Measuring Up: Handling Height Restrictions

by Adrienne Krock, staff writer

Many times parents come to our message boards asking for tips on tall shoes or baseball caps to add inches to children otherwise too short to ride restricted attractions at Disney theme parks. This week, members of our Parenting Panel give our opinions about this often controversial issue. I posed the questions:

What do you do when you have a child too short to ride? How far you would push to help a child appear tall enough? How disappointed do your children get? How do you handle your child's disappointments when they aren't tall enough?

I recently spoke with an attractions cast member at Disneyland who shared some insights on how she approaches the issue:

I'm pretty strict on them actually (versus artificially) meeting them. I make sure they're standing completely flat on the ground and that they take off any hats. And no, hair doesn't count!

If it's a close call and there's another checkpoint past me, I will tell the parents that the child will be checked again and the next CM may or may not give the OK so to be prepared if they choose to wait the rest of the way. And if I'm that final checkpoint and I have any question about their safety to ride, I'll offer them a rider switch and stand firm that they need to meet the requirements. When we have them, I like to hand out the passes that allow them to come back to the front when they are tall enough.

At the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, Space Mountain cast members have special passes for children too small for the height restrictions. Here's the front... Image scan courtesy Jeff Kober.

...And the back! Image scan courtesy Jeff Kober.

Mary Kraemer is a travel consultant with CruisingCo/MouseEarVacations. She loves to travel with her husband and four children and is an avid Disney fan who visits Disneyland several times a year—and Walt Disney World and the Disney Cruise Line as often as possible. Mary writes:

My children have been going to Disney parks since they were babies, so they’ve been able to "grow" up at the parks (meaning, they’ve had to meet height requirements along the way in order to ride certain rides).

Back in the "good old days," it was recommended that children age 3 and older ride the Matterhorn, so that was one of the first big coasters my kids enjoyed, regardless of height. Before that, Gadget’s Go Coaster provided a nice short introduction to the thrill of coaster riding.

One of my kids is petite (notice, I did not say short). Yet, she’s the most tenacious of the bunch, so waiting to make a specific height for a coaster was challenging.

We have been to some other parks that have an area near the entrance that measures kids; kids get wristbands that indicate the rides that they’re able to ride, based on height. I have always liked this system, and was disappointed when Disney removed it after a trial period. I think it makes it much easier on cast members to have kids already "labeled" with their appropriate ride level.

Disney opted to have cast members measure kids individually at each ride by providing a guide at the attraction. Seems like a good enough idea, except that the cast member needs to inspect every child of questionable height and then deal with the possible disappointment of not quite "measuring up." I think this is tough on the cast members and on parents, too (the one-time measurement system would avoid this situation).

And, sometimes, these measurement systems are imprecise, making it even more difficult for children, cast members and parents. This happened to my daughter who, after being able to go on rides with the same height restriction, went to Jumping Jellyfish and was told she was an inch too short by the cast member at the ride entrance. Despite reciting the predictable list of rides of that height limit that my daughter had already been on that day, the cast member didn’t budge.

Finally, I pulled out the little tape measure that I carry in my purse, extended it to match up with the measurement device at the ride, and it turned out that the measurement device was an inch off! Even that clear proof of height didn’t matter to the cast member who, apparently, had been instructed to measure children against the measurement device regardless of whether it was correct. My daughter was still refused entrance.

So, yes, we were disappointed. And yes, we went to guest services to complain about the inconsistency of the individual measurement devices in the park (which caused a less-than-magical feeling for guests).

As with child-safety seats, I believe the height restrictions at thrill rides are in place to avoid a tragic mistake. So, we’ve always emphasized the positive aspect of being tall enough to go on a ride rather than focusing on that darned old stupid system that ruined a day by not letting us ride on it. And once my children have grown to the height needed for a ride, they feel as if they’ve achieved something, which is positive.

All that said, we are fortunate enough to be able to go to Disney parks frequently, so it’s not like my kids are missing a ride on their once-in-a-lifetime trip. For folks who will only visit a Disney park once, a popular theme is to "wait until the kids are big enough" and I accept that idea as a way to make the most of a trip that won’t be repeated. But really…isn’t it more fun to go to a Disney park more often?

Parenting in the Parks columnist Adrienne Krock’s three boys are now 11, 8, and 5. They’ve been visiting Disneyland since they were each just weeks old. Adrienne has been a day camp counselor and teacher. Now she’s a mom and a Cub Scout leader and has been a Disneyland annual passholder for 14 years. Adrienne writes:

I am a firm believer in honoring height restrictions at theme parks for a plethora of reasons. Of course, my elementary-school-aged children also do not watch R-rated movies or play M-rated video games, so I have been called a fuddy-duddy by the other kids at school. I can take it. That’s why I get paid the big bucks.

First off, the restrictions are in place for a reason. Theme park attractions are engineered with physical restraints that are designed for guests of a minimum height and weight. Children ride in cars with car seats and booster seats to create an environment safe enough for their body size, why should a roller coaster traveling the speed of a car be any different? In the absence of accessories to create a safe enough restraint system for children, height requirements are necessary.

Secondly, and most importantly, I am often amazed when parents lament that their children do not listen to them and make poor and even dangerous choices. As the song from the musical Into the Woods warns: “Careful the things you say, children will listen. Careful the things you do, children will see and learn.”

When we, as adults, tell children that they may disobey or cheat to avoid rules that we find inconvenient or unpleasant, they receive the message loudly and clearly that they may do so as well. Even intelligent children still possess low levels of moral reasoning skills. I firmly believe that parents who believe otherwise, or who are unfamiliar with the levels of development, set dangerous precedents for themselves in their denial or ignorance. As a parent, I may not apply these principles with perfection but I do strive to walk my talk.

In my personal experience, we simply address the height issue as a non-negotiable matter of fact with the children. They know that they must be tall enough to ride certain attractions. We are fortunate to be annual passholders at Disneyland so the children know that we will return at another time. But, on our recent vacation to Walt Disney World, our youngest son was too short to ride several attractions. While his brothers were excited to ride Rock 'N' Roller Coaster, our youngest knew it was not an option for him and stayed with my husband and myself while the others rode with Fast Passes and a Rider Switch Pass. He complained a little about the boring wait but we kept him occupied while the others rode and made sure that he was able to ride attractions both before and after we went on Rock 'N' Roller Coaster.

When we visit without my husband, our options can be more limited. I can choose to let the older boys ride the bigger attractions without me or I sometimes just say “Today we will not be riding attractions that the little one cannot ride.” However, when we are together with enough adults, rides with height restrictions become opportunities for special attention for my youngest (and shortest) son. At Disney’s California Adventure, my older two enjoy California Screamin’. While my husband took them on the roller coaster one evening, the youngest and I visited the nearby King Triton’s Carousel. That late in the day, there was no line to speak of and the cast member allowed my son to ride the carousel several times without getting off the ride. He had a great time changing animals between rides and then staying on one seal that he decided he liked the best. My youngest ate up the attention of one-on-one time with Mom! I firmly believe in “marketing” opportunities to my children to divert attention away from lamenting the loss of another attraction.

It's your turn—keep the discussion flowing!

Visit the Parenting on the Parks section of our MousePad discussion board, and share your opinions about "Measuring Up" (link), or send your suggestions via e-mail (link). Reader-submitted tips might be used in a future article, and you might be selected to participate in an upcoming panel discussion!