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:
- Magic Kingdom: Parades, fireworks, character greetings, castle stage shows, Swiss Family Treehouse,
Tom Sawyer Island, Jungle Cruise, Liberty Square Riverboat, Prince Charming’s Regal Carrousel, Carousel of Progress, Country Bear Jamboree, Enchanted Tiki Room, Hall of Presidents, Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor, Stitch’s Great Escape, Mickey’s PhilharMagic
- Epcot: Parades, fireworks, character greetings, The Circle of Life, Impressions de France, O Canada, Reflections of China, Kim Possible Adventures, The American Adventure, Turtle Talk with Crush, Captain EO
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Parades, character greetings, Fantasmic, Magic of Disney Animation, Walt Disney: One Man’s Dream, Honey I Shrunk the Audience Playground, Sounds Dangerous, American Idol Experience, Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, Disney Junior Live on Stage, Disney Channel Rocks, Journey to Narnia, Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular, Lights Motors Action Extreme Stunt Show, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, MuppetVision 3-D
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom: Parades, character greetings, Conservation Station, Affection Section, Discovery Island Trails, Maharajah Jungle Trek, Oasis Exhibits, Pangani Forest Trail, Flights of Wonder, Boneyard playground, Festival of the Lion King, Finding Nemo the Musical, It’s Tough to Be a Bug
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:
- Magic Kingdom: it’s a small world (3-5 people per row depending on their size), Pirates of the Caribbean (3-5 people per row depending on their size), Walt Disney World Railroad (2-4 people per row depending on their size)
- Epcot: Ellen’s Energy Adventure (6+ people per row), Gran Fiesta Tour, Living with the Land (3-5 people per row depending on size), Soarin’ (10 people per row), Maelstrom (2-3 people per row, depending on size)
- Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Great Movie Ride (4-6 people per row depending on size), Star Tours, Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Studio Backlot Tour
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom: Kilimanjaro Safari (4-6 people per row depending on size), Dinosaur (4 people per row), Kali River Rapids (8 people per ride vehicle)
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.
- Buzz Lighter’s Space Ranger Spin, Haunted Mansion, Peter Pan’s Flight – Bench-style seating. One adult and two medium-to-small sized children, or two adults and one very small child could fit into one ride vehicle.
- Dumbo – Bench-style seating. One adult and two small children could fit into one vehicle.
- Mad Tea Party – Bench-style seating, up to five people per teacup, depending on their size.
- Magic Carpets of Aladdin – Each carpet has two rows of bench-style seating. Total carpet capacity of 4-5 guests, depending on their size. One row controls the height of the carpet, the other controls the tilt of the carpet.
- Tomorrowland Speedway – Bench-style seating. Ideally suited for two, but one adult and two small children could fit into one car. Only one person can drive.
- Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain – Each car/log seats many people, but only two per row.
- Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover – Bench-style seating with two rows. 4-5 people per vehicle, depending on their size.
- Snow White’s Scary Adventure – Bench-style seating with three rows. 5-7 people per car, depending on size.
- Astro Orbiter – Two people per rocket.
- Space Mountain – Individual cars hold three people. Two cars are linked together.
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.
- Journey Into Imagination – Bench-style seating with two rows. 4-6 people per vehicle depending on size.
- Mission Space – Four people per vehicle.
- The Seas with Nemo and Friends – 2-3 people per clam mobile, depending on size.
- Test Track – Six people per vehicle, in two rows of three.
- Spaceship Earth – Four people per vehicle, in two rows of two.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ☺.
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.
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.