Park Wise: Fun with Characters

Written by Jessica Ma'ilo. Posted in Features, Park Wise, Walt Disney World

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Published on January 31, 2013 at 4:02 am with 28 Comments

I remember romping through Disneyland as a child. One of my fondest memories was running into the characters. To be honest, it’s no different now. I love seeing the kids’ faces light up when Mickey rounds the corner or Cinderella gives them a big hug. After several trips on the grown-up side of character chasing, here are a few tips I’ve gleaned through the years.

Character Meals are Fantastic!

Whenever I have a friend or client with little ones that love the characters, I can’t recommend character dining enough. Let’s be honest, who wouldn’t rather chat up their Disney pals in a climate controlled environment that features food and drink? I know I would! Yes, character meals can be a little costly, especially with larger parties, but if you’re considering a table service meal anyway, why not drop a bit extra to add some character fun?

At Walt Disney World, the characters at the meals are pretty standard with an occasional substitution here or there (i.e., we’ve had Perla and the Fairy Godmother step in for Lady Tremaine at a couple dinners at 1900 Park Fare). However, there was no rhyme or reason for the characters we dined with at Disneyland. That was both nerve-wracking and exciting for this planner. Either way, though, I wholeheartedly recommend at least one character meal per trip with character hunters in tow.

Get Park Wise: Although it’s not unheard of to get a walk-up table at some character meals, advanced dining reservations are highly recommended, especially at Walt Disney World.

Get Autographs!

Autographs are a great way to “break the ice” with the characters and spend a bit more time with them. Occasionally we’ve seen a family wait in line, snap a pic and leave. Their pictures look similar to ours, I’m sure, but when we look back through ours, we remember the funny interactions or sweet moments that were a result of spending a bit more time.

Of course, autograph books are available for purchase at the parks, but feel free to get creative! Bring a photo mat for autographs, then use it to mat a family picture after the trip. Tote bags, hats and tees are all usable things we’ve seen autographed. Are you a scrapbooker? Make a personalized autograph book using card stock and Disney paper and stickers. The possibilities are almost endless! My kiddos have personalized photo autograph books featuring past character pictures. The characters love them and spend a lot of extra time chatting with the kids about past Disney adventures, and we’ve even had several characters recognize themselves. In fact, the Snow Prince we met at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas 2012 was in our book from a 2008 party.

For autographs, we’ve been using clickable Sharpies since the kids’ first trip and love them. A variety of colors, no cap to lose and the characters with larger hands can grip them pretty easily.

If autographs aren’t your thing, or you’d rather not tote around a book and pens…

Have Something to Say!

Ask Chip and Dale if they’re squirrels. Comment on the softness of Gaston’s biceps. Tell Donald that Mickey is #1.

Think about who you’re talking to and go with it. We’ve had some hilarious conversations with face characters, especially the ones who don’t have to be good. Anastasia and Drizella, Cinderella’s step-sisters, are incredibly entertaining. Most villains have a fantastic dry sense of humor and are really great at ad-libbing.

Even the silent characters have great and creative ways to get their points across, too. You’d be surprised at how well they can hold conversations with their hand gestures and body language.

Show up with a fun one liner, and the characters will know you’re ready to play. If you are ready to have a good time, most of them will be ready, too.

Get Park Wise: Looking for a specific character? Start with the Times Guide, available at park entrances and most gift shops/kiosks. If your favorite character isn’t listed, a cast member with telephone access can call the character hotline to see if he/she is meeting in the park that day. Some smart phone apps also offer character finders.

Get Lost in the Magic!

This goes along with our last tip, and it’s more for the grown-ups. While most of this will come naturally for the younger set, characters can be fun for grown-ups, too! I’ve had the opportunity on a couple of grown-ups only trips to do some character meet and greets, and even character meals. You might feel a little silly at first, but it should quickly fade. Disney Parks are for kids of all ages, and the characters are no different. They had as much fun with us adults as they do with the kids, and maybe even more in some cases. So, answer back when the Evil Queen asks where she can find some apples. Take Woody’s arm when he offers. High five Mickey, then turn and say cheese!

Who are your favorite characters to meet at the parks and resorts? How do you interact with them? Are you a chatter or a smile, click and go kind of person? What are your tips for meeting the characters?

About Jessica Ma'ilo

Jessica is a special education teacher by day and blogger and Fairy Godmother Travel agent by evening. When not supervising play dates or sleepovers, she can be found creating, sewing or singing. She loves hitting the Disney Parks, and she and her family escape to the World and Land as often as they can. She can be contacted at [email protected], and you can also check out her family blog, Magic, Memories, Mayhem.

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  • Dusty Sage

    Thank you Jessica.

    As an adult with no kids, I feel weird waiting in line for the characters. However, we’ve ended up at a character dining location on several occasions. Having the characters come to you seems much more palatable to me.

    • Jessica Ma’ilo

      I understand that!! As a solo, I felt a little off hanging out in character lines (with other adults, we were just a bunch of kids…hahaha!!), but I had a mission, and it was definitely not as awkward knowing I had a purpose. So, if you want stand in line, have a schtick! I was getting video for a project (more on that in another article!). You could get autographs for your “niece” or something similar. No one has to know your niece is really just 21-year-old grown-up you. ;)

  • Moodyzblu

    My boys aren’t really into the characters that much .. although we’ve ran into a few by chance and I was thrilled to be able to snap pictures of the kids with them ! One special moment comes to mind when we just happened upon Mickey Mouse (and there was NO other guest around) !! It was my grandsons first encounter with the “Big Cheese” and it was purely accidental.
    Our favorite character meals in the past were at The Crystal Palace ! Love Winnie the Pooh and his pals.

    • Jessica Ma’ilo

      You gotta love those unplanned magical moments. :) We do Crystal Palace for breakfast once per trip. Shhh, don’t tell, but we really go there for Pooh’s French Toast!

  • mickeyfan42

    I am glad to see this topic come up. I actually just got back from a 5-day trip to Disneyland and DCA. I have ALWAYS loved seeing the characters and there were a few I was on a mission to meet if I could. For instance, every morning the first thing I did was ask at the info board if Jack Sparrow, the Beast, and Mary Poppins would be out for Meet and Greet (as opposed to only being out for a show). While I knew it was slim to none on getting to meet Jack and the Beast (my gf actually did meet Jack during the 1/2 marathon and she doesn’t even like the Pirates movies… SO NOT FAIR), I always think its worth asking. I also had hoped to see Wreck-It-Ralph and Vanellope who unfortunately had to go back to their games about 4 days before I got to the parks :( As an adult I try to avoid seeing princesses at their small world area meet and greet because the line is always too long for it, and I haven’t waited to see Pooh in over 5 years. But, I used my magic morning early entry at Disneyland to my advantage, I did some Fantasyland attractions then when we got close to park opening I got in line to see princesses, and ended with Merida. My gf saw characters mostly during the run so I didn’t feel bad seeing characters without her. I ended up seeing a total of 25 characters not counting parades. But there were more I would have loved to see (Mary Poppins, Jack Sparrow, Ralph, Belle, Beast, Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Chip and Dale, Queen of Hearts and White rabbit).

    One of the funniest interactions I had was with the Evil Queen, when I saw her, I told her I understood why she is so cruel to Snow White, but that she misplaces her anger. She looked at me puzzled and I told her that her mom was the only true cause of her pain in life, and then luckily she knew I was referencing Once Upon A Time, and said “Oh, so you also watch Once Upon A Time don’t you?” it was fun.

    • Jessica Ma’ilo

      I’m a Once Upon A Time fan, too! I always kind of have that in the back of my mind when seeing the characters. Great way to approach as an adult!!

  • dlrtalks

    My favorite character is Pluto by far. Almost every trip to Disneyland I have to stop and say hi. I once go a very playful Pluto during Christmas at the park and it was so much fun! After that I have tried my best to be silly and interactive with Pluto.

    • Jessica Ma’ilo

      I always love getting a character ready to have some fun! Really brings out the kid in you.

  • Claybob

    Every time enter any of the parks, I “become a kid again.” That being said, I try to meet and interact with as many characters as I can. I get pics taken, I get things signed and I try and interact with each character. Although not really being into the whole Princess thing with the “meet and greets,” if Belle is out and about…sure, I’ll have a pic taken. After all, what “kid” wouldn’t? Cinderella kissed my cheek once! That’s me…just an adult who becomes a kid again every time he goes to WDW or to Disneyland.

    • Jessica Ma’ilo

      That’s what it’s all about, right? Letting loose and just having fun. Thanks for your thoughts!!

  • harvickfan005

    Whenever, I go on solo trips or meeting people later, I always try to get some pics with the characters. I am a scrapbooker and I have made my own autograph book to take with me to Disneyland. I have a fancy diecut machine called a CRICUT. I have 4 to 5 Disney cartridges. I always get compliments about my book from the characters.

    • Jessica Ma’ilo

      That’s great!! I have a Cricut, too, and there are just so many possibilities!! I’ve actually used mine to make shirts for the kiddos. And I always have to brag about my clearance Mickey Font cartridge. I was seriously getting ready to plunk down $80 on Etsy, but I was perusing our local craft store and found one on clearance for $17!!! I was on cloud nine! OK, back to our regularly scheduled programming.

  • SFDave

    Last time we were at Disneyland we saw Mary Poppins and Bert just as they arrived onstage in the little area by Coke Corner, they were just standing there talking to each other, not even with the Disney handler. We seriously spoke to them for about 30 minutes about the Banks family, Disney areas in general, where we were from, and all of our pins. They stayed in character the whole time, then people noticed us talking to them, and started to come over, so we got our pics done, then bid them goodbye! BTW we are ages 41 and 50 lol

    • Jessica Ma’ilo

      What a fun moment for a kid of any age!! Thanks for sharing it!

  • Algernon

    Whatever happened to the Talking Mickey? Did he go the way of the “Mouse-o-Rail,” the Monorail cab that was made into a bus and was used to open the Rose Parade one year? I actually saw that thing on the freeway, one time.

    • Jessica Ma’ilo

      Oh, how funny! I saw talking Minnie and Mickey on Wheel of Fortune this week. They must be doing a publicity circuit. ;)

  • DannyeF

    I have no problem standing in line as an adult by myself! The characters are really ready to have fun with the grown-ups, too. I waited in line to meet Goofy at California Adventure, in the awesome garish suit he wears there, and when he saw I was by myself, he grabbed my hands and danced with me for a couple of minutes! It was fantastic, and thank heavens someone in my party came by and got it on video! I think he liked that I wanted to be “goofy” too.

    • Jessica Ma’ilo

      I love how many grown-ups are hanging out with the characters!! Goofy is always lots of fun. Thanks for sharing your story…now you should share the video!

  • Amy VandenBoogert

    As an adult with no kids, I thought I’d feel weird waiting in line to see characters. Yeah that faded pretty quick for me. I don’t care what others think. I’m there to have my fun. And honestly, I think I have more fun with the characters now as an adult than I did when I was a kid. I’ve had so many hilarious interactions with characters (especially Tigger, my favorite) in recent years…. Oh the shenanigans are plentiful!

    • Jessica Ma’ilo

      That’s a great attitude! If you can’t just have fun at Disney, where can you have it? I agree, too, about possibly having more fun as an adult. Sometimes the characters will slide in a little grown-up humor (clean, of course!), and it really gets us laughing.

  • caterpillargirl

    I have a great picture with Minnie Mouse. I stood in line feeling a little silly and like I needed an excuse to get my picture with her. Then she noticed my 20th anniversary pin. She pulled Micky over and grabbed my husbands hand. She put us all together for a photo. Then she motioned -One More- she and Micky put their noses together While My hubs and I kissed. Such a great shot thanks to Minnie.

    On a return trip my Doctor Who loving teenage daughter was wearing a brand new, home made TARDIS purse. She saw Jack and Sally (another favorite) and took off running. They instantly recognized the TARDIS. Without breaking character they started asking her questions to show they knew too. Jack said “of course all the best hero’s wear a Bow-Tie. Does this hero wear a Bow-Tie? He Does? well I like him already.” Then Sally told my girl that there were Angels in Disneyland. I watched with such joy as Sally took my daughters hand and walked down the sidewalk to point to the Angel above The Court Of Angels. As we left this awesome pair my somewhat introverted child had the biggest smile on her face but tried to play cool. After a few steps The words “That was So Awesome” burst out of her. It was Her birthday. They gave her a wonderful gift.

    • Jessica Ma’ilo

      That anniversary shot sounds like a framer, for sure! And I love when the characters can get teenagers to abandon their “coolness” for a bit and just be kids again. We’re usually on the East coast, so we’ve never seen Jack and Sally. I bet they’re really fun!

  • kcirrick

    I never stop to visit characters unless I have children with me and they want to see them. I do have one memorable experience from long ago though. After an ugly divorce I only got to see my son twice a year because he lived so far away. When ever I brought him out to California we would go to Disneyland. Somehow we were always lucky enough to bump into Mickey Mouse. It became important that on each trip we meet Mickey. One time my Mother and I took my son to the park. The day was ending and I sat my Mother and son down on a front bench at the main street train station so we would be able to watch the parade and fireworks from there and I went off to do a little shopping. We hadn’t seen Mickey yet on this trip. Well, I returned from shopping to find my son was in a panic and my Mother relieved to see me. Mickey Mouse had shown up down in Town Square and it was all my Mother could do to keep my son from running down there. Of course, I took his hand and walked him down to see Mickey. I wasn’t sure if we would be successful because the parade was about to start. I knew Mickey wouldn’t be there much longer and he had a big crowd in front of him with everyone jostling to be next. My son and I walked up behind Mickey where there was no people and patiently waited. We didn’t wait long. Mickey had been bent over interacting with all the kids. Suddenly he straightened up and did a 180 so he faced us. Now everyone but us was behind him. My seven year old looked up in awe as Mickey immediately bent down and gave him a big hug which my son returned. Mission accomplished. It was such a warm sight. I’ve kicked myself for 25 years that I didn’t have a camera.

    • Jessica Ma’ilo

      What a sweet story! I love that you your son were able to share such a magical moment. I know the feeling of not getting a picture of something so wonderful. You still have the memory, though, and sometimes that’s just as nice. Thank you for sharing with us!

  • StevenW

    I have mixed feelings about it. I think Adults have higher expectations than their kids. Don’t do it if you’re not already planning on eating there for the food. The food is the most important thing. The characters are a side distraction.

    Kids don’t do restaurants well. I’m afraid the kids will lose interest before the characters arrive. Thus, sometimes it is best to get the food out of the way, then see the characters in the park.

    • Jessica Ma’ilo

      I have to respectfully disagree. While the food should still be good (and, in our opinion, is even GREAT at some character meals…hello, strawberry soup!), I’d have to say that the characters are the main attraction during a character meal. It all depends on who’s dining regarding expectations. I expect that we’ll have characters visit while we enjoy a meal. In true Disney fashion, I expect those characters to be fun. That’s about all I think going into a character dining experience.
      And as far as kids not doing well in restaurants, it all depends on the kid. My little park-goers are excellent diners with or without characters, while my nephew can barely handle a trip to a fast food joint. Haha! I can only speak from personal experience, of course, but any children we’ve ever dined with at a character meal has never lost interest. Depending on the restaurant, time you were seated and your table location, characters may come before the food (or before you have time to hit the buffet).
      That said, we all have different likes and dislikes, preferences and pet peeves when it comes to our touring and vacationing styles, so thanks for your perspective!

  • lctom1

    “Even the silent characters have great and creative ways to get their points across, too. You’d be surprised at how well they can hold conversations with their hand gestures and body language.”

    One of those “silent characters” is Donald Duck. BUT on one visit I actually got him to “talk”! I waited in line with all the little kids (and Dusty, I did not feel weird at all) and then, when it was my turn I started talking to Donald with my best Ducky Nash impersonation. Donald immediately reacted with shock and disgust at my poor ducky voice, covering his ears, turning his head, walking away from me. But I kept it up, just like we were having a real duck-to-duck conversation.

    Finally, when it was time to go, I said good bye (in duck, of course) and heard a very soft, ducky reply from the character!

    It made my day … in fact, it made my entire vacation!

    • Jessica Ma’ilo

      What a funny story!! We’ve always had lots of fun with Donald, but we’ve never gotten him to quack. ;) Aside from kisses, I’ve only ever heard one “silent” character. It was just two of us grown-ups, and Genie just couldn’t stifle his laughter during our conversation. Haha!!