One of the more enjoyable perks of working as a PI in sunny Orlando is the inevitability of having to follow someone into one of our famous theme parks. While my friends are stuck coding in cubicles, I text them fun pictures of me getting paid to walk around a major theme park (I like to think they appreciate them). Just last year alone, I found myself following enough people into various Disney World & Universal parks that I finally sprung for an annual pass, because losing them at the gate while they go right in but you’re stuck in line buying a day pass equals a tough day of surveillance. Ideally, it would be super cool if they gave you some sort of heads up! Like leaving their house in mouse ears with a big banner saying “we’re going to the parks today.” But of course that never happens, and a good PI should always be prepared for anything. The first time I followed someone into a theme park, I’m not gonna lie, it was just miserable. It was the middle of summer, I regretfully wore flip-flops on surveillance, and I had just seconds to shove as much cameras, extra batteries, and miscellaneous gear into a draw-string gym bag (which will chafe the shoulders pretty fiercely after a long day of walking) and catch my subject before they got onto a tram for the theme park. I suffered through and got the goods, but at the end of that day, dehydrated with blistered feet, I vowed to make myself a theme park kit, so I would be better prepared the next time! Which comically came about 2 weeks later…
Now as a professional investigator in Florida, I always keep in the back of my vehicle various “go-bags” for common scenarios that arise during any given day of insurance fraud surveillance. Most importantly, I have a gym bag with work-out clothes, towel, and sneakers (when your subject is claiming severe neck and back issues, you better believe the client wants every second of possible video showing what they are doing in a gym). And of course, living in Florida, I always keep a beach kit (towels, sunscreen, swim trunks, chair, and boonie hat) that keeps me prepared and unburnt when the subject wants to spend hours on the beach, as they are often want to do. And I gotta tell you, there’s nothing quite like being prepared. Call it a leftover habit from my time in the Marine Corps, but I must say, I was pretty comfortable that day on Clearwater Beach (Above), it just needed a margarita and a little Jimmy Buffet. But I digress…
So when it came time to prepare yet another gear bag, containing all the lessons learned from my first 6-hour-plus day at Disney World, I methodically thought through and pulled items that I now consider indispensable to such a surveillance. I have used it at least a half-dozen times since, and oh buddy, does it make things so much easier.
The first item I picked up was a hydration back-pack. I found this one by ASICS at the Premier Outlets in Orlando. Sure it’s meant for runners but I like to think a long day walking around a theme park is sort of like a marathon. This item was perfect for the job! It has multiple pockets, so in the big back pocket I could fill with essential items like my full-size camera, extra batteries, phone charger. Next I purchased items to fill it with that I thought would come in handy at at theme park, like a rain jacket or poncho, a travel tube of sunscreen, and some pre-packaged won’t-melt-in-the-sun snacks like nuts and protein bars. In addition to having a comfortable shoulder straps, a large pouch, and hydration system, what really made this pack useful were the small shoulder strap pockets. These provided a perfect place for my front-facing action camera (left, Re by HTC), a nice hands-free, smartphone-controlled camera which just works perfect when following your claimant throughout the park, and even better, sitting behind them on rides and rollercoasters (just make sure you end up on the same ride car). With this kit fully packed, you just fill your water pouch up at the first water fountain you can and you are set for the day!
So these days, when I see my subject take the exit to drive onto a resort property I just reach behind my seat and start grabbing all the gear I’ll need for the day and start tucking it into the bag, that way as soon as they park, I’m out of my car and right behind them so I don’t lose them going into the main gate! And let me stress the importance of this! Because have you ever tried to find someone at a theme park? I have. Twice. And it sucks! (Hence my purchasing annual passes, because in both cases they already had passes and walked right in, while I had to get in line to purchase a single day pass). If you can’t be right behind them when they enter, or you lose them, you have no choice but to circle the main walk path over and over again, knowing they could very well be in a line for a ride you just walked passed, until luck or kismet put you two in the same area at the same time, which happened to me both times. It may take hours, but stick to the strategy and stay vigilant (If you have a FitBit on, it will vibrate your praise! But ignore that mess, you’ve got a claimant to find!) And you better have memorized what they were wearing! Say it again over and over in your head while you’re walking until it becomes subconscious (I actually still remember mine, Yankee’s cap, Hawaiian shirt, tan shorts, calve-high socks, Nike’s). So if you stick to the plan, and the surveillance gods are in your favor, and you relocate them, you better make sure you never let them out of your sight again! Wanna go grab a quick soda? Nope. That’s what the water pack is for. You eat when they eat. You drink when they drink. Ditto on the bathroom breaks. They’re on vacation. You’re not!
But if you plan ahead, and prepare for the unexpected, whether in Orlando, or other areas where such parks exists, you can be in for a fun, exciting–and even comfortable–day of surveillance. You’ll turn in hours of great video that will have your boss or clients singing your praise, and if you’re lucky, they’ll keep you in mind for similar cases in the future. Because, after all, aren’t the best days on the jobs the ones spent out of the car? And I can’t think of a more challenging and rewarding day of work then the days I’ve successfully followed my subject around a theme park, and made my friends all jealous with pics while doing so.
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