pool(almost inside pool) at all times we were there. The seating options are just horrible for parents trying to keep an eye on their children.I was appalled at the amount of times that I was asked to buy a drink yet not one crew member instructing some of the older children to cut out the rough horseplay. Some mothers, including myself, had reprimand a child and find her mother as she was pulling our children underwater on purpose. It was impossible to see the bottom of the Donald pool most every time we were on deck. It would not have been know if a child went under. Sadly, what happened to Chase could have happened to any child on our trip as well. It only takes a second. Before going on this trip, I would have most likely placed blame on the parents. After having experienced the Fantasy pools first hand, shame on you Disney!

gmmb - July 26, 2013 4:46 PM

I'd just like to add an update here that the family was not in the pool area when this tragedy occurred. It was one of those "I turned my head for a second to get something out of my bag and he was gone" situations. They started frantically searching for him, and by the time they found him, he had been pulled from the pool by someone. It happened that fast. Those parents will be blaming themselves for years for something that was an accident, and could happen to anyone.

Reene - October 26, 2013 10:56 AM

Lifeguard Update: If you go on the Disney
Cruise Blog you will see that Lifeguards are now On Duty on Disney ships! Happy to see this, but parents remember you still have a responsibility in watching your child. Please do Not have a false sense of security! Happy Sailing!

Dupage Swim Center - December 11, 2013 4:13 PM

Life guards do make a difference. People die every year because of water and people do not respect it like a threat because it is also essential for life.

Mike - February 4, 2014 12:39 PM

I have been on 10 Disney Cruises and on all 4 ships. Many comments in this thread are inaccurate. Happily, all Disney ships now have lifeguards which I noticed on the Magic a few weeks ago. Disney does have a smaller, very shallow childrens pool on all 4 ships. That is where a 4 year old belongs- not left to be watched by his "older brothers" of 7 and 9 or so? I have a grandson who is 4- never left the Mickey pool on the Dream (shallow) and NEVER left my eyes,, not for one second. My daughter entrusted my wife and I to watch him.. you cant let your guard down for 1 second with a child- never. Disney does NOT encourage children to be left alone as one person suggested.. they always talk about leaving them at one of the Child/Youth clubs,,, to be watched and supervised. NOT to roam the ship. This is a tragedy- but one that can be averted with proper supervision. Lifeguards are great- Disney are the best. Their eyes NEVER leave the pool area,, they walk the deck and focus on the kids- a few or even just one. Bottom line- I have been in the Donald pool and yes it can get crowded, as all pools do. A 4 year old or any young child should never be left on their own in a pool that deep. I know, I have a pool 9' deep in our backyard and we have never had an accident or anything remotely bad happen. Lifeguards do NOT replace parental supervision. They are there to help, enforce the rules and ensure a good time for everyone.

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