Avoiding the Odd Man Out at Walt Disney World

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TouringPlans.com is happy to welcome Erin Foster to our blogging team. Erin an original Disney Mom and will be covering issues concerning travel with families among other topics.

I have five people in my family – an odd number. Our numerical unevenness occasionally puts an element of tension into our touring. Sometimes when we all go on a ride together, there is an odd man out: due to the capacity of the attraction vehicle, someone has to sit separately from the rest of the family. In my current situation, with older children and parents willing to “take one for the team” by sitting alone or with another guest, vehicle issues are only a minor bother.

But for a single parent with two or more young children, ride vehicle configuration can be the source of real anxiety. How do you decide who goes together? Does a child feel comfortable sitting alone or with a stranger? Does the parent feel comfortable when the children are together, but may not be visible? For these guests, the question becomes: can you avoid having an odd man out? Or if you can’t, what are some strategies to make this situation less taxing?

Attractions Where Party Size Poses No Problem

Let’s start out by looking at the attractions where party size doesn’t matter: where there is no fixed number of individuals that can sit together. These are the ones where a single parent with two children or a party of five will have no seating issues. This stress-free situation occurs primarily in show-style or walk-through attractions, or in vehicles where multiple parties ride together.
You’ll all be able to sit/participate together:

Your group can ride together on the Carrousel

You’ll all be in the same vehicle:

Also posing no problem are the attractions which have a fixed number of guests allowed per vehicle, but the capacity large enough that most families will be accommodated together. The majority of these attractions have bench-style seating where the number of people assigned to each row varies depending on the size of the individuals:

Safari vehicles can seat large parties

Attractions Where Party Size May Matter

Now on to the trouble spots. The attractions listed below are the ones where some thought or negotiation may come into play when parties with an odd number of people decide how to ride.

Magic Kingdom:

There's plenty of room to squeeze into a tea cup

Disney’s Hollywood Studios:

  • Rock n’ Roller Coaster – Each “limo” seats many people, but only two per row.
  • Toy Story Midway Mania – One adult and two medium-to-small sized children, or two adults and one very small child could fit into one ride vehicle.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom:

  • TriceraTop Spin – Each dino has two rows of bench-style seating. Total carpet capacity of up to five guests, depending on size.
  • Expedition Everest – Each train seats many people, but only two per row.
  • Primeval Whirl– Four people per vehicle.


Test track has two rows of three per vehicle

Even when vehicles have a small, fixed capacity, there may be little cause for worry. On Test Track, the teacups, Snow White’s Scary Adventure, Winnie the Pooh, Journey into Imagination, and the PeopleMover, a party of five can ride in one vehicle. Here a single parent would not need to be separated from two children. At Mission Space and Primeval Whirl, a single parent would not need to be separated from two children. A family of five would need to split up, but because of the substantial height requirement for these attractions, there would likely be little concern with letting two children go it alone in an adjacent vehicle, as the kids would have to be fairly old to experience the attraction.

Pinpointing the Real Trouble Spots: Attractions Where There Could Be A True Odd Man Out

This leaves only a handful of attractions as potentially true problems.

Shooting rides:

Toy Story Midway Mania and Buzz Lightyear have bench seating which could theoretically accommodate three people (mom and two young kids, or two adults and a preschooler), but with only two blasters in each car, these are two-person rides for anyone who wants to have full enjoyment. And really, what’s the point of battling with Emperor Zurg if you don’t have access to a weapon? The easiest solution is to put the two kids in one car and put the solo adult in the car behind them. All members of the party will arrive at the unload point within seconds of each other. To make this work, the children must feel comfortable not having eyes on mom at all times (and vice versa). However, you will always be within earshot, so if there were a concern, you could shout and be in communication. If you’re going to have parent/children in separate vehicles, be sure to discuss in advance what to do in the event of a temporary halt of the ride. Let the kids know that short stops happen with some regularity and that they should never leave the car unless instructed to by you or a cast member.

Toy Story Midway Mania is really a two person ride

An alternative solution to the Toy Story and Buzz two-person-only problem would be to have mom and one child share the ride, with the other child in the next vehicle. We’ve resorted to this when my kids are in a “she breathed on me, I’m going to kill her” mood or when one child has a need for some extra TLC. My now pre-teen daughters are willing to ride alone, but they get anxious about riding in a two-person vehicle with a stranger. If this is your situation, speak with the cast member at the ride load zone. I have never seen Disney not honor a guest’s polite request to ride alone for reasons of safety or comfort.

Spinning rides:

For Aladdin and TriceraTop, a party of three would not need to be separated and, in many cases, a party of five could be accommodated. However, my family often experiences conflict here with the ride controls. One row makes the car go up and down, while the other row tilts the car forward and back. Decide in advance whether your kids can share duties on the infinitely more satisfying up/down controller or if one should be on the bench with mom and take the tilt control.

Dumbo is a special challenge for a single parent with two children. To fit an adult plus two children in the elephant, the kids have to be quite small. The family split-up is difficult because although there is a lap belt, the open side of the elephant means that you need to have complete confidence that the unaccompanied child or children will remain seated. If you don’t fall into either of these categories, then try hard skip this attraction. Astro-Orbiter is similar, but due to its location, not as enticing for little ones and is easier to avoid.

Make sure you're comfortable with two kids riding alone in one Dumbo

Thrill rides:

For Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Expedition Everest, Rock n’ Roller Coaster and Space Mountain, parties of three, or even five, can stay in the same vehicle. However, the first four of these require two-by-two seating. With a party of three there is the choice: have the kids sit together and mom sits alone in the next row, or have mom sit with one child and have the other child sit alone or with a stranger. This decision may have been easy with the relatively benign Buzz, but with a young child and a potentially frightening roller coaster, the pressure to make the right call looms large. You’ll have to assess your personal family needs. Has one of the children already been on the ride, or one that’s similar, and is comfortable with it? Can the children reassure each other if scared? Does the child need to hold hands with or otherwise touch a parent to feel secure? In my family, the solution that worked was to seat mom with the younger or less experienced child in the row directly behind the older child. This way I could place my hands on the head or shoulders of the child in front of me if a comforting touch was required. Again, if your child feels uneasy sitting next to a stranger, ask the load zone cast member to place the child in a row alone.

Two across seating at Splash Mountain

Space Mountain has three people in one rocket, in a row one behind the other. No one sits side-by-side. As with the other roller coasters, think about your family dynamic and their ability to cope with new situations. If I’m alone with two of my children on Space Mountain, I’ll sit between them, but it may also make sense for a younger child to sit between a parent and an older sibling.

Three people in a row in the Space Mountain rockets

Additional issues:

The Haunted Mansion and The Seas with Nemo are similarly configured rides where two members of a party of three can request that a third party member be in the next car over and sit alone. I personally would be cautious about separating children from parents on the Haunted Mansion unless the children have previously experienced this attraction. The potential fright level is high with young children. And there is nothing worse than hearing your kids cry, but not be able to physically comfort them.

Spaceship Earth has a shared control component like some of the spinning rides. Each of the two rows of seats has a separate interactive touch screen. A family of three will fit into this ride just fine, but here it may be easier to have each child in a separate row so that they each get to decide their future fate. To keep the peace, mom is going to have to cede control of her fate to her offspring. I’m hoping they choose a nice home for me ☺.

Spaceship Earth vehicles have two rows of two

Peter Pan has Dumbo-esque open sides, but is less of a problem for a single parent with two children because the bench is wide enough that three people can often fit together without splitting up.

Tomorrowland Speedway could fit an adult and two smallish children on board, but only one person can be in front of the steering wheel. If there is no easy solution to who sits where (flip a coin, pick a number), then this ride is one to skip. Also be aware that the Speedway is the only attraction at Walt Disney World where the driver actually controls the forward movement of the ride vehicle. If you decide to let an older child drive alone, be sure to explain this to him or her and give instructions on how to work the car.

Only one can drive at the Tomorrowland Speedway

Of the more than 100 attractions at Walt Disney World, fewer than a dozen pose an issue for odd-numbered families. With a bit of planning and consideration, even those few need not be a challenge.

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Erin Foster

Erin Foster is an original member of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel (now PlanDisney), a regular contributor to TouringPlans.com, and co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line. She's been to WDW, DL, DL Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, Aulani, DVC Vero Beach, and DVC Hilton Head. She's a Platinum DCL cruiser and veteran of 10 Adventures by Disney trips. Erin lives near New York City, where she can often be found indulging in her other obsession - Broadway theater.

12 thoughts on “Avoiding the Odd Man Out at Walt Disney World

  • May 23, 2011 at 9:36 am

    Thanks for the article! We are a military family and when my husband is on Sea Duty vacations are very hard to plan. I have been considering taking my two children (5&8) by myself next year and it occured to me that rides might be a big issue. I was trying to remember in my mind which ones would be least problematic, so appreciate the detailed list and suggestions very much!

  • May 23, 2011 at 10:05 am

    This is a great article! I love reading Erin’s blog posts on other sites; looking forward to her contributions to TPs! I wanted to let you know that when we were at WDW in May 2011, we specifically asked how many people a vehicle on Magic Carpets of Aladdin could hold and the CM told us 6. Obviously this is dependent on all parties’ sizes, but we fit just fine with an adult and 2 kids in each row. (Sharing the controls, on the other hand, was a bit more of a problem!)

  • May 23, 2011 at 11:11 am

    This was a great article! I routinely travel among a party of 5 and this is something we deal with all of the time. It was really great to see the breakdown of considerations in this article. Thanks so much!

  • May 23, 2011 at 12:35 pm

    Great article! I just wanted to add that on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Magic Kingdom, it is possible to ride 3 to a seat. Last time we were there my SIL, my 6 six year old and I rode in one seat. I also rode it another time with 2 six year olds.

  • May 23, 2011 at 3:42 pm

    Outstanding article! Of course as a frequent single rider, I’m praying for odd number groups occurring frequently!!

  • May 23, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    We’re a family of 3 so I’m always odd man out, so I thank you SO much for this article!

  • May 24, 2011 at 11:22 pm

    Thanks so much for this article! I have been trying to search for one like it without too much success. We are a family of 4 with 2 boys, traveling with another 10 year old boy. I have been mildly stressing over our upcoming trip, but this really helps. Thanks again!

  • May 30, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    This was AWESOME, Erin! As a family of five, we have done everything from rock/paper/scissors to telling one of the children they belong to another family that can accommodate one more person in their car (okay, we may not have done it, but we’ve thought about it!). A huge stress on my part is waiting in the line, trying to configure something that will make everyone happy. Those “She breathed on me” days are the worst! Thanks so much!

  • March 15, 2012 at 2:06 pm

    This article was just what I needed.I’m a single dad of two little one taking the kids to disney for the 1st time this has calm me down a whole lot.

  • January 24, 2013 at 10:21 am

    THANK YOU! I needed this! I was trying to track this down on my own when I found your blog. Woo Hoo!!

  • December 27, 2013 at 8:41 am

    Great post, thank you!! It was very informative. Every family of 5+ with small children should read this. Have a magical day 🙂


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