Earlier this summer our family visited SeaWorld. Although we were all looking forward to our day, my 8-year old daughter counted down for weeks before our visit. SeaWorld combines her two loves- marine life and roller coasters.
As I planned for our day I anticipated a little bit of conflict. Mary Grace is tall and quite a daredevil. She’s always been adventurous and pushes the limits on everything. Even as a young child she went on every roller coaster with her hands up in the air. Her thrill seeking attitude could not wait to ride everything.
On the other hand, our 4-year old came to SeaWorld with us too. He likes to do everything big sister does. Although he’s much more cautious, I knew he’d be bummed about not getting to ride the big roller coasters. Because of this family dynamic, conflict was inevitable during our day at SeaWorld. I planned ahead…but I made one teeny, tiny miscalculation.
I’ve found that knowing what to expect always helps our travel days go smoother. In that spirit, I did a little research about SeaWorld prior to our trip. I learned the height requirement for the 4 major roller coasters was 54 inches. Making a tiny mark on the wall, I used a tape measure to verify my daughter was in fact tall enough. At the time, I remember thinking it was close, but clearly enough.
I also found a smaller roller coaster- The Shamu Express (dubbed as the “just-thrilling-enough first roller coaster for kids) for our 4-year old. Having mentally planned our day, I reminded the kids that they would be able to ride different rides. However, we would spend a lot of our day watching the shows together as a family. Foolproof, right?
Well, no. It turned out that my somewhat whimsical measurement “ruined” my daughter’s day. She wasn’t tall enough to ride any of the big roller coasters. The first time she got measured that day I was somewhat annoyed at the SeaWorld employee (in hindsight, I was TOTALLY wrong!) I thought they did the measurement too quickly and didn’t let my daughter get in prime, height-maximizing position before dismissing her.
Like any truly awesome parent would, I walked away and coached her on how to stand up straight enough to make the height requirement. Looking back, I’m truly ashamed at myself for thinking this way, let alone vocalizing it to my child. In my own defense, I truly thought she was over 54 inches.
It turns out, she wasn’t. She was less than 1/4 an inch away from the 54 inch mark, but she definitely wasn’t quite 54 inches. A VERY kind SeaWorld employee saw my daughter’s tears and spent several minutes making sure we were getting an accurate measurement- even giving her a chance to reposition her feet and hold her head straight. Unfortunately, no amount of will-power could make her taller.
Oh, the drama and the tears that followed the second measurement were enough to break my heart. Obviously, her height that day..or lack there of…wasn’t my fault (well, technically it probably was, but that’s another story.) But I did feel responsible for setting her up for disappointment by getting her excited about the awesome roller coasters she would ride at SeaWorld.
A few times she uttered the words “my day is ruined.” I can assure you, it wasn’t. Not even close! We had an AMAZING day at SeaWorld! I probably wouldn’t even be thinking about this minor blip in an otherwise perfect day, except for the recent tragedies at a couple of other theme parks. Most notable, the 10-year old boy who died on a water park roller coaster/slide.
The news stories hit close to home. I kept thinking about how my daughter- for a few brief minutes- said that not being able to ride the roller coasters ruined her day. Yes, perhaps, but it didn’t ruin our lives. I know at the time I felt disappointment and possibly a tiny bit of annoyance that the SeaWorld employees stuck unapologetically to the height requirements. The distance between my daughter’s head and the 54 inch mark was almost microscopic.
Now, I feel gratitude. This summer’s tragedies served as reminders to why theme parks have such strict guidelines. Rules are in place and enforced to keep us safe. Bottom line. So HUGE public thank you to the SeaWorld employees that measured my daughter that day. I know I smiled and thanked you, but deep down I disagreed with your decision. I was wrong.
*I do not know the circumstances leading to the death of the child, or any of the other details surrounding the other theme park accidents this summer. In no way am I assuming or implying that the incidents were related to any height requirement infractions.*