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Parenting in the Park
Tips and ideas for the traveling family
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Adrienne Krock, editor
Enjoying the parks with children of all ages
You've saved and planned with your family, and you're finally going to Disneyland! When you get there, you find that your youngest, the toddler, is too short to ride some of the attractions. Your middle one is tall enough, but doesn't like some of the scarier rides or the roller coasters. Then you have your eldest child, who wants to go on absolutely everything. What will you do? Today's column focuses on some strategies you can deploy while visiting the parks with children of different ages and sizes.

Jumpin' Jellyfish
Jumpin' Jellyfish

A friend of mine recently witnessed an unpleasant scenario in Disney's California Adventure. A little girl was too short to ride on Mulholland Madness and had asked to ride on Jumpin' Jellyfish instead. Her family insisted that she stand in line with them. But when they got to the head of the queue, they made the girl stand by herself at the exit while they rode Mulholland Madness. Stories like this really bother me. Especially when I know that there are alternatives that can make everyone's day more enjoyable.

This young girl's family could have used a Rider Switch pass. As I've mentioned in previous columns, Rider Switch is available at rides with height and / or age restrictions. A parent and an adult companion can stay with the child(ren) while the rest of the party rides the attraction. When the group exits from the ride, the Rider Switch pass then allows the parent and adult companion to ride the attraction without waiting in line.

A young child must be present with you when you ask for the Rider Switch pass, and the Cast Member must see that you are part of a group that goes into the attraction queue. Although you do not need to use your Rider Switch pass right away, you must use the pass on the same day it is issued.

These passes are printed on colored cardstock, and each day, the attractions use a different colored card. The Cast Members (CMs) know what color to accept that day so the passes are only good for the same day they are issued.

In the case of the young girl, part of her group could have waited for Mulholland Madness while an adult or two accompanied her to Jumpin' Jellyfish. Later in the day, this second group could have used the Rider Switch pass, by either trading responsibilities for the younger children, or even using the passes if and when the younger ones are taking a nap.


Another strategy for getting on the rides is to establish beforehand what rides everyone would like to ride on together. If big brother wants to avoid "it's a small world" but can't miss Dumbo the Flying Elephant, then be sure to hit "it's a small world" while he's on a faster ride, and save Dumbo the Flying Elephant to enjoy together. This is the type of strategy employed by some good friends of mine, with whom I spend many lovely days in the park. In their case, of the four children, some are still too short to ride the faster rides. Others are tall enough but don't like some of the scarier rides like Pirates of the Caribbean, or the roller coasters. And then there's the big brother (and the parents) who loves to ride on everything.

At some point, older children reach a magical age when they're ready to venture out in the park by themselves. But exactly how old is this magical age? Because I know that every child (and every parent!) is different, I am not going to recommend age guidelines for you. Instead, consider the following:

Your child's level of maturity -- I know we can't watch our kids all the time to make sure that they're polite and well-behaved. Nevertheless, impolite behavior is rude and annoying to fellow guests, and more importantly, potentially dangerous for our children.

One fellow I know has sworn off jumping over any fences since an incident at Disneyland left him lying in First Aid all day in pain with an injured ankle. Recent accidents at Disneyland and other theme parks have been well- documented in the press. Children who have not remained properly seated on attractions have broken their limbs, or worse. In one well- known incident, a child lost a portion of his foot on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Sit down with your children before you allow them to explore a park alone, and have a serious discussion about the consequences of goofing off. The sights and sounds of the park may be too distracting for your talk. It's not too soon to touch on this before your vacation begins, or at least in the hotel room, before you head into the park for the day. Some amusement parks have very strict rules about line-cutting. Make sure your children understand that behavior such as line-cutting or shoplifting could result in their being expelled from the park.

Your child's experience at visiting theme parks, and more specifically, the theme park you are visiting -- Children with annual passes to Disneyland know its geography much better than children who are enjoying the park for the very first visit. In addition, children who visit theme parks often understand the rules and standards of behavior better than those who are less experienced.

Establish meeting times and locations -- When you arrive at a park, find your meeting spot together. It's not enough to say, "We'll meet in front of the castle." The front of the castle is a big place and as the day progresses, becomes crowded with tourists. Go to the castle, then find the actual spot where you wish to meet. A friend of mine who was very familiar with Disneyland, once went to Orlando and told her family members to meet back up at the Matterhorn Bobsled entrance. Because she didn't go to the actual location with her family (and because the family assumed the Magic Kingdom was identical to Disneyland), they failed to realize that the Orlando park does not have a Matterhorn Bobsled attraction.

Next, set a time when you are to meet. Depending on your children's age and their experience being in theme parks alone, you may want to make the time spans shorter, such as two to three hours. Let your children know that as they show up at their meeting times, they begin to earn your trust so that you can slowly extend the length of time between meetings.

Lost kids?
Lost kids?

Don't forget to make sure everyone in your party has a park map, and that they know where to go in case you can't find each other at the designated spot. How long will you wait before you go to the Lost Children office? Your children should know your names, as well as the name and room number of your hotel. As a parent, don't forget to note what your children are wearing, in case you need to notify a CM when your child is late. A recent photo of your children may also be a good thing to have in your possession.

Use cell phones and / or family radios -- Cell phones and family radios are a convenient way to stay in touch with your group when you are visiting a park. This is true not only for parents letting children explore alone but for any group that may split up during the day. Do not let such devices take the place of prearranged meeting times and locations, however. You may find yourself with an unexpected dead battery, in a location without cell coverage, or even stuck with a cell operator telling you that the system is unavailable or busy when you want to use it.

Family radios are also limited in range, and have problems with impediments such as buildings. And because these radios are audible to others, you should practice their use, and phrases to say. For more information, see my previous column.

Finally, consider some other options that allow everyone to experience as many magical memories as possible. For example, your oldest child may be old enough and willing to baby-sit your younger children in exchange for a day of freedom and a bit of extra spending money inside the park.

Fireworks over Sleeping Beauty's Castle
Fireworks over Sleeping Beauty's Castle

Such an arrangement leaves a world of possibilities available for you and your spouse. A romantic dinner? A Fantasmic dessert? Fireworks over Sleeping Beauty's Castle? Some serious shopping in the various stores without your young ones to beg for new toys? Some hotels offer phone numbers of local babysitting services parents can call for such treats as well.

Wanted: Your questions and feedback! They will help me plan future columns! Write me at:

Enjoying the parks with children of all ages


At Disneyland:

1-yr min. (w/adult): Autopia, Space Orbiter (new version of TL Rocket Jets)

3-yr min.: Gadget's Go Coaster, Matterhorn Bobsleds

40-inch min. and 3-yr min. - Big Thunder Mtn. RR, Space Mtn., Splash Mtn., Star Tours

48-inch max. and 3-yr. min. - Chip 'n' Dale Treehouse

46-inch min. - Indiana Jones Adventure, Rocket Rods

52-inch max. and 3-yr. min. - Goofy's Bounce House

52-inch min. and 7-yr. min. - Autopia (child alone)

At Disney's California Adventure:

40"-- Jumpin' Jellyfish

42"-- Grizzly River Run
Mulholland Madness
Soarin' Over California
parts of Redwood Creek Challenge Trail

48"-- California Screamin'
Orange Stinger

52"-- Maliboomer

At Walt Disney World:

This list is obviously much longer than the Anaheim list.

Click on the following link to view Brian Bennett's Traveling with Kids - Attraction Age and Height Requirements for WDW.


Adrienne gathered experience taking kids to amusement parks when she worked as a day camp counselor and director. She was an elementary school teacher before she started her favorite job, being Matthew's Mom.

Adrienne and Matthew visit Disneyland several times a month, usually with Daddy, too.

Besides Matthew, Adrienne and her husband Kevin created and maintain The Happiest Potties on Earth website.

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