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Disney World will post signs warning of gators

Disney World will post signs warning of gators

Two days after an alligator attack that killed a toddler, Walt Disney World is planning to put up signs warning visitors about the reptiles that swim in its resort waterways.

Disney's resort beaches remained closed Thursday as the state's wildlife agency continued investigating the death of 2-year-old Lane Graves. An alligator snatched the toddler and dragged him into the Seven Seas Lagoon as he played along the shore at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa on Tuesday night.

His body was recovered after a 16-hour search. The Orange County Medical Examiner's Office said Thursday the cause of death was drowning and "traumatic injuries."

Since then, numerous tourists have come forward sharing stories of alligator sightings at the resort and questioning why Disney didn't do more to inform tourists about the gators. One employee said he had told management at the Grand Floridian the area should be fenced off.

Disney has "no swimming" signs along the beaches at its hotels. A source with knowledge of the situation told the Orlando Sentinel that the resort would put up more explicit signs warning about the gators. It is not certain exactly when or where they will be posted.

Disney spokeswoman Jacquee Wahler issued a statement Thursday afternoon saying, "we are conducting a swift and thorough review of all of our processes and protocols. This includes the number, placement and wording of our signage and warnings."

Father Matt Graves had tried to free his son from the gator's jaws Tuesday night near the edge of the 172-acre man-made lake. The family, including wife Melissa and the couple's 4-year-old daughter, was on vacation from Nebraska. A witness said the attack happened in less than a minute.

Disney World president George Kalogridis abruptly left festivities at the opening of Disney's new resort in Shanghai to return to Orlando after the toddler's death. Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Officer Bob Iger also has spoken with Lane's family.

Providing visitors more specific information is a good idea, Pacific Asset Management leisure analyst Bob Boyd said.

Boyd said Disney will likely step up monitoring of its gator population. And "I would expect in certain locations they'll effectively over time be fencing off and closing some off some of those areas," he said, referring to the lakefront beaches at its hotels. "I think you'll probably see more boardwalks versus beaches."

Disney stopped allowing swimming in the lagoon areas in the 1990s, Boyd said, and since then, "the role of the beaches has really diminished as far as an attraction for them. I expect that will accelerate quite a bit."

Beaches at resorts including the Grand Floridian still have featured lounge chairs and "movie nights." The Contemporary Resort advertises parasailing, personal watercraft rental and tubing on Bay Lake.

Omar Azze said he saw a small alligator in the water at Coronado Springs about a month and a half ago. Azze said he reported it to a lifeguard and a front-desk employee but was told the gators don't get trapped until they grow larger. "Everybody was so cavalier about it," he said.

One employee said there has been a problem with guests feeding gators at the resort.

This wasn't Disney's first alligator attack, although it is the first fatal one. In 1986, an alligator bit a boy at a pond at Disney's Fort Wilderness campground.

It is "reprehensible" the resort did not warn guests of alligators, said Tom Scolaro, a Miami personal-injury attorney. "I think Disney is facing considerable liability for the wrongful death of this young child and this tragedy that happened to these parents," he said.

Pete Werner is known for signing off his Disney podcasts saying "stay out of the damn lakes."

Werner said he started using that phrase after a conversation with an employee at the Polynesian Village Resort.

"These kids were out playing in the lagoon. He said to me, 'These people are crazy. … Do you have any idea what's in those lakes? We have gators, water moccasins, a lot of boats pumping all sorts of oil and gasoline into that water.'"

Still, Disney probably never expected an alligator to attack someone, he said. "I think this was more a failure of imagination than anything else."

spedicini@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5240

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