*This is NOT a sponsored post. Just sharing our experience!**
We spent a week at Walt Disney World and Universal, thanks to my parents. What an adventure! After scouring Pinterest, I learned that there was no post, anywhere, that could really walk me through planning an entire trip to Disney. Throughout the series, I shared our days at the parks, tips and tricks, taming the souvenir beast, money saving ideas, things we learned and photos we captured. They’re all linked below. Enjoy!
Day 1: HDYDI – Plan a Multi-Generational Disney Vacation
Day 2: What We Wore to Disney
Day 3: EPCOT: A Mom’s Guide
Day 4: Magic Kingdom: Plan a Visit That’s Fun for All Ages
Day 5: The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal: A Family Guide
Day 6: Animal Kingdom & Hollywood Studios: All in One Day!
Day 7: Character Meals & Meet/Greets: 13 Tips to Make Them Awesome (this post!)
Day 8: 10 Things to Buy/Borrow/Make For Your Disney Vacation
Day 9: 6 Tips to Capture Your Disney Vacation on Film
Day 10: Meeting Anna & Elsa: An Honest Account
Back in the day, meetings characters was as simple as spotting one, walking over, giving them a hug or high five, maybe snapping a photo and walking along your merry way. This is not your childhood Disney. Enter the internet, many more Disney travelers and lots more characters – the landscape for meeting them has completely changed. During our trip, we met more than 30 and enjoyed two character meals. Today, I’ll share some things we learned along the way, how to make the most of meeting characters and striking a balance between seeing attractions and high-fiving the characters.
Character Meet & Greets
1. Research. If it isn’t 100% obvious by now, I spent a fair amount of time researching our trip to Disney, particularly the characters. We had a mix of boys and girls, bigs and littles and I wanted to make sure we hit the big rides and met some great characters along the way. I found out what characters appeared at what parks (did you know Mulan is only in EPCOT and Pocahontas is only found at Animal Kingdom?) You do now! We also did some digging on the times they appeared and for how long. Whatever you do, the MyDisneyExperience (MDE) app is your new BFF. There’s a great character map on it for each park. Use it!
2. Keep your expectations in check. Our first day in the parks, my brother and I were on a mission to meet some characters. We forgot, however, that the kids were largely done by mid-day. When kids are crying in England while you’re trying to find Tigger and Pooh that’s perhaps a sign you should abandon ship. Lesson learned. The rest of the trip we did a much better job of balancing character meets with rides.
3. Be prepared. You can purchase autograph books at Disney, but be prepared to shell out some serious cash. We made our own using small three-ring notebooks, page protectors, these character printables from Etsy and Sharpie markers. I designed/printed the cover and spine. A note on those sharpies, include a healthy stash of regular Sharpies and big ones. The characters with “big hands” will love you forever. Those scored some major thumbs up from every single one. Because we made our own books, they were pretty customizable, but they were also a pretty big book to lug around. And we had six! The markers, notebooks and page protectors you can pick up at any office supply store (or Amazon). The printables were a hit. My only beef is that they took up quite a bit of ink to print, but I was making a lot of books! Pro tip from a teacher’s daughter here: insert transparency sheets between the cardstock and the notebook cover to prevent “sticking.”
On day two, we finally got smart and starting pulling out the pages of characters at the park we were visiting and putting them in a Ziplock bag. Then, we put the Sharpies in another sack. That way, they were easy to access AND waterproof. We did bring along one notebook for the characters to use as they signed. That got rave reviews, too. Whatever you do, make sure you have a way to keep it dry. Rain may not foil your book, but a leaky water bottle might. Thank goodness for the basket on Nana’s scooter that first day!
4. Make a priority list. You don’t have to write it down, but if your niece wants to see Anna and Elsa then make that a priority. Or, if your son goes bonkers over Buzz, then put that man at the top of the list. Knowing the characters your kids love and then figuring out where they’ll be, and when, will certainly end up being a highlight of the day.
5. Don’t be deterred by the character break. With the extreme Florida heat, some of those characters simply can’t stand in that weather for hours on end. So, they take periodic breaks. But, don’t let those make you jump the rope and move along. Usually, the breaks last less than five minutes (and in many cases, less!) Hang tight, because those characters are coming back!
6. Look for the one-two punch. We worked hard to meet characters in twos, or more, like Woody and Jessie, Phineas and Ferb and Tigger and Pooh. You stand in line once and get two signatures.
7. Capture the memory. With the exception of one character (green army men), every meet and greet had a PhotoPass photographer taking pictures. For those that purchased Memory Maker, once they scan your band all the photos appear in your account. But, if you don’t purchase MM, the photographer is always happy to take a picture using your camera/phone. What I discovered? I took lots of pictures of the kids interacting with the characters. Almost always, the Disney photographer would start doing the same. It’s so nice to have photos that aren’t all “stand here and say cheese.” It was especially great when Duffy dropped one of our notebooks and we captured this! Or, when Luke showed off his car to Buzz. Classic. Now that we’ve finally downloaded all those photos, we’ll be including some in the autograph book to accompany the signatures.
8. Don’t count out the big kids. When I was creating the books, I purposely left out making one for my big boys. Big mistake. When my oldest discovered I was making these, he begged me to make one that he and his brother could share, which I did. Maybe your 14-year-old won’t care about getting Mr. Incredible’s signature. Or maybe he will. The “Disney effect” may be greater than you think. It is great to be a kid, after all. In this photo, my oldest insisted on it. I die.
9. Enjoy the unexpected and lean into the experience. When Stitch happened upon our family and happily grabbed our son’s hand and processed to the picture spot, it completely made our son’s day. Totally unexpected and totally awesome. When Phineas and Ferb were having a blast playing jokes on the kids or Woody kept rearranging our oldest son’s baseball cap or how Russell played peek-a-book with the baby – enjoy your time with these characters. They go through a pretty intensive boot camp to have the privilege of playing these iconic characters. Have fun with them. Give them a high-five. Every single time we encountered a character, they made us feel like the most important guests in line. True story.
1. Make the most of them. Go at lunch! Breakfasts take you away from hitting the rides before the lines get long and dinners are always the most expensive. Visit during lunch (maybe an early or late one) and get the best of both worlds! Like I mentioned on day one of the series, signing up for the Disney rewards credit card might pay for your meal. Budget about an hour + 15 minutes. Arrive before your reservation and then count on a short wait for seating and then about an hour for the meal. As for which one/s to choose, there are so many. Yes, eating in the Castle for Cinderella’s Royal Table may be awesome, but if princesses are who your girl loves, then I say head to Akershus in EPCOT’s Norway. We saw five – Cinderella, Aurora, Belle, Snow White and Ariel! We also chose Tusker House in Animal Kingdom for our boys where they dined with Mickey, Goofy, Daisy and Donald. Many of my friends sing the praises of Garden Grill, Chef Mickey and Be Our Guest.
2. Take your camera. There are PhotoPass photographers there, but they don’t move from table to table. At Akershus, they only took photos with Belle in a special photo area, the rest were up to guests to capture, tableside. At Tusker House, they took photos outside, with no characters around.
3. Didn’t get the meal you wanted? Call the day before (or even the morning of) and ask if there were any cancellations. Because guests have to cancel 24 hours in advance or incur a fee, you might just score big.
4. Keep the menu and attire in mind. Maybe African food isn’t your gig, or you’d prefer a table meal over a buffet. Find out which meals offer what and then decide the one that’s best for your family. Attire might matter to your little princess. If she’s meeting Belle, you might consider either a) having her wear her dress or b) packing it so you can do a quick change in the bathroom. We opted to wear fun shirts and change up our Minnie ears instead of wearing princess dresses. That was so much easier!
That’s your character 411. Questions? Pop ’em in the com box!