Passing Time With Charactersby Adrienne Krock, staff writer
Adults and children alike often love meeting Disney characters in person. Disney provides many opportunities at their theme parks and resorts and on their cruise ships, too. Something as seemingly innocent as an autograph book may stir opinions among visitors, believe it or not. We asked our Parenting Panel this week: How do you spend your time visiting Disney characters? Do you use autograph books?
MousePlanet columnist Chris Barry his wife Diane, 14-year-old Samantha, and twin 11-year-olds, Casey and Alex, live on Long Island and are all major Disney and Walt Disney World fans. Chris writes:
Meeting the Disney characters was always a big thing with my kids on our Walt Disney World trips and autograph books were always right there alongside of the cameras and Mickey pens. The kids always loved getting autographs. There were some trips where all I remember doing was waiting to meet characters, taking photos with characters, and getting character autographs. The Disney autograph books are decent quality and they do make a great keepsake for kids. My kids have a "stack" of them on the bookshelf. It's a stack, mostly, because we seemed to forget to bring the half-used books back the following year and we'd end up buying new ones. But you don't have to just use a Disney autograph book.
Sometimes we'd get the characters to autograph coloring books or photographs, or even those kids' menus from the restaurants. A few years ago, my sons and I spent a nice long week in Walt Disney World when my wife and daughter had an opportunity to go to Germany with my wife's father and see his hometown. We were going to be apart for my wife's birthday and we made sure to make a Happy Birthday sign on that day. We got my wife's favorite characters, Tinker Bell and Tigger, to autograph the Happy Birthday sign. Then we were able to take pictures of the characters holding up the sign and text them to my wife. The characters seemed thrilled to help us out in this endeavor, especially Tink, who probably wasn't used to a set of 10-year-old boys waiting in her line. She made it fun for them and certainly drew a lot of attention to us in line. That sign is a special autograph that we'll save for a long, long time.
We've always been fond of certain character meals. Our favorite has always been the Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom. But we've had memorable experiences at Chef Mickey's with a particularly wacky Donald Duck; at the Liberty Tree when Meeko from put my daughter's dinner rolls in his ears; and at Cinderella's Royal Table Castle when my daughter took a shine to Mary Poppins. In return, Mary Poppins turned up the British charm to "11" and made my 4-year old's day. All of these moments are marked on video and in film, but they are also forever marked in the autograph books.
Looking back at the autographs while I'm writing this I see the names of some unusual characters. How many kids out there have Launchpad McQuack's autograph? Not too many I'm sure. What about Clarice, Chip and Dale's "girlfriend?" That was an unusual sighting for sure. Sure, we have the pictures to remember those moments, but it's great to have the autographs to go along with them. The autographs enhance the memory.
Have I spent a few extra bucks on autograph books over the last 10 years? Yes indeed. But I think they've all been worth it. The character meet-and-greets and meals and the autograph books we filled along the way bring back a lot of special Walt Disney World memories to my family for sure.
Mary Kraemer, is an avid Disney fan and travel consultant with CruisingCo/MouseEarVacations who loves to travel with her husband and children to Disney destinations as often as possible. Mary, writes:
Autograph books are treasured keepsakes of a visit to a Disney destination! The popularity of character meet-and-greet opportunities has changed over time from simple chance encounters in the parks to include character meals and specific locations where guests can meet their favorite characters, and some of these locations even use FastPass options to manage the lines!
Whenever a character is in the parks, they always have a cast member "handler" to help control the inevitable lines that almost instantly form with guests who want a photo and an autograph. Sometimes these lines are extremely long, and at some point, the "handler" has to provide a polite reason as to why the character must leave for a few minutes (which is code-speak for "we're changing shifts here, and another person who's in the character suit will be here shortly.") In the general areas of the park, these lines can get unwieldy and block the flow of foot traffic.
The first solution was the invention of the character meal. What a genius idea! Having restaurant space dedicated to guest and character interaction, where the characters "make the rounds" to each and every table, to pose with anyone who wants a photo and give an autograph made it easy and convenient for guests to spend time with characters. The concept was so popular that there are numerous character meals available at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World resorts.
At the Disneyland Resort, character meals are classified as "regular" or "premium" experiences (with the princess meals at Ariel's Grotto and the happy cavalcade of characters at Goofy's Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel being the premium choices).
At the Walt Disney World Resort , the princess breakfast and lunch at Cinderella's Royal Table and the character meals at Chef Mickey's in the Contemporary Resort are so popular that they book 180 days in advance of guests' arrivals at the resort. Clearly, Disney has a good thing going with the characters.
But how to manage the lines in the theme parks? Years ago, the evolution of dedicated space for specific character interactions began. In Toontown at Disneyland, guests could meet Mickey at his ‘studio,' after winding their way through his house, and then then through the studio area. It was a clever way to theme the line for the character interaction as well as have multiple Mickeys, each behind a different door, to help with the line throughput.
The next wave of dedicated character space using FastPass technology appeared at Walt Disney World, with Mickey's Town Square, where guests could select FastPasses to see Mickey or princesses. Using FastPass helps manage the lines even more effectively, so guests come to the location during their FastPass-specified time. Now there are princess-specific locations in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom.
And the autograph book is there to capture it all. For the young guest, it's a tangible proof of meeting a character, an immediate connection to the magic. It becomes a challenge for some guests, to meet as many characters as possible, to collect as many autographs as they can.
One of the things that amazes me about the characters is their ability to sign autograph books with such distinctive, and clear, handwriting. Cinderella's flowing script is beautiful, as befits a princess, for example. For the "rubberhead" characters (where no human face is seen), it must be an incredible challenge to see well enough to sign all those autograph book pages!
When I have clients who have young children, I often include an autograph book with their travel documents, knowing the popularity of getting autographs as a souvenir. Depending on the destination, I have a supply of books for Disneyland, Walt Disney World, and even the Disney Cruise Line, because there are scheduled character meet-and-greet times onboard the ship, as well as a character breakfast.
Parenting in the Parks columnist Adrienne Krock's three boys are now 15, 12, and 9. They've been visiting the Disneyland Resort since they were each just weeks old and Annual Passholders since their 3rd birthdays. Adrienne writes:
For a few years, when we visited the parks, I kept autograph books in our backpack, one for each of my three sons, along with a good pen. Common wisdom suggests a fat permanent marker, such as a Sharpie brand marker, seem to work best for collecting autographs, especially for characters who wear padded gloves.
Now that my children are older, we no longer seem to visit characters very often any more. Through a series of events, we found ourselves visiting characters again and we enjoyed ourselves now more than ever. The most frustrating part for me? I see now that I should have known better all along…
In October, 2009, we visited Walt Disney World for the first time. We bought tickets for the Not-So-Scary Halloween party and packed costumes for our entire family. I brought a Sorcerer Mickey costume for my youngest son, then 5 years old. One day, we met Sorcerer Mickey himself at a character meet in Disney Hollywood Studios. We enjoyed one of the best character interactions ever! Sorcerer Mickey pushed everyone out of the way and took his time, teaching our son all of the special Sorcerer Mickey moves. I snapped pictures. The PhotoPass Cast Member snapped pictures. My family laughed and smiled and had a wonderful visit. Forget the autograph book, we spent quality time with Sorcerer Mickey!
Maybe an autograph book works to break the ice – or to have a keepsake for later. Today I realize that maybe the focus on the book kept us from having a more meaningful interaction with many of the characters we met over the years. We spent so much time fussing with the pen that we missed out on some playful fun. Since then, we learned how to play with the characters. After meeting Sorcerer Mickey, I should have known this secret for a long time. Now we spend more time engaging the characters. Compliment the characters – or if you meet a villain, maybe tell the villain that they are not very nice – but be polite about it. Tell them you liked their movie – or better yet, what you liked about the movie. Compliment their outfits. Even characters who do not speak can play charades and pantomime their answers.
Think of the Jungle Book song: "You-oo-oo! I wanna be like you-oo-oo!" My children, yes, my boys, have found out how much fun it is to interact with the characters and learn their moves – their poses! Did you know that Mulan shows boys, and girls, how to pose like warriors? Recently, my family laughed our heads off with Minnie Mouse when she posed with my husband at Disneyland park. With all due respect to our Sorcerer Mickey, she may have been the best character interaction we ever had on the west coast.
Now besides a piece of paper, we have even more stories and memories behind our character pictures. Maybe I should keep the autograph books around – to write notes after we meet the characters, and help us remember what we laughed about.
Chris, also known as GusMan, is always planning his next family trip to the Walt Disney World Resort and loves to help others plan their trips, as well sharing his experiences. Chris writes:
When I think about my first Disney trip with my family one of the first things that puts a smile on my face is seeing my little girl meet Mickey for the first time. I remember the big grin she had as she was wearing her Minnie Mouse sunglasses holding her autograph book waiting to get the signature of her first recognisable celebrity. It was a sight to be seen, one that I will never forget. Little did I know that it would also set off a quest to get the autograph of every character possible.
For the next several trips, we made it a point to pick up an autograph book and see who we can meet next. Of course, every one of those autographs needed to have a real cool picture as well. What came of this was an expansion of her autograph collection. Little did we know it also became something of a time capsule of sorts. To elaborate, every year, the collection of character interactions grew. We also saw our kids grow up in those pictures. Every picture with Mickey or Goofy is just a little bit different. The clothes change. The number of teeth differed. The kids went from being really small to tall enough to look them in the eye. Heck, even my wife and I see how much weight we lost over the years in these pictures. Some people have growth marks along their favorite door jamb. We had pictures with Disney characters. It was a fortunate happenstance that it ended up that way, to be honest. I don't think I could have planned it out better.
I think after the autograph quest was pretty much complete, our kids grew into the idea meeting the characters wearing different outfits. Sure, we all love the traditional pictures, but when you can get a picture of Goofy in a Santa hat or Donald wearing swimwear, you know that a new quest is created. Sure, some of the special outfits are only around during holidays or special events, but there are several that are around all the time, just at different locations. It just depends on if your kids want to take the time to get that special shot. My advice – if you see an opportunity to get that special picture, take it. Some chances don't come around again easily.
Does that mean that the autograph quest goes away after a while? It depends. For my son, we thought he was done getting autographs. However, I think he has a renewed interest in some of the characters and would like to start up again. That is completely fine by us. After all, we love to meet the characters, even if it means that we are just a little bit older than everyone else in line. Between the autograph books and the pictures, I think they are just another way of documenting our families vacation history so we can relive great memories later.
It's your turn—keep the discussion flowing!
Visit the Parenting in the Parks forum on our MousePad discussion board, and share your opinions about this topic or many others, or send your suggestions via e-mail. Reader-submitted tips might be used in a future article, and you might be selected to participate in an upcoming panel discussion!