What you need to know about security procedures at Orlando’s theme parks

by on August 17, 2016 23 Comments

Filed under: Recent News, Trip Planning, Universal Orlando Resort, Walt Disney World (FL)

Orlando’s theme parks have enjoyed a decades long reputation for providing a clean and safe environment for all guests. Over the years the theme parks’ security procedures have evolved, adding layers and new processes. In the past few months we’ve seen a significant change to all the major theme parks’ procedures. In hopes of helping you prepare for your visit, I’ve laid out some of the security measures you can expect to encounter.

Keep in mind, there are multiple layers of security at all the parks. There are efforts that go unseen and procedures we don’t know about. Additionally, out of respect for the theme parks, their staff members, and their security, I won’t go beyond what is already shared with the public and easily seen when visiting the parks.

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Walt Disney World – Four Main Theme Parks

The Most Magical Place on Earth can’t hold such a title without having some solid security procedures in place. At the beginning of the year it was standard that all of Orlando’s theme parks conduct a bag check on any guest who had any bag of any kind, including strollers. Then a few months ago all three of Orlando’s major theme park destinations installed metal detectors at the security checkpoint. The rollout process and ramp up period varied for each destination.

Walt Disney World has proceeded with using their metal detectors for random checks. Although every single guest will go through a more-thorough-than-ever bag screening process, not every guest is asked to go through a metal detector. After the bag screening guests are selected at random to go through the detectors.

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The metal detectors are off to the side and are manned by a group of Security Cast Members. I have been selected multiple times. Each time the Cast Members have been very courteous and it has only added a minute or two to my ability to get to the park entrance. You may also notice law enforcement personnel at a few posts throughout the front entrance area, as well.

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Disney’s official park rules can be found here. Some of the highlights include statements that all persons, bags, parcels, and clothing are subject to screening, as well as stating that they reserve the right to not allow any item they deem inappropriate into the premises.

Guest that do not have bags have a separate area they can go through to bypass the bag screening area, but they are still subject to random metal detector screenings.

Of all the theme parks, you will most likely find that Walt Disney World’s screen process takes the least amount of time. Still if you arrive to the parks right around their opening time, be prepared for an extensive line at the checkpoints. It’s one of the reasons that we recommend arriving 30-60 minutes before any park’s opening time.

Disney Water Parks and Disney Springs

Currently, there are no metal detectors at Disney’s two water parks nor Disney Springs. At the water parks there is a bag screening, though not very extensive. There is no screening at Disney Springs, though there is a strong security and law enforcement presence.

Universal Orlando

Here you will find the most extensive screening process–and perhaps the most talked about process. Every guest will go through metal detector and all bags go through an x-ray machine. When you first approach the security checkpoint it really does resemble being at the airport. This security checkpoint is for all guests regardless of if you are visiting the theme parks or just CityWalk.

I have a slight concern with the location of this checkpoint, though it is difficult to think of an alternative location. During peak time, especially first thing in the morning, this domed area is extremely crowded. It can sometimes be an uncomfortable experience and when that feels like a bad bottle neck situation.

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Universal Team Members who park in the main parking structure must also go through the same screening area, though they have a dedicated separate lane. A few friends of mine that go through this process on a daily basis have expressed concerns with some of the interactions they’ve encountered with Security personnel, as well as encounters they’ve observed with guests.  I have had mostly good experiences, though there have been some rare occasion to the contrary.

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If you head to CityWalk and the theme parks by walking along the garden walks from Hard Rock Hotel / Portofino Bay or Cabana Bay / Sapphire Falls / Royal Pacific you will come to a bag check and metal detector before entering the CityWalk area. Universal Orlando has also recently filed permits to install metal detectors at the resort boat docks as well. We can anticipate these metal detectors to be in place very soon.

SeaWorld

The procedure here is somewhat a hybrid of what takes place at Walt Disney World and at Universal Orlando. While Universal uses metal detectors and x-ray machines for all guests and their belongings, SeaWorld used a manned bag check with Security Crew Members before sending each guest through a metal detector.

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Screening every guest presents a challenge for SeaWorld because of how the front entrance is designed. In essence it is not big enough to handle all the extra activity. Anytime I have visited before 12:30 PM I have waited about 10-15 minutes to go through the bag check and metal detector. Thankfully once inside SeaWorld you will find a relaxed and lovely park.

Guest that do not have bags have a separate lane they can go through to bypass the bag screening area, but they are still subject to metal detector screenings.

Tips for all guests

  • Have all bags, parcels, etc unzipped, opened, and off your body before you reach the Security staff member
  • Make sure all kids are out of any strollers so that the Security staff members can more easily check your stroller
  • Any item that can possibly be considered a weapon is subject to removal, including pocket knives – even if they are smaller than the cuttlery found inside many on property restaurants
  • Selfie sticks are not allowed inside Walt Disney World’s theme parks and will be confiscated and returned to guests via Guest Relations
  • Remove all items from your pockets before going through the metal detectors
  • Keep your eye on your items as you go through the metal detector so you can retrieve these items quickly
  • Once through the detector keep moving forward so the person behind you can quickly pass through
  • If you need a few moments to reconfigure your belongings, or your family, please step aside so other guests can proceed ahead

It should also be noted that many security personal have metal detecting wands and you may be subject to being “wanded.” This can be done at random in lieu of going through the metal detector or in addition to the regular detector if deemed necessary. Furthermore, some security personnel are sensitive to photographs being taken in the security checkpoint area. Many guests have expressed concern with lack of signage and unclear official policy with regard to photography in the area.

The most important tip of all, something that I as an Orlando resident and frequent theme park visitor ask of you, is to be observant. If you see anything at all that concerns you, say something. Sure, you should alert security or any staff member, but more importantly call this number: 1-855-FLA-SAFE (1-855-352-7233). Please save this number in your phone.

Be alert and observant, and by reading this information I hope I have helped you feel more prepared. You’re visiting the most exciting, most fun vacation destination on the planet. Relax and enjoy your time in the parks!

 

Posted on August 17, 2016

23 Responses to “What you need to know about security procedures at Orlando’s theme parks”

  • by Brian McNichols on August 17, 2016, at 9:09 am EDT

    I will also add that the Disneyland Resort is very similar to Walt Disney World: thorough bag check and maybe a metal detector. If bag check lines aren’t really backed up everyone goes through a metal detector, if they are it turns into a random metal detector trip.

  • As a Canadian, I was much more comfortable inside Universal where I know every guest has gone through the metal detector than I was at Disney. During my visit in May I would frequently find myself thinking “Any of these people could be carrying a gun right now” whether I was at Disney Springs, The Swan, the grocery store, or the outlet mall, and because of my personal feelings that was an unsettling thought to me. For our next trip I’m planning to spend more time at Universal partially because I feel much safer there. I’m probably one of the few people who would like everyone at Disney parks and Disney Springs to go through metal detectors. Thanks for this article, it was interesting to review how the different parks handle security.

  • We were at Universal just before Memorial Day. We were on the first bus from Cabana Bay every day, so the lines were very minimal. We just put money and granola bars in the pockets of our cargo shorts and wore our passes on lanyards. It was incredibly fast and easy.

    When our kids were little and we did Disney, we needed more stuff with us. We carried a cheap, see-through plastic backpack and the security check people loved it. They still went through it, but it was so much easier for them to see what they were doing. That also helped speed the process.

  • On my July trip, we had to go through security screening just to ride the monorail at Epcot, after arriving by bus from our resort. It was our arrival day, and we weren’t entering Epcot or any other park, just doing free things like riding monorails and watercraft. At first I thought it was a bit much (just a monorail, not a park!) but then I reasoned it’s probably fair game for them to do that. We were bagless (just things in pockets), so it was quick, even if DH had to do the random metal detector.

  • I was surprised when a friend who went in July mentioned the metal detectors since they weren’t in place yet when we were there in March, but I really don’t blame any of the parks, particularly in Orlando, for the increase in security.

  • I like to carry a SMALL pocket knife and whittle while I’m standing in lines of the various attractions. This was rejected at Cedar Point this summer. It was allowed in the Air Force Museum in Dayton, OH. How do the Disney parks handle small pocket knives … are they considered weapons?

    • Yes, all of Orlando’s theme parks do not allow anything that resembles a weapon including pocket knives.

    • I carry a pocket knife daily and sometimes forget to leave it at home when we go to Disney. I know I had it returned to me once when I went through the metal detectors. Was a little surprised.

  • I am glad to see the extra security measures at the theme parks. I am totally OK with the trade off of more time in security line for more safety inside the park. I would feel better if Disney had even stricter security – metal detectors for all, bag x-ray, etc. I especially worry about Disney Springs. Maybe (hopefully) they have things in place that we don’t know about & are monitoring more closely than I realize. My family goes to Disney World once or twice a year, and I have to admit security is something I do think about now. We all know an iconic destination like Disney World is probably a target for the crazies.

  • Any idea how those with artificial hips and knees that contain metal will be handled? I know my hip absolutely will set off the metal detector. What happens then???

    • Hi Laura,

      Most likely a Security person will ask you to step aside and they will use the handheld wand. It will most likely go off at the site of your artificial knees and hips. They will probably visual check those areas to verify that you are not concealing anything underneath baggy clothing or something of the like. I wouldn’t worry, this happens on an hourly basis if not more frequently, I would image. Thanks for reading!

      • Visually check a hip? How?

        • Probably just a quick look to see if your clothing is unnaturally baggy (at your hip, it shouldn’t be a problem) if your clothing is deemed baggy, they may have a female security guard give a quick pat down of the area. Same as the TSA would, but probably much quicker. My fiancé got a TSA pat down last trip, and they did very careful and very slow motions. We still don’t know what set off the detector, he didn’t have anything on him.
          I imagine they’ll be able to tell you aren’t canceling anything and wave you through. I’m sure they encounter artificial parts quite often!

        • They visually check that it is your hip and not a gun holster at your hip that is setting off the detector.

  • Personally, I think this is a huge amount of security theater, designed to make you ‘feel’ safer but not accomplish much. The fact that in Disney the metal detectors are random selection throws huge holes into the plan. It is wasted money, if they want things which are more useful, spend that cash on more trained dogs/handlers, more cameras and better emergency services.

    • Anything under 3 inches will not be confiscated or asked to be stored

    • Absolutely, it is security theater. Disney’s real security is generally unseen, carefully observing the crowd via camera, and officers ready to deploy anywhere in the park in an instant. If you’ve ever seen how quickly they deal with a shoplifter, you have a vague idea of what’s under the surface.
      The visible security theater is to make people feel safe enough that they don’t change their plans.

    • I don’t feel any greater risk at WDW than in my regular life.

      It wouldn’t make sense for security to be so blatantly obvious inside the park that guests cannot escape the idea. Big Bro is the way to go with facial recognition logs for known threats & tracking suspicious behaviors. I’d love to see a platoon of storm troopers surface from the tunnels to snatch a shop-lifter, lol.

      • Few years ago I saw a kid snatch a fist full of pins from the pin center at Epcot and run, he made it about 30 feet. The goof-stahpo were on him in seconds, trussed him up and led him off into the crowd in less than a minute, very efficient.

    • That’s pretty much it. All done by the legal and marketing team.

  • by Angela from Ohio on August 18, 2016, at 7:00 am EDT

    When traveling with children, we put the spare set of clothes (1), snacks (2), activities for lines (3), and first aid items (4) in the extra large 2.5 gallon ziploc clear bags. These can be quickly grabbed from under the stroller or taken out of the book bag for security to check without items getting lost.

  • I appreciate what Disney is doing with security, but they should stop saying they are randomly selecting people to go through metal detectors. Just pointing at every few people is not a valid method for random selection. The human brain seeks out patterns and does not randomly select. Random selection would involve the use of a list of order of people to be selected or not as determined by a software program employing a random number generator. Until they do that, we are subject to human biases in the selection process. They should just stop saying it is random when it is not.