by Susan Carver
Law Enforcement Officer
Everyone loves to go on vacation but sometimes when we get to our destination, we forget the small things. Most of these tips are common sense but some of these are regional problems to Central Florida.
Disney, Universal, and Sea World have all been here for a while; they are not going to pack up shop and leave before you get there. Slow down - obey the speed limit, wear your seat belt (it is the law in Florida), turn your headlights on when it's raining, do not text or tweet and drive and keep your doors locked while traveling. Get your family there safely. You traveled all this way so make sure during the last few minutes of your journey you do not get caught up in unsafe behaviors while driving that put you or others in danger. If you get caught speeding you will most likely get a speeding ticket, especially on Disney property. The fines for speeding start well over $100 and move upward for every 10 miles over the speed limit - this is not a way to start your vacation and this is not something you want to have to spend vacation money on.
Do not buy tickets from Internet sites such as Ebay or Craigslist. The same goes for all those little ticket stands you see lining the highways, or anyone claiming you can get "such a great deal!" Most of these tickets have already had one or more days used on them, making them illegal tickets per Florida State Statute 817.361. Buy your tickets from the park or from your tour operator or travel club.
Once you get to the parking lot at the theme parks - turn off the car. Seems silly but it happens. Visitors sometimes get so excited they forget to turn off the car. They see the parking lot tram coming and jump out of the car to catch it - the trams run ALL DAY. Another will be along in a few minutes.
Take time to turn off your car, gather your stuff, make a note of where you parked your vehicle and secure your vehicle. Do not bring valuables with you to the park and then leave them in the car. If you can avoid it, do not bring them at all. Leave valuables in your hotel room safe, take them into the park with you, or as a last resort, hide them in your car but do the hiding before you get to the theme park parking lot you are visiting. When you leave your car no matter where you are or how long you are gone, do not leave cameras, GPS units, purses, bags, computers, iPads, iPods, wallets, keys, etc, in sight. This makes you an easy target.
If you are going to a water park, do not think that it is safe to leave your car unlocked and hide the keys so you do not have to carry them around all day. Get a locker or carry them with you. While inside the parks, do not leave personal things hanging on your strollers while you are enjoying an attraction.
It may surprise you but criminals come to Florida on vacation as well, so do not be an easy target for them. If the crooks see you putting your MacBook Pro in the trunk before you jump on the tram, they may find that so irresistible they might take an afternoon stroll to the parking lot to take that from your car. Cute souvenir items left on a stroller can also be irresistible to criminals who could be watching you as you enter an attraction then take your stuff while you are inside.
Review the floor plan when you get to your room. A few minutes to figure out the quickest way to leave the building can be invaluable in an emergency. Always use the dead bolt when you are in your room. Do not throw the security latch outside your door while you run to get ice. Use your in-room safe to store your valuables.
Be especially wary of unsolicited business flyers left in or under your door. Disney and most other hotels and resorts have NO SOLICITING policies so these flyers were left in your room by trespassers. Always check with the hotel about the validity of any flyer left in your room, especially if they require a credit card number.
While at the pool, do not leave valuables unattended.
Most people shop while they are here visiting. Central Florida has some wonderful shopping malls and outlet shopping centers. Some visitors buy big-ticket items such as Apple products, computers, etc. When you go shopping, do not take your purchases to the car and secure them then go back into the mall or shopping center to continue shopping. Keep your stuff with you until you have made your last stop and you are going back to your hotel room. If you just bought a iPad, a laptop, an Xbox 360, a GPS, a TV or anything else and you take it to your car, lock it up and go back into the mall or the shopping center, you are setting yourself up to be a crime victim. Criminals watch the stores that sell the merchandise they want to steal. They watch you make the purchases and go lock it up in the car. They know you do not want to lug it around with you so they know your next stop is the car. You might be thinking that you will be smarter than the crooks and move your car to another parking place in the parking lot - that is not enough to thwart these thieves. They will watch you and as soon as you leave your car unattended, they hit the car and are gone with your stuff.
Another issue is when you really do leave the store after you just bought that new top-of-the-line laptop at Best Buy or the Apple Store. You secure your items in the trunk of your car then you bee-bop over to a mall, for example, the Mall of Millennia or the Florida Mall - both very close to Best Buy stores. You feel pretty confident your stuff will be there when you come back. Most likely yes it will be, however, Central Florida has had a number of victims whose cars were broken into after buying big ticket items and heading to another store; they were obviously followed. This is not a rampant problem but it has happened multiple times so do not let it happen to you. Keep someone in the car with the stuff or go back to your hotel room to unload the items before continuing your shopping.
If you see anything suspicious, do not hesitate to call 911. I cannot tell you how many times I hear "I'm sorry to bother you," when I respond to a suspicious person call that a citizen or tourist calls in on the 911 line. We do not mind you calling. That is our job. I would much rather you call in to 911 and us get out there to investigate and/or scare away a potential criminal than to take a report because someone has been victimized. So, call 911. We like to catch criminals.
So what should you do if you become a victim? Call 911 to report the crime. Do not wait until you go home. Crimes must be reported in the jurisdiction in which they occur. While you are waiting for an officer to come out to take a report, gather information he or she will need, serial numbers if you have them and your insurance information. If any of your credit cards or checking account information was stolen, call your bank and cancel those accounts immediately. If your checkbook was stolen, call your bank and advise them what happened so they can close your account. A good idea before you leave home is to make copies of your drivers license or passport and write down the account numbers and telephone numbers of your credit cards and keep that information separate from your wallet or purse. In case you do become a victim you can easily cancel your accounts and you will have temporary identification to show airport officials or your consulate that can help you obtain a new passport.
In the tourist areas of Central Florida, crime is overall very low. It is a safe and fun place to be at all hours of the day and night. However, you must do your part to remain vigilant and follow these simple suggestions to keep you and your family from becoming a victim and having your dream vacation ruined.