If you’re like most families with young children, characters will be a big part of your Disney vacation. Who doesn’t dream of the day they watch as their sweet child runs up to Mickey with open arms and a sparkle in his eyes? I know I remember when my littles met the mouse for the first time. A magical moment indeed! But what about the rest of the Disney crew? Here’s a primer on who you’ll see at the parks and how to make sure your kiddos aren’t scratching their heads when it’s time to meet the characters.

The Big Five (+ Daisy)

I think it’s pretty safe to say most kids will know Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Donald and his often forgotten gal Daisy. However, if by some crazy twist of fate they haven’t gotten into Disney Junior, flip on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse to introduce the big cheese and his pals. My littles are also huge fans of the classic black and white Disney cartoons which feature our fab five (and Daisy, too).

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Get Park Wise: If your kidlet hasn’t had an up close and personal experience with a furry character, consider a visit with the Easter bunny or local mascot prior to your romp through Disney. While it makes for some hilarious pictures, her first audience with Mickey Mouse is probably not the time you want to realize your daughter has a tremendous fear of giant mice with huge rubber heads.

The Princesses

There’s no escaping the Disney Princess posse. They’re everywhere you look from lunch boxes to frilly dresses to hair bows to costumes to who knows what else. The parks are no different. With character meals featuring the royal gals to dark rides following their stories, the princesses are all over the place. If your children aren’t sure which character can’t keep track of her shoes (or the time), which is the master of power napping, or who hates apples, the movies are a great place to start! Countless books, toys and games solidify the fandom among the younger set, and they’ll be raring to meet their royal counterparts.

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The Fairies

Tink and the gang are hot on the heels of the crowned heads of Disney in terms of popularity both in pop culture and at the parks. Once just the ornery sidekick of Peter Pan, Tinker Bell has turned into her own full-fledged franchise! Her first movie also brought along several of her pixie pals who take turns meeting guests in the parks. Pop in one of their DVDs or read one of the many books with your little ones, and they’ll be full of questions to ask once they meet the winged crew.

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Classic Disney Characters

These friends graced the covers of those bulky white VHS cases (remember those?), and they can be found all over the parks and resorts. While most of the characters mentioned so far permeate pop culture, some of the classic characters may not be familiar to young children today. I have to admit that my mouseketeers had no idea who Mary Poppins was the first time they met the practically perfect nanny in the parks. I know, I know. Bad Disney geek! If you’ve gotten rid of that VCR, lots of classic Disney movies can be found on DVD, as well, although they aren’t always available easily, especially if they’re back in the Disney vault. We’ve been able to find lots of “vaulted” movies at our local kids’ consignment sale, but you can also check out eBay, Craigslist and yard sales if you’re looking to introduce the classic characters to your crew.

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Get Movie Wise: Want to show off lots of classic characters in a short period of time? Fire up one of the Disney Sing-A-Long Songs DVDs. We love these! Not only do you get an array of great Disney music, but you’ll see several characters from different movies during the course of the show.

Pixar Characters

Again, chances are your kids will all know who these famous faces are, so there’s not much need to go hunting for ways to familiarize your family with them. If you’re looking to get excited before your Disney trip, though, consider a Toy Story marathon. Buzz, Woody and the gang are very popular in the parks. Just save yourself the trouble and don’t yell “Andy’s coming!” (There’s a false Internet meme that the characters immediately fall to the ground . . . they don’t!)

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Have your kids (or you?!) ever met a character in the parks you didn’t know? Who were they most excited to see? Any other tips for familiarizing the kids with the characters they might come across during a Disney vacation? Any characters you wish frequented the parks who no longer do?