I have a confession: I’m 30 years old, but I still get just as excited by a hug from Winnie the Pooh or taking a picture with Ariel as I did during my first visit to Disney World as a preschooler. The magic of interacting with my favorite characters at the Walt Disney World resort never seemed to wear off, and I don’t anticipate growing out of it anytime soon.
The only thing that has changed is the fact that Disney characters no longer wander the parks aimlessly to greet guests like they did when I was a kid. These days, there are specific greeting schedules and you’ll inevitably have to wait in some lines, but with just a little bit of strategy — there are websites devoted exclusively to “character hunting” — you can return home with countless photos, autographs, and memories of your character interactions.
Some character meet-and-greets are obvious and extremely popular while others may not be quite as well-known to the average park guest. But if your daughter is looking for a signature from Cinderella to complete her collection, or your son is just dying to have his Goofy hat signed by the real, live Goofy, here are some of the best places to get some one-on-one time with your favorite Disney characters.
10. Disney Visa Meet-and-Greet
Are you the proud owner of a Disney Visa credit card? Then you’re in luck: there’s a special meet-and-greet with a secret character (or two!) at Epcot every single day during set hours at the Disney Visa Photo Spot next to Journey Into Imagination With Figment.. You’ll wait in a short line, and none of the cast members will disclose who’s waiting to greet you behind a mysterious black curtain. The characters are typically two of the “Fab Five” (Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Minnie, or Pluto). There is also a Star Wars meet-and-greet, offered daily at the Star Wars Launch Bay in the Animation Courtyard at Disney’s Hollywood Studios!
9. “Character Palooza.”
Did you know that there are “surprise” character greetings in Hollywood Studios? The only trouble is that the schedules and locations change frequently, and cast members may not be especially forthcoming with information on that day’s meet-and-greet…or they genuinely may not have the information at all. But with a little bit of hunting (or, if you happen to be in the right place at the right time), “Character Palooza” offers park guests a unique chance to meet rare and random characters like Captain Hook or Pinocchio, who will emerge as if from nowhere to take a photo with you.
8. Character Meals
This one probably goes without saying, but if taking photos and getting autographs are important to your family, you may want to consider booking at least one character meal. There are several character breakfasts, lunches, and dinners both at in-park restaurants as well as at the resorts, and choosing to dine at a resort restaurant like Chef Mickey’s at the Contemporary or the Magic Kingdom’s Crystal Palace on Main Street means that you’ll be guaranteed plenty of one-on-one time with a set cast of characters who circulate from table to table while you eat.
7. Talking Mickey
For most Disney travelers, getting a group picture with the Mouse himself is as essential to a Disney vacation a picture in front of Cinderella castle. But since Mickey can be found in each park, my suggestion is that if you’re going to stand in just one line for a picture with The Big Cheese, that it be at Town Square Theater right next to the main entrance of the Magic Kingdom. It’s at this location where you will encounter Magician Mickey…the only Mickey Mouse who can actually talk to you! After countless interactions with Mickey Mouse over the years, actually getting to chat with him for the first time created an especially memorable experience on my last trip.
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6. Dinner at Be Our Guest
If your daughter can’t get enough of Beauty and the Beast, try to snag a dinner reservation at the popular Be Our Guest restaurant in the Magic Kingdom. At the conclusion of every dinner meal, your family will have an opportunity to head into the library for a special photo with the Beast himself, who is typically unavailable for meet-and-greets anywhere else at the Walt Disney World resort. Alternatively, experiencing Enchanted Tales with Belle will also offer an opportunity for a photo and special visit with her favorite princess.
5. Holiday Parties
If you’ll find yourself in Walt Disney World over the Halloween or Christmas season and you’re interested in meeting rare characters, consider investing in a ticket to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. These hard-ticketed “after hours” events at the Magic Kingdom offer special holiday-themed parades, fireworks, and other goodies and entertainment, in addition to the chance to get your picture taken with characters who are unavailable any other time of year, such as villains like Maleficient at the Halloween party, or all Seven Dwarfs together at the Christmas party. Just be sure to do a little advance research to find our which character is going to be available and where they’ll be greeting guests, prioritize your must-see characters, and arrive as early as possible at their location, as lines can stretch even longer than normal meet-and-greets during regular park hours.
4. runDisney Races
If there’s one thing I love more than vacationing at Disney World, it’s running at Disney World. The resort hosts several races of varying distances each year — from the 3.1-mile 5k to the full 26.2-mile marathon — and if you happen to be a runner, you’ll have a unique opportunity to take pictures mid-race with both popular and rare Disney characters. It may sound crazy to run in costume and stop dead in the middle of a race for a photo opportunity, but many runDisney enthusiasts such as myself have had the chance to take a photo with “human” Ariel (while dressed as Ariel, of course), or snagged photos with rarely-seen characters like Robin Hood or Jack and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas. If you think your family can run or walk a 5k (and you don’t mind waking up in the wee hours of the morning for a race), consider family-friendly events like Mickey’s Jingle Jungle 5K for photos with characters decked out in their holiday garb.
3. Epcot Character Spot
If photos with some of the “Fab Five” are important to you, be sure to check out the Epcot Character Spot. Wait times can be manageable (depending on the time of year), or you can secure a FastPass+ reservation. Waiting in a single line guarantees back-to-back interactions with three characters, who might include Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Donald, and Mickey Mouse himself.
2. The World Showcase
If you thought that touring Epcot’s World Showcase was an activity best experienced by adults of legal drinking age, think again. Many of the countries are home to special meet-and-greet locations that are themed to characters who “live” in that country; think Belle in France, Snow White in Germany, and Mulan in China, Anna and Elsa in Norway. Be sure to check the Times Guide to confirm their meeting schedules, and try to be in line several minutes before your favorite character arrives to guarantee your visit with them before the line closes until their next greeting session.
1. Pete’s Silly Sideshow
One of the newer character greeting locations, be sure to pay a visit to the Magic Kingdom’s Storybook Circus for photos with a uniquely-dressed Minnie, Daisy, Goofy, and Donald. It’s the only location where you can meet “sideshow acts” like the Astounding Donaldo or Daisy Fortuna, or see Goofy in his Barnstormer costume or Minnie dressed as a poodle trainer. Just note that there’s one line for a meet-and-greet with Donald and Goofy, and a separate line for a picture with Minnie and Daisy.