Character Meet & Greets Returning to Disney World!
Walt Disney World has announced that traditional character meet & greets with hugs, autographs, and other normal, non-distanced interactions will soon return to the parks! This post covers the dates, details, and offers commentary about the implication for other offerings at Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, and beyond.
This is the culmination of several incredibly optimistic reopening updates from Walt Disney World in the last couple of weeks. These include the returns of Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue Dinner Show at Fort Wilderness, H2O After Hours at Typhoon Lagoon, Cultural Representatives in Epcot, and Minnie Vans rolling around the roadways. These might each seem insignificant, but some are ‘late-stage’ items that signify an acceleration in the return to normalcy at Walt Disney World.
Unfortunately, it’s not all good news. As with pretty much everything during the multi-year phased reopening of Walt Disney World, it’s not going to be as simple as flipping a switch and going from Character Sightings in the parks and Modified Meals at the Character Dining. Instead, it’ll happen gradually–here are the details…
Beginning April 18, 2022, the company will start reintroducing traditional character greetings at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, as well as aboard Disney Cruise Line and at Aulani Resort in Hawaii.
This means that you will once again be able to hug Mickey Mouse, get an autograph from Mulan, and share a laugh with Goofy. (Don’t know about you, but we kept on laughing from a distance. But I am very much looking forward to resuming my time-honored tradition of doing the Top Gun high-five with Scrooge McDuck.)
Disney also shared this teaser video:
In the announcement, Disney stated the following: “During the past two years, we’ve taken a very gradual, intentional approach to health and safety protocols. Recent trends and guidance have provided opportunities for us to bring back some of our most beloved magic, like character greetings and dining experiences.”
“While not all locations will be available immediately, we anticipate reopening in phases throughout the spring and early summer.”
This announcement is vague on details or a timeline for actual in-park character meet & greets, but our expectation is that almost every dedicated meet & greet location that has reopened as a “Sighting” will immediately be switched over to a traditional meet & greet.
This means Mickey at Town Square Theater, Princess Tiana and a Visiting Princess at Princess Fairytale Hall, Cinderella and a Visiting Princess at Princess Fairytale Hall, Olaf at Celebrity Spotlight, Disney Stars at Red Carpet Dreams, Anna and Elsa at Royal Sommerhus, and others I’m probably forgetting. Pretty much anything with “Sighting” or “See” in the My Disney Experience app that involves character (so none of the actual animals at Animal Kingdom, although I wouldn’t mind meeting a Western Lowland Gorilla).
It’s possible that the fur character meet & greets will return faster than face characters, but we doubt it. Walt Disney World is ready to restore normalcy ahead of the Summer 2022 tourist season. There’s not really a desire to err on the side of “caution” or postpone normalcy any further.
To the extent that any meet & greets don’t return to normal on April 18, 2022, it’ll be dictated by logistics and operational quirks more than anything else. (This goes for Walt Disney World, specifically. I assume it also holds true for Disneyland, but haven’t heard anything about the approach there.)
The bigger question is how quickly PhotoPass photographers will return to all of these locations. We haven’t heard a word about staffing for these positions, so I can’t speak to that. Presumably, some could be pulled from other parts of the parks. Anecdotally, I’m not sure whether that’s possible at scale. I haven’t noticed a surplus of photographers around most of the parks. Main Street might be the only exception, and even most of those have at least decent demand.
PhotoPass photographers are really needed in many of these character meet & greet locations. The spaces were designed with PhotoPass in mind, and the resulting images look much better with their fill flashes or the off-camera lighting that their cameras trigger. Here’s hoping character PhotoPass also comes back soon, as human photographers make a big difference.
While Walt Disney World is vague on when character dining will return to normal, our hope and expectation is that this largely occurs instantaneously with the locations that are already operational with characters. There’s really no reason all of the “modified meals” can’t become regular character dining almost overnight. (If anything, some–like Artist Point–will want to do this quickly, as tables were removed for character clearance.)
Other locations, particularly those that are currently operating without characters, might take more time to return. I would not expect the normal Crystal Palace or Cinderella’s Royal Table character meals to return to normal on April 18, 2022, but I’d absolutely love to be wrong about that.
We’ve done a few modified character meals and have had mixed thoughts on them. While we very much enjoyed the experiences, our circumstances are also unique. You can see what these are like in our Topolino’s Terrace Modified Character Meal Review or Story Book Dining at Artist Point Modified Princess Meal Review.
Admittedly, it’s also been a bit frustrating to see character meet & greets and regular dining take so long to return. Despite doing it during the window when virtually all health safety protocol was dropped at Walt Disney World last summer, Tusker House Restaurant was far and away our worst modified character meal.
Turning back to dedicated meet & greets, this change should immediately make lines for all of the meet & greets significantly longer. It’s no secret that Character Sightings have not been popular with guests, as reflected in the low wait times. We’ve done several of these and reported our experience in various posts. The only one that was any good was Princess Fairytale Hall.
The lack of PhotoPass photographers coupled with uneven lighting (in several cases, the character was brightly lit but where guests stand is dark–not exactly conducive to good photos) just made everything worse. All of that should be remedied with the return of regular character meet & greets.
Another consequence of this will be that the Genie+ Lightning Lane popularity will increase for these meet & greets v. sightings. Expect more demand for Mickey at Town Square Theater, Princess Tiana and a Visiting Princess at Princess Fairytale Hall, Cinderella and a Visiting Princess at Princess Fairytale Hall, Olaf at Celebrity Spotlight, and Disney Stars at Red Carpet Dreams.
We’ll rearrange our Genie+ Lightning Lane rankings in a few weeks after the dust settles. If you’re going shortly after the traditional meet & greets return, you might consider bumping them up on your own rankings if they’re important to you. (There’s always a surge of demand among locals when anything debuts or returns.)
In terms of the ripple effect and other implications, the first that comes to my mind is paving the way for the return of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. Rare characters are a big part of that, and the type of guest that’s drawn by the character lineup likely wouldn’t be satisfied by distanced greetings.
Traditional character meet & greets are literally the last piece of the puzzle for the normal Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. Everything else that was still temporarily paused or otherwise missing from Disney After Hours Boo Bash last year–parades and normal stage shows–has already returned.
However, this does not necessarily mean that the 2022 Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party will happen. There are pros and cons of each from the company’s perspective, with crowd dynamics and operating hours playing a big role. Contrary to popular opinion, price isn’t really one of them. Disney sells more tickets to MNSSHP than After Hours, and don’t doubt for a second that there would be a significant price increase if Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party does return for 2022.
If you’re looking for more speculation about that, we recently updated our guide to the 2022 Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party in response to repeated reader questions. At this point, it’s almost a toss-up as to which will return. If Walt Disney World wants a “win” with fans (and wow could they use one!), Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party is the better pick.
Finally, one relatively under-the-radar thing looking forward to is experiencing Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge as “normal” once again. There was really only a brief window of this at Walt Disney World, with the characters fully inhabiting Batuu–and much of that was a pretty low period of attendance immediately after the land opened.
Like Galactic Starcruiser, there’s supposed to be an overarching storyline of Galaxy’s Edge that unfolds in the streets around guests. The First Order, Stormtroopers, and Kylo Ren are constantly in search of Rey, Chewbecca, and the Resistance. In the simplest possible terms, it’s like a constant game of hide and seek, with guests placed in the middle (it’s way cooler than that sounds).
I really hope this not only returns, but is expanded upon. One of the biggest fears prior to the debut of Galaxy’s Edge was that free-roaming characters would not translate to Walt Disney World because of guest demographics. The thinking was that once-in-a-lifetime guests wanted posed photos with characters, not to “play” with them.
This is despite free-roaming characters being a staple of the Disneyland experience for years. As we’ve written elsewhere, so many of Disneyland’s best moments with characters unfold in an organic and spontaneous manner as characters like Mary Poppins, Peter Pan, or the Evil Queen wander the park.
I’d like to believe that the debut of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and nearly two years of more spontaneous character experiences at Walt Disney World has changed things. Perhaps this has given Orlando management the (positive) guest feedback they need to see that random appearances and free-roaming characters “work” with Florida audiences.
To be clear, I’m not suggesting that these should be the exclusive offering. Rather, they should supplement traditional meet & greets. They are great for giving the parks a lived-in energy and excitement, and for being a fun surprise that can make a guest’s day. A healthy balance between the two would be great, and guests might appreciate some up-close fun with characters after being separated by half a football field and/or physical barriers over the last two years.
Personally, I think what debuted in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is the future. First-timers have their expectations shaped by what they see prior to their trips, and no one has seen (new) photos of traditional meet & greets in two years. Longtime fans who are character hunters aren’t really Walt Disney World’s core demographic, and are likely to return regardless. Of all things, this is probably not the dealbreaker for many guests.
Younger generations prefer organic experiences and photos/videos that appear candid. Plus, a ton of content like this from Galaxy’s Edge has already gone viral on social media, making this kind of character engagement is better (free) marketing for Disney.
Overall, this is a colossal step in Walt Disney World’s return to normalcy, and is a pretty strong signal that things will be pretty close to 100% by Memorial Day Weekend. From my perspective, the return of traditional character meet & greets was the last “big” thing that was still temporarily modified (the Disney Dining Plan doesn’t quite count here, since it’s gone for other reasons at this point). As discussed above, regular character interactions pave the way for a lot more smaller-scale changes.
At this point, the biggest unknowns are things Walt Disney World has already confirmed are returning, but that still don’t have specific dates. We should have official updates on Fantasmic and Finding Nemo: Big Blue & Beyond soon (both are steadily progressing behind the scenes). Beyond that, it would be nice to hear about streetmosphere and the other remaining entertainment and offerings that are still missing from Walt Disney World almost 2 years later. Hopefully more news is coming very soon–we’ll keep you updated!
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What do you think about Walt Disney World restoring character meet & greets? Thoughts on the implications of traditional character interactions for other things, like Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge? What about spontaneous character encounters v. posed meet & greets? Will you be attempting to visit Walt Disney World this year, or are you waiting until everything has a confirmed return date? Do you agree or disagree with our predictions? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
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Hoping the Not So Scary party comes back, having an earlier start to the party is great for the younger kids to participate in, most of them would be pretty tired by 10 PM.
I like the element at Galaxy’s Edge, was there in 2019. The interactive play using the app and gaining “street cred” with the rebels or the empire, it changed how they interacted with you. I’d love to see more interactive play with the characters, to be dragged into their world if only for a few minutes. The rides are the rides, but being brought into role play with the characters would be true magic.
Thoughts on implications for Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique?
I am also wandering about the same! I want to give this experience to my daughter when we go so I really hope they plan on opening it and allowing us to make the reservations soon!!
Character meets used to be a huge focus for our trips, but now that my kids are 11 and 13, they prefer character sightings of the original Galaxy’s Edge variety. I’m thrilled for families with little ones, and anyone else who loves the facetime with their favorite characters. I’m also thrilled that some of the people who used to be in lines for rides and shows may now be in lines for meet and greets!!
Honestly, I think it’s amazing that they’re reintroducing character meet and greets… HOWEVER, with that being said, I’m extremely disappointed that Disney announced this news a week and a half before opening on 4/18. For guests like myself, who’ve been planning for months and are spending thousands of dollars, my kids are missing this experience by one day; heartbreaking! My heart is broken knowing that my kids aren’t going to be able to have the same experience as a child who is coming the next day, being able to hug Mickey and get an autograph. I understand that this stinks for guests who went weeks ago or months ago, but to be told this the week you’re going and that you’re missing it by a day, is disappointing to say the least. Why wait? Why announce it so soon? This will probably be my kids only trip there, and unfortunately they’re not going to be able to hug Mickey or Minnie, and our experience at Cinderella’s Royal Table will not be the same as someone the very next day. Disney should’ve waited to the night before or the day of to announce it’s return, so guests there now, and next week, dont feel like they’re missing out on a once in a lifetime experience; some families can only afford this trip, during their kids magical years, once. Ignorance would’ve been bliss.
Add one more Family to that list.
Ha ha didn’t realize character meet and greets were political. Wish I saw those posts. Any word on Enchanted Tales with Belle at MK? My daughter loved that and I secretly want to experience that but was on Space Mtn at the time while she was with mom.