This weekend, there was a "near drowning" of a 4 year old boy on Disney’s Fantasy cruise ship.  

The incident reportedly occurred during the afternoon when a family boarded the Disney cruise ship and before the ship sailed. The boy was pulled from the pool, apparently non-responsive, and had to be taken to an emergency room at the Cape Canaveral Hospital, and then airlifted to Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children in Orlando. Fortunately this happened while the ship was in port so the child could be rushed to receive emergency medical treatment rather than a few hours later on the high Disney Fantasy Cruise Ship Pool Near Drowningseas where no such assistance would have been possible.

The latest word I heard was that the boy had sustained serious injuries which may be permanent in nature. 

The parents of the child were reportedly not at the pool but arrived when the boy was rescued. The parents were soundly criticized by cruise fans on the Disney boards and the Cruise Critic on-line community.

People have posted comments on my article on Facebook criticizing the parents. Some say things like there are no lifeguards on any cruise ships, which all parents should know. Others say that the passenger ticket states that the cruise line does not accept any responsibility for liabilities arising out of swimming pools. Still other say that there are signs on cruise ships saying that there are no lifeguards on duty and that swimming is at the passenger’s risk.

I understand the concept of personal and parental responsibility, having two boys who my wife and I are raising. But I also understand that the law also demands corporate responsibility as well. It’s easy to criticize a parent when a child is injured; we are all perfect parents when it’s not our child, aren’t we? But I find that those people who are quick to blame parents when kids are injured and who talk incessantly about "personal responsibility" are the first to defend corporate malfeasance and use the term "personal responsibility" as code words for condoning the complete absence of "corporate responsibility."     

Cruise lines like Disney have legal responsibility to parents and children on Disney cruise ships. A "no lifeguard on duty" sign does not legally exonerate a cruise line, or a hotel, or an amusement park.  It simply raises the issue whether the sign was legally conspicuous enough to provide an effective warning to the parents.   

It is inexcusable for Disney not to assign multiple lifeguards around the ship’s pools. Is it correct that Disney Cruise Line has no lifeguards at all?  If so, that’s reckless. Yes, parents need to be responsible, but they will make errors. Reasonable safety can exist only when there is both personal responsibility and corporate responsibility. 

A friend brought to my attention that Disney advertises that it has well-trained lifeguards on its cruise ships and in its parks.

In a 2008 publication entitled Walt Disney Report on Safety, Disney states that it trains over 1,200 lifeguards a year, including on its cruise ships. Here’s what Disney states:   

"Lifeguard Training"

"Together, the Disneyland® Resort, Walt Disney World® Resort and Disney Cruise Line® train more than 1,200 lifeguards a year to monitor activities at these venues."

"Our lifeguards must complete a thorough training program that exceeds most U.S. standards and includes both a water-skills test and up to 24 hours of basic training in water rescue techniques, CPR, basic first aid, oxygen administration and the use of AEDs. After completion of basic training, lifeguards must also perform four hours of in-service training each month, undergo eight hours of recertification Disney Resort Drowning Deathtraining every year and participate in frequent unannounced audits by one of the world’s premier aquatic safety service providers."

Is this bait-and-switch?  Does Disney tell the public that its kid-friendly resorts and ships have well trained lifeguards but in reality it does not have any?

Last month, a 13 year-old boy died at a Disney amusement resort near Epcot which had no lifeguard. You can read about that death here.

Disney issued a statement after the dream-vacation turned into a nightmare. The Imperfect Parent quotes Disney saying that it was "saddened" by the death and " . . . our hearts go out to his family, friends and loved ones. We have reached out to his family to offer care and assistance during this difficult time.” 

Families don’t need after-the-fact condolences.  They don’t need "no lifeguard" signs. They need some of the 1,200 lifeguards who Disney claims it trains each year doing their jobs at the pools in the Disney resorts and on the Disney cruise ships so that no other children are killed or seriously injured when their parents are imperfect.

Have a thought? Join the discussion on our Facebook page about this issue


Photo Credits:

Disney Fantasy cruise ship pool – Fodors

Disney resort pool – Wikipedia via Daily Mail 

  • RJLN

    Hi Jim. I completely agree with you on this matter. I am an attorney in the Philippines and we have this doctrine which was adopted from US common law which is called the attractive nuisance doctrine, which I believe is applicable in this case.

  • Sandy

    I say Disney is not responsible and parents should know where their children are at all times, especially a 4 year old. Shame on those parents. When will be holding parents responsible for their children???

  • Shame on you for your self righteousness.

    Jim Walker

  • Dana Strickland

    I just don’t understand why a Disney ship that caters to little kids didn’t have a lifeguard on duty!! It doesn’t make any sense to me that knowing that the majority of your passengers are small kids; there should have been lifeguards all around the pools!! On the other hand; Mr. Walker; I don’t mean to sound self-righteous; but where were the parents? I don’t have any kids;but I do have a lot of nieces and nephews. On my last cruise; my niece was 12 years old; I didn’t let her out of my sight!! Just wondering; not meaning to sound judgy!!

  • Tim

    Why would just the cruise line be irresponsible in your view and the parents just get a pass as just being “imperfect” (I don’t think anyone with the exception of a few narcissists out there, is trying to claim they’re a perfect parent, everyone makes mistakes) and not labeled irresponsible as well? The title could easily just be “Imperfect cruise line and irresponsible parenting”. I’m just glad the cruise ship incident didn’t turn out to be tragic.

  • Parents don’t “get a pass” if their children are seriously injured or killed in a mishap like this. The point is not blame assessment but taking steps to keep kids safe. It’s not being “imperfect” if a cruise line makes an intentional decision not to have any lifeguards on a ship with over a thousand kids aboard.

  • Reeme

    Our family stayed at the sports resort in 2006 and there were life guards on duty until 8:00pm, which at that time an announcement was made that the life guards were now off duty and any swimming was at your own risk. I believe the family swimming where the 13 year old boy which sadly died was after hours swimming, but I could be wrong. The parents of this boy were witnessed to have left the ship in their swim suites, therefore, I don’t believe he slipped and fell in with his cloths on. I do feel that there should be life guards, however, the majory of the blame here is the parents. The medical crew were working on the boy when the parents arrived, so how much time do you think the parents spent not watching their child. Cruise lines are not baby sitters and parents have a responsibility. My kids are grown and I’m still watching them like a hawk. No parent is perfect, but some down right just don’t pay attention to their children.

  • Sue

    Blame Disney? Just another reason why I have no faith in human beings. You are all so quick to blame Disney with distractions and no life guards…I have been on the Dream, there was not one moment my eyes were not on my kids. Same with my husband. We did not have a vacation, we worked our butts off so our kids had an amazing time. 2 parents lost sight of their 4 year old for over 10 mins? Possible because of the overcrowding on Deck 11, but, seriously, the sound of parametics and screaming on the deck didn’t their attention sooner?…Kids don’t ask to be born. It is our rresponsibility to protect them. Not Disney’s. And all of your excuses show what shallow people you all are in today’s society not taking responsibility for your own actions.

  • Sue:

    Cruise lines must also demonstrate responsibility for the safety of children. Its not an “either or” situation. Casting blame after the fact on the parents and exonerating the cruise line will not prevent future tragedies.

    Jim Walker

  • Emily


    This is your article and you posted it in hopes of responses in the comment section. Don’t you think it’s a little contradictory to argue against every person who expresses different opinions from yours?

  • Amanda

    Disney Cruise Line trains their island lifeguards, not on ships. There are pool monitors but all parents should watch their children at all times. Having a lifeguard there is a crutch and someone to blame if something went wrong – I don’t disagree with disney here at all

  • shaun

    This is akin to saying the government is responsible for a child dying in a car crash because the parents didn’t make them wear a seat belt.

  • Shaun:

    Bad analogy. It’s more like a child dying in a car crash and the auto manufacturer didn’t install a seatbelt.

  • Carole Eberhardt

    I believe that a corporation as wealthy at Disney could indeed supply even two lifeguards at each and every pool. At the same time a child is a child and should be under the watchful eye of a parent at all times. These ideas are not one or the other but BOTH.

  • Denise
  • Kariana

    Lazy parents! YOUR child is YOUR responsibility!

    These people should be criminally prosecuted for at least neglect. How else do you bring your child on a cruise, and then not watch him?

    They are either guilty of neglect, or they deliberately didn’t watch their child, hoping it would drown. Police should look into it. If they take this approach to their child’s care at home, he perhaps needs to be taken from them.

  • Ruth

    Emily, Jim allows everyone to express their opinions. I think it is rude of you to chastise Jim for expressing his opinions to comments posted. It is his website and we are his guests. We are privileged that he allows us to post comments. I find Jim’s responses always well thought out and intelligent. Often people post comments on this website that have a flawed logic to them. And yes logic can be flawed even if it is someone’s opinion. Lawyers have years of training in the development of logical thought and expression. Jim provides high quality, intelligent responses to people’s comments and in doing so he sometimes points out their flawed logic. He in no manner is being contradictory or argumentative. Jim is obviously an extremely intelligent person who has devoted his life to cruise safety. I am shocked that you would suggest he can’t share his comments freely on his own website. I am even more impressed that he displayed such grace and class by not reminding you of your own rude and classless comment.

  • Colleen

    My comment is not to Kariana but it is in response to Kariana’s comment which I believe is one of the most ignorant comments that I have ever read. As soon as our children were born my husband and I devoted almost every ounce of effort and money we could into being the world’s best parents. We lived on less income so one of us could stay home with our children and provide the very best care. We took parenting courses, they wore good shoes and ate healthy meals. We balanced good discipline with lots of love. We made our kids work hard but rewarded them with pleasures like Disney vacations, and hockey and horseback riding lessons. We enforced homework being done. If they needed extra school help, I tutored them. They have high school grades in the 90s. Also, we give every possible effort to ensure their safety. And, they love to tell us that we are the greatest parents ever. There, have been times that they were close to having serious accidents and sometimes we were right there to pull them from harms way. But guess what, there have been occasions where I let my guard down and they had an accident. In hindsight the accident could have been serious like a drowning but my kids and husband and I were, by the Grace of God, spared from tragedy. As hard as we try, we are imperfect people. And, families that escape tragedy are lucky. But sometimes tragedy comes to the best of families and to children with the greatest parents. Chase Lykken wouldn’t have been on a Disney cruise if his parents weren’t trying their hardest to give him the very best. When I read ignorant comments like Kariana’s I think they come from passive aggressive people who are angry inside because they lead miserable lives. Perhaps it makes them feel better to degrade good people who have experienced misfortune. Someday Kariana might experience misfortune, or her kids or her kids children. When it happens (and eventually it will because that’s how life is) I bet some ignoramus will call her or her kids Lazy Parents!