The first trip on Space Mountain is a real Disney milestone – a sign that a child had graduated to “big kid” rides. But because there is a height requirement for this attraction (44 inches), that graduation day could come as early as age four for a larger boy or as late as seven for a smaller girl. It doesn’t matter how heavy or mature a child is, or (unlike some rides at local carnivals) whether she accompanied by an adult. If she’s not 44 inches, then she’s not going on the ride.
Depending on the composition and dynamics of your family, this may cause some tension. For example, I have encountered several families in which a younger sibling was taller than an older sibling, thus allowing the younger one to be able to ride before the older. That’s either a huge “It’s not fair” or “Justice has been served” moment, depending on how you measure up. In other cases, particularly those in which there is a single parent of differently aged children, a youngster meeting a height requirement can mean the difference between the whole family sitting on the sidelines or everyone getting their ride on.
So if you’ve got kids in your family, it makes sense to understand the height requirement situation before you set out on your Walt Disney World vacation. Here are some tips:
- Measure your child before your trip.
- Familiarize yourself with the ride height requirements before your trip. There’s no sense promising your child Splash Mountain if she’s not going to be tall enough to experience it.
- Height requirement information is available on the park maps, on the WDW website dedicated pages for each ride, and in guidebooks such as The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.
- Height requirements do occasionally change, so even if you think you know what the rules are, it pays to double check. For example, park maps from early 2008 give no minimum height to ride in a Tomorrowland Speedway race car, but those from late 2008 list a 32″ requirement. On a related note, the Disney Cruise Line has changed the height rules for the Dream’s AquaDuck several times.
- It may be best not to mention a potentially appealing ride if one or more children in your group are not tall enough. If they don’t know about something, they won’t feel like they’re missing out.
- Just because your child is technically tall enough to go on a ride, that doesn’t mean he or she is emotionally ready to do so. A five year old might be tall enough for the Tower of Terror, but might not be ready until seven, or eight, or ten, or ever.
- If you have members of your party who are not tall enough for some rides, the rider swap option can be a lifesaver.
- There are no in-park child care facilities. If you are a single parent with an taller child and a shorter one, there is no supervised area to leave the shorter child while you take the taller on the ride. Possible options are: bring your own sitter with you, use an Orlando-area service such as kidsniteout.com to hire a parent-helper to accompany you to the parks, leave your younger child at one of the WDW hotel childcare center in the evening (407-939-3463) and take your older child on the thrill rides then, or simply decide to have everyone skip the bigger rides until you can all do them together.
- The rides with height requirements all have a measurement device at the attraction entrance. If a child looks to be anywhere close to too short, a cast member will ask the child to stand next to the measuring sign. If the child is tall enough, he will be allow to enter the ride queue. Many rides will have a second measuring device stationed directly before the ride vehicle loading area. Do not be surprised if your child is measured twice.
Beyond these basics, I must emphasize that the height requirements are there for a reason. The ride restraints are have been engineered and rigorously tested with guest safety in mind, and the restraints only work given certain parameters, such as guest height. There’s no reason to challenge or question a cast member who does not allow a child to participate in a specific attraction because of height issues. He’s only trying to keep your child safe.
That being said, I will point out that height is measured at Walt Disney World while the child is wearing shoes. I just went through my own children’s closets and took a look at shoes that they have worn in the parks. The heel on these shoes ranged from about a quarter of an inch on some ballet flats to about 3/4 of an inch Crocs, all the way up over an inch and a half on some particularly chunky sneakers. I have never personally seen a cast member ask a child to remove shoes for measuring. If you have a child sooooo close to a particular limit, you may want to factor the heel height of footwear into your packing considerations.
While footwear will generally not be questioned, several times cast members have asked my children to remove hats and even take out poofy ponytails when being measured. You may be able to tweak height from the bottom, but it’s unlikely that you will be able to do so from the top.
One final issue that comes up from time to time is the accuracy of the measuring devices at the theme parks. As a little experiment, I took a tape measure with me on a trip to Walt Disney World last week. My husband and I used the tape measure to gauge the accuracy of the height signage. We measured six signs in the Magic Kingdom and found all of them, without fail, to be within two millimeters of the stated height. This gave me confidence that the park measurement devices are as accurate as practicably possible.
What have your experiences been with height issues in the parks? How have you coped with children of differing sizes? Let us know in the comments below.