Visits to the four theme parks at the Walt Disney World Resort are supposed to be memorable experiences full of fun, childhood wonder, and excitement, but occasionally, the unthinkable happens, leaving guests who visit Disney’s Central Florida theme parks with memories that are anything but magical.
Florida is home to numerous amusement parks, theme parks, and theme park resorts, each of which features dozens of rides and attractions of various types and intensities. To ensure that those offerings are safe for guests, Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) is tasked with inspecting them on a biannual basis.
What is FDACS?
FDACS is the governing body in Florida tasked with inspecting rides and attractions at amusement parks across the Sunshine State to determine whether they are in good working order and safe for guests to enjoy.
The entity also has the authority to ” impose sanctions on amusement ride owners for violation of the law and can close and impound amusement rides that pose an immediate serious danger to public health, safety and welfare,” per the FDACS website.
Florida’s Exempt Theme Park Operators
But Florida theme park operators who employ more than 1,000 workers and have full-time inspectors on staff are exempt from onsite FDACS inspections. In place of those inspections, however, Florida’s largest theme park operators are charged with reporting incidents involving rides or attractions, guests, and at least a 24-hour hospital stay to the department.
FDACS then compiles a list of incidents on a quarterly basis and releases the information to the public in a report called the Memorandum of Understanding Exempt Facilities Report, also referred to simply as the FDACS Theme Park Injury Report.
Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, and Legoland Florida are Florida’s exempt theme park operators. As such, each operator must report injuries and other incidents to FDACS on a quarterly basis.
Criticism of the FDACS Theme Park Injury Report
The report has long been criticized for the lack of information it gives. The MOU Exempt Facilities Report serves only as a compilation of data submitted by exempt theme park operators in the state of Florida and contains only the information reported at the time an incident takes place.
Because of privacy legislation, no specific medical information, including patient outcomes, is disclosed in the report.
The FDACS reporting process is further criticized as it only includes incidents that require a 24-hour or longer hospitalization, meaning that incidents and accidents that happen at Florida’s exempt theme parks and don’t result in a 24-hour hospitalization are not reported. Further, the report does not include updates to the involved guest’s condition, meaning that a guest can have more serious injuries than initially reported, and that information will not be included in the report.
In short, critics point out a lack of reporting in the FDACS report.
2023: 38 Incidents and Accidents, Including One Death
During the 2023 calendar year, Disney World was the most dangerous theme park resort in Florida, as reported by Florida’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and based on the number of accidents and injuries involving guests at Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
As of December 31, 2023, the Disney World Resort had reported three times as many incidents as Universal Studios Orlando Resort. Over the course of the 12-month period, Disney World reported 24 total incidents at its four theme parks. Seven incidents took place at Magic Kingdom, nine incidents took place at EPCOT, six were at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom reported two incidents.
During that same time period, Universal Studios Orlando reported a total of only eight incidents.
Disney World’s reported incidents involved multiple rides and attractions. In 2023, incidents were reported at Magic Kingdom’s Pirates of the Caribbean attraction, the TRON/Lightcycle Run attraction, the Tomorrowland Speedway, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
Incidents and accidents at Magic Kingdom included loss of consciousness, a fall and fractured elbow, chest pain, abdominal pain, and episodes of feeling faint. The park also reported the most serious incident of any on the FDACS report in which a 44-year-old guest collapsed after disembarking the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad ride and later died. Per the report, the guest’s death was attributed to a “personal illness.”
EPCOT had the most reported incidents of any Disney World theme park in 2023. The nine reported incidents included seizures, a fall and fractured leg, chest pain, abdominal pain, disorientation, and feelings of faintness.
EPCOT attractions involved in the reported incidents in 2023 included Test Track, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, Frozen Ever After, Mission: SPACE, and the Seas With Nemo and Friends.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
In 2023, Disney’s Hollywood Studios reported six incidents involving guests. The incidents included feelings of disorientation, a back and neck injury, chest pains, motion sickness, and a seizure.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Disney’s Animal Kingdom only reported two incidents in 2023.
Avatar: Flight of Passage and the Kilimanjaro Safaris attraction were the only attractions with reported incidents over the 12-month period. The incidents included a seizure and stroke-like symptoms following the guests’ disembarkation from the rides.
In addition to Disney World’s 24 incidents and the eight incidents reported at Universal Studios Orlando Resort, the FDACS 2023 Theme Park Injury Report also included five incidents at SeaWorld Orlando and one incident at Busch Gardens Tampa Bay. Legoland Florida had zero reported incidents in 2023.