Thirty-five inches. Forty inches. Forty-two inches. Forty-eight inches.
Some parents might think of these as heights on a clinical growth chart from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control). My favorite pediatrician's height stick marks these to tell patients what attractions they can now ride at Disneyland! Many of us know the joy of reaching these goals, and the sadness when our kids just don't quite measure up yet. This week, we asked our Parenting Panel: How do you prepare your children for dealing with the height restrictions on rides at Disney theme parks?
Jen, also known as *Nala*, is an engineer, a Disney fan, and a MouseAdventure fanatic. She lives in Southern California with her husband and two future MouseAdventurers, ages 1 1/2 and 3 1/2. Jen writes:
Both of our kids have visited Disney parks on both coasts since well before their first birthday, so if there's one thing we're used to dealing with on our trips, it's height restrictions. Babies and small toddlers don't know or care that they aren't tall enough for the most popular rides, or even that there is a roller coaster inside that big building in Tomorrowland. But it doesn't take long before little kids notice the "big giant Cars ride" and ask to go on it.
My son, now almost 4, started asking about height-limited rides when he was around 2 1/2. At that time, he was just tall enough for Gadget's Go-Coaster and very excited about it. He would say with that little-kid excitement, "I big enough for the WOLLER COASTER!" Soon after this is when Cars Land opened, including Radiator Springs Racers with its 40-inch height requirement. He also became very interested in "the Star Wars ride." Our strategy was, and continues to be, very simple: If the kids aren't tall enough for something, be upfront about it. We tell them they're not quite big enough and that they will grow and be big enough soon.
For a while, we made a game out of checking our son's height every time we visited the parks. We'd use the height stick by the Fastpass machines for The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, because it was out of the way. He usually accepted the explanation that he needed to get "just this much bigger," but once it took a very friendly cast member at Silly Symphony Swings to convince him that no, he wasn't quite tall enough to ride.
Soon after his third birthday, he reached that magical height of 40 inches and now happily rides Star Tours, Soarin' Over California, and Radiator Springs Racers. And we're beginning the process all over again with our almost 2-year-old daughter, who is now tall enough for the 32-inch rides.
I've heard various strategies of how to get kids past the height sticks. Things that we will do:
- If the kid is (legitimately) tall enough, but just barely, make sure they wear the same shoes every time so they aren't tall enough one visit and not quite there on the next.
- Tell them to put their feet together and stand up straight, and try to bonk their head on the bottom of the sign.
Things that we will not do:
- Stuff kids' shoes, have them wear hats, put hair in ponytails, tell them to stand on tiptoes, or any other method of making them appear taller than they actually are.
- Yell at or be rude to cast members who say that the kid isn't tall enough. It's their job to enforce the height limits; it's not personal, and they could get in trouble if they allowed kids to ride who are under the limit.
As frustrating as it can be when my kid is only a half-inch too short for a ride that they (and I!) want to ride, I think it's my job as a parent to set the example. I tell them they're not quite big enough, we're not going to cry about it, and we are going to ride something else fun.
Chris, also known as GusMan, is always planning his next family trip to the Walt Disney World Resort and loves to help others plan their trips, as well sharing his experiences. Chris writes:
Being regular guests at Walt Disney World, I've had the opportunity to see my kids enjoy Disney at different ages. This also means that we had to be aware of the different height requirements of the different attractions as well. In most cases, I think Disney does a real good job of designing their attractions, including their height requirements, to go along with the typical age group of a particular attraction. Usually the more thrilling the attraction, the taller the riders need to be. But the main thing to keep in mind is that the requirements are mainly based on guest safety.
From seeing my two children grow up, I think the best way to set expectations is to know about the height restrictions of the attractions before you leave home. This is where a bit of pre-planning really pays off. Most Disney guide books that describe the attractions will list the minimum height, which will help you create a list of rides that you know that your child can or cannot ride. It will also help you notate the attractions that just might be in question.
We found that talking about the attractions with our children while we were still home gave us an idea of what they wanted to do on our next trip. Having height information onhand and knowing how tall they were, we were able to direct our conversation in such a way where we would see where it would not even be an issue since they were not interested in a certain ride (my son refuses to go on The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror) or if it would be in question (ry son could not wait to ride Big Thunder Mountain Railroad). We simply explained that height requirements were there for our safety and even if they just missed the requirement, we would have a backup plan in place. We found that setting expectations beforehand and talking about "just missing the mark" really helped in guiding our kids how to react in a situation where they may be disappointed. But it also helped them understand that by the next trip, chances are, that would be their first attraction to try out.
I will admit that, at times, if we knew that one of our kids were just short of the height requirement, we would try some simple things to give them an edge without compromising safety. The type of shoes, such as sandals versus sneakers, may make a difference, for example. Some even say that you should try the attractions first thing in the morning before you walk for miles around the park and you might be "taller." Maybe even discuss with your child about standing up as straight as they can without straining. All these things may or may not help gain that extra quarter of an inch. But if it doesn't, it might be a good idea to help them explain that while it's OK to be disappointed, it's also great to have something to celebrate on the next trip.
In this case, I think both parents and cast members alike have challenging jobs. Parents can help the situation through their planning and setting reasonable expectations for their children. That can be a challenge, given the excitement of a Disney trip. Cast members have the sad duty to tell a young guest that they will not be able to ride that day, even though it is for their own safety. The way to look at it may be not that they can't ride an attraction, but this gives them the perfect excuse to plan the next trip.
Elizabeth, who posts on our MousePad message board as eabaldwin, has been a Disneyland Annual Passholder since 2010. She and her husband have two daughters, Katie (3 1/2) and Josie (14 months). Elizabeth writes:
Our oldest daughter Katie is 3.5 years old, and she is on the smaller/shorter side. She has a friend at her preschool who is also an annual passholder and who goes quite a bit with her parents. She is taller than our daughter, and a couple of months ago, rode all sorts of rides that our daughter still can't ride. Katie has been talking about riding Splash Mountain, in particular, since her friend has been on it. She is a little obsessed with Splash Mountain, and I fear it will be quite a long time until she can ride it. We have been doing a few things to help Katie deal with not being able to ride certain attractions, both at home and in the parks.
- We let her go up to the height sticks and show her (using our fingers) how much more she has to grow before she can ride. She also enjoys going up to the ones at attractions that she can ride, like Mater's Junkyard Jamboree and Luigi's Flying Tires, to show that she can go on those. We let her, and show her how much over those sticks she is.
- She has plenty of rides that she loves to ride and we make sure to ride them when we go to the parks. Even if it means we have to ride Ariel's Undersea Adventure several times, it gets her mind off not being able to ride the one ride she really wants to ride.
- On our way to the parks, since we know that she still isn't tall enough to ride, we talk about her favorite rides that she can ride. If she mentions something that we haven't been on in awhile, we make sure to go on it.
- We don't talk up any attraction that we know that she can't ride. It may seem silly, but even after we ride, we try not to talk about it too much in front of Katie. If we talk about it more, it just makes her want to go on it more.
- We have a mark at 40 inches on our height chart at home, to help her see how much more she has to grow until she can ride Splash Mountain. What I find amusing is that I do not even think that she will like Splash Mountain. We have been on Pirates of the Caribbean the last two times we have been to Disneyland park, and her least favorite parts are the two drops at the beginning. I'm pretty sure that if she doesn't like those drops, she won't like the big one on Splash Mountain. But we will let her ride it once and see how it goes. I think that there are other attractions that she will enjoy more.
It's your turn—keep the discussion flowing!
Visit the Parenting in the Parks forum on our MousePad discussion board, and share your opinions about this topic or many others, or send your suggestions via e-mail. Reader-submitted tips might be used in a future article, and you might be selected to participate in an upcoming panel discussion!