According to Brent, he and his wife had dropped their 3-year-old son off at an on-ship childcare facility, where each youngster was fitted with an electronic wristband tracking system that should alert staff if the child wanders off and then help pinpoint the kid’s position on the ship.
When Brent returned a bit later to pick his son up, he was nowhere to be found. Brent went from room to room, but to no avail.
“I returned to the room where I’d originally started searching, and the employee commented that this was the third time they’d seen me there–was everything okay?,” he writes. “I told him I couldn’t find my son, so they started walking around, calling his name. I began looking under draped compartments, behind obstacles, anywhere a child might hide.”
After contacting his wife, who had gone to pick up their infant from the ship’s nursery, and searching a bit more around the day care, Brent came to the horrifying conclusion that his child had gone missing.
“I don’t know if I can fully describe the feeling when you realize your child is gone,” he explains. “Everything changed from that moment… I was no longer frustrated, angry, or annoyed, I was scared to death and went completely into FIND MY CHILD MODE, which started with understanding their operating procedures for missing children.”
He spoke to the day care staff and asked about the process of searching for a missing child.
“He said the next step was to check the tracking band system, which would pinpoint my son’s location,” recalls Brent. “We walked over to the computer and as they pulled it up, everyone got very quiet. The screen showed my son’s band as ‘UNREADABLE’!!!.”
Trying to remain calm, Brent ran to another of the ship’s childcare facilities, hoping that somehow his son had ended up there. No such luck. And so it was back to the original facility, where still no one had been able to locate his son.
Brent’s wife was now sobbing, and he says none of the ship’s crew were doing anything to console her or calm her down.
“They literally turned their backs on her and acted like she was irrational and overreacting,” he says.
Since the ship was still at the dock, Brent wondered if his son could have wandered down the gangway, so he ran to speak to the staff there.
“I told the personnel at the gangway that my son was missing from their child care facility and that they needed to make sure no one else left the ship until he was found,” writes Brent. “They gave no indication they would stop anyone from leaving, and were unaware of a missing child, a full 20 minutes after he’d gone missing. They said if I had a missing child I needed to inform Guest Services.”
And so it was up to Guest Services, where Brent asked why no announcement had been made about his missing son. A crew member said that an announcement had gone out through the staff’s internal cellphone system, though this only made Brent wonder why the gangway personnel seemed unaware of the problem.
Back to the childcare facilities, where no one had any further word of his child’s whereabouts. Brent pulled a staff member, who had actually been actively looking for his son, aside.
“[I] said firmly and clearly that they had make 20 announcements a day about excursions, parties, and dinner times, but in the 45 minutes since my son had gone missing, not one announcement had been made,” he writes. “Nothing that said ‘excuse me guests, but we have a 3 year-old boy who has gone missing, so please take a look around and see if you spot anyone matching this description.’
“I told her if she didn’t make an announcement immediately, I’d be forced to break down the door and make the damn announcement myself!”
Luckily, there was no need for that, as a friend flagged Brent down to tell him the boy had been found and was unharmed. Crisis over, but there were still too many questions for Brent and his wife:
How had our son been able to craw away and fall asleep without anyone noticing?
Why were the employees unable to find him for nearly 45 minutes?
Why was his security band unreadable?
Why did everyone ignore my wife and make her feel so alone and terrified?
Why did none of the ship’s crew seem to be aware there was a missing child, despite the wave phone message which seemed to be their primary form of communication?
Why was no announcement made on the ship at any point?
Most importantly, why was there no apparent protocol in the event of a missing child considering this is Disney, a world-class organization that builds it’s reputation on the happiness of children?
They requested to speak with the ship’s captain, but had to settle for a sit-down with the Cruise Director, who apologized and assured them that there is a process for handling lost-child emergencies, “however since that hadn’t been apparent to us, they would look into that and address it,” says Brent. The Cruise Director also promised to investigate why the boy’s tracking band wasn’t working.
The Cruise Director asked what could be done to make up for the incident. Seeing as how Brent and his wife felt that their entire cruise had been soured by this experience, wrote the Director a note requesting a refund.
The Director promised them that someone from Disney’s corporate office would contact them, and shortly after returning from the cruise, a rep called. She said that Disney could not offer a refund, but could give the family a two-day Disney World park-pass with limited access.
“She told me that since our son went missing on the third day of the trip, we had enjoyed the first two days and only the last two days were ruined,” says Brent. “Therefore, they were only willing to offer two day park passes as compensation. Adding insult to injury, the last thing she said before she hung up was to call her back if we changed our mind about accepting her offer.”
Brent feels that this experience has turned his family from one that could have spent an awful lot of money on Disney-related vacations and gifts to one that probably won’t be booking any trips to the Magic Kingdom in the foreseeable future.
“Where is the Disney ‘magic’?” he asks. “For me, it’s been lost. Where is the customer service Disney is supposed to be known for? Nonexistent.”
We reached out to the folks at Disney Cruises about this story and received the following response:
At Disney, nothing is more important to us than the safety and security of our guests and their children. All of our ships have spaces designed especially for children with measures in place to provide for a secure and fun experience. To utilize the Youth Activities spaces onboard, children and parents must check in upon boarding the ship. Youth Activities crew members have a background in child care and undergo specific training. We feel for what the parents went through during this time. The child was found safe and sound within the secured Youth Activity area. Our shipboard and shoreside teams have spoken with the family about their experience and offered goodwill gestures.
We also asked Disney for specifics on its protocol for alerting crew members about missing children, and while a rep for Disney would say the company has detailed procedures in place, it doesn’t share the details of these procedures because to do so would compromise the effectiveness.