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!