Part of the magic of a trip to Walt Disney World is scoring some one-on-one time with the characters from your favorite Disney movies. But while you used to be able to unexpectedly stumble upon Mickey Mouse roaming the parks, these days the process is a bit more structured: there are rigid character greeting schedules and specific meet-and-greet locations. Here are 10 ways to make the most out of your family’s character encounters during your next Walt Disney World trip.
10. Know Before You Go
Gone are the days when characters used to roam around the parks to mingle with guests. Today, a photo and autograph from Pluto requires checking a schedule and lining up in advance. If there’s a character that your child has their heart set on meeting, be sure to check the park’s Times Guide (or, believe it or not, one of various “character hunting” websites) to identify the exact location and time frames that your desired character will be greeting guests.
9. Time It Right
If you know that Aladdin and Jasmine are meeting from, say, 4:45 to 5:30, don’t think you can drop in at 5:15. For popular characters with shorter greeting windows, cast members are typically on hand to cut off the line to ensure that they remain on schedule. For the most popular characters, there may even still be a line from the previous session. So if you show up late, chances are the line will already be cut off and you’ll be asked to return for the character’s next meet-and-greet session.
8. Arrive Early
That being said, you’ll want to arrive early for the most popular character greets. If Belle is scheduled to meet in France at Epcot at 1pm, you may encounter a line forming around 12:30pm. During special events like Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, lines for extremely rare characters like the Seven Dwarfs can start forming as early as 5:30pm…and already be closed off to new guests arriving shortly after the party begins at 7pm.
7. Be Prepared
After standing in line for 90 minutes to meet Elsa and Anna, nothing aggravates your fellow park goers (or cast members) more than when it’s your turn and you spend time fumbling for your camera or searching for a pen. Be sure to have your autograph books and an appropriate-sized pen (markers work better for larger characters like Winnie the Pooh) ready to go, and have your cameras and cell phones ready to capture those memories.
6. Get That Autograph
Dying to have a character sign your favorite t-shirt? Just be sure you’re not already wearing it. To prevent disappointment, double check which characters don’t sign autographs (like Beast, Chewbacca, Kylo Ren or Baymax…for obvious reasons) and know the rules about what the characters are not allowed to sign (like clothing items currently being worn by guests). And don’t limit yourself to autograph books; you can come home with a one-of-a-kind keepsake if you opt to have all the characters autograph a photo frame mat, poster, or pillowcase.
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5. Snap Some Candids
While it can be great to collect posed photos with all the characters you met during your Disney vacation, some of your most precious memories might be the look on your daughter’s face when she comes face-to-face with her favorite princess for the first time, or when your three-year-old son kisses Minnie Mouse on the nose. Have your camera poised to capture the candid moments that you’ll remember for years to come.
4. Consider Memory Maker
Yes, Memory Maker can be a pricey investment. However, if you plan to take a lot of character photos, you might find that having access to all of the pictures taken throughout your trip is worth the cost. In my experience, Disney’s PhotoPass photographers typically take several candid shots of your encounter with each character as well as a handful of posed photos, and it’s the perfect way to get the entire family in the shot.
3. Don’t Be Shy
It’s fun to collect photos and autographs, but don’t be afraid to interact with the characters or be more creative with your poses (like surfing with Stitch or proposing to Daisy). The “face characters” (think the princesses, Tinkerbell, or any character who can speak) can be especially engaging because you can make references to their respective movies, but you can also ask Tigger to bounce with you in your photo. They’re always going to be “in character” for you, so be prepared for some interesting responses if you ask Belle for book recommendations or inquire if Ariel has a dinglehopper you can borrow.
2. Ask for Help
Some characters are scheduled to meet “intermittently,” which means just that. If you’re desperate for a photo with Winnie the Pooh and Tigger but they aren’t around when you show up at their usual greeting location, you may be able to spot their “handler.” These cast members possess a schedule of the times that your desired characters will be reappearing, and can give you an exact time frame to return for your photo. Or if your son wants a photo with Donald but you have no idea where to find him, the friendly folks at Guest Services in any of the theme parks are also more than happy to help you track down precise character locations.
1. Book a Character Meal
If you don’t want to spend the day waiting in line for a photo with Chip and Dale, reserving a character breakfast, lunch, or dinner can be the fastest (and easiest!) way to meet several characters all at once. At park restaurants like Crystal Palace or resort restaurants like ‘Ohana, the characters will approach each table for pictures, autographs, and cuddles with the kids, so you’re guaranteed some face time with your favorites. Just be sure to identify which characters appear at which restaurants, and be aware that some operate on a rotating schedule and only during certain meals.