The Joy of Character Experiences

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In every Disney commercial since the beginning of Disney commercials there is almost always a part where a young child meets the beloved Mickey Mouse.  The melodramatic music beings to play and you can’t help but want that moment for your own child or even… yourself.

For so many people, meeting their favorite Disney characters in the parks is a crucial part of a well rounded Disney vacation.  Character meet and greets are an opportunity to see the child come out in every single adult.  It’s such a mesmerizing thing to see a grown man in his twenties, stocky and strong, tattoos all over his body, stand in a line with sweaty palms because he’s so excited about meeting Pooh Bear.  Yeah, I’m talking about my husband, but I know there are more of you out there so you might as well fess up.

My most memorable meet and greet that I’ve experienced personally was with the characters from “Up” a few years back.  I came prepared to meet them for the first time by wearing my Russell shirt.  When the gang came out Russell saw me and ran across the room to “chat” with me.  After waiting my turn, I got at least a good 5 minutes with the characters along with lots of personal attention from Russell.  He even tried to bail on everyone else and just run away with me!  That silly Wilderness Explorer.

Often times a youngster doesn’t know how to handle themselves in meet and greets.  Once a child gets over their sometimes initial fear of giant costumed animals, they get a thrill of walking up to a character, saying “Hi,” holding out their autograph book and watching the perfect penmanship flow onto the paper.  Or, in some cases with dexterity challenged characters, a stamp.  The larger than life creature offers a hug, preparing the child for a picture perfect moment.  As well as I may be able to write about the experience, there is nothing like being there yourself and witnessing it.

I prepare myself for character meet and greets before I even leave for vacation.  I go through, park by park, and figure out which characters will be out and about.  Then I make a list of ones I’d like to see to keep in my Disney travel binder.  This works especially well if you have children.  It gets them excited about character experiences and gives them something to look forward to.  Though, knowing which characters that should be in the parks isn’t nearly as important as knowing ones that you probably won’t get a chance to see.  If your little girl’s favorite character is Meg from Hercules, you don’t want to give her false hope that she’ll for sure be giving Meg a hug on your trip.  Some characters are considered rare now and don’t often come out except for special events and celebrations.  Once in a while though, you’ll stumble upon a scarcely seen character.  But, it’s going to be random and it’s not something you can plan for.

Why is planning for a simple character experience so important?  Disney newbies should know that while you’re going to encounter some very short character lines, you’ll almost always run into a very long line for the most popular characters like mice and princesses.  Don’t be fooled by a meet and greet that is inside of a building or tent.  While the enclosure does guarantee air conditioning, it also guarantees a long line most of the time.

Don’t be afraid of jumping into a meet and greet line just because you’re utilizing a Touring Plan!  You just have to be aware of how long the line is and if you’re willing to take a chunk of time away from visiting attractions.  Luckily for you, TouringPlans.com and The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World provides you with brilliant touring plans that include character greetings built right in.  Take a look at the Magic Kingdom One-Day Touring Plan for Princess Fans Ages 4 to 8.

If you plan to revisit certain parks on your trip, you can always hit up scheduled meet and greets on your second visit to a specific park.  Use your first day to accomplish attractions that are must dos.  Of course, if you encounter a short character line, feel free to jump in.  That shouldn’t affect your touring much at all unless it’s first thing in the morning.  Avoid getting side tracked by Donald Duck and Goofy right after park opening.  Yeah, they’re waving at you but they don’t know that you’re on a mission to dominate Toy Story Midway Mania.

If you’re going to focus a half or whole day on meeting characters, may I suggest getting many meet and greets out of the way first thing?  That’s exactly backwards of what I just told you not to do… I get that.  Just go with me.  This idea really is for those of you that want to spend some time meeting characters.   I know that it’s difficult not to participate in the traditional “Running of the Guests” towards a high profile attraction, but this really is a way to nab a lot of character autographs in a short amount of time.  While others guests fill up attraction lines after rope drop, get in line at places like Character Spot at Epcot or Town Square Theater in the Magic Kingdom.  You’ll be surprised how much time you’ll save by not waiting in character lines.  Plus, shorter lines means less irritable kiddos.

A great way to save time and meet a handful of characters at once is by booking an Advanced Dining Reservation at one of Walt Disney World’s character dining experiences.  Every one of the four major theme parks and most deluxe resorts have some sort of restaurant that allows your family to dine with a specific set of characters.  They tend to be pretty pricey but in my opinion, worth it.  The only downside to restaurants that provide character interaction is the noise level.  So, keep that in mind if you’re prone to migraines.  I know that this is no secret anymore to most folks but try nabbing a reservation at Crystal Palace at the Magic Kingdom for breakfast before the park opens.  You get a yummy, albeit loud, dining experience and even allows you the opportunity to take pictures in front of the castle in a totally empty Magic Kingdom.

Look for my upcoming blog entries where I’ll talk about specific character experiences available in each park.  In the mean time, let me know how you folks integrate characters into your day!

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Posted on August 8, 2011

20 Responses to “The Joy of Character Experiences”

  • No character meet and greets for us. The only time we get a photo with a character is if we stumbled upon them and there’s no line. Otherwise, it’s just not for us. Even as a kid, I was never into the characters. When we have children, I’d like to get pictures with them and characters…but again, I won’t be waiting in any lines for it, I don’t think.

    • I agree. I’d much rather be experiencing attractions than standing in line for characters. I do like seeing them around the parks. I think it adds to the whole Disney envelopment that happens when you go to WDW. But standing in line waiting for them to sign a book isn’t for me. Maybe its because I had an AP for Disneyland for so long. The M&Gs there are so much less structured.

  • Good to read that we’re not the only “adults” who stop for character meet & greets. Sarah and I will stop for just about any character, as long as we haven’t met with them in the last year in the outfits they’re wearing. They think an important part of the M&Gs is the experience. We don’t just approach them as if they’re living props; we try to antagonize them in some way or actually interact with them. This has resulted in some awesome experiences (and some mishaps, such as Goofy spilling a soda on Sarah after he tried to steal her from Chip following Chip’s proposal to her at Liberty Tree Tavern).

    • It’s funny you mention the outfits… Matt is dying to meet Donald Duck in his classic costume. I never knew anyone cared about outfits so much but now I know he’s not the only one! Interacting with characters is the key. I agree. I’ve had SO many amazing experiences just because I was able to talk to them and ask them questions. Poor Sarah! Poor Goofy! Who was more embarrassed? :p

  • Characters are a MUST for our family…. of course, with 4 kids, age 3 to 7, I don’t know how there would be any way around it. Some of my best memories of WDW center around my kids and the characters. Of course, planning helps, and character dining is great. On our last trip, I used the tip to ask the cast member escorting the character about other character meet and greets. While waiting to see Aladdin and Jasmine, we found out the perfect time to meet Tiana and Naveen– and it was the highlight of the trip for my then 5 year old!

  • I have to admit I’m addicted to M&Gs, especially like Tom said, I havent met them yet and added them to my “collection”. lol

  • We love M&Gs! My parents still have the autograph book my sister and I used growing-up, and my wife and I now get the pleasure of enjoying M&Gs with our young son. It’s always exciting to find a rare character! We like to knock out some of the core characters quickly at the EPCOT Character Spot. Also happy about the new Mickey and Minnie M&G at the Town Square Theater – WAY more efficient than the old M&G at Toontown, where we usually spent more time in line than for any other attraction).

    • I know what you mean about the old Mickey and Minnie meet and greet! I have avoided it for years because I don’t want to go through the hassle. Glad to Disney has caught on to peoples dissatisfaction with that situation.

  • I’m joining the “I love M&G” club too. And now that we have a little one, I feel justified in my guilty pleasure. We pre-order the Photopass CD and then don’t worry about bothering with our own camera, and we’re all in the photos. I just designed an autograph book (and printed through Blurb) for my son for our upcoming September trip… decided to use photos from our trip last year. Looking forward to filling it up! Check it out if you need some ideas –> http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/invited/1846629/78ea0f270a2086521a9e642cd334ebf332e89447?ce=blurb_ew&utm_source=widget

    • Oh wow! Thank you! Back on my first trip when I was 9, my sister-in-law bought me a blank hardcover journal and gave it to me on the plane along with Disney stickers. It was really smart because it took my mind off of my first airplane ride and I was able to just concentrate on something else.

  • I love character meets, we didn’t get enough on our first trip! Thanks for the tip – mix meets into the touring plans.

  • We had a great time with meet and greets on our trip in June. Loved Tianna and Naveen. We were wearing matching green shirts and they declared us their favorite family of the day as we walked up to them.
    We had great luck catching characters at their first meeting time in the a.m. We had a great morning at MK on a day when it opened at 8am. We were there at rope drop and did rides for the first hour and then caught fairy godmother, Tianna and Naveen, Ariel and Eric in the second hour, waiting only about 10 minutes at the most for each. At Epcot we did Akershus at 8a.m. for princesses then made rope drop. While I got fastpasses for Soarin, wife and girls saw the big 5 at Character Spot. They were 2nd in line and were finished by the time I got the fastpasses and dd 9 and I were off to Test Track.
    Also I agree with planning meet and greets into your day. That way, you can be sure to get the characters you want with minimal waits.

  • I have only been to WDW once as an adult and we skipped character meet and greets, except for Mickey of course. I definitely felt like we missed out. We are going back this fall and I want to plan this into our day. Where can I find out what characters will be out and where they will be located?

    • There are a few places if you just Google it out. Also, when you get to the park you can grab an Entertainment Schedule and it will list the characters currently available to meet and the times that you can find them along with the location.

  • The first time I went to WDW I was 20, a tad too old for the M&G. Now I’m 27 and I still don’t understand the popularity. I suppose a child would be excited to “meet” a character, especially a face character who can talk back to them. I just never understood it. My 58 year old mother, on the other hand, LOVES meeting characters. Go figure.

    While I’m not a character fan, I do think they add a tremendous element to the parks and their absences would defiantly be noted.

    Oh well, the longer the M&G lines the shorter the lines everywhere else!

  • My family is obsessed with M&Gs. We’re headed there in September, and I made books on Blurb with about 100 different characters in them with spots for autographs and spots for photos to be affixed later.

    I was careful to only pick characters that are easy to find or will be out during MNSSHP.

    We plan our days (and even our outfits) around which characters we’ll see each day at the parks and our character dining meals.

  • Hello, first trip for my family to WDW in about a week and the character greets is a big concern. My oldest daughter 8, is simply scared of dressups. Soothing, hand holding etc etc, doesn’t do much for her. She has been like this since 5. My plan is to give a Disney Character a heads up about this as we have a Character breakfast our first morning ( planned this and not sure if it is a good idea )and hope they have a strategy for kids that feel uncomfortable around dressups. I could not find any advice on this issue. Any recommendations would be great.

  • by Brian Whitaker on August 17, 2011, at 11:47 am EST

    I have to say; we have fallen in love with character greets. Like Tom said; we love to interact with them. My favorite is to ask Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Daisy why they are not married yet. You get some of the best reactions. Mickey once covered my wife’s wedding ring and his eyes. Donald moved his fingers to show the gesture for no money.
    Next trip is for my Birthday in February. My goal is one character photo for each year; so I need 43. This will be a challenge but we have three character meals and will be there 9 days so I am not worried.