Kids Measuring Up!

by Adrienne Krock, staff writer

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!


  1. By Mermaid

    M measured the magic 40 inches at his 3 year check up on Monday. I danced a little inside even though we aren't going to DL for over a year. I have my fingers crossed that K will hit it right at 3 (we are going within the weeks before her 3rd birthday). But he is in the 92% and she stays in the 70-75%, so it's a pretty big long shot. I'll make sure to manage her expectations beforehand and have back up activities in the area. This may be our toughest trip in this respect, since it should be the only one with a good number of attractions one can ride and one can't.

  2. By Drince88

    I'm kind of surprised Eabaldwin's Miss K is excited about Splash, since she can SEE the big drop! BUT does she even realize that that is the attraction her friend is talking about?

  3. By *Nala*

    Quote Originally Posted by Drince88 View Post
    I'm kind of surprised Eabaldwin's Miss K is excited about Splash, since she can SEE the big drop! BUT does she even realize that that is the attraction her friend is talking about?

    Cub #1 (almost 4) has been on Splash a few times. We ask for the back row so I can sit next to him and I talk to him throughout the ride so he knows what's coming, e.g. this is a little splash, now it will be dark for 5 seconds, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, now we are going up for the big splash.  He says it is "a little scary" but asks to go on it. He also thinks it's hilarious if Mommy gets all wet. We don't push it on the days he doesn't really want to go.

    For riding with one kid and not the other if only one is tall enough, we split up and one of us takes the smaller one to something they enjoy. It's not been a big deal though we'll see how it goes when Cub #2 (almost 2) is a little older.

  4. By DisneyGator

    I've got two that are tall enough to ride everything at Disney, and then I've a 2 year old. And even though she's in the 95% for height, our upcoming Disneyland trip will have lot's of times where the "big kids" get to ride Tower and Cars and everything else, while she'll have to be distracted. That's one of the reasons we're hitting SoCal this year. We prefer WDW, but if we wait a year, the little one will be big enough to ride on Soarin' and some of the other doable 40 inch rides for a 3 year old. That said, both of the other kids were hitting Tower at 3, so I don't see much stopping her either.

  5. By Jimbo996

    The reason you get into the height problem mess is the kid's expectations are out of line with their ability to go on the rides. Surely, the height problem is one major limitation, but even if you think they may go on the ride, can they actually handle it?

    I noticed that I miss certain rides since my kid's maturity level prevents the whole family from going on a particular ride rather than my kid's height. At 42 inches tall at 4 years old, my kid can go on most rides that have a height requirement; however, we haven't had to tell my kid to miss a ride. I refuse to take my kid to rides like Space Mountain and Haunted Mansion. Problem solved. There are plenty of rides where the whole family can attend. It is a problem when parents pick rides that are inappropriate for kids and then they deal with kids that have breakdowns when they couldn't go or they must deal with the aftermath.

  6. By *Nala*

    It's all about knowing your kid and what they would enjoy. My oldest (almost 4) loves RSR, Soarin, Silly Symphony Swings, Star Tours and sometimes Splash. He does not even know Tower of Terror exists, yet I know people whose 3 year olds love it. We have yet to make either kid ride something they don't want to ride, height stick or no. Mr Toad is scarier to my kid than Splash. YMMV.

  7. By Malcon10t

    It is about knowing the child. My granddaughter was 40" at 2.5years. She is now about 41". She will be three in January. For now, while she can ride all the 40" rides, we aren't taking her on more than Racer's and Soarin'. Next time, if MDM wants to ride Splash, she might ride in the backseat with her, but she needs to be a lot more mature before we try most of the coasters. We may take her back to Gadgets and see how she does, but even the third hill on Racers got the "falling cat" look from her, so we may even wait on that. (But she does like WHEE! rides elsewhere. There is no reason to put her on Space or Star Tours or other 40" rides. She isn't emotionally ready yet. (She does like Haunted Mansion for now, will see next year if this changes... And Fantasmic! is her night show of choice. Takes after her grandma!)

  8. By candles71

    Their tastes and scared factor changes as they grow as well. At 4 1/2, A rode Splash and loved it. At 5 1/2, she rode it during the first part of the week and changed her mind at the end. Was.not.going.on.the.big.down! Looking back after we were home, we realized she had been in the front of the log several times, but the year before grammie was with us so we were 7, and she was in the back every time with me. Once we figured that out she was willing to try again, and still rode next to me until she was 10. Only this last trip did she move to her own seat, the front no less, it was a huge milestone for her.

  9. By GusMan

    Not to be a broken record, but it is all about knowing your child and what they want to do. If they meet the height requirements and want to give it a try, it might be ok. The key is to help prepare them for what they are about to experience. There is enough information out there about the rides to start a conversation with them and see if they are really ready for it physically or emotionally.

    (ie: if they get car sick, going on Mission:Space or RnRC may not be the best choice regardless of height.)

  10. By davidgra

    This was one issue we never faced -- our boys (triplets, all the same size) decided for themselves that if they weren't tall enough, it meant the ride was too scary. They'd ask if they were tall enough, and if we said no, they all said it was too scary. No need for discussion or explanation.

  11. By amyuilani

    As a former attractions CM, I tried over and over again to explain to parents why the height restrictions were the way they were, usually to no avail. It is not an arbitrary figure, and it is not because the powers that be wanted to be uniform across the park. The height restrictions are determined by the way the attraction's seating and safety restraints are designed. Indiana Jones is so high because a rider needs to be able to put his/her feet safely on the floor of the vehicle to minimize the sway of the ride and the impact on the neck/back. This was a dead giveaway to us when we had a child sneak past height check and try to ride. For other rides, it's because of the way the restraints are designed - a rider who does not meet the requirement can be hurt. Many an engineer and scientist work together to determine safe riding restrictions. Parents usually did not understand (or rather, didn't care) that the restrictions were firm because of the possibility that the kids could get hurt.

    I agree that parents need to set reasonable expectations for their children when they know height restrictions will come into play. CM's will not bargain with parents for their children, so don't try. As tough as it is, parents need to understand that every height check is its own unique event, and even if "she was tall enough last time" or "the doctor says he's this height," the only thing that counts is that CM's call at that moment. And if she was tall enough yesterday and will be tall enough tomorrow, then ride some other time. That CM knows his job is on the line if something happens to a child he thinks is too small but passes through anyway. CM's always err on the side of caution. It's not personal until a parent makes it so.

  12. By candles71

    Quote Originally Posted by amyuilani View Post
    That CM knows his job is on the line if something happens to a child he thinks is too small but passes through anyway. CM's always err on the side of caution.

    I think that more than a CM's job is the guilt and self recriminations that CM would feel if anything happened to that child are more important then the job itself. We have never argued with a CM, we have taught our children to respect the CMs and their jobs.

  13. By adriennek

    Quote Originally Posted by amyuilani View Post
    CM's always err on the side of caution. It's not personal until a parent makes it so.

    This isn't about CMs - this is about the parents. It never ceases to amaze me the things that parents will let their children do and get their noses bent out of joint if anyone else cares more about their children than they do.

    I volunteer at my children's school and it's unbelievable to me how many children ride their bikes and scooters too and from school with no helmets on. Their parents often say they can't afford it. Gee, if you can't afford the HELMET, maybe you couldn't afford the bike/scooter because you sure as heck won't be able to afford the hospital or funeral expenses.

    I don't envy CMs who have to deal with the level of entitlement that comes from a parent who paid to get his/her child into a Disney theme park and expects that the rules just don't apply to them.

  14. By cheshirecatgirl

    Funny thing about the rides. My nieces have loved the roller coasters, since they were 2 or 3. They enjoy Gadgets go coaster and Splash Mtn and Soarin. But they hate the dark rides! Too loud and dark for them. Both girls were tall early, but even so, height restrictions have never been a big deal. We have yet to try Space mtn because we dont think they could handle it. And really, they dont know or care about most of the rides because we havent talked about them. No need to get them all hyped up about a ride if they may not be able to go on it. There's plenty of other stuff to do, see and enjoy!

  15. By candles71

    OT// ADK, I have an answer for the ones who try to tell me that. (Check first so not bad intell ) I tell them to go to the firestation in town or the Sherrif's substation because BELL regularly sends them cases off helmets they give out to any kid in town who needs one, so they really don't have an excuse other than laziness at that point. Also, to the kids I mention the fact that the Sherrif Deputies quite regularly give out cards to kids doing the right thing, like wearing their helmet, that gets them a free ice cream at our local grocery store.//back to topic.

  16. By adriennek

    Quote Originally Posted by candles71 View Post
    OT// ADK, I have an answer for the ones who try to tell me that. (Check first so not bad intell ) I tell them to go to the firestation in town or the Sherrif's substation because BELL regularly sends them cases off helmets they give out to any kid in town who needs one, so they really don't have an excuse other than laziness at that point. Also, to the kids I mention the fact that the Sherrif Deputies quite regularly give out cards to kids doing the right thing, like wearing their helmet, that gets them a free ice cream at our local grocery store.//back to topic.

    We have an organization in town that passes out helmets. We've had times when the principal gave out helmets they gave her to keep at school, and they still didn't wear them. See, their SON was KILLED when he wasn't wearing his helmet and he was hit by a car while riding his bike. (My sister went to medical school with their older son. They're real people with a real story.) Yeah, doesn't matter. It won't happen to them.

    And that's the same attitude people have in the parks.

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