Taking young children to Disneyland but not sure if they are ready to race with Lightning McQueen or battle the bad guys on Hyperspace Mountain? One TravelingMom put her 6 year old to the ultimate thrill ride test at Disneyland: ride them all! She returned with these tips and reviews to help you decide what attractions are just right and what might be too thrilling for all but the littlest daredevils.

Disneyland Thrill Ride Guide - Space Mountain

Disneyland Thrill Ride Guide – Space Mountain Photo credit: Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort

The Thrill of Disneyland Rides

A child’s first thrill ride at Disneyland is always memorable. It usually goes one of two ways. Your kid will either be the one squealing with glee or screaming in sheer terror. The challenge is finding the moment when the ride will elicit more of the former than the latter.

How can you tell when your child is ready for attractions like Space Mountain, Radiator Springs Racers, the Matterhorn, or even California Screamin’? While Disneyland doesn’t have the vertigo-inducing coasters of many theme parks, several of the rides do offer real thrills. It is not always easy to decide which ones are the best to try first and when your child is ready to graduate to bigger challenges.

Disneyland Thrill Ride Guide - 6 Year Old Test Subject

6-year-old thrill ride tester ready for action!
Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

Earlier this year, I took my daughter (who was just a few weeks shy of her 7th birthday at the time) to Disneyland. Our plan? Get her take a turn on all of the major thrill rides and then offer a 6-year-old’s perspective on them all.

I interviewed her after each ride to find out what rides were too boring, what offered just the right thrills, and what might be too much for many of her peers.

After riding a few of the more challenging ones, she refused an on-camera interview while she regained her composure! Luckily, we don’t seem to have done any permanent damage with this experiment.

Of course, you know your children best, so you need to adjust her recommendations accordingly for your child’s personality. My daughter errs on the slightly adventurous side, but she definitely is not a thrill ride junkie. She has a healthy dose of caution too. I’d consider her perspective to be about the middle of the road for most kids her age.

Before You Ride

Before you dive into the thrill rides, heed one important word of warning. Always (always!) check height minimums and do an at-home measuring test before a trip. There is nothing worse than going to Disneyland and coming up a half inch short for the ride your child has his heart seat on. I’ve lucked out with a kid who is 90th percentile in height, so she’s always been tall enough to ride at the point she becomes mentally ready. More petite children, however, can be several years behind their friends and have long wait ahead of them due to height restrictions.

And one thrill ride consolation prize: If your kids aren’t ready for a certain attraction, remember there’s always Rider Switch. Rider Switch allows mom and dad to trade off childcare duties while both getting to ride the attraction, while only waiting in line once. You can even combine Rider Switch benefits with Fastpass to skip lots of lines in the process.

So, on to the thrills! Here’s my daughter’s take on each ride as you plan for some adventure with your own kids.

Thrill Rides in Disneyland Park

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

(Height minimum: 40 inches)

Disneyland Thrill Ride Guide - Big Thunder Mountain

Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

This mine train through Western landscapes has been one of my daughter’s favorites for several years. It’s a real coaster with twists and drops but since it is outdoors with a visible track, it isn’t particularly frightening. It’s not a bad choice for a first Disneyland coaster.

6 Year Old’s Verdict: Just right.

Matterhorn Bobsleds

(Height Minimum: 42 inches)

Disneyland Thrill Ride Guide - Matterhorn Bobsleds

Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

The Matterhorn is a classic that can only be found in Disneyland, so it scores major points for being unique. My daughter first rode it when she was not even 3 years old (the height minimum was lower then, as this was pre-ride renovation). While we didn’t scar her for life on that ride, I’d wait on this one with many kids. In fact, the Matterhorn is still too much for her even now for two reasons: the very bumpy and jerky track and the very loud Yeti scaring the living daylights out of riders as they round corners in the middle of the ride.

6 Year Old’s Verdict: A bit too much.

Space Mountain

(Height Minimum: 40 inches)

Disneyland Thrill Ride Guide - Space Mountain

Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

Space Mountain is one of Disneyland’s most famous attractions and one of the more challenging coasters at Disneyland. While the twists and dips really aren’t significantly greater than Big Thunder Mountain, the fact that you are in the dark makes this ride much, much scarier. If your kids go white-knuckled on the minor dark drops of Pirates of the Caribbean, that’s a sure sign to skip Space Mountain for a few years.

6 Year Old’s Verdict: A bit too much.

Splash Mountain

(Height Minimum: 40 inches)

Disneyland Thrill Ride Guide - Splash Mountain

Photo credit: Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort

Most of Splash Mountain is a classic Disney dark ride with characters that any age child would love. What makes it a thrill ride is the enormous waterfall drop at the end. Of all the four Disneyland “mountains,” this is the ride I’d recommend you try first. If your child isn’t ready for stomach-in-throat style drops, at least the scary parts are over very quickly. It’s worth the thrill ride gamble.

6 Year Old’s Verdict: Just right.

Indiana Jones Adventure

(Height Minimum: 46 inches)

Indiana Jones is a bumpy jeep ride through adventure movie scenes. It has a definite creepy and spooky factor with snakes and skulls, so this isn’t a good ride if your children have certain kinds of fears. Those ride features don’t bother my daughter, but she did have a real complaint about it due to the volume. It’s really, really loud which can overwhelm some kids. The jerks and twists aren’t super-scary, so as a thrill ride goes, this one is in the middle of the pack.

6 Year Old’s Verdict: Just right.

Star Tours

(Height Minimum: 40 inches)

Disneyland Thrill Ride Guide - Star Tours

Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

If you think your children are not quite ready for coasters, Star Tours is a smart step down that is nevertheless quite thrilling. The ride uses motion simulators in front of a screen to mimic thrills while only really requiring a seat belt. My daughter loved it and wasn’t scared a bit. Star Tours is the perfect gateway ride to test your child’s readiness for something bigger.

6 Year Old’s Verdict: Easy peasy.

Thrill Rides in Disney California Adventure

Radiator Springs Racers

(Height Minimum: 40 inches)

Disneyland Cars Land - Radiator Springs Racers

Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

Ever since the opening of Cars Land, Radiator Springs Racers has been the hottest ride at Disneyland, and with good reason! The ride starts like a classic dark ride with a tour through the world of Lightning McQueen and then turns into a high-speed race through the desert. There are two or three drops but the real thrills come from speed. Most kids will probably be ready for it as soon as they hit the height minimum.

6 Year Old’s Verdict: Just right.

Soarin’ Around the World

(Height Minimum: 40 inches)

Disneyland Thrill Ride Guide - Soarin Around the World

Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

Soarin’ is another screen-based ride, which simulates flying over some of the world’s most famous landmarks. The attraction was recently converted from Soarin’ Over California to Soarin’ Around the World and has a brand new movie and soundtrack. The ride is exhilarating without being frightening at all, making it an excellent first thrill ride choice.We attempted it as soon as my daughter was tall enough and it has been a favorite ever since. My only caveat? If your child is scared of heights, this attraction could be a problem.

6 Year Old’s Verdict: Just right (in fact, this is her favorite ride at Disneyland).

Goofy’s Sky School

(Height Minimum: 42 inches)

Goofy’s Sky School is a crazy mouse coaster that my daughter has deemed her second favorite ride at Disneyland for several years. It’s outside so the track is visible and has only two larger drops. The other thrills are from twists and the optical illusion that the car is going off the tracks. My daughter adored it from the first time she rode it at age 5. I’d consider this a smart coaster to try early as you are experimenting with your child’s thrill ride tolerance.

6 Year Old’s Verdict: Just right.

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

(Height Minimum: 40 inches)

Disneyland Thrill Ride Guide - Tower of Terror

Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

The Tower of Terror’s days are numbered at Disneyland (it is being converted into a Guardians of the Galaxy ride in early 2017), but we managed to squeeze in one more ride on the classic attraction on our recent trip. This drop-style ride requires a slightly different evaluation than the coasters. Some kids are totally okay with it at a very young age much before the coasters, and others never get comfortable with the drop sensation even when mastering the other thrill rides. You almost have to attempt the ride as a leap of faith. My daughter adored the ride at Walt Disney World a year ago, but found the ride to be too much at Disneyland on our last trip (and in all fairness, the rides are quite a bit different between the two parks).

6 Year Old’s Verdict: A bit too much.

California Screamin’

(Height Minimum: 48 inches)

Disneyland Thrill Ride Guide - California Screamin

Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

Last but certainly not least is California Screamin’. California Screamin’ is the one major thrill ride at Disneyland that my daughter has not yet attempted. The reason? The giant upside down loop in the middle. California Screamin’ is by far the most thrilling ride at Disneyland, so I would not attempt it until your kids are comfortable on Space Mountain first. But if your children are adrenaline junkies, it should be their first stop!

6 Year Old’s Verdict: Definitely too much.

What are your child’s favorite thrill rides at Disneyland? Were there any that you found to be too much, too soon?

PIN THIS POST FOR LATER

Disneyland Thrill Ride Guide for Kids: Taking younger kids to the happiest place on earth in California? Find out whether they are ready for Disneyland attractions like Space Mountain or Radiator Springs Racers with this helpful review and tips.

Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom