The Race to 40 Inches

by Lisa Maulhardt, contributing writer

Everyone plans differently for a trip to the Disney Parks. For those with children, planning always includes (or should always include) the height requirements for the attractions. The last thing you want is for your child to get excited about going on something — and then discovering he or she is too short by just an inch or two.

As Disneyland Annual Passholders, we pretty much have the list memorized. My oldest son, who is now 7, was always pretty tall for his age, so he was actually tall enough for rides even before he was really mature enough for them. Just last month we convinced him to ride California Screamin' for the first time.

Unfortunately, my younger son is just the opposite. At his 4-year checkup this summer, my little guy measured in at 37.5 inches (without his shoes on), which is just the 5th percentile for his age. (In case you don't have kids or don't know what that means, it means that out of 100 4-year-olds, 95 of them are taller than he is). Although he was born almost exactly the same size as his older brother, he is just growing at his own rate and has consistently been in the 5th percentile since he was about 15 months old.

I know that size doesn't matter. And I wouldn't change anything about him. But, we are on a bit of a time crunch here.

The ride this energetic 4-year-old would love to ride most is The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror at Disney California Adventure. With Disney officially announcing the closing date of the ride as January 2, 2017, we are quickly approaching the end of our window to ride it. Yes, it will be (mostly) the same ride after they change the theme to Guardians of the Galaxy, but we are planning to move next summer, quite possibly before the ride gets reopened. Hence our problem.

The Tower of Terror, as we know it now, is scheduled to go dark in January 2017. Photo by Lisa Maulhardt.

The Tower of Terror isn't the only ride that has a 40-inch height requirement. In fact, there are several rides throughout the Disneyland Resort that require riders to be at least 40 inches. At DCA, in addition to The Tower of Terror, there is Radiator Springs Racers, Jumpin' Jellyfish, Silly Symphony Swings, and Soarin' Around the World. Over at Disneyland, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Space Mountain, and Star Tours all have the 40-inch requirement, as well. So, for a Disneyland Annual Passholder family, 40 inches is almost a kind of "rite of passage."

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is just one of the many rides he can't wait to go on. Photo by Lisa Maulhardt.

The personality difference between my two boys is interesting. My oldest, who has been tall enough for all of these rides for a very long time, really has no interest in going on them. It actually is probably a blessing, because when we go to Disneyland, he isn't constantly bugging me to stand in an hour-long line to ride them. Plus, when I go by myself with the boys, he would be disappointed that he couldn't ride them, since I would have to stay with his little brother. But my youngest is a little daredevil. He says he can't wait to get on these rides.

We do have one thing on our side. When Disney checks the height at each of the rides, the kids still have their shoes on. Any parent who has been in this situation knows that the kind of shoes your child is wearing makes a difference. Sandals do little to help give them that extra boost. Tennis shoes can help. As of our visit to the parks in September, he has about a half an inch to go (with his boots on) to be tall enough for the 40-inch rides. But safety is always first, and "fake boosting" by putting risers in the shoes (or fluffing the hair) is not recommended.

Even with his boots on, he still has some growing to do. Photo by Lisa Maulhardt.

In our kitchen at the moment, there is a piece of tape on the wall. It marks 40 inches from the floor. We keep reminding him to eat good food so he can grow to ride the rides. We know that his height has very little, if anything, to do with his eating habits (he actually eats pretty well). His height has way more to do with his DNA—he is just going to be shorter for his age (at least he has a knack for gymnastics). But the reminder in the kitchen has helped us to convince him to eat all of his veggies.

So, our clock is ticking. I am fairly sure he will be tall enough to ride things soon. We are just hoping it will be soon enough to ride the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, before it goes dark forever.



  1. By danyoung

    I was a little nervous that you were going to advocate the false increase in the height with the shoe lifts and such - glad you didn't go there. Good luck to you and your son!

  2. By ScottKC

    What a charming article. Had a very similar experience when our oldest turned 40 inches. He did it right at his 4th birthday, and he was really dying to go on Tower of Terror and Soarin' Over California. He did finally get to go on those, but unfortunately shortly after that we moved away from southern California, still it certainly felt like a milestone for him. He was a daredevil too, as soon as he hit 40" he had to go on Tower, and I was panicked he would be scared and then turned off thrill rides...but it turned out to not be the case. For myself I was way past the height limit when I first rode Space Mountain and for whatever reason at the time(I was about 8) I found it too intense...kept me away from it for a year or two....I eventually came around and love coasters. So when he was raring to go at 4 I was worried. But turned out he is just up for anything, at 11 he still is the same!

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  3. By missm

    We have a mark on our wall as well. Kiki is at 38 1/2 inches and our next trip is October 2017. Her big ride she wants to go on is Splash Mountain. My fingers are crossed she gets there!

  4. By amyuilani

    Me too! As a former CM who used to check heights on Indy and Splash, I was never fooled by parents who tried to boost kids' heights with lifts. I could always tell when the kid was trying to tip-toe in a pair of high-tops because they couldn't stand still. Parents need to remember that height requirements are determined based on the way the ride's safety restrictions are designed, and kids who are too small to be safely restrained with the way the setup is designed run a good risk of getting hurt. On Indy it's obvious because kids who are too small have to stretch quite a bit to reach the handle bar in front of them. Don't try to cheat the system; it's just a ride.

  5. By bumblebeeonarose

    Our oldest was also super tall, being off the charts at two for height (though she's now around 90%). Her younger brother on the other hand is pretty average. Fortunately he's not really the dare devil she is and doesn't care as much for the big rides. But, he still thinks he wants to ride them when we talk about Disneyland. He's about 39" now though and we're not going for another 8+ months, so he'll definitely make the 40" mark, but I don't think he'll make the 42" needed for Matterhorn and Jurassic Park (at USH). He really wants to ride the Transformer ride at USH and it's only 40", and I've convinced him that he wants to ride Big Thunder, which I think he'll enjoy.

  6. By AJDerrick

    We are right there with you! My little guy is 5th percentile as well, and our last trip when he'd just barely turned 4 he wasn't tall enough for the 40" rides. He still had tons of fun though! I'm keeping a close eye on him (mark on the kitchen wall here too!) and we will plan our next trip (hopefully spring) when I'm sure that he'll make the cut. Can't wait to get him on Splash Mountain!

  7. By DisneyGator

    My wife and I aren't very tall, so our kids shouldn't have the tall genes either. BUT, lucky for us, all of our kids hit 40 inches when they were about 3 1/2. And all three did the Tower of Terror when they turned 3!!! Once they were tall enough for the "big" rides like Big Thunder, Soarin' and Splash Mt, they wanted to ride everything. Fearless. We've been very lucky for them to be so big so fast.

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