Alligators at Walt Disney World Resort
My Experience with Alligators at Walt Disney World over the Past 45+ Years
In the aftermath of the 2016 tragedy involving an alligator at Walt Disney World Resort, many people have been asking for my thoughts and opinions on the subject of safety and alligators at Disney World. As a frequent traveller to Walt Disney World since it first opened in 1971, this post covers my perspective and experience with alligators on Disney’s property over the past 45-plus years.
I visit Walt Disney World regularly and I have been doing so ever since it first opened. The Resort opened in October 1971 and we had our first visit six months later in March 1972. We visited for three weeks that year. Ever since then I have been visiting each year for an average of two to three weeks. I have always stayed at Disney Resorts on Disney property. As of March 2018 I have visited Walt Disney World — and stayed at Disney Resorts — 98 times and counting.
So I am there a lot.
Here is my YouTube video number one of the alligator at Disney’s Beach Club Resort, July 2015.
One Walt Disney World Alligator Sighting
Over the past 44 years and 90+ visits I have seen an alligator at a Walt Disney World Resort a total of one time. In fact, all of the alligator photos and videos in this post are from that one sighting, which occurred in July 2015 during our stay at Disney’s Beach Club Resort. That is why I posted the videos on YouTube: because seeing an alligator at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel was such a rare occurrence for me.
So that alone is the first thing that I tell people. In my experience as a frequent visitor spanning 45-plus years, I have seen an alligator only once at a Disney Resort.
However, this is Florida after all and we know that alligators are always present. If you know anyone who golfs in Florida (on a Walt Disney World course or anywhere else), chances are that they have encountered an alligator or two along the way.
Do we live in fear of alligators when we visit Florida? No.
Do we exercise caution when near bodies of water or shorelines in Florida? Yes.
Swimming in Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon at Walt Disney World Resort
It’s worth noting here that for the first 10 years or so (I can’t recall exactly for how long) swimming in the waters of Bay Lake and Seven Seas Lagoon was allowed and a regular part of our Walt Disney World vacation experience.
The beaches at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Disney’s Fort Wilderness Campground were open for swimming in the natural lake (Bay Lake) and the man-made lagoon (Seven Seas Lagoon).
I have to say that we didn’t give alligators a second thought over all those years. We knew that they were most likely in those water bodies, but we also knew that Florida alligators do not generally hunt people. I was far more cautious when I went exploring and fishing in the canals in the less populated parts of Fort Wilderness, for example. There were less people around in those areas so far more likely for a gator to be there. Still, I never actually saw an alligator anywhere until 2015 (although I am sure that there were a few who saw me).
I don’t know why Disney eventually decided to disallow swimming in the lakes. I have heard everything from too much boat traffic to an increase in the growth of bacteria or amoeba that live in the muck at the bottom of Florida lakes. Whatever the reason, I never heard alligators as one of those options.
Here is my YouTube video number two of the alligator at Disney’s Beach Club Resort, July 2015.
Exercising Caution and Common Sense is My Best Advice
When asked for advice on whether someone should be overly concerned about alligators at Walt Disney World (or anywhere in Florida, for that matter), my answer is this: You shouldn’t be so overly paranoid that it will ruin your trip, but you should also be aware that alligators are indigenous to Florida and that they will always be around. Disney has ongoing best efforts to eradicate alligators from their resort areas, but it would be virtually impossible in my opinion to keep them out permanently.
Coyotes, Sharks and Alligators
Coyotes are our version of alligators back home here in Oakville, Ontario. We know that the woodland ravines behind our house and all around town have coyotes living in them. I have seen coyotes a few times and I exercise reasonable caution always. The schools make sure that the kids know what to do if they ever encounter a coyote. Would I go into the woods at night? No. Do I avoid the woodland trails during the day because of coyotes? No.
Generally coyotes do not attack people and like alligators they tend to stay away from people. The issues arise when people start to feed the coyotes — just as what can apparently happen with alligators (or any wild animal for that matter, I would imagine).
We did have one instance in Town a few years ago where a coyote jumped a fence into the backyard of a home and attacked an eight-year-old girl. The authorities believe someone had been feeding that coyote, which caused it to lose its fear of people and associate them with food. After that attack, the Town put up coyote warning signs at the entrances to ravine trails, just as Disney will now put up alligator warning signs next to the water bodies and shorelines.
We can also look to shark attacks and the beaches of Florida as another example. We know that there are sharks in the ocean and that people have been attacked in Florida waters. However, I personally have not seen a warning sign in Florida waters telling people to stay out of the ocean due to sharks being present.
For me, it all comes down to awareness that alligators may be present and then exercising common sense and caution.
As a colleague of mine often says: Florida + Water = Alligators
This little equation really sums it up and it is great advice to heed. In my experience, alligators are not an imminent threat to guests on Walt Disney World property by any means. The fact that I have only seen one alligator in 45+ years and 98 visits is why I have that view.
In fact, we once woke up to find a large alligator in the swimming pool of another resort in Florida (not Disney) many years ago. No one was hurt and it was removed without incident, but things like this do happen.
Sadly, I have heard that there are people who feed the alligators that they see and this is obviously an extremely bad idea.
All in all, however, while alligators are present in Florida, a little common sense, awareness and caution will go a long way to ensuring that you have a safe and uneventful Walt Disney World and Florida vacation. Be sure that your children know to stay away from natural bodies of water and pay attention to any warning signs. In particular, steer clear of grassy banks or weedy areas where alligators may be camouflaged.
One tragic accident is one too many. Please exercise caution.
The Finer Side of Travel™: A Luxury Disney Travel Blog