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Connecting with the Characters, on an Adult Level!
by Rose Folan
ALL EARS® Feature Writer
This article appeared in the May 20, 2003, Issue #191 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)
Undoubtedly, one of my favorite parts of a Walt Disney World trip is meeting, and being photographed with, some of the silver screen's biggest stars. No place else can offer the opportunity to meet so many big-name Disney celebrities. Of course, I'm referring to the larger-than-life characters who can be found throughout the parks. Kids love 'em and flock around whenever they appear. Yet, for that very reason, some adults steer clear of these wonderful icons of Disney.
In my opinion, this is a BIG mistake. These characters are an integral part of the WDW experience for adults, too. After all, most of us grew up with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and the others -- why shouldn't we want to have fun with them?
First and foremost, we need to realize that adults shouldn't feel shy or embarrassed about wanting to meet the characters. I learned this the hard way when, during my very first visit to WDW, a little girl in line in front of me kept asking her mother. "Why are those old people in line?" Admittedly, it was uncomfortable because neither her mother, nor I, knew what to say. Now I realize that, since we all love these characters, I should have told her that I was there because I love Mickey, too. The lesson I learned is not to worry what other people think, because adults at WDW are really just big kids. We're there to have fun, too, which includes being with our favorite characters.
MEETS AND GREETS
You might now ask, where are the best places for adults to meet characters? Well, they are no different than the places where kids meet them. The approach may be a bit different, but we all start out the same way.
Start by picking up a guide map when you arrive at a park -- they locate the character-greeting locations for you (look for the pointing Mickey glove). Don't forget to get a Times Guide, too. It's a most valuable tool -- you'll learn why in a bit. You can also check with Guest Relations at each park, or City Hall in the Magic Kingdom, to find out when and where characters are appearing that day. This is especially helpful if you're looking for one particular character or one of the lesser-known characters who may not be found in every park.
Once you know the basics -- who, when and where -- it's time to plan your strategy. Try to arrive at a greeting location a few minutes earlier than the scheduled time. This is where that Times Guide comes in handy. Crowds gather fast and, unfortunately, the longer children stand in line, the more impatient they become. Getting there early and being near the front of the line makes for a faster and less stressful experience. If you're in an area where several characters are already greeting guests, try to spend time with the less busy characters first.
During one trip, my husband and I came out of City Hall in the Magic Kingdom to find many characters throughout the square. Children were lined up already waiting for Pinocchio, Snow White, King Louie and others while the Country Bears stood alone, clowning around with each other. As we approached them they made a big show of greeting us and posing for funny photos. We got some great shots, had lots of laughs, and got a big "thank you" from their handler. Even big old bears like some attention!
Something else adults would be wise to remember is that, as much as characters enjoy meeting children, they also find it a nice change of pace to interact with fun-loving adults who are generally more relaxed and playful than the kids.
If you're still not convinced that you want to stand in line to meet characters, then consider going to a character meal. Here, the characters come to you, and to all the tables -- maybe you'll feel less conspicuous, since all you have to do is eat and wait. In case you haven't tried a character meal, let me also tell you that the food at these meals is not just something to pass the time while you wait for your chance to pose with Pooh. The food is the same quality that you'll find at any sit-down restaurant. You have to eat sometime, so, instead of just consuming calories, why not have some fun while you dine?
My first experience with a character meal was breakfast at Hollywood & Vine at the Disney-MGM Studios. We entered the classic-looking diner and didn't quite know what to expect. Before long our server arrived. He explained that we could visit the buffet as often as we'd like and that the characters would each visit our table. Our first visitor was Chip (or was it Dale? I'm not quite sure!), who came to give me hugs and kisses and to pose for a photo with my very reluctant husband. I think the characters sensed that we were new at this, and they were all very attentive. Of course, by the time my husband's favorite, Goofy (in '50s-style zoot suit and hat), came to our table, he wasn't reluctant at all. And we were both hooked. We had so much fun our first time that we always schedule character meals during our trips to WDW. (But alas, no longer at Hollywood & Vine, which no longer features characters meals, only a non-character dinner buffet.)
The advantage of a character meal is, obviously, that characters come to every table and interact with every guest -- no standing in line -- so each guest receives as much or as little attention as desired.
The disadvantages of a character meal? They are frequently crowded and noisy (especially breakfasts!), and there isn't much chance for more than brief interaction with each character. The characters must visit each table in turn and there's lots of ground for them to cover.
One way to maximize your experience is to schedule your Priority Seating for off-times, for example, a late breakfast, lunch or dinner rather than during peak mealtime periods. This can give you a great opportunity for fun and attention from characters as the crowds subside.
During one late breakfast at Donald's Breakfastosaurus at Disney's Animal Kingdom, my husband was too hungry to be thinking about characters when we were finally seated. Off he immediately went to get something from the buffet. While I sat alone at our table, looking down at my coffee, I got the surprise of my life.
As I sat looking into my cup, I could see out of the corner of my eye the group at a nearby table telling the children to look toward me. As I picked up my head to see what they were looking at, I was surprised to find Donald leaning close beside me. I was thrilled and excited at this unexpected attention. When my husband returned with his food, he couldn't believe he'd missed all the fun. If we'd dined during the busy time, I don't think Donald would have had the time to quietly wait for my reaction.
THE CASUAL APPROACH
Another tactic that works well is to go about your park visit and to take advantage of character opportunities as they arise. You might be surprised to come out of Animal Kingdom one afternoon and find King Louie, Timon, Rafiki and Terk standing outside the gates just waiting to say hello.
At the International Gateway at Epcot, you might run characters like Friar Tuck, Prince John, and (my personal favorite) Beast. You can often stroll up to them and get autographs or take photos without any lines or waiting.
Disney-MGM Studios is also a treasure-trove of character meetings. One day, my husband and I went to take the Animation Tour. Unfortunately, a tour had left just before we arrived so we had to wait for the next, but the Cast Member on duty told us that we'd have time to meet Lilo and Stitch if we wanted to walk over to where they were greeting guests. We walked around the corner and found only one family (who were just leaving), so I was able to spend some quality time with my favorite space alien. Finally, as we posed for a photo, Lilo hugged me and stroked my hair while Stitch (always the little troublemaker) put his fingers up in devil horns above our heads. It was an unplanned and delightful experience.
Are there still adults out there who are reluctant to take the time to meet characters? Let me try to give you some additional incentive.
Photos with characters are great souvenirs. They're a unique memory of your trip. You can start a collection of your own that grows with each trip. How about seeing how many different characters you can collect? I heard one estimate that there are about 100 characters throughout the parks. Getting photos of all of them in your collection could be quite an accomplishment.
Another great idea, if you visit often, is to take a photo with the same character each trip, preferably in the same location. You can have your own personal history of how you (or the character, or the location) have changed over time.
Those adults who are still shy about meeting characters can use autographs as a great icebreaker (this works for kids, too). You can collect the autographs for the kids back home. You can also borrow the following idea from a friend of mine (I plan to use it myself!): Purchase a card for someone at home who is celebrating a special occasion -- birthday, anniversary, new home, etc. -- and then have all the characters write something to your friend and sign the card. What a thoughtful and unique gift! Your friend will cherish the card and appreciate the time and effort you spent doing it.
Yet another idea, since characters will autograph clothing (as long as it's not being worn at the time), is to get shirts or hats for family or friends and have their favorite character write a message to them. Imagine Uncle George's face breaking into a broad smile when he sees a WDW cap personally autographed for him by Donald Duck! It's something he'll enjoy more than a plain shirt or hat because you took the time to make it special.
When it comes to characters, the ideas for what you can do are as limitless as your imagination. And, remember, it's not just the young, but also the young-at-heart, who adore Disney characters -- don't be shy, get out there and meet your favorites!
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Character Meet and Greet FAQ including Reader Tips: http://allears.net/tp/fur.htm
Where the Characters Dine locator: http://allears.net/din/cbchar.htm
Character Meal Descriptions: http://allears.net/din/cb.htm
Other Articles by Rose Folan: http://allears.net/btp/rose.htm
Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.