Meeting Characters at Walt Disney World With Kids

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Zoe meeting Pinocchio for the first time.

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.

Zoe and Pluto with her Autograph Book.

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.

Zoe's newest Autograph Book.

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.

Zoe and the Beast

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.

Zoe and Sleeping Beauty

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!

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Posted on August 20, 2012

5 Responses to “Meeting Characters at Walt Disney World With Kids”

  • What a fun article — Zoe is so cute!

    For our family and our budget, we knew that we would have about 2 Disney trips with our kids. One when they were 5 and 8 — still “little.” The next trip will be next year, when they will be 10 and 13.

    Since we had that plan in mind, we knew that the first trip would be the one to have more focus on character meetings. (Next year, they will be all about the rides!!!!) I totally agree with your recommendation on the character meals. One thing we did that worked really well for us that first time was to take advantage of the Deluxe Dining Plan. We did TONS of character meals. I mean TONS! The nice thing about that was the pleasant, sit-down atmosphere — in air-conditioned comfort. The boys knew that our dedicated character time would be spent in the restaurants — not standing in line in the June heat and sun. We saw Mickey, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, Pluto, Pooh, Tigger, Eeyore, Piglet and a few others.

    Our oldest was at that semi-awkward age where you can’t get a good, natural smile on a photo. The pictures we took with the characters are real treasures!!!!! He radiated absolute delight! So special!

    I have no idea how it worked out financially. We just knew that for that first, very special trip, we wanted everything paid for in advance, so we could just go crazy and enjoy. And to use the cheesy Disney expression — it really was magical!!!!! Can’t wait to go back!

    • We are taking our two boys on their first Disney trip this Dec. They will be 5 and 8… after much deliberation went with the Deluxe Dining. So glad to hear it was worth it! Thanks for your comment!

    • I was very surprised on our return trip with my kids (Triplets 17yo) how interested & thrilled they were to meet the characters. They were not interested in autographs but definitely photos with characters. Not expecting this, it put a major wrench in our touring plan but you just go with it. I did surprise them with lunch @ Cinderella’s Royal Table & Cape May Character Breakfast which they were thrilled with.

  • I just love the picture of your daughter kissing the Beast! So cute! I’m going to try to keep these tips in mind for our next trip- my first with kids.

  • Thanks so much for this post!!! My daughter will be 20 months during our trip and I didn’t know if she would be old enough to enjoy the characters. Based on this post I think we will try a few of her favorites (Pooh, Tigger,Minnie) and see how they go. I also appreciate the tips for lines. My daughter is always on the move so I know we will need many distractions for the lines. Thanks so much!!!