When we were getting ready to bring our daughter, Zoe, for her first visit to Walt Disney World, when she was going to be 19 months old, one of my main concerns was how was she going to react to meeting the characters. Meeting Characters can be a huge memory for kids and adults alike, but if they aren’t ready it can also be a huge setback when it comes to visiting the parks. While I will be the first to admit that we went totally overboard with our preparation, it did totally pay off!
One of the first things we took into consideration was if we thought she was ready to meet the characters in a one-on-one situation. Our first step was to introduce her to the characters that she would be meeting by watching movies and seeing how she reacted to them. For example she LOVED Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse, but she had zero interest in Winnie the Pooh and Tigger (which broke my heart a little). Another thing we did was we tried to get her around characters whenever we could. The Red Robin near our house in Virginia had Kid’s Nite on Wednesdays, so we would go in and Zoe could get used to being around their large mascot. It was scary for her at first to be near him, but she was comfortable seeing him, and as time went on (and we ate many a hamburger) eventually she was okay with having her picture taken with him.
Now that we knew she was interested in meeting the characters, we needed to decide how much time we were going to dedicate to meeting them around the parks and in restaurants while we were on vacation. We first looked at what attractions she was tall enough to ride and ones that we felt were appropriate, and decided on the locations we would be taking her to in order to meet the characters. Then we also planned on dining with characters to take about 3 times longer than normal, so that way it was easy to plan our Advanced Dining Reservations and our other meals during the day.
A way that we translated these things into our park planning and experiences was to judge which characters she would be more comfortable seeing versus meeting. We decided to watch the 3 o’clock parade the first day in the parks to gauge who she really wanted to see. When it was all said and done, we decided to try a few in park meet and greets and to take her to an early dinner at the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall at Epcot. When we were planning our days, we always kept in mind that we wanted to visit the characters early in the day and not on our first day in the parks. We wanted to visit with Zoe’s favorites earlier in the day to make sure that she wasn’t cranky and was full of energy and smiles, and on our second or third day of vacation to give her time to adjust to her new surroundings and to be less overwhelmed by everything going on around her.
When we went into the Meet and Greets, I wanted to make sure that we had everything we needed for it to be a great visit with the characters. The first thing that we made sure that we had was an Autograph Book. While you can buy these in the park in a variety of sizes and with several different characters, I have bought Autograph books and I have also my own (and I still do) to give the trip a special touch. It is a super affordable, fun, and easy way to get excited about your upcoming trip. I like to keep Zoe’s Autograph Book and retractable pen or sharpie in a plastic bag to keep the book safe and to have everything together in one place. Having a retractable pen is nice, because it is a lot easier for the characters to use when signing the book. We also carried in a small bag of wipes, because if your kids are anything like Zoe she can have a dirty face in .0001 seconds out of nowhere. I was also ‘That Mom’ for the longest time that would make sure that she always perfect hair in her pictures…I have since seen the light, but I always have a hairbrush and extra hair bands in my bag when we visit the characters.
So there you are, in line, waiting to meet the characters…so now what? I like to make sure that we always have plenty of things to do while we were waiting in line to meet the characters. Smartphones and iPads are a great ways to help pass the time, but you want to keep in mind that reception isn’t always the best at Walt Disney World (especially inside of buildings) so you will want to make sure that you have apps that don’t require data to run. We also carried a small Etch-a-Sketch and Magna-doodle since they were easy to carry and didn’t have things that would possibly get her dirty during the wait. As we approached the characters, we always made sure that we were ready to go, in order to make sure that Zoe got enough time with them to have a meaningful interaction. Usually I was in charge of Zoe and her Autograph Book, while my husband was in charge of handling the picture taking and the photopass. This system always worked really well for us.
When we did character meet and greets at restaurants, it was a little bit of a different story. We found that Zoe is always distracted by all of the activity going on around her and doesn’t eat much during the meals, so we are realistic about how much she is going to eat and try to do lunches instead of dinners since they are typically less expensive. When we get to the meal, we always ask our attendant which characters we will be meeting, since they do change at some locations, and where we were in their route around the dining room. That we could estimate how much time Zoe had to eat or if we needed to make sure we had everything ready to go as soon as we sat down. Character meals are a really great way to meet a lot of characters at once, but it will usually take a good chunk of time out of your day so you will want to plan accordingly.
With all that in mind, for the next installment of Meeting Characters at Walt Disney World, I am going to take a look at the different types of Meet and Greets at the parks and resorts, strategies and tips, and fun character challenges!