I hestitated to write about this because I didn't want to contribute in any way to the rumors of "rampant" stroller theft at Disney World, but as a mom who goes to Disney with small children, my curiosity got the better of me: Was there a growing problem with stroller theft at Disney World? Anecdotally, there seemed to be more posts showing up on Disney boards in the last few months where posters reported that they personally had been, or knew someone who had been, a victim of stroller theft. So I decided to find out for myself it stroller theft was really a problem or if it was just an internet rumor with legs.
What did I find? Well, very little. None of the local news outlets seem to have picked up on the story, nor have their been excessive warnings on any travel sites that deal with Disney, which leads me to believe it's not very common to lose a stroller in the parks. I did find this well-written blog post by a father whose stroller was stolen recently, but not much else. What I did find was more word of mouth on message boards, the rumors about "rings" of criminals stalking higher-end strollers at Disney parks and doing a fast turnaround on Craigslist or the occasional story about the frustrated parent who "borrows" someone's stroller for the day. Of course, there were also people who reported their stroller stolen only to find out it had been moved by a cast member to make room for other strollers.
I'm not sure if this means that stroller theft is any more or less of a problem as it has been in past years or if the ability to post and discuss such incidences on message boards makes it seem like a bigger issue than it is. Regardless, it's important to keep it all in perspective. There are literally thousands of strollers being pushed around Disney World on any given day. A good chunk, if not all, of those strollers will spend at least some time unattended while the owner visits an attraction or is eating. And the vast majority of those strollers will stay put until the owner comes to claim them.
One thing all of these reports had in common was the feeling that it shouldn't happen at Disney. "It's the happiest place on earth", they joked. How could someone go to a theme park and just ruin someone else's vacation? Others chimed in with safety tips, cautioning others not to "let your guard down" just because it's Disney. Solid advice, of course. But here's the thing. I don't let my guard down at Disney. What I do is, in some ways, worse: I give up my cynical side, I step back and believe in the magic. You see that all the time at Disney, people who in their real lives are jaded or very serious losing themselves in the "show" that's taking place around them. And if you do that and something bad happens, well, it's a lot more disappointing than if something happens at your local mall, even if it isn't Disney's fault. Perhaps this too contributes to the feeling that theft is more common than it actually is.
I think my research indicates that it's still extremely rare to have your stroller stolen while at Disney World. Nonetheless, on my next trip, I'm falling into the better safe than sorry category. A few ideas for keeping your stroller safe:
1. Buy a lock specifically made for strollers.
2. Pull the "disgusting bag of something" trick as noted in some guide books. Basically, the idea is that you tie a plastic bag with a fake "dirty" diaper in it to your stroller handle. Thieves run away screaming! Well, that's the idea, anyway.
3. Buy an inexpensive (possibly used) stroller; donate it after the trip. You'll help a mom in need and get a small tax deduction.
4. Rent/swap a stroller. Some Disney message boards have "stroller swaps" where members swap out the same stroller over and over. It requires little effort other than ensuring that you deliver or leave the stroller at the appointed place and time for the next swapper. Most boards require that these swaps take place without money changing hands, although some swaps ask for small donations to keep the strollers in good repair. You can also rent a stroller from Disney or from an off-site stroller rental. Keep in mind that if you rent from Disney, your stroller is for in-park use only. If you have a child that can't walk long distances back to the parking lot, you might want to bring your own or rent one from off site. If you rent off site, read the fine print regarding your responsibility in the event of theft; some companies will allow you to purchase insurance at around $25 for the length of the rental.
5. One mom on a Disney message board had this clever trick: She made an iron-on patch with her family's name and photo on it and ironed it right on the stroller. Others laminated nameplates and attached them with zip ties. The latter seems like it would be an especially good deterrent for the "casual" stroller thief who "borrows" your stroller for the day.
In this economy, it shouldn't be a surprise that unscrupulous people will try to make an easy buck any place strollers are left unattended, not just Disney. While stroller thefts are highly unusual, a few precautions should ensure that your stroller stays with you.