A British family has told of their terror after being ‘chased’ by an alligator at a luxury Disney World hotel – just weeks before a toddler was attacked at the same resort.
Carl and Karen Davies, from Liverpool, were sitting on the beach at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort in Florida with their two young children when the huge gator appeared.
As they prepared to watch the nearby Magic Kingdom’s late-night fireworks display, the couple’s eight-year-old daughter heard a ‘jet ski’-like sound on the water.
Moments later, they saw an enormous, dark shape ‘lurch’ out of the lagoon in front of them – as a Canadian family to the left of them screamed, ‘Alligator!’.
Frightened for their lives, Carl, 34, and Karen, 37, sprinted across the sand in the ‘pitch black’ with their 10-year-old son and daughter, who was in floods of tears.
They fortunately got away without any injuries, although the couple’s little girl was too scared to go to the beach for the remainder of their two-week holiday.
The family’s terrifying experience in April came just two months before an American toddler was dragged into the same Seven Seas Lagoon by an alligator last night.
Police in Orlando are still searching for the missing two-year-old, whose horrified dad frantically tried to wrestle the gator off him as he was taken away in its jaws.
Speaking exclusively to the Mirror Online today, Carl described how he and his family had visited the Polynesian Village Resort to view the extravagant fireworks display.
Despite staying in a local villa, he said he and his family were able to freely walk on to the hotel’s beach and sit on the sand – as anyone who has a valid driving licence can.
“We visited the Disney Polynesian resort because we were told you can get a great view of the Magic Kingdom from the beach,” said the litigation executive.
“My wife, our two children and I were sitting on the edge of the beach on the walkway kerb to watch the show when my daughter said, ‘What’s that noise?’.”
Carl said the youngster, who was playing in the sand next to them, told her mum, ‘there’s something in the water’, but they initially dismissed her fears.
“It sounded like a jet ski in the water,” said the dad-of-two, describing how there was a sign telling tourists not to swim in the lagoon, but no warning about alligators.
“We sat there for a while longer and dismissed her concern. The next thing, a Canadian family sitting a little way up ran over and shouted, ‘Alligator!’.
“It was directly in front of us, around 40 feet away. It lurched out of the water and we had to run. It was pitch black with no lighting on the actual beach section.
“Our daughter was screaming, she was petrified.”
He added: “[The alligator] was quite big, at least four-foot-long. It’s quite scary to think that anyone with a driving licence can pull up to the resort.”
Carl said the gator eventually ‘slipped back into the water’ as he and his family sprinted away from the lagoon, also overlooked by Disney’s five-star Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.
“We decided to call it a night given that it was unsafe,” he said. “The Canadians caught a security man on a golf cart and told him about the incident. Then we left for our villa.”
Carl said his family’s heart-stopping experience occurred shortly after the fireworks began at 10pm on April 5 – just days after they flew out to Florida from their home in Childwall.
He said he and his wife clapped eyes on the massive gator at around the same time as the Canadians to the left of them alerted them to the creature.
“We realised at the same time,” he told the Mirror Online. “You questioned yourself, but when you focused on the nose you found yourself asking, ‘What the bloody hell is that?'”
He added that his daughter refused to go on the beach after the incident, and continuously asked her parents of other tourist spots: “Will there be an alligator there?”
“She wouldn’t step foot on the beach again,” he said.
Remarkably, the family saw another, much smaller gator on a golf course just a few days later – but this time, they were a safe distance from the creature.
Carl said he is sharing their story as a warning to other parents visiting Orlando this summer, which seen a number of tragedies in recent days.
He said that until it happened to him, he wouldn’t have expected a gator to lunge out of the water at a hotel where many guests are children who can’t ‘no swimming’ signs.
It comes as search and rescue teams continue to search the Seven Seas Lagoon for the missing tot, who he was attacked by the gator shortly before 9.30pm yesterday (2.30am today UK time).
The two-year-old boy was paddling on the shore of the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa when the creature suddenly attacked.
His parents watched in terror as the reptile clenched its jaws around him, before pulling him into the lagoon.
In a desperate bid to save the toddler’s life, his dad dashed into the shallow water and tried to wrestle him from the gator, leaving him with cuts on his hands.
Tragically, his efforts to rescue his son were not successful, the Orlando Sentinel reports.
The toddler’s mum – believed to have been playing with him at the time of the tragedy – also dived in the water in panic, according to the New York Daily News.
But she, too, was forced to watch the gator retreat into the lagoon with the little boy in its jaws.
More than 50 people, including wildlife officials, have been involved in the search effort, while a diving team is on standby, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said.
“As a father, as a grandfather, we are going to hope for the best,” he said.
“These circumstances, based upon my 35 years of law enforcement experience, we know we have some challenges ahead.”
The reptile, said to be up to seven feet long, grabbed the youngster near the Victorian-style Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, a popular Disney destination with Brits.
It is believed the tot was playing in around a foot of water with his mum – while his dad and two siblings were on the shore – when the drama unfolded.
“The father entered the water and tried to grab the child and was not successful in doing so. The mother also may have been in the water,” Mr Demings told WESH.com.
“The parents diligently tried to get the child.”
A number of people, including a lifeguard, witnessed the horrific gator attack, which took place as hotel guests watched the film Zootopia near the beach.
Police arrived at the scene of the attack after receiving a 911 call at 9.21pm. They quickly began searching for the toddler and cordoned off the area around the lagoon.
The little boy, who is yet to be identified, was on holiday with his parents and siblings at the time of the tragedy.
The family, from Nebraska, US, were reportedly staying at the hotel and had checked in on Sunday.
The Grand Floridian Resort & Spa is a high end luxury resort at Walt Disney World Resort.
Owned by Disney, it is one of three hotels – including the Polynesian Village Resort – linked by the park’s monorail line and just one stop away from the Magic Kingdom Park.
The venue, which boasts a luxurious spa, a beach pool, a cinema and a 181-foot-long waterslide, overlooks the Seven Seas Lagoon.
It also allows guests to watch films ‘under the stars’. Alongside Zooptopia, other available films include Star Wards, Tangled and Teen Beach Movie.
On its website, Disney says: “Whether on the beach, poolside or surrounded by Floridian woodlands, enjoy relaxing evening entertainment that’s fun for the whole family.”
In January, a massive alligator was pictured lazing on the shore of the lagoon, where ‘no swimming’ signs are posted.
And just two weeks ago, another creature – possibly the same one – was spotted gliding through the water.
Many visitors to the area have described seeing gators in and around the lagoon.
Hotel guest A.J. Jain and his family were visiting Disney from Georgia at the time that the toddler was dragged into the water by the gator.
He told the Sentinel that he and his children were playing on the beach near the scene of the incident earlier yesterday.
He said: “I’m just here to say a prayer.
“I can’t imagine what those parents are going through. It’s been one tough week in Orlando.”
With sweltering heat and the magic of Mickey Mouse, the area was the most popular destination for Brits last year.
Orlando is a magnet for families thanks to Walt Disney World and other attractions seeing almost one million UK visitors in the past 12 months.
A Walt Disney Company spokesman said resort employees were ‘devastated’ by the tragedy
Speaking at a press conference this morning, they said: “Everyone here at Walt Disney World Resort is devastated by this tragic accident.
“Our thoughts are with the family and we are helping the family and doing everything we can to assist them.”
The tragedy is the latest to strike Orlando after singer Christine Grimmie was shot dead at a concert meet-and-greet and 50 others were gunned down at a gay club in the city.
However, it is not the first gator attack at a Disney World hotel.
In October 1986, an eight-year-old boy was hospitalised after being attacked by one of the reptiles at the company’s Fort Wilderness hotel in Orlando.
Paul Santamaria, from Bristol, New Hampshire, escaped without serious injury after his older sister pulled him out of the seven-foot-long creature’s grip.
He was treated by medics for cuts to his thigh, knee and leg, the Sentinel reports.