There is so much to see and do at Walt Disney World, it’s tough to fit everything into one vacation. Ok, I realise you actually can’t do everything in one trip but something you really should make time for is meeting characters. These experiences are traditional at Disney and they can be so special, even if you don’t have kids. I would urge everyone to find their inner child. Suspend their disbelief and interact with the characters for what might just be one of the most memorable moments of your holiday.
Here’s some tips for character meetings at Disney and Universal Studios.
Where to find Characters
All the Disney World Theme Parks have meet and greet opportunities dotted around. To find where they are and what time the characters will be meeting guests check the My Disney Experience App which you can load onto your phone. There is a tab on the menu bar of the App with Mickey’s head on it and marked ‘characters’. Click on this tab and choose the park you are visiting. You can then view a list of characters and then locate them on the map, it will even direct you to them from wherever you are in the park.
At Universal character meetings are less formal though many do have regular scheduled meeting times and venues. Don’t miss meeting the Raptor in Jurassic Park, the queues can be quite long for this but it’s wort the wait.
Dealing with wait times
There are normally queues for the characters, on average we have waited about 20 to 30 minutes. Obviously if you are visiting some of the most popular characters like Elsa and Anna it can be a great deal longer. It’s useful to bear in mind queues do go slowly because the characters work hard trying to ensure each guest gets a great meeting and they spend time with each group.
Sometimes there isn’t a board with wait times on like there are for the other attractions so it can be difficult to judge wait times. A good tip is to ask the characters helper, they will advise you of an approximate wait time and they are usually pretty accurate. You should also build into your wait time any unexpected events like the character taking a break. Even Mickey Mouse may need to answer a call of nature and if they do take a quick break this can add 10 or 15 minutes more to your wait time.
Meeting characters can easily eat into your park time. As a parent it’s really tempting to try to persuade your child to come back later to meet the character. We find it easier just to spontaneously grab the moment. If there’s a small queue we sometimes suggest to our son he might want to get in line. Other times he will see a character he really likes and we just join the queue, if he is prepared to wait I figure we should be too. Yes, the queue might be shorter later but you might need to backtrack from the other side of the park when everyone is hot and tired. Better to seize the moment when everyone in your group is excited about the experience.
Know your child!
Just like meeting Santa Claus some children find the whole experience of finally meeting their favourite character overwhelming. Don’t force a meeting. The characters are really well trained and they can coax round even some of the most shy children, but if it’s not something they enjoy then don’t push them.
There are definitely two types of people when it comes to autograph collecting at the parks. Those who do and those who don’t. We love collecting the signatures, I always buy an autograph book before we get to Disney World rather than paying the high prices for ones in the park. The signatures are all creative and they are a nice, free souvenir. When we get home we paste in a picture of the meeting which means we get to relive the memory over again together.
Character meet and greets demand to be photographed. If you can get Memory Maker as part of your package then you are covered for great photos of meeting’s with the characters. The professional photographer will take a number of great snaps while you enjoy the experience. If you don’t have memory maker they will take pictures anyway. You may want to download and pay for a particularly special one or if your own photograph didn’t work out.
A good tip is to still keep your camera handy. We have had interactions with characters which were so spontaneous I am certain the Memory Maker Photographer wouldn’t have caught them. Like the great Chip and Dale meeting at Animal Kingdom when the two naughty chipmunks sandwiched our son Joe between them. Hilarious!
Whilst some characters are scheduled regularly and appear at special locations others are more elusive. They appear randomly in certain parks, mostly Hollywood Studios and Epcot. Characters like Max, Goofy’s nephew, might be a newer cast member learning the ropes. Or characters might appear only at special events like the 7 Dwarves at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. These characters are popular because they aren’t around to meet all guests so it’s good to grab the moment and get a photo when you see them. For all the information on characters at the parks and how and where to find them check out Kenny The Pirate’s website.
Of course, if you want to take the stress out of meeting characters then the best option is to choose a character dining experience. That way you can be sure of quality time with your favourite characters and have a great meal at some of Disney’s iconic dining venues. The hardest dining reservation to secure is Cinderella’s Royal Table. This is a Princess dining experience within the Magic Kingdom Castle. The second most popular is Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary Resort. At Chef Mickey’s you can meet the big four; Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy which is the big draw for this dining experience. It’s a noisy and generic dining space but Chef Mickey’s has proved perennially popular.
My recommendation would be to meet the big four characters at the park, you can use a Fast Pass (FP+) for this. Though some might disagree, I think this is a great use of a FP+ particularly at Epcot where the tier 2 rides don’t have the long lines required for effective FP+ usage. Then book a dining experience based on the venue and characters which you and your family would most enjoy. My top 5 recommendations are Ohana’s Best Friends Breakfast, Tusker House, Akerhaus Royal Banquet Hall, Garden Grill and The Crystal Palace.
It’s not just at Disney where you can meet your favourite characters. At Universal Studios character meetings can be found around the parks. Character meetings aren’t as popular as at Disney, partly because the demographic is different, so lines are not as long. So if you want to meet The Simpsons or our favourite Stan Shunpike then this is the place.
Getting the most out of your meeting
Like any social meeting when you are with the characters you get out what you put in. Having fun interacting with the characters will make your meet and greet unique and memorable. So think about what you might want to say as you stand in line. Sometimes being cheeky can get a good response, asking Donald where Mickey is for example. But don’t be rude. If you’re meeting Jawas then take a shiny or light up trinket to trade. If you have a nice Disney Picture book which features lots of characters you might want to take that for autographs as an alternative to a traditional autograph book.
Chosing characters whose personalities allow them to be more entertaining is also a good tip. Gaston, The Ugly Sisters and Chip and Dale are all great fun. And of course it’s easier for face characters (those without masks) to interact with you. You’ll find even the masked characters have a way of communicating effectively without words.
So whether you’re 9 or 90 make time for a character meet and greet, it’s a memory in the making.