By Undercover Tourist customer Vern Woodruff
A visit to the Walt Disney World Resort is an an enchanting and magical experience for children. Their excitement and wonderment with all there is to see and do is greatly enhanced when they see the Disney characters that they know so well and have a chance to meet them. While you may think that your kids will not be that interested in meeting the characters, as I once thought, be forewarned that there is something in the air at Disney World that hypes up a child's desire to meet with the characters. Prior to my family's visit, I thought my 5-year-old daughter would mainly just want to see the princesses, while my 7- and 8-year-old boys would only really want to see Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck. However, once we started seeing characters, all three became enthralled with wanting to meet them and it was a major highlight of our visit. So do not underestimate your child's excitement to meet and greet the Disney characters. Based on my family's experiences, here are some tips on meeting Disney characters that will hopefully be useful.
- Prepare for the unexpected. Younger children can be quite fickle and unpredictable with how they react to seeing some of the characters. My 5-year-old daughter would enthusiastically run up to see and hug Donald, Mickey, Goofy and even Sully, but she acted very shy around several of the princesses. We would have thought that she might be intimidated by the characters in full costume as opposed to princesses when she could see their faces.
- Don't force a character encounter. All of the characters did an outstanding job interacting with the kids. The princesses did exceptionally well interacting with my 5-year-old daughter, especially the times she decided to be shy and did not want to go see them by herself. At Epcot, the young ladies portraying Alice and Snow White could see that she was being shy, so they started asking her some questions. This got my daughter involved in a conversation with them and she soon lost her shyness about standing with them by herself.
- For characters that have all-day meeting times (i.e. Mickey Mouse and the Princesses at the Magic Kingdom), if you cannot see the characters first thing in the morning, wait until later in the afternoon or evening. Many people will stop and see the characters when they first pass by earlier in the day. By waiting until later, fewer people are passing these areas for the first time, and smaller children will often either be too sleepy to see the characters or will have already left the park. For example, when we walked in the Magic Kingdom about 6 p.m. on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we were able to see Mickey Mouse with only a 5-minute stand-by wait.
- While you as an adult may not get too excited about seeing Donald wearing a different hat or outfit, to a little kid, it is like an entirely new character. You will then either have to wait in another character line, or put up with a fussy child (or two or three). My 7-year-old son had seen Donald in the Magic Kingdom at Pete's Silly Sideshow, at Chef Mickey's and in Camp Minnie-Mickey at Disney's Animal Kingdom, but when he saw Donald wearing a sombrero in the Mexican pavilion at Epcot, he immediately stopped and insisted on seeing Donald yet again.
- If there is a character you want to see and you know where the meeting place will be, line up before the character arrives. Nothing draws a crowd (and hence a line) at Disney like a character. Arriving a few minutes early and waiting in line before the character appears can save you much time later. This worked well for us when we met Alice at the United Kingdom pavilion in Epcot. The fact that Mary Poppins was still out nearby helped to further draw people away from the Alice meeting spot.
- If there are two characters using the same meeting spot, but switching off every half-hour, you can be the first in line to see the next character if you are willing to tell the cast member assisting the characters that you wish to do so and that you will serve as the break in the line for meeting the next character. We did this after being the first to see Lady Tremaine, Anastasia and Drizella (we had lined up before they came out). I checked with the assisting cast member and asked about being the first to see Fairy Godmother, who would be coming out next. She told me just to wait at the end of the line, but to let people go ahead of me until she told me to create the break for seeing Fairy Godmother. This worked great for us, as we were able to see Fairy Godmother at the start of her last appearance for the day, and just 10 minutes before our lunch reservation at Cinderella's Royal Table.
- Watch for "unlisted" characters. Not all of the characters or character meeting spots are listed in the Times Guide. We happened to find the Fairy Godmother and Lady Tremaine with Anastasia and Drizella next to Cinderella's Castle, near the Cinderella fountain. These characters were only available to meet until around 1 p.m. that day.
- If you are at Epcot when the park opens, make a quick stop at the character meeting spot on your way back to Soarin'. There was a constant flow of people heading directly for Soarin' who completely bypassed the character meeting spot. We stopped by and found no wait, so we were able to see Mickey, Minnie and Pluto, expending a total time of only 10 minutes before we headed back to Soarin'.
- Expect to wait. The one item that most slows down a character greeting line is character autographs. It takes people time to get their autograph books out, then the characters have to take time to sign the books. This can be slow for those who are in a full costume since they have difficulty grasping a pen or marker and seeing the paper to sign. I was successfully able to prevent purchasing Disney autograph books and inciting an autograph mania amongst my three. However, that did not save us as much time standing in line as I would have hoped because probably more than 75% of everyone else in the character lines had autograph books. Waiting to see Phineas and Ferb seemed to take forever, because there were two characters that each had to sign a book, and everyone in most of the groups had their own book. My wife and I came to love the characters that did not sign autographs (i.e. Mike and Sully) because those lines moved so much quicker and more smoothly.
- When there are multiple characters and lines in a small area, such as the Greeting Trails in Disney's Animal Kingdom, the adults can split up to save time waiting in the lines. For example, the line for Pocahontas was fairly long, but lines for Donald Duck and Baloo with King Louie were relatively short. My wife stood in the Pocahontas line, while I took the kids to see Donald Duck, Baloo and King Louie. By the time we had seen the three of them, it was a short wait for the kids to then see Pocahontas.
- Bring along the princess dresses. A treat for a little girl is to have Disney Princess dresses that she can wear during your visit. All of the cast members will call her "princess" and give her extra attention. Plus, pictures with the Princesses look much more stylish when your little girl is dressed as a princess too. This is especially true when your child is dressed as the princess she is meeting. Several of the most endearing pictures we have from our visit are ones in which our daughter is dressed the same as the princess she is meeting (wearing a Rapunzel dress when meeting Rapunzel). If you do want to obtain princess dresses for your little girl, try to purchase them ahead of your visit so you can look for deals. The Disney Store will have specials at times on the dresses. EBay is another great place to look because you can find new dresses being offered for less than retail or used dresses that have been worn perhaps once or twice that are greatly discounted.
- Since the pictures of your little girl dressed the same as a character are so charming, and if you have multiple dresses, it is a good idea to bring the extra dresses along to the park and change your little girl's outfits prior to meeting the characters. For example, at Epcot there are multiple princesses and characters to meet. We dressed our daughter in a Minnie Mouse outfit first (this type of dress was made of fabric similar to a regular dress and was not as scratchy as some of the princess dresses) and met Minnie. Then we changed her to an Alice dress before visiting the United Kingdom pavilion and meeting Alice. After lunch, we changed her once more into a Snow White dress to meet Snow White at the Germany pavilion.
These are my tips for successful character encounters at the Walt Disney World Resort. What was your experience like and what are your favorite tips? Share in comments below. You'll find more information inside our Planning Pages.
Related: Preparing Your Child to Meet the Characters
Vern and his wife are the parents of two boys and a girl that all love Disney’s animated movies and shorts. He lives in Ohio and is employed as a mechanical engineer, which helps to explain his excessive attention to detail, organization and planning. His oldest son enjoys watching the animated shorts from the Disney Treasures series, his youngest son has the middle name “Donald” and he likes telling people that he was named after Donald Duck, and his daughter loves the Disney Princesses, especially Rapunzel and recently Elsa.