While hurricane season may have just ended, tourist season is now fully upon us. Many of us will vacation with our families, friends and clients, taking advantage of Florida’s resorts, theme parks and beaches. Snowbirds flock to Florida to enjoy hundreds of miles of a coastline that is not crusted with snow.
As the northerners arrive they look forward to relaxing warm weather on sandy beaches, sip cool cocktails and enjoy exciting nightlife. But surviving these vacations is quite another thing. That is because each is fraught with dangers for which most tourists are blithely unaware. In light of the carnage that often accompanies trips to the tropics, we offer some tips for surviving resorts, hotels and cruises:
1. Slips and falls: Don’t assume the hotel/resort/cruise ship is leaving you with a safe place to walk. People slip and fall all the time while on vacation. There were 2.5 million non-fatal falls treated in emergency rooms last year, including 250,000 hip fractures. Where do they happen and what you should watch out for? Here are a few risk areas:
- Common areas and walkways become slippery, especially when wet.
- Pools and patio areas, which naturally get wet and often do not have non-slip surfaces.
- Areas where there are changes in elevation, many without any warnings or signs.
- Substances on the floor (water, food, drinks) almost anywhere.
- Frayed or worn carpet will often catch a shoe or foot and cause a fall.
- Showers and tubs in hotels without anti-slip surfaces or mats. Some are built for looks, not safety.
2. Avoid areas where there are not a lot of people, especially at night. Criminals seek out tourists who are unfamiliar with an area. They are easy marks and perpetrators know out-of-towners are less likely to return for a prosecution even if they are caught. Never identify yourself as a tourist; take off convention badges and eliminate any telltale signs that you are from elsewhere, lest you become a target for criminals.
3. Never let your drink out of your sight. And never take drinks from strangers. Drink spiking is a very dangerous and common problem in resort areas, particularly South Florida. The perpetrator drops a drug like GHB, Ketamine or a Rohypnol (“date rape drugs”) in the drink and then he owns you. They can cause complete blacking out and amnesia. Keep your drink with you at all times, even when you use the restroom. If you realize you left your drink unattended, throw it away.
4. Stay out of the dark. When going to a club or restaurant, stay in well-lighted areas. Research has shown that criminals seek out darkness to commit their crimes. Lighting also gives the tourist the chance to see what’s in front of them and determine whether this is a place that seems safe. The same is true with falls — if you are walking somewhere and you are left to walk in a dark area, either turn around or use your cell phone flashlight to see where you are stepping. Never walk into darkness.
5. Never identify your hotel room. Today’s hotels have been taught not to even tell you your room number so someone else nearby can hear it and follow you back to your room. Instead the front desk will hand you an envelope with the room number. However, “follow-back” robberies and rapes are still way too common. Watch your surroundings when you check in.
6. Always use the inside deadbolts, chains and safety latches when you are in a hotel room. It is not unusual for a master key to fall into the wrong hands. Make sure the room door closes and latches completely. Hotel doors have a self-closing feature but they do not always close hard enough to latch. Never leave your hotel key (even the extra one) in the hotel room. Housekeeping - or someone entering the room while housekeeping is servicing the room - can take that key. Now anyone can enter your room.
7. Always use the peephole before opening the hotel room door. If you receive a call that the hotel is sending someone to your room for a repair or any other reason, call back to the front desk to confirm.
8. Cruise ships are floating cities that have no real nationality or law enforcement. Crimes aboard cruise ships can be hard to prevent or prosecute, often made more difficult by the tendency of cruise lines to push alcoholic beverages since it is a huge revenue source. Because passengers do not have to drive home, they tend to drink to excess. Inevitably it does not end well. Lesson: drink in moderation and stay away from people drinking to excess. Stay with others.
9. Engage in high-risk water sports with caution. Activities like parasailing and jet skis look fun. But for inexperienced users they can be deadly. Florida has the nation’s first parasailing law, which regulates some aspects of its safety, but don’t count on that to protect you. Jet skis can maim or kill especially when used by inexperienced riders or those who enjoy alcohol with their ride. Resorts and cruise lines often encourage tourists to do these activities because they are profitable and look exciting.
10. Swimming pools, hot tubs and beaches: Avoid diving unless you are experienced and very familiar with the depth and facility. Each year many vacationers return home with serious spinal cord injuries from diving into shallow pools or hot tubs. Be careful swimming near drain covers. Many older pools do not have proper covers and swimmers have become entrapped in pool drains and drowned. Never let your children play with a pool drain of any kind. There are 10 fatal drownings in this country every day, with children 1-4 years old at greatest risk. At beaches, observe the warning signs and be aware of rip currents, which pull you out to sea. Do not fight rip currents; instead swim parallel to the shore and slowly make your way back when the current subsides. Never mix alcohol with any kind of swimming, and never swim alone.
A resort vacation can be one of the greatest respites for travelers. But there are dangerous risks as well. Tourists must take responsibility for their own safety if they want to assure themselves of returning home safely. When that doesn’t happen, we use the civil justice system to hold accountable those who cause the injury. But as they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a whole courthouse of cure.
By John Elliott Leighton
Leighton Law, P.A.
Miami & Orlando
South Florida Legal Guide 2016 Edition