Posts Tagged ‘characters’

When the Magic is Too Much – Preparing Kids for Disney

by on July 22, 2014

Planning a family Disney vacation is full of anticipation and excitement. You save money and plan meticulously for months to have that perfect, magical experience. However, it’s often underestimated how quickly things can go from exciting to scary for the youngest Disney guests. Navigating four theme parks with a little one can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you don’t anticipate what may trigger a reaction. Here we look at ways of preparing kids for Disney vacations.

I’ve seen kiddos get freaked out by 3 main things:

  1. Mickey and characters (they’re bigger than you think!),
  2. Fireworks (sure they’re pretty, but man are they loud!), and
  3. Attractions

There are a few things that you can do in advance to prepare your youngster for the magical world of excitement that awaits!

Buzz and Woody are big, even for adults!

Buzz and Woody are big, even for adults!

Meeting Disney Friends:

Kids see Mickey, Minnie, and all of their favorite characters in movies and on TV, but it really doesn’t prepare them for how large they are in real life. One way to help prepare young kids to these large friends is to expose them to some local “life size” characters like at Chuck E. Cheese or mascots at any local sporting event. This is a great test run to see how a youngster can handle these larger than life characters. It’s also a way to help them sort through any anxiety they might have, so when they meet Mickey it won’t be so overwhelming. If they already love Chuck E. Cheese, then you can cross this concern off your list!

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Disneyland Character Meet and Greets: A Walking Tour

by on July 16, 2014

Mary Poppins and Bert

My friend Scott and I with Mary Poppins and Bert. I’m trying to make a Bert face.

Meeting characters is an integral part of a day at Disneyland Resort for many Disney fans. Both Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park, in addition to the nearby Downtown Disney District and on-property hotels, have a decent amount of character meet & greet locations.

There are character greeting components in popular parkgoer activities like Disneybounding and the growing number of runDisney events. Plus, we cannot ignore the giant Elsaphant in the room, with waits for characters from Frozen often exceeding three hours! (No offense meant to the lovely ladies who play the very svelte and lovely snow queen.) And who can resist taking an Instagram selfie with Mickey?

In a short series, let’s take a walking tour of various character meet & greet opportunities across Disneyland Resort. First up: Disneyland Park.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Meeting Characters at Disney World

by on June 12, 2013

While the rides at Walt Disney World get all the buzz, very often it’s meeting Buzz, or some other Disney character, that becomes the highlight of a child’s vacation. Here’s the scoop on what you need to know about meeting characters at Walt Disney World.

Characters are often much larger than children.

Characters are often much larger than children.

SPOILER ALERT – I’ll be using words like costume and mask which may dull the magic a bit for true believers. If you’re in that camp, feel free to move along now. On your way out enjoy this video of the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse Hot Dog Song. OK, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way …

What is exactly is a character?

Characters are the live version of animated creatures/people found in Disney films and television programs. Characters appear in the Walt Disney World parks and resorts in parades, stage shows, and in guest greeting opportunities. While a character may be just inches tall when you see him on TV, all the in-park characters are adult human size or larger (sometimes much larger).

There are two types of characters: fur characters and face characters. Fur characters are those with an oversized, non-moving mask serving as their entire head. Typically the fur characters are animals such as Mickey and Minnie, Goofy, Donald, and Pooh. There are a few “human” fur characters, notably Captain Hook and the Incredibles, but these are less common.

Face characters have a fully human form – they look like real people. The essence of the character is conveyed via costuming, wigs, and makeup. Face characters include all of the princesses, Peter Pan, Jack Sparrow, Mary Poppins and more.

Other than appearance, one of the key differences between face characters and fur characters is that face characters talk, while fur characters generally do not.

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Woody’s All-American Roundup Arriving at Disneyland This Summer

by on May 18, 2013

Photo copyright Disney

With heavy lifting recently completed on the reconstruction of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad‘s track, the construction crane near Disneyland’s Big Thunder Trail has been removed, reopening the pathway between Fantasyland and Frontierland full-time and returning the Big Thunder Ranch to daily operation. That’s good news, because that area can expect to see much higher attendance next month when the Toy Story team arrives.

Similar to the Big Thunder Ranch Jamboree held last summer at Big Thunder’s festival arena, Woody’s All-American Roundup will include character meet & greets, carnival games, kids crafts, and specialty snacks. New this year is “Talent Roundup” stage show, featuring Jessie the Cowgirl’s slingshot skills, Woody’s lasso tricks, and the musical stylings of Buckaroo Bob.

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Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party: Observations from 2011

by on December 22, 2011

The Walt Disney World parties are wrapped up for this year, but in the spirit of “always planning for the next trip,” here are some observations from my 2011 visit to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party that may be helpful when 2012 trip planning time rolls around.

  • It’s all about the dwarves. I showed up at the meet and greet area for the seven dwarves at 6:58 p.m. The cast member attending the queue told me that my wait at that time would be, “Well over an hour, probably an hour and a half.” As much as I’ve been wanting that me-with-the-dwarves photo for years, I decided to skip it. I just couldn’t rationalize spending more than 20% of my party time waiting in a line. Next time, I’ll show up at the queue at 5:30 or 6:00 and plan to eat dinner and clean out my email in-box while on line. Santa also had a sizable line, but most other characters could be seen in half an hour or less. Plus, there was no-lines-no-waiting character access at the dance party locations.
  • Snow fall in Florida.

  • The snow makers have upped their game. I’ve been to MVMCP during each of the past five winters. In my previous experience, the “snow” that fell on Main Street was more like a suggestion of snow – a few odd flakes to remind you that there’s a winter wonderland somewhere out there in the universe. This year, the winter wonderland had really and truly taken residence in the Magic Kingdom. Fluffy white stuff was actually accumulating on the sidewalk. I was wondering when they were going to break out the shovels. Well done, magic makers.
  • Disney is making a solid effort to include everyone with their holiday snack options. In addition to the endless supply of snickerdoodles, apples, cocoa and cider, there are gluten-free, sugar-free, and nut-free cookies available, as well as sugar-free cocoa. Just ask at any of the food stations for these alternative items. They’re included with the cost of your ticket.
  • Snickerdoodles and cocoa are yum, but there are plenty of alternatives for those who need them.

  • They’re still making one misstep in the food area. While it’s lovely that guests get a free candy cane after visiting Santa, cast members are offering those candy canes directly to children, without first asking the parents. There are enough kids out there with food issues that I’m sure this poses an occasional problem.
  • Christmas fireworks viewing is no good from the train station. One of my favorite evening spots at the Magic Kingdom is at the raised train station loading area just above the entrance to the park. From here you get a bird’s eye view of the Castle and the entire length of the parade coming down Main Street. This is perfect on a summer evening, or for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, but in November and December the view of the castle is almost entirely blocked by the very beautiful, but nonetheless completely annoying in this context, Christmas tree.
  • Disney is experimenting with their special event merchandising. In the past, hard-ticket party merchandise had only been available at the party. You had to go there to get it – that was part of the allure. This year the special limited edition collectible Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party vinylmation figure was sold via I’m curious to see whether this is a trend that will continue
  • A personal touch in Tomorrowland.

  • Keep an eye out for personal touches. During my party tour, I encountered several cast member initiated activities that made the Magic Kingdom feel like a small home town, in the very best sense. Of these, my favorite was at Mickey’s Star Traders. Cast members we walking around with narrow strips of paper, asking children what they wished for the holidays. The wish paper is made into a chain encircling the backstage area of Tomorrowland to help cast members in that area personalize their guest interaction. Very sweet.
  • Gingerbread castle!

  • Technology is working its way into the guest party experience. Park maps and signage throughout the parks invited guests to receive party tips via text message on their mobile phones. The messages were mostly generic reminders along the lines of, “Don’t miss the fireworks show starting in 15 minutes.” I’m looking forward to seeing how this concept evolves in future years.
  • The holiday version of “The Magic, the Memories, and You” is all kinds of awesome. I must admit that when this fireworks preshow was announced, I was one of the naysayers. Pictures on MY castle? Never! But when you see the castle dressed up as the world’s most perfect gingerbread house, all that bah-humbug nonsense just melts away. I can’t wait to see it again.

Alrighty peeps, what’s was your take on the 2011 MVMCP offerings? Anything you particularly liked, or anything that you wish they’d bring back from previous years? Let us know in the comments below.

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Talk to the Animals, or Not: Explaining to Children Why Mickey Doesn’t Speak

by on September 13, 2011

I’m back from a two week vacation and a week of laundry and am now catching up on all the Disney news that happened while I was away – primarily related to the D23 Expo in Anaheim in late August. One item that caught my eye was a demonstration of a talking live Mickey Mouse character. While the development/testing of characters that chat with guests is not new information (the official Disney parks blog ran an article about this more than a year ago), there is still no word on when (or if) these garrulous rodents will ever make it into the parks. Until that happens, we’re faced with fuzzy mutes. I personally enjoy having silent mice, but I frequently hear questions from guests asking they should handle their children’s questions about why Mickey doesn’t talk.

Let me back up a bit and explain that there are two types of characters that interact with guests in the Disney parks: “face” characters and “fur” characters. Face characters are those such as the princesses, Alice, Mad Hatter, Mary Poppins, Aladdin, Peter Pan, Wendy, Cinderella’s family, most of the princes, Jack Sparrow, and a few others who look like regular human beings. They may have wigs or some minimal facial prosthetics, but they don’t have anything covering their eyes or mouth. The face characters are able to speak as any normal person would. They’re happy to engage you in conversation during character meals or other meet-and-greet experiences. Fur characters are those which have a large immobile mask serving as their entire head. Typically any animated animal (Mickey, Donald, Baloo, Rafiki, Jiminy Cricket) is a fur character; however there are also some human-esque characters that have these immobile heads as well (Lilo, Buzz Lightyear, Woody, the Incredibles). Fur characters currently do not speak during one-on-one guest interaction.

How Do Fur Characters Communicate?

Although Mickey won’t speak, he certainly can say a lot. The characters are trained to use gestures, mine, body language, and occasionally writing, to communicate a wide range of greetings and emotions. And they will respond to yourspoken language. For example, if you say to Mickey, “Hi, How was your day?” He’ll respond with a hearty nod that lets you that he’s doing just fine.

Characters communicate without speaking.

The fur characters are even capable of using non-spoken language to tell complicated stories. Late last year, I dined with my daughters at the Garden Grill character meal at Epcot. We were among the last guests in the restaurant and subsequently the characters on hand had little to do but interact with us. Earlier in the evening, the girls and I had seen the film “Tron: Legacy,” which none of us fully understood. We were discussing our confusion about the plot when Dale (of Chip & Dale fame) stopped by. He had heard our conversation and wanted to help. The friendly chipmunk proceeded to take the next five minutes to pantomime the entire movie – from entering the game world to riding Light Cycles to tossing identity discs. His performance was truly awesome and actually did help us understand the film better. And we didn’t even notice that Dale never said a word the entire time.

A few years before this, we were having breakfast at Disneyland’s Grand Californian Storyteller’s Cafe. My daughter Louisa bypassed the egg and fruit options, deciding instead to fill her plate with nothing but a heaping mound of pastries and doughnuts. Dale came up to our table, took one look at Louisa’s meal and shook his head bemusedly at the pile of early morning sweets she had chosen. He picked up the autograph pen sitting on the table. He wrote a note to her on her napkin, “Don’t try this at home. :-)” We still chuckle over this when one of us comes back from a Disney buffet line having made less than optimal choices.

Characters will sometimes write you a message.

Neither of these experiences is typical. You can’t expect to get a character acting out a film plot when you’re waiting in a greeting line 30 people deep on Main Street. And most characters will just be writing their names and possibly “Happy Birthday” in your autograph book. However, they do demonstrate that given the time, even with no speech, the characters can still convey a big message.

With so much communicating going on, most children won’t even notice that the fur characters are not talking.

Advantages to Having Non-Speaking Characters

Besides the sheer fun of seeing how Mickey will respond non-verbally to your spoken conversation, there are other advantages to having Mickey remain mute. Chief among these are that non-spoken communication is more universally understood than vocal responses. A huge percentage of guests at the Disney parks are from non-English-speaking countries all over the world. Let’s face it, Mickey is a multi-talented mammal, but there’s no way he could comfortably segue between English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Japanese in a single meet and greet session. Imagine the disappointment if a German-speaking child watched Mickey chatting with other children in the parks, but saw that Mickey wasn’t able to converse with her.

Similarly, a deaf neighbor of mine told me how much she appreciated that she could fully enjoy her children’s interactions with the characters without worrying about translation.

On another front, there is a small but significant subset of children who are afraid of the fur characters, finding them overwhelming. I’m not a child psychologist, but my untrained gut reaction is that the number of nightmares would skyrocket if the characters were not only larger-than-life fuzzballs, but also fuzzballs speaking in a variety of squeaky animated accents. Big Goofy can be intimidating to a toddler, big guffawing Goofy even more so.

What to Say if a Child Asks

Despite the fact that Mickey and the gang can do quite a lot of communicating without speaking, there will still be some children who wonder why they don’t speak in words. Primarily these will be children between the ages of three and eight who are old enough to articulate their curiosity but young enough to still be in the “Magic Years.” You may also be more likely to hear questions from a child who frequently watches media in which Mickey does speak (Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on Disney Junior, for example), from a child who has previously chatted with a “face” character, or who has recently seen Mickey voiced in a Disney parade or stage show. “Mommy, Mickey was just singing up on the float, why won’t he talk to me now?”

Characters will say a lot about their personality without using words.

If you do encounter this line of questioning from your child, there are number of options depending on the age and maturity of your child. Only you can decide which is most appropriate, but here are some possible talking points about non-talking characters:

  • Mickey lost his voice while singing on stage. His doctor asked him to be quiet for a while.
  • Mickey is saving his voice for a future performance.
  • Mickey doesn’t have time to talk with everyone and he doesn’t want people to feel bad by only speaking with some.
  • Mickey doesn’t speak every language and he doesn’t want people to feel bad by only speaking to some.
  • Mickey and Minnie are having a contest to see who can go the longest without speaking.
  • Mickey thinks he can communicate better without speaking.

With an older child who asks, you can turn his question into a “teachable moment.” Simply state that Mickey doesn’t speak in the parks, but that he does communicate non-verbally. Then throw out some possible messages and ask the child to communicate those to you without words. Start simple: hello, goodbye, I love you, etc. Then move on to more complicated messages such as: I like your hat, do you have a pen?, would you like a photo?, I’m having fun. See if you child can work out a way to “say” those things without words. This is a also a nice way to pass the time while waiting in a character queue.

Have your children ever asked you about speaking vs. non-speaking characters? What did you tell them? Let us know in the comments below.

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