The Ups and Downs of Height Requirements at Walt Disney World

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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.

Measuring station at Stitch's Great Escape

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.
  • Expedition Everest measuring station

  • 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.

We found the measuring stations to be very accurate throughout the Magic Kingdom.

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.

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Posted on August 9, 2011

34 Responses to “The Ups and Downs of Height Requirements at Walt Disney World”

  • You should flesh out the section and explain why there are two sticks.

    The first is a courtesy to see if its possible to ride. The second is the official. The first is to make should you don’t waste time waiting in line the second is to catch kids how are sneaked past the first CM.

    Also there are no measuring stations where you can get a wristband. This was tried in Disney Land and it was found that parents would get their taller kid measured and remove the wristband and put it on their too short other child.

    • We just got back from Disney World yesterday and they had wristbands and handstamps at Kali River Rapids in AK. My 6 year old daughter was definitely tall enough and received a handstamp. My 2 1/2 year old son was just tall enough so he received a wristband AND a handstamp. Maybe they revised the system to have only the younger/shorter ones get a wristband instead?

      • Now that you say that I think that’s the only ride that does this.

      • The stamp means they are tall enough, the wristband means they need the waist harness in addition to the shoulder harness (or the inverse might be true I remember both kids getting a wrist band and the smallest getting a stamp on his wristband)

    • I truly understand that rides need height requirements for “Safety Reasons” as stated by several of the height guards stationed all over Disney World. However, we did take, as suggested, precautions and measured my son before departing on our once in a lifetime trip. He measured 40″ – we even brought a tape measure with us – when we departed on our trip.

      When we approached the ride Soarin, he measured just we had gotten – 40 inches. He was allowed to ride, not only once, but several times. We enjoyed the rest of the area and then took him to another 40 inch required ride, much later in the day, when he was tired, but he wasn’t ready to leave the park. The height “guard” measured him and at this time he came up short on the height by a hair – literally. He moved around a lot and was getting frustrated standing under the measuring equipment. His head did in fact touch the 40″ required height, but because the guard did not see it….as did other people around us….he wasn’t allowed to ride. We were at Disney parks for two weeks and it was always later in the day that he wasn’t allowed to ride because he just wouldn’t stand straight enough – he’s five for crying out loud.

      We made many suggestions to the park employees and management, but they always made excuses of why he wasn’t allowed to ride. I believe that 36″ is a more realistic measurement for children. And, if anyone suggests that I would put my son in danger….shame on you. He likes fast rides, like the ones we ride at out local amusement park or local fairs.

      We suggested wrist bands as a means of identifying those that would be tall enough to ride and was told by a Disney official that they choose not to use a wrist band because parents have switched the wristband to a younger/shorter child. Please note that we had not been to the Animal Kingdom yet!

      Now get this – we rode the Kali River Rapids in Animal Kingdom and he, of course, measured the required 40″ and was given a wristband with a hand stamp across the band and a portion of his hand that would need to match up before he could ride.

      Disney – get your stories straight. They say – “Let the memories begin”. It was more like a nightmare for us trying to explain to my son that he couldn’t ride all of the rides with 40″ requirements. Afterall, he was 40″ and he knew that we had checked everything before we left our home for our “once in a lifetime – first trip for our son to Disney – vacation.

      Disney, shame on you for disappointing children!!!!!!

      • Here is the deal. The reason why your kid was turned away at the end of the day is that he got shorter. As the day goes on your spine compresses and yes you get shorter.

        As for the comment that the height should be 36 instead of 40, are you a ride designer? The heights are determined by the designer of the ride.

        As for the wristband it was fully explained in the post above yours its to tell the loader that an under 40 but higher than 36 inch rider is coming and should use the special seat. If your kid was over 40 then the loading Cast Member just wanted to give your kid a wristband.

        They tried the wristbands at Disneyland and they found too many parents switching wristbands. The same parents that would probably sue if their kid got hurt.

        The Cast Members (not guards) are just doing their job to keep your son safe.

        • No, not a ride designer, but an engineer and I understand design. And, NO, he wasn’t given the wristband just because the “Cast Member” wanted to give him a wristband. I questioned him as to why the wristband was needed and was told by the cast member that it was to show other “Cast Members” that he was the required height for the ride because he was so close to the 40″ requirement.

          I understand that “Cast Members” are doing their job, but some of them go a little overboard and it isn’t fair to those children that just make the height requirements.

          Also, as for parents switching wristbands….then the bands weren’t put on properly. If you try to remove the bands they tear and cannot be repaired.

          • Sorry if sounded a bit harsh but all your posts seemed to be a tad insulting to the CM’s. I’m hoping you were just venting.

            As for the wristbands, they were put on right. The parents would bring in scissors and tape strictly to get around the rules.

  • We had a cast member deny our daughter a ride when he was able to slide a sheet of paper between her head and the measuring device. We thought that was extreme. We waited 10 minutes and then when a new cast memeber was in place they let her through. Overall we were happy that they measured her multiple times. We wanted her safe more than we wanted her on the ToT. Though at 4 years old and exactly 40 inches she went on twice:)

    • Yep, I’ve already written my comments on the subject, but this did happen to us several times. We kept trying to get him on all of the rides because he wanted to ride them and he knew he was the correct height.

      I told the “height guards” (would love to call them something not as nice) that they needed to be as careful with all children, because we did see slightly smaller children coming off of 40″ rides.

      Now, we did come across some that would take their time and patience with small children to measure them appropriately. My son, 5 years old, is on the small side because we, his parents, are both on the small side.

  • by Debra Gallagher on August 9, 2011, at 1:14 pm EST

    We have been to Disney several times and NEVER see kids restricted on ANY rides. It was shocking to me that little kids got through the gates, but maybe parents are doing the share thing where one parent rides then the next. But I have never ever seen Disney enforce the height requirements for little kids. They were on every ride we went on.

    • I’m extremely surprised to hear you say this. I was at Walt Disney World just over a week ago and saw several children measured and denied access to rides for which they were not tall enough. When my own children were smaller, they were measured every time we approached a thrill ride.

      Most rides have no height requirement, and for others the requirement is quite minimal, perhaps you were primarily observing those attractions.

      • I’m shocked to hear this as well. We were at the Magic Kingdom as well and my son wasn’t able to get on to Thunder Mountain as he was just a smidgen too short.

  • by tinker'n'fun on August 9, 2011, at 1:58 pm EST

    I was also there last week and personally saw 4 children get measured at the first site only to be turned away at the second. Parents need to realize at the second site you can usually see the ride and it is just heart-breaking to see the children turned away. As a parent I wouldn’t even try if my child was not truly over the height limit!

    • I agree that I wouldn’t want to hurt my child, however, when your child gets on height required rides and is then turned down later for another with the same requirement just does not make sense to a young child.

  • We were in DL in June and my 40″ daughter was able to ride Soarin’ and Space Mt (DL has a different seating configuration & lower height requirement). She was denied twice at Jumpin’ Jellyfish in DCA, which also has a 40″ height requirement. For some reason, she was approximately an inch too short on that 40″ measuring station. The Jellyfish cast member claimed that Disney even measures their measuring station to ensure accuracy but I’m thinking this one must have gotten missed. Oh well, at least she got to ride the better rides. Also, all of the cast members mentioned that it is the 2nd measuring station that is the offical verdict for “ride or no ride” on height restrictions.

    • by Erin Foster on August 9, 2011, at 4:00 pm EST

      Yes, you are correct that the cast member at the second measuring station is the one who makes the final call.

      Interesting about your experience with the measuring stations being different. I had heard that too, which is why we measured the stations ourselves. We found the stations at the WDW Magic Kingdom to be accurate, but it may not be true elsewhere.

    • Yep, we heard the same comment – they measure their stations daily. I truly believe that the people who are more strict just do not understand about or have children. If they do have children, I feel sorry for them.

  • Before leaving on a trip to WDW. We pull out the list of rides with height requirements and set up shop next to the growth chart on the wall and begin our exercise in measurement!

    We identify where both kids are on the chart and then go through the list one by one noting who can and cannot ride each attraction. There is then a conversation about how if they are close, they may not meet the right height on WDW’s measuring stick.

    I like doing this because it sets everyone’s expectations before we even leave home.

    It worked well for our now 10yo dd, but isn’t necessary for our 5yo ds since he isn’t all that brave about riding attractions and it will be a few years before he attempts the bigger “thrill” rides.

  • by Lauren@BaseballsandBows on August 9, 2011, at 3:45 pm EST

    Just a heads up–at the water parks, they will not measure a child with shoes on, so a child may make the cut off for Rock-N-Roller Coaster and still be denied at Summit Plummet (or other slide).

    Also, another suggestion for single parents: you can all wait in line together and then the child who is tall enough can ride alone if they are 7 or older. The parent and smaller child can take the “chicken” exit and meet the child at the end of the ride. This might not be a comfortable choice for some people, but it is an option.

  • by Erin Foster on August 9, 2011, at 4:04 pm EST

    Great point about the water parks!

    If you do have a child ride alone, make sure that he is comfortable with both the mechanics of the ride and knows exactly where you’ll be meeting up. If you can equip the child with a cell phone, that’s great too. Sometimes rides do have unexpected delays and being able to communicate can take a lot of worry out of the situation.

  • by Jeremy Muse on August 9, 2011, at 4:36 pm EST

    On a previous trip to Disney World, we bought one of those posters that shows the height requirements for certain attractions. Every week, leading up to our Disney World trip, we would check my youngest sons height. He was mm’s away from 40″. He had been waiting a long time to go on Soarin and could not way.

    When we got to Disney World, our first day was at the Magic Kingdom. We brought these shoes with huge souls to help boost him that extra mm so he could ride. We ran, okay walked really fast, to Splash Mountain to ride and get out first family picture. Brodies hair skimmed the bar, but his head did not touch. He couldn’t go. This was a huge blow to our trip. He were so excited to go on some of the big boy rides as a family.

    The next day, at Disney Hollywood studios, we decided to put an extra pair of socks on my son and we walked over to Star Tours. They didn’t even check, just let us walk in. Unfortunately, Brodie was probably too young for that ride, he left a little confused.

    Next day, EPCOT. We were pumped and went straight to Soarin for our fastpasses. Then we went to Test Track. The first guy said go ahead because he was a mm or less away. But the second castmember said no, another huge blow. We went to breakfast, then tried Soarin. Got the same answer. This time he cried in my arms as his mom and brother went on the ride.

    As we were sitting there waiting for them to get off, I saw a lady with high heels walk by. This gave me an idea, I removed the extra sock, bunched it in the heel of his foot, and we walked over to the new castmember. I’ll never forget the sound of his head hitting that bar. Tears welled in my eyes as he jumped up and down and said “daddy I did it.” The castmember was shocked when I told her we’d be right back. My wife was even more shocked as I told her that it was our turn, turned around and walked on the ride.

    While I wouldn’t have done this if my son was 6 inches away, but because he needed that little bump up, I said what the heck. Brodie road everything that vacation that was under 40″ (except for TOT). A month after the trip, Brodie was over 40″ without shoes on. He’s been on the new Star Tours 4 times at Disneyland, and is now over 42 inches. I’ll never forget that feeling of him hitting that bar, and him whispering “thank you daddy, I love you” as we walked onto the ride.

    • I’ve used the plastic wrapped, folded pantiliners in the heels of my oldest’s sneakers for Mission Space Green before. He was also only a paper’s width away!

    • I’m so glad that he got to experience Soarin. My son loved it. But we weren’t that lucky with all of the other rides.

  • We have always referred to the second height checkpoint as the honesty assessment – for the parents. It makes sense that the 2nd measurement is the deciding one, as parents can just tell the first cast member that they are going to use rider swap depending on how each individual ride handles their swap procedure. We have actually watched a family try this tactic. When we mentioned that there was a 2nd measuring station, their response was that it never hurts to try.

    I think that preparing your child in advance, and not promising any rides for which they might not “measure up,” is the best way to handle the height restriction issue. My 6 year old was able to ride 40″ rides when he was 4, but just barely. While we chose his footwear carefully, they were definitely within the realm of normal sole height. We had the same experience 14 months later when he was 5 and a half with all of the 44″ rides. Both times we stressed to our son that the height restrictions were for safety, and we would be following all safety procedures on our trips. Every time he is measured by a cast member, he asks them “Is it safe for me to ride?” I really believe that advance preparation helps him be ready for being measured for the height-restricted rides, no matter the outcome.

  • As a parent of a 7 year old and some-one who worked in a theme park on rides for five years I understand both sides. It can be really fustrating when one worker okays your child and another doesn’t. I would think parks could come up with a better standard. I think a measuring station at the front and a stamp would work. But please be understanding of the workers. They are just trying to do their job. Some may be more strict and unwavering, but they all have the safety of your child in mind.

  • I agree with everyone who says that you should prepare your children for rides they may not be able to go on. I strongly disagree with those who try to “cheat” the system. If your child does not hit the bar, he or she is too small to go on the ride. By being sneaky, you are teaching your child that Disney’s safety precautions do not matter and rules are not meant to be followed.

  • We’ve had only one encounter with being turned away. This was at Rockin’ Roller. The first measuring station, the cast member moved our son on through. The SECOND station, they moved him through. When he got up to the actual ride, he was measured AGAIN and then was turned away. I’m totally fine with the height requirements, but it would have been much better to have been turned away earlier in the process rather than waiting in line and being turned away at the last second.

  • My son is very short (only in the third percentile for his age). He waited for years to go on the “big kid” rides. Before leaving for Disney, he measured barefoot at 39.5″ tall, so I did my motherly duty and made sure he was wearing sneakers sneakers (they have the tallest heel). When we went to the park, he fell painfully short of the measurement bar… until we realized that he wasn’t stretching himself to his fullest height! Unfortunately, this realization was made on the last day of our trip, but the joy on his face when his head hit the bar of Test Track just by “standing like a soldier” was immeasurable! Last year, (at age 7) he was finally tall enough for the 44″ rides. Before you know it, we’ll be conquering the Rockin’ Roller Coaster!

  • I think rider swap is a great option. But, when you are taking your child for the first time, both parents want to experience his first time. This is the reason for the trip to begin with…..making memories together!!!!