Did you know you and your children can meet many Disney characters face-to-face at Walt Disney World? Of course you do. Do you know where they are? Maybe not.
One of the more surprising things about my recent trip to the Walt Disney World resorts in February was the number of character meet-and-greets in all 4 parks. My family and I have been 4 times since 2006, one trip to Disneyland, and when I lived in Southern California, we went to Disneyland at least once a month. I can honestly say I never saw the number of characters interacting with park goers be as many as in 2011.
I can speculate as to why, but firmly believe that John Lasseter’s overseeing of the Disney Parks has a lot to do with it. When I first took my daughter to Walt Disney World in 2006, the only characters we saw were either at the EPCOT Character meet, during early Magic Hours at the Magic Kingdom, or at the Character meals. During all my trips to Disneyland, I can only remember one Character interaction: Captain Hook and Smee on Thanksgiving morning when the park was EMPTY.
Flash forward to 2011. In addition to the regular cast of characters at Hollywood Studios, which are very approachable by the way, we got to see Mike and Sully from Monsters, Inc. and Minnie Mouse in a nurses uniform filming something in front of the Brown Derby. Plus, Handy Manny at the Animation Courtyard. At EPCOT two hours after opening, we ran into both Stitch and Daisy Duck, with very short lines, at the front of the park. The EPCOT Meet-and-Greet indoor area was full with all the top-tier names.
Magic Kingdom saw Pluto, Chip and Dale, Fairy Godmother, the Evil Stepmother and Step sisters, Mary Poppins at the Carousal IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY. Tigger and Pooh. Peter Pan, alone, and with no line. Woody and Jessie together, Capt. Jack, Jasmine, Frontier Donald, Buzz Lightyear and Future Chip and Dale. But the most surprising of all was Mickey and Minnie at Splash Mountain AND Space Mountain for over 4 hours! Both days we were in the park. This is in addition to the Celebration parade with a revolving cast, including the Mad Hatter, Baloo, Mr. Incredible, Mickey, Goofy and Mike Wazowski, plus the Castle show. And the talking trash can in Tomorrowland.
At Animal Kingdom, Goofy was outside at the gates, then inside Dinoland with Pluto. Flik, who I’ve never seen before, in between Africa and Asia, Lilo and Stitch near the Lion King and all the spots at Camp Minnie Mickey were full. We saw both Brother Bear, from, um, ‘Brother Bear’ and Terk from Tarzan.
So all in all, a great experience. My guess is that cast members are swapping out turns so the characters are in the parks longer. There was a noticeable size difference in Stitch at Animal Kingdom from when he went in for his pineapple juice to his return.
As far as I know, all the characters will give autographs. And of course Disney just happens to sell autograph books with your favorite characters on them. But, I saw two things that I highly recommend. First, a pillowcase and a permanent marker. We got one of these for our daughter’s 7th birthday slumber party. All the kids signed it. It’s STILL on her bed, long after the gifts have been forgotten. Second, a large, blank Vinylmation. I saw this in someone’s window at POP Century with about 10 autographs, I almost knocked on the door to congratulate them on such a fabulous idea. This year, my little girl used her ‘Up’ Adventure Book (just like Ellie!) and some of the characters drew little doodles. Squee!
Now, how to find them. For the most part, they were out in the open, if a little tucked off to one side. Mickey and Minnie were well off the beaten path, next to the rest rooms at Splash Mountain and in between the rest rooms and Space Mountain in Tomorrowland. Fairy Godmother was behind Cinderella’s fountain in Fantasyland, where as Peter Pan was next to Philharmagic.
Just announced today, Disney will offer FastPasses to meet Mickey in the Magic Kingdom this spring in side the referbed Exposition Hall area just inside the park.
There are some also some phone apps to help you find them, but I think you’ll do better taking your time in the parks, talking to cast members (they really are nice) walking those paths you’ve never been on before. As I like to say, to get the most from a Disney resort, you’ve got to get Just Off Main Street :-)