Disney disaster


Q: In May 2002, my husband and two daughters went on a seven-day land/sea Disney vacation for our 10th wedding anniversary. On the morning before we set sail, we went to the Animal Kingdom. We headed straight to Kali River Rapids since it usually has a long line.

As we approached the final turn leading to the point of exit, I noticed an elderly woman in a raft ahead of us who couldn’t get out. Two Disney employees were trying to help her. Suddenly our raft was stopped dead in the water by a pipe. The force of the stop was astonishing. My left thigh was bleeding where the safety belt had dug into me from the impact. My neck was sore, but I took a non-aspirin pain killer and didn’t give it much thought.

The next morning on the Disney Wonder, I literally couldn’t get out of bed. I was doubled over in pain – it hurt all the way up and down my back. I took more painkillers. I took hot showers. I tried to keep moving for the sake of our long-awaited trip, but I had trouble getting to the seated position and staying there for any period of time. That night, the back spasms started. No amount of painkillers could stop them. At that point, I visited the ship’s doctor and filed an incident report.

We tried to make the best of it, but in truth our trip was ruined. We did not disembark in Nassau; every step I took caused back spasms. Castaway Cay in the Bahamas was beautiful but I was miserable. I couldn’t even get in those hammocks I’d dreamt about. The doctor prescribed Tylenol with codeine, which took the edge off the pain but killed the trip and made me sick.

I saw my own physician several times after arriving home. Besides the back spasms, I had also suffered from whiplash and my abdomen was so distended I had to have CAT scans which determined that my colon was twisted, likely from the force of the ride. I spent the next three months on muscle relaxants, painkillers and with physical therapists.

I am an active, athletic 45-year-old woman. I don’t bump and bruise easily. I have been over this a thousand times in my head and I’m sure that this was the result of some emergency procedure related to the woman not being able to get off the raft and the sudden stopping of our raft. If in the normal course of the ride people were bleeding from impact I’m sure something would have been done.

I was surprised that there was no follow-up on the incident report that I filed. I tried on two occasions to call Disney but was unable to get to the correct department. We had taken trip insurance through the cruise line but we couldn’t find anyone who could tell us if this was a covered event. I would like Disney to allow us to repeat our trip, minus the raft ride. Can you help me?

— Barbara Corey

A: It’s bad enough that you saved your hard-earned money for a Disney vacation you never got to enjoy. But the company’s lack of response adds insult to injury. First Mickey takes your money. Then he roughs you up. Now he won’t return your calls. What gives?

I asked Disney representative Marilyn Waters to look into your case. She apologized for the lack of a timely response – normally Disney’s guest-claims office gets back to you within a day, not a year – and speculated that your grievance wasn’t handled because you contacted the cruise line instead of the theme park. Separate departments, she says. “If guests do not hear from us in a timely manner, we would certainly encourage them to call us,” she added.

That’s easier said than done. You did call Disney, but couldn’t get through to a real person.

Disney didn’t dispute your account of the ill-fated raft ride. But it insisted its attractions are not dangerous. Waters told me safety was a “top priority” and that theme park takes great care in designing, building, testing and maintaining its attractions. So what didhappened? Disney wouldn’t say.

Fortunately, there was a paper trail to follow, starting with the incident report you filed on the ship. Waters asked a guest-claims representative to revisit your file, which started a due-diligence process of determining the extent of your injuries. After several weeks of back-and-forth between the company, you, and your doctors, Disney agreed to refund you $3,842, which represents five days of the vacation you missed, plus medical expenses.

Disney also demanded that you sign a non-disclosure agreement which precluded you from discussing the terms of your settlement with me, which, for the record, you signed – but not before telling me about the deal.

Interestingly, a few days after addressing your grievance, Disney introduced a new campaign called “Wild About Safety,” which is billed as “an entertaining educational program that uses two of Disney’s most popular characters – Timon and Pumbaa from The Lion King – to educate guests about resort safety in a fun and uniquely Disney way.”

Any time a theme-park attraction draws blood, it’s a big deal. You were correct to file an incident report, but you shouldn’t have waited until you boarded the ship. A thorough check-up might have revealed the extent of your injuries and made it easier to process your grievance.

For a big-ticket vacation like yours, I would also recommend buying travel insurance through a third party. The policy you purchased through Disney was difficult to make a claim on and expired a year from the date of your travel.