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?