Planning a family Disney vacation is full of anticipation and excitement. You save money and plan meticulously for months to have that perfect, magical experience. However, it’s often underestimated how quickly things can go from exciting to scary for the youngest Disney guests. Navigating four theme parks with a little one can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you don’t anticipate what may trigger a reaction. Here we look at ways of preparing kids for Disney vacations.
I’ve seen kiddos get freaked out by 3 main things:
- Mickey and characters (they’re bigger than you think!),
- Fireworks (sure they’re pretty, but man are they loud!), and
There are a few things that you can do in advance to prepare your youngster for the magical world of excitement that awaits!
Buzz and Woody are big, even for adults!
Meeting Disney Friends:
Kids see Mickey, Minnie, and all of their favorite characters in movies and on TV, but it really doesn’t prepare them for how large they are in real life. One way to help prepare young kids to these large friends is to expose them to some local “life size” characters like at Chuck E. Cheese or mascots at any local sporting event. This is a great test run to see how a youngster can handle these larger than life characters. It’s also a way to help them sort through any anxiety they might have, so when they meet Mickey it won’t be so overwhelming. If they already love Chuck E. Cheese, then you can cross this concern off your list!
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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:
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.