For many people going to Disney World and Disneyland – both kids and adults alike – coming face-to-face with their favorite Disney characters is just as exciting as going on the theme park giant’s famous rides, sometimes more so. But, how do you make sure you have the best Disney character meet-and-greet experience possible?
That’s where I come in. As a former Disney World PhotoPass Photographer and someone who has met more characters than I can count, I know what it takes to walk away with an incredible memory – and, spoiler alert, it’s not an autograph book.
So, get your camera ready as I break down the basics of Disney meet-and-greets and share my top tips for having a character interaction to remember.
Disney Character Meet-and-Greet Basics
Whether you’re at Disneyland or Disney World, you’ll have several opportunities to meet characters along the way. While you could certainly give these characters a pass, especially if you’re on a mission to do all the attractions that are available, you’d be missing out on an essential part of the Disney experience.
Not only is it just a ton of fun to hang out for a few minutes with your favorite Disney characters, but in areas like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, they can even pull you into their story, making your visit that much richer and more immersive. Let’s get into the basics.
Types of Characters
Ok, before we get started, we need to take a quick break from the magic to differentiate the types of Disney characters you’ll see. In general, there are two different kinds of characters you can meet in the Disney Parks: “fur” characters and “face” characters.
As you can probably guess from the name, fur characters tend to be Disney’s animal characters, like Mickey Mouse, as well as non-human characters, such as Toy Story’s Woody or Chewbacca from Star Wars. That being said, some animated human characters who are also fur characters, including the Queen of Hearts from Alice in Wonderland and Russell or Carl from Up.
Since fur characters wear mascot-type costumes, complete with heavy, oversized heads, they can’t actually talk to you. Instead, they communicate using body language and hand gestures. In contrast, face characters put on elaborate costumes, wigs and often a full face of makeup to portray some of Disney’s human characters, both animated and live-action.
This includes everyone from the Disney princesses and princes to popular characters like Captain Jack Sparrow and Kylo Ren, as well as Disney’s so-called Streetmosphere performers, such as Hollywood Studios’ Citizens of Hollywood or California Adventure’s Citizens of Buena Vista Street. Unlike fur characters, face characters can – and will – carry on a full conversation with you throughout the interaction.
Where to Find Characters
There are a few different ways to meet Mickey Mouse and other Disney characters at Disney World and Disneyland: meet-and-greets, character dining and random pop-up character appearances.
The easiest way to find character meet-and-greets is to fire up your theme park app. Walt Disney World’s My Disney Experience and the Disneyland app are invaluable resources for character hunters, offering up-to-the-minute information on where and when characters will be greeting guests and, depending on the meet-and-greet, how long it will take to see them.
At Walt Disney World, you can even make a Genie+ reservation to meet certain characters. However, if you’d rather not be plugged into your phone all day (a valiant-though-futile endeavor, to be sure), you can also look on the Times Guide or ask a guest relations cast member.
Disney character dining is another simple (and delicious!) way to meet your favorite Disney characters. After all, everyone’s gotta eat. While much of my advice here is geared towards regular meet-and-greets, it can easily be adapted to a character dining situation. For more on Disney character dining, don’t miss our guides for Disneyland and Disney World.
Meet-and-greets can also happen unannounced at random times and places. These unexpected appearances are offered for a few reasons and can often be some of the rarer characters you’ll meet.
Character performers may be earning their ears (Disney-speak for training) or getting in some meet-and-greets before doing a stage show like Fantasmic. Either way, they’re a lot of fun.
If there’s a character you or your kids absolutely can’t miss, the easiest ways to guarantee it happens is by booking a Disney character meal, making a Lightning Lane reservation (if available) or making sure you’re first in line for their next meet-and-greet.
When to Meet Disney Characters
This is another time when the Disneyland and Walt Disney World apps or a Times Guide will come in hand. Some characters, like Disney’s Fab Five or the princesses, will hold court on and off throughout the day, while others may only be available for a short period of time.
So, if you know you want to see someone particular, be sure to do your research before your visit to see when and how often your favorites usually meet their fans. Then, plan to arrive early so you can be first in line for one of their meet-and-greet sets and, hopefully, avoid any of the long lines that will inevitably form in the process.
Remember that there may even be pop-up character meet-and-greets that aren’t shown on the app, so be sure to keep your eyes open. For Disney characters who greet guests all day long, the best time to go is in the late afternoon and into the evening, as lines tend to get shorter as the day goes on. This doesn’t just mean a shorter wait but also more time with the characters, as they won’t be forced to rush the interaction to get through the line.
Finally, keep in mind that characters can’t stay out forever. After all, Sleeping Beauty needs her rest, and Mickey does love a good cheese break. Typically, they will be back to make another appearance but double-check before your visit to make sure.
Here are some rules of thumb when it comes to a character’s set length. While face characters tend to be out greeting guests longer than face characters, they generally also take longer breaks before reappearing. Sets also tend to be shorter at outdoor versus indoor locations.
The Character Meet-and-Greet Experience
Contrary to some guests’ beliefs, meet-and-greets are more than just an autograph and pictures. In fact, that’s only half of the equation. For Disney characters and PhotoPass photographers, the experience actually begins when you lock eyes for the first time and walk over for the official meet-and-greet.
Next comes your up-close interaction, like hugs or any playful banter. Then, it’s time for autographs – be sure to have your books and writing implement of choice ready and waiting. Finally, they’ll show you the finished product and pose for pictures before sending you off with one last parting hug.
Remember that if there’s a PhotoPass photographer on hand, they’ll be taking pictures throughout the entire interaction – from the moment your little one starts walking with arms outstretched and eyes aglow in awe towards their favorite character until their final goodbye. So, feel free to keep your own camera away and just enjoy the experience.
How to Have a Magical, Memorable Disney Character Meet-and-Greet
As a PhotoPass photographer and during conversations with other Disney World cast members, I’ve been able to hear about and witness from behind the camera some truly special character meet-and-greets.
A family who used a Green Army Man at Disney’s Hollywood Studios as a stand-in for their dad, who was deployed overseas. Make-A-Wish kids who came face-to-face with their favorite character for the very first time. Babies gazing up in wonder from the lap of a princess. Buzz Lightyear and Jessie passing love notes through a child.
Yes, Disney character interactions can be a downright magical experience and a memory you’re sure to cherish – if you let them, that is. But for that to happen, you’ll need to do more than just shove your autograph book in a character’s face. Here are some tips and tricks for getting the most out of every meet-and-greet.
Waiting for the Meet-and-Greet
Character meet-and-greets are short, sweet and to the point. So, use the time you’re in line to get ready for your turn. This is the perfect opportunity to get your item ready for its next signature, like opening your autograph book to the next empty page or uncapping your pen or marker.
If you’d like the character attendant or PhotoPass photographer to take a picture or two on your camera or phone, then take it out, turn it on and get it ready with your desired settings. And don’t forget your MagicBand!
You can also use this time to think about what you’d like to talk to the character about or soothe an unsure kiddo. Come up with some questions to ask when it’s finally your turn. Or, if your little one is understandably scared of the unreasonably large rodent in front of you, this can be a great opportunity for a pep talk.
And whatever you do, be sure to listen to the character attendant. These cast members help move the meet-and-greets along while also ensuring that characters and guests are safe and comfortable. So, be nice to them and have some patience if it’s time for the character to take a break before it’s your turn.
Interacting with Disney Characters
Don’t just come in, say hi, get an autograph and a hug, snap a photo and leave. For many guests I’ve seen, meet-and-greets have become all about a feverish quest for autographs and pictures with every character available. But then, in the flurry of marker caps, pen clicks and page turns to find the next open spot, the actual character experience often gets tossed to the wayside – and that’s a tragedy.
Characters aren’t just fancy, moving props. They love interacting with guests and sharing their stories with them. While you may think that you or your kiddo will be happier with a fat book of autographs at the end of the trip, you’ll get so much more from an interaction if you slow things down and make the signature scavenger hunt your secondary priority.
Use the first part of your meet-and-greet to talk to the character. Yes, even fur characters! Like I said earlier, just because they can’t speak doesn’t mean they can’t communicate with you. And trust me, there are many things you can talk about.
Characters love compliments. And really, who doesn’t? So, go ahead and say something sweet about Cinderella’s dress or Mickey’s spiffy new suit for Disney World’s 50th-anniversary celebration. Beyond that, you can also ask them a relevant question or tell them something related to their story. If you choose wisely, you can even try to steer the conversation towards the kind of interaction you want.
For a funny reaction with just the tiniest bit of drama, call Donald Duck Daffy Duck, refer to Chip ‘n’ Dale as squirrels or gophers, tell Woody that you think you hear a snake in his boot, tell Gaston that he doesn’t look as strong as you expected or make a clock sound when you’re around Captain Hook.
Hoping for some great candid shots? Ask the character to teach you something and get a kung fu lesson from Mulan or a bouncing lesson from Tigger. If there’s a character that you especially like, you can even dress up especially for the occasion with a t-shirt or hat – bonus points for DisneyBounding. Really, the possibilities are endless!
Last but not least, there are a few things you should keep in mind throughout the interaction. Some fur characters have limited visibility, so try to be conscientious of any potential issues when handing over your autograph book or going in for a hug.
And speaking of hugs, always be respectful of characters’ personal space. Let’s pause the magic again to speak frankly for a bit. I’ve heard about far too many accounts of characters being groped inappropriately by adults or having parts of their costumes tugged in a manner that is painful or unsafe by overexcited kids.
While it is a character’s job to give hugs, they are still a person with boundaries. Additionally, while their costumes may seem sturdy, they’re not a jungle gym. So, if you notice your little one pulling down too hard on Donald’s bill, yanking on Minnie’s ear or tugging on Pluto’s tongue, tell them to stop – they’re likely hurting the character performer.
Oh, and most importantly, be sure to tell them “thank you”!
Photographing & Remembering Your Character Meet-and-Greet Experience
Ok, now it’s time for the last half of the meet-and-greet: the signatures and snapshot. Getting something signed is a great souvenir of the interaction. Autograph books are the most popular, but you can also think outside the box for a truly unique and personalized keepsake.
Illustrated storybooks take autograph books to a whole new level, making for a fun reminder of your trip every time you read it. However, you can also use things like picture frames, photo mats or clothing items. Just keep in mind that you can’t be wearing the item when the character signs it.
If you like, you can even get really creative with character-specific items. For example, a frying pan is perfect for Rapunzel, while Tiana’s signature would be right at home on a recipe card. Whatever you use, just be sure to put your contact information on it somewhere (if possible), so it will be easy to contact you if you lose it. And as for your pen or marker, bring along one that’s thick and easy to hold for fur characters.
It wouldn’t be a Disney character meet-and-greet without a photo. Don’t worry if a PhotoPass photographer isn’t around to take pictures. You can also ask the character attendant to snap a few with your own device or even hand it over to the photographer once they’re finished with their Disney camera. Just be sure to take a selfie before you pass it over.
If you are forced to take your own pictures while your kids meet the characters, make like a PhotoPass photographer and capture some candid shots. Trust me, it’s those in-the-moment snaps that truly convey the feeling of the moment, not the posed ones when everyone is facing the camera with plastered-on smiles.
Speaking of poses, don’t be afraid to put your pride to the side and join in with some playful posing. Follow the lead of the character you’re with for some extra-fun pictures.
Meeting Disney Characters with Small Children
Depending on how old they are, watching your kiddo meet their favorite character can either be a heartwarming experience or a disaster waiting to happen. Given this uncertainty, it’s important to be flexible and compassionate in the moment.
As PhotoPass Photographer, I can’t even tell you how many times I snapped photos of children bawling their eyes out or screaming in terror as they were forced to pose with poor Mickey. “I don’t understand why he/she is acting like this! So-and-so loves watching Mickey and Minnie on TV.”
And that’s just it – there’s a huge difference, literally, between the cartoon versions of characters that kids see on TV and those they can meet in the parks. This is especially true for fur characters, like the Big Cheese himself, as their unexpectedly large size, lack of speaking ability and huge, unmoving facial features can be more than a little unnerving for some children. You may even want to consider starting out with face characters and working your way up to fur characters.
Whoever you’re seeing, don’t be surprised if things don’t exactly go according to plan once you get to the meet-and-greet. If your child is overwhelmed before they even get up to the character, use the time that you’re waiting to try to ease their fears or answer any questions they may have. When it’s finally their turn, let them go to the character at a pace that is comfortable for them.
Characters are pros at dealing with frightened children. They’ll kneel or sit down completely to get down to your little one’s level and appear less threatening. Just remember that while your child might be allowed to sit on some characters’ laps, it isn’t possible for all characters, and they definitely can’t be held.
If they’re still upset but you absolutely need a picture, step into the frame and position yourself between the character and your kiddo. Hopefully, you can be the barrier they need to calm down enough for a photo.
If not, it is ok to walk away without the shot. As frustrating as it can be to spend all that time waiting only to leave emptyhanded, pressuring a frightened child to take an uncomfortable photo is only going to result in an awkward, unusable (or funny, if you’ve got a penchant for schadenfreude) picture and, potentially, a cranky, inconsolable kid for a good chunk of the day.
Well, folks, that’s the last of my tips for Disney character meet-and-greets. If you follow even a few of these suggestions, you’re sure to come away with a unique memory, not just the character’s name scribbled on a piece of paper.
Which characters do you love to meet? Are there any tricks I missed? Let us know in the comments! Then, learn how you can save some cash with our discount Disney tickets.