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Disney Cruise Ship Child Care Staff Lose Young Child. Frantic Search Ensues

Disney Cruise Line logo At his blog, Brent Csutoras shared a frightening story about how his child was lost during a Disney cruise while under the supervision of daycare staff. Brent wrote:

"In January, we decided to take our two children on a Disney Wonder cruise... While on board, we left our 3 year old son, in their child care facility, the Oceaneer Club (for children aged 3 to 12). We were happy to see they had a wrist band tracking system, which could identify where a child was on the ship at any time and alert staff if the band went outside the area he was supposed to be in. So you can imagine our fear, shock, outrage and panic when we came back after an evening with friends, to find our child missing from their child care facility."

And, what happened with that high-tech wristband tracking? It's similar technology to what Disney plans to use in its land-based theme parks. It failed to work:

"... the next step was to check the tracking band system, which would pinpoint my son’s location. 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’!!!."

After searching frantically for about 45 minutes, Brent's child was found sleeping under a "tunnel of chairs" in the child care center.

This story is horrendous. I am a parent, plus my wife and I have sailed on about 19 cruises on several cruise lines: Carnival,Celebrity, Costa, Holland America, MSC, Norwegian, Princess, and Royal Caribbean. We've sailed the Caribbean (West, South, and East), the Hawaiian Islands, Bermuda, the Panama Canal, Alaska, and the Eastern Mediterranean. While we have not sailed yet on Disney, we are very familiar with the cruising vacation experience. I would classify Brent's experience on the Disney Wonder an epic customer-service failure:

  • Clearly, the wristband technology, which should have worked, didn't and failed.
  • Clearly, the lighting in the daycare space was insufficient
  • Responsible cruise ship daycare staff should know where their children are, and not rely on wristbands to locate children. An on-board power failure could render that technology useless.
  • While cruise ship staff emphasized that they had a process for lost/missing children, it was not apparent nor clearly explained to the parents.
  • The ship seemed very reluctant to perform a public announcement. While they probably didn't want to alarm other passengers, the needs of a lost child outweigh that concern.

By law, cruise ships must perform safety drills before departing the embarkation port, or at sea soon after departure. This helps passengers what to do in case of an emergency.

Brent's story highlights the need for parents to apply the same level of importance to daycare services and safety, so they know what to do and where to go for their children during or after an emergency.

Disney's response, as Brent explained it, seems shortsighted and insufficient -- especially since the stranded Carnival Triumph cruise ship is fresh in many consumers' minds. After that mishap, some passengers have sued Carnival. Frankly, Disney's poor response to Brent and his family seems to risk losing future business:

"Considering I have two little boys, we would most certainly have booked other Disney vacations and cruises in the years to come. But this experience—the loss of my son, the poor response to the crisis aboard ship, and the uncaring, calculated corporate response afterward—has changed all that... Where is the Disney ‘magic’? For me, it’s been lost. Where is the customer service Disney is supposed to be known for? Nonexistent."

I suggest that Brent submit a cruise review to several cruising industry websites that consumers visit, such as Cruise Critic,, and For parents who are considering a future cruise ship vacation with their children, I suggest that you:

  1. Before booking a cruise, read the safety materials in the cruise lines' websites
  2. After booking a cruise, read the safety materials in your cruise documents before your vacation. The cruise line or your travel agent will send these documents
  3. After boarding the cruise ship, meet with the daycare staff and have them show a successful test of any wristband or other technology used to track young children
  4. After boarding the cruise ship, review with daycare staff the safety procedures involving lost/missing young children before you drop them off at daycare, so you know what the process is and what to do during or after an emergency

In 2003, my wife and I sailed with our children, who were teenagers at that time. Before leaving on vacation, we reviewed with them the ship's safety rules, which we expected them to comply with 100%. Although rare, some adults have fallen overboard during cruises. A young woman wrote fake bomb-threat notes to divert a cruise ship so she could return home sooner to her boyfriend.

For cruise ship vacation, I think that this is a good rule of thumb: act and plan accordingly, because the knuckleheads you encounter on land you may also encounter at sea.


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John H. (Jack) Hickey

Cruise lines are masters of making passengers feel like they are completely safe, even though they are usually anything but safe. Like Csutoras, many passengers of Disney as well as other cruise lines have had similar experiences in which the ship does not fulfill their duty to protect their passengers from mishaps.

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