Meeting Disney World characters at breakfasts and other meals, as well as at character meet & greet locations, can be a fun experience for both kids and adults who visit Walt Disney World. Character meet & greets have gone from unorganized mob scenes in the 1980s and 1990s to highly thought out experiences that continue to evolve, the pinnacle of which is seen in “Enchanted Tales with Belle” in New Fantasyland.
Character meet & greets have become just as important (or more important) as attractions to some Walt Disney World guests, and many Disney fans are passionate “character hunters,” who make it their mission to find rare characters in the parks! If you’d like to have more fun and get more out of the character meet & greet experiences, this is the guide for you!
Here are our tips for photos and fun interactions with the characters. While this article is written with references to Walt Disney World, it applies equally to Disneyland with the obvious exception of the references to specific locations.
Obviously, this is a condition precedent to meeting the characters. Finding characters is really quite simple. Obviously, if you’re at a character meal like Garden Grill, Crystal Palace, or Cinderella’s Royal Table, you won’t have to look too hard. These characters will come right to you. In the air conditioning. While you will pay a bit of a premium for these dining experiences, if the alternative is waiting in line for 40 minutes in the sweltering sun (and many of the Disney character meet & greet lines are not shaded), it might be money well spent. Plus, the food is often quite good at these meals.
If you are not doing character meals, you’re going to have to do a little more legwork to find characters. Well, not much. Your best bet is to look at the park map for the park you’re in and its accompanying times guide. The map will have a little glove surrounded by red in locations where there are pre-determined character meets. The accompanying times guide will indicate what times you can expect characters in the aforementioned locations. The only work you have to do after that is walking to the various locations and standing in line! If you’re really into characters, the best resource for finding characters is Kenny the Pirate’s Character Locator app, which is more thorough than a park map.
Another strategy, I won’t call it great, is to wander around aimlessly and see who you see. Now, this isn’t the most efficient use of time, but you are bound to find some characters this way. You may also find some surprise characters who just happen to be out. These surprise encounters are becoming increasingly rare in Walt Disney World and Disneyland, but they still do happen occasionally. Sometimes, a character might just ride an attraction with your party!
If you are looking for rare characters, these free roaming characters are your best bet. It’s…uh…rare for rare characters to appear at scheduled meet & greets in static locations, and character dining always involves the same set of characters. Rare characters are most commonly used for training purposes, and during this time they appear at several (seemingly) random spots in the parks. This makes searching for rare Disney characters a hunt, indeed!
The tried and true method most Disney Guests use is to go stand next to the character, and have their photo taken with the character, as if the character were a prop. The thing is, after waiting in line for up to an hour to see these characters, is that really good bang for your buck? Of course not. Realizing this, some parents purchase autograph books for their kids to have the characters sign. We don’t recommend doing this, but you should definitely have a little fun with it, and interact with the characters.
As childless twenty-somethings, perhaps our advice concerning autograph books will be disregarded by most parents, but we think parents should think twice before purchasing an autograph book, unless that is what the child really wants. We meet a lot of characters, and invariably, we see parents while we’re in line waiting who push (figuratively) their kids to get their autograph book signed. In a lot of these cases, the kid doesn’t interact with the character at all, and instead the character becomes part of a “gotta get them all” scavenger hunt for scribbles in a book. These kids, mostly, don’t have real interactions with the characters, and it seems many of their parents have an attitude along the lines of, “we paid a lot of money for this trip and that autograph book, so you’re going to get autographs and you’re going to like it. So go make some great memories!!!!” Obviously, it’s a bad idea for parents to try to force their kids to maximize their “fun quotient” just because the parents spent a lot of money on the trip. Editorializing here, but I am curious as to how, at the end of the day, a book with pages of largely unintelligible scribbles constitutes a good souvenir, much less good “memories.”
That said, if your child does seem genuinely intrigued by the autograph book, by all means, purchase it and pursue it with them. However, our recommendation is that instead of an autograph book, encourage interactions with the characters (or interact with them yourself). While waiting in line, think of something clever to say.
Here are some of our favorite prompts:
You get the idea–go in with something to say, and let the character take the interaction from there. The best things to say are funny or slightly contradictory to the character’s persona. Just remember not to be downright hostile or to try something too complex. You don’t want to cross the line between humorous/lighthearted and rude. Plus, non-face characters can’t verbally respond, so if your prompt is too convoluted and something they can’t respond to with body language, it might be a bit of a dud.
If you have kids and they have trouble doing this on their own, tell the character that your kid is a friend of that character’s nemesis. I’m not suggesting that you force some sort of carefully scripted scenario, but at least enable a potentially fun, and funny, conversation.
As an example, back when Liberty Tree Tavern was a character meal, Chip and Dale noticed Sarah’s engagement ring, and attempted to “steal” her away from me. The 10-minute plus interaction ultimately ended with all of the characters being involved and a kung-fu match between Chip and me. When we finally returned to our table, Chip followed and sat down next to us, where I informed him that I’d be encouraging Goofy to prepare some chipmunk stew later. He motioned that he “had his eyes on me”, and moved on. Every time he walked near our table for the rest of our meal, he would blow kisses to Sarah, and make the “eyes on you” motion to me. To this day, Sarah and I both distinctly remember this, and many other, character experiences.
If you don’t want to “play” with the characters, at least think up some fun poses that fit the characters you’re meeting. Meeting Donald Duck? Pretend you have a duck bill. Buzz Lightyear? Give a nice salute to Star Command. You get the idea. Even something as simple as this will make the experience more fun, and will make the characters more than just “breathing props.”
These are more technical tips, rather than “make fun poses” type tips. First, whether you’re indoors or outdoors, always turn on your flash. This may seem counter-intuitive if you’re outdoors in bright light, but depending upon the sun’s location, you can end up with odd and harsh shadows on faces of your subjects if you don’t use flash. Just turn it on, take a practice shot before your party to make sure everything looks good, and let loose.
Next, if you’re using a DSLR, you need to determine which lens to use. I like backing up and using longer (50mm and above) lenses with a low aperture that will produce a shallow–but not too shallow–depth of field, if I’m just photographing Sarah or just the character. This gives nice separation from the background, which creates a pleasing image. If you’re handing your camera off to a character attendant or a PhotoPass photographer, I’d avoid using a longer lens or a prime lens, as the Cast Member may have difficulty handling these types of lenses. In these cases, it’s best to keep things as simple as possible: 18-55mm (or similar) zoom lens, auto-mode, with flash on.
As far as technical tips, that’s really it. Character photos are really easy from a technical standpoint. In addition to these technical recommendations, I recommend that you start taking photos before your subjects pose, as these candid shots can be some of the most fun ones. Similarly, if you have really small children who might be awestruck by the characters, shoot candid shots exclusively. These expressions of awe will be far more priceless than any “canned” pose photo, and trying to get your child to sit still and look at the camera may be more frustrating than anything.
Obviously, these are just the tips of two people based upon what we’ve seen and experienced at Disney character meet & greets and character meals. You may completely disagree with us on the topic of autograph books, or you may think character meet and greets are an outright waste of time to begin with. We happen to think that candid photos and unique experiences are the best way to enjoy character meet and greets, and this type of experience will create the best, and longest lasting, memories. If you disagree, you should do what makes you or your children happy. Obviously, variety is the spice of life.
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What tips for meeting characters do you have? Any super-secret locations where rare characters often appear? Any verbal prompts you have used on characters to illicit fun reactions and interactions? Share your tips and feedback in the comments!