My Disney Top 5 - Character Experiences at Walt Disney World

by Chris Barry, staff writer

Welcome back to another My Disney Top 5. Thanks for all of your responses and for being the greatest bunch of readers a writer could hope for.

This time, I’m going to talk about something that’s become a major draw at the Disney parks and almost a rite of passage for young kids in America. There are so many things that make a trip to Walt Disney World or Disneyland magical, too many to count for sure. But one of the things that kids, and let’s be honest, grown-ups as well, instantly look for once they pass through the turnstiles are the Disney characters. They’re there as soon as you emerge from under the train station at the Magic Kingdom, sometimes right inside the turnstiles as you enter the park. You could meet a character at Animal Kingdom before you even buy your ticket. They’re frequently in the plaza outside of the turnstiles.

Chip and Dale, Casey and Alex outside of Animal Kingdom. Photo By Chris Barry.

They’ve become an attraction unto themselves in the parks. Indeed whole areas and buildings have been given over to character meet and greets. Character meals are among the most popular and toughest reservations to snag at Walt Disney World; just ask anyone that’s been on the phone 180 days in advance at 7:00 am for Cinderella’s Royal Table.

You’d be hard pressed to find many people without a picture of someone with Mickey Mouse in their home. When you’re a parent like me, the characters take up a lot of time on your trips to Disney. Some may say too much time. I disagree. Once you see your child run up and hug a character like they’ve known and loved them for years, you’ll know what I mean. It’s an invaluable part of the whole experience.

Adults get in on the action as well. I’ve written a lot of my dear friend Robert in my columns. Robert, who passed away last year, was a major Jiminy Cricket fan and has one of my favorite adult character stories. He and his wife Paula spent a lot of time at Disney World and loved Animal Kingdom. Once, while in Rafiki’s Planet Watch, Paula went into one of the Song of the Rainforest sound booths and left Robert to wander around Conservation Station. Moments later her phone rang and it was a panicked Robert, “Paula get out here now!” Thinking something was wrong, she ran out only to find a wide-eyed, thoroughly enthralled Robert. What excited him so much? Jiminy, his favorite character of all time, was doing a meet and greet—despite all of their many trips, Robert had never seen him before. My friend was a bit choked up meeting this cherished character from his childhood and of course posed for a photo with him. In Robert's memory we’ll always seek out Jiminy at Conservation Station from now on for an equally enthralling photo-op with everyone’s favorite cricket.

Jiminy Cricket and the kids in Animal Kingdom. Photo By Chris Barry.

We have dozens of pictures in this house with Mickey, Minnie, Pooh, Buzz and Woody and all sorts of princesses. Each of them relates a story or a special moment from our many treasured vacations. Some are way more unique than others. As always, that’s a strong testament to the cast members behind the masks. They make the moment. That little bit of extra attention that they lavish on you and your family can sometimes mean everything on a trip. It’s one of the many reasons why we keep going back.

No one likes to look at vacation photos of someone else’s family having fun, so forgive me for flaunting my adorable family in these photos. It’d be hard to tell the story of these wonderful cast members and their performances without them though, and besides—they’re pretty darn cute kids and my wife’s no slouch either. With that said, here are our Top 5 Character Experiences at Walt Disney World.

5 – Finding Unique, Hard to Find Characters

We’ve met Mickey and the Fab Five too many times to count. The same goes for Pooh and his pals at the Crystal Palace, our favorite breakfast spot. That’ll never stop. We’ll still pause for a great picture with the mouse or the bear on our future trips, but once you start going as often as we have, it starts to become a quest to have your picture taken with a character that’s not always out there. Here are a few of our favorite rare characters.

Launchpad McQuack was probably more common when his show Ducktales was more popular. This was 2004, years after The Disney Afternoon was on TV, so it seemed like this was a rare sighting. We haven’t seen him since.

Samantha and the elusive Launchpad McQuack. Photo By Chris Barry.

I love Robin Hood and never seem to see him in the Magic Kingdom. I do see Friar Tuck a lot and Prince John as well. This was the only time we’ve stumbled across Robin.

Samantha and Robin Hood at the Magic Kingdom. Photo By Chris Barry.

We see Chip and Dale everywhere, but this time we saw them with their “girlfriend” Clarice. Considering she only appears in one short with them, Two Chips and a Miss from 1952, it’s impressive that she was ever made into a walk-around character.

Chip, Dale, Clarice and the family at the Studios. Photo By Chris Barry.

4 – Dale at Cape May Café

Dale and I and one happening t-shirt. Photo by Diane Dobler.

It’s hard to describe exactly how much fun Dale was at this particular breakfast. The restaurant was not that crowded which allowed him to spend a large amount of time with us and he really took advantage of that fact. Not only did he interact and entertain the three kids, he spent plenty of time with my wife and I. He was acting just like Dale would, mischievous, funny and a little pesky. He flirted with Diane. He stole my camera. It was one of the highpoints of our trip that summer. We all just felt like we got a little something extra from a character and that goes a long way towards increasing the magic factor.

3 – Meeko at Liberty Tree Tavern

Samantha, Meeko and some dinner rolls at Liberty Tree Tavern. Photo By Chris Barry.

This was probably our daughter’s first character meal and I suppose the hug truly says it all. The real memorable thing about this shot and it kind of goes unnoticed at first is that Meeko kept on stealing our dinner rolls and sticking them in his ears. It’s just a little fun detail that we will never forget.

2 – Tigger at The Crystal Palace

Samantha, Tigger and a stuffed Piglet at The Crystal Palace. Photo By Chris Barry.

Tigger is one of the more fun characters to meet. We’ve been big fans of the Crystal Palace ever since our first trip. The food is great. The characters are fun. We start and end most of our trips here. This seemingly innocent picture of my daughter with Tigger launched a behavior that has unfortunately plagued many characters on our trips since. When our twin boys saw this picture it must have made a strong impression on them. Every time they’ve met a character since then, they have tried to balance a stuffed animal on the characters noses. I guess they felt that that’s what characters did. I hope this serves as an apology to all the cast members out there that couldn’t figure out why these two crazy boys were trying to balance stuffed animals on their noses. Blame it on Tigger. He started it.

1 – Mary Poppins at Cinderella’s Royal Table

Samantha and Mary Poppins at Cinderella's Royal Table. Photo By Chris Barry.

The one and only time we ever got in to Cinderella’s was all thanks to Hurricane Charley. This was a day or so after the hurricane tore through Disney and we heard from a mother and daughter sitting with us on the bus from the French Quarter that there were a ton of cancellations and they got a last minute Priority Seating at Cindy’s. We did as well. Thank you Hurricane Charley. For some reason my daughter told Mary Poppins that she was her favorite character out of all the princesses at the breakfast. She had never said anything about Mary Poppins before that moment. I guess when you’re at Cinderella’s restaurant in Cinderella’s Castle you’re not told you’re the favorite that often because Mary stayed with Samantha for more than 5 minutes; an enormous amount of time for a character visit at one of these things. I couldn’t tell you what they were talking about, but they yakked and yakked like two old friends. Afterward while we were waiting in line for Snow White, Mary was heading for a ride on the carousel, spotted little Samantha and came over and said hello again. At Sammy’s age at this time, that was absolutely the real Mary Poppins and she was her special friend for the day. Positively perfect.

There were so many character moments to choose from over the years. Meeting Sorcerer Mickey at the Studios is always cool. I’m a big Mike Wazowski fan and it’s fun to snap a picture of him there as well. The Princess meals in Norway are fun and so is Chef Mickey’s. Still there are some that have eluded us. My daughter always wanted to meet Esmerelda from The Hunchback of Notre Dame and I’ve always wanted a picture with Brer Rabbit. The boys have wanted to meet Mr. Incredible and we keep missing him. My wife is on the fence on the whole Tinker Bell thing. She’s a big Tink fan, but is Tink supposed to be our size? She thinks not. I disagree. She’s such a fan I think it would make a cool photo-op.

That’s the beauty of meeting characters at Walt Disney World. It’s a major draw for all the kids out there and they really are responsible for creating so many special memories. On the other hand, two perfectly sane adults can seriously debate the merits of whether or not to take a photograph with another seemingly sane adult dressed as a pixie.

Sounds crazy, but we Disney fans wouldn’t have it any other way.

That's My Disney Top 5 for today. What's yours? Click on the "Discuss this article on MousePad" link below and share your list!


  1. By GaRain

    What a great top 5 list! I love those special character interactions.
    One of my favorites is when I was wearing a shirt from Joe's Crab Shack that said bite me on the front (they almost didn't let me in the park that morning!).
    Well, back in Toontown, Minnie bit me! Then we both covered our mouths and giggled.
    Mom said she wishes she had a video camera rolling and all the CMs started laughing. It was a nice time!

    I also loved a time when I kicked Mary and Bert out of the picture and asked if I could just have a picture with the penguins. They both jumped up and down and were so excited that someone wanted a picture with just them!

    Hmmmm, wondering if you have a bottom 5 character interactions list?

  2. By cbarry

    Great stories. I do like the penguins.

    Bottom 5 characters...that's tough. I don't think we've ever been disappointed per say. We've definitely met characters that haven't turned on the extra personality, but I don't think any of them have ever been rude or a letdown. Sometimes I've felt that the princesses at Akershus in Norway feel a little rushed, but they do have a big room to cover.

    Do you have a bottom 5 list?


  3. By Andrew

    I don't know about a top 5, but the most memorable for me was during Disneyland's "Star Wars Days" experiment in the mid-90s. Back then I was especially "shaggy", with long unruly hair and a pretty full beard (I looked ridiculous) and as we walked past Star Tours one day Chewbacca* started wildly motioning to me- apparently he thought I was a cousin! We took a picture, Chewie and me next to the Star Tours entrance, and I'm not embarrassed to say I got a big thrill from it.

    I will try to find that picture and upload it soon.

    Thanks for the great article!

    *He's a costumed character in a Disney park next to a Disney attraction themed to the movie in which he appears. That counts.

  4. By Maus

    During a character meal at the Garden Grille, Chip stopped by our table as I was making notes for my trip report. He wanted to sign my book. I told him no, I was writing a report, so he took my notebook and wrote, "Then Chip came along and wrote in my book!" along with his name and a smiley face (with two front teeth). I have it in my scrapbook of that trip. I love unexpected moments with characters! Great article, Chris.

  5. By Drince88

    That was a fun one!

    One year a dear friend on MousePad was very very sick, so I decided to make an ABC Disney album as a 'get well' present for her. So I brought a sign that said "Hi B" and took pictures of a number of characters with that sign. Belle even asked me about her, and was glad that Miss B liked to read!

    But the best part of that trip was when I went to the Character Connection. It wasn't very busy at all (when you couldn't see the characters well from the outside) and aside from a short line for Mickey, there weren't many others. I was going to each character, but had to skip Minnie for a minute. I could have waited, but Minnie was having WAY too much fun down on the floor with a crawling infant, that I didn't want Minnie to cut her interaction short with that girl just because I was waiting for her.

    Another time, at the Character Connection, it was unseasonably cold out (record highs in Oct on the weekend, record lows by Tuesday) and I had to buy a sweatshirt. Minnie noticed her boyfriend on my sweatshirt, and we continued to have an extensive conversation about her needing a ring, and ending with a promise to go shoe shopping some time! I also noticed on that visit that getting a picture with both Chip and Dale is good, because their fur coats are nice and warm!

  6. By cbarry

    We definitely need to see the Chewbacca photos.

  7. By suebear

    -I went with my (then) middle-school daughter, Sarah, to Epcot, when we were in "China" we saw a character from Mulan -- I asked if she wanted her picture with him. She made a face and sneered, "No-o-o" So I thought, "Well, guess she's gotten too old for that." We continued walking and exploring to England. Pooh was in the garden area and next thing you know, Sarah was saying "Mom! Mom! I need to get my picture with Pooh!" The face and sneer was because she didn't want her picture made with a villian, not because she was too old. She's now a college grad, and still gets excited about photo ops with Pooh and just about any character(that's not a villian!)

    -Another day at Epcot, with both daughters and 2 other friends (now high school and college aged), it was rainy, so Pooh, Tigger, and Eeyore were in the gift shop in England. Pooh was making kissy noises, Eeyore was dispondently hanging his head when Sarah asked to have a picture with only Pooh, and Tigger was being bouncy fun-fun-fun. We were outside when they left the store, and Tigger gave us the sassiest tail waggle on the way out that you've ever seen!

    -On yet another trip, we were getting photos with Alladin, Jasmine, and the Genie, when the Genie went GA GA over our redheaded 16 year old daughter. He made sure he was by her in every picture -- he chased her -- he put his arm around her -- My husband turned to me and said, "You know, I'd probably clock that guy if he wasn't a Genie."

  8. By Drince88

    Do you recall what character that was in China? The only one I've seen besides Mulan is Mushu, the Dragon/Lizard, and he sure wasn't a villian (he was the comic relief/sidekick).

  9. By ChipmunkStar

    It was probably Shan Yu.

  10. By queenbetsey

    at disneyland we went on the columbia and capt hook came out from below deck after we left the dock. also many years ago disneyland had a parade where the allowed guests to participate. I got to dance along the parade route with robin hood. and finally last june while at disneyworld we got to snag a photo with belle and beast. many many trips to disneyland and 5 trips to disney world and never seemed to catch beast (oldest daughter now grown and out on her own used to search and search for both belle and beast) and also marie on the same trip. out here in cali i have never seen marie. also many years ago we got a photo with meg from hurcules with my youngest daughter,megan (you guessed it we call her meg. she was 5 or 6 at the time) we have never seen meg again in the parks.

  11. By cbarry

    Meg is a good snag. She's virtually gone. I haven't seen Fantasmic in a while, but I do remember her on the steamboat.

    Marie has been coming out more and more in Florida. In France at Epcot and at the Magic Kingdom.

    Shan Yu is also a good one. Never seen him.

    Glad this article posed so many responses.


  12. By adriennek

    Quote Originally Posted by cbarry View Post
    We definitely need to see the Chewbacca photos.


    WDW definitely does this so much better than the West Coast!! I really wish we had more space for que'd lines like they have at Epcot and Studios.

    Each time we had a newborn to take to Disneyland, we visited Mickey in his barn. Mickey LOVES babies!! Those were awesome visits.

    My second place experience was probably the time we saw Chip (no Dale) at Goofy's kitchen. My two older boys took longer to warm up to characters than the youngest did and Chip and Dale are among his favorites. When Chip visited that day, he knelt down to Cman's level and Cman was full of hugs and giggles for him. Very very sweet.

    But I have to say that probably the best visit we ever had was with Sorcerer Mickey at DHS at WDW. We really forced and manipulated our youngest to dress as Sorcerer Mickey last year, I won't lie or pretend to sugar coat it. I'd spent a lot of $$$ on the costume when M was young and we'd never reused it. I needed it reused and Cman had been Buzz for 2 or 3 years in a row. The Buzz costumes each had missing pieces and I was DONE with Buzz. Once he figured out that there was a really cool SM hat and that there were lots of opportunities to buy SM plush and assorted toys, he got on board. Phew.

    When we saw SM we KNEW we had to meet him, so we got in line. When we got to the front, we told Mickey that Cman was going to BE him for Halloween. Oh.My.Goodness. First off, SM posed all of our pictures. He taught the boys various SM poses for the pics. SM took photos with all three of our boys and then asked the older two to step aside. He then taught Cman more poses and they took several awesome pictures together. He had a line but we never felt rushed. SM took lots of time to make Cman feel special. And Cman is our most stubborn child. He runs hot and cold. If he's not in the mooooooood to have his picture taken (or whatever it is we want him to do) by golly, it ain't happenin'. When he's in the zone, he's the biggest ham you've ever met. Fortunately, he was ALL ham that day!!

    It was a wonderful experience.



  13. By GaRain

    I had a wonderful time with Goofy and Donald at Animal Kingdom once when it was raining and there was no one in line. Had fun with the CMs there too, as you could tell they were a little bored since no one was visiting.

    I don't think I would say that I have a bottom 5, but 2 kinda off putting experiences. Once with Alice and the Mad Hatter who spent more time playing with each other than taking a picture with my niece - no big deal.
    But once in line to see Peter and Wendy - they noticed my birthday button and Peter wished me a happy birthday. I said thanks and thanks for pronouncing my name correctly. He proceeded to get pretty rude about names and what does it matter what people call me.
    I turned around, told the CM to take a picture (I was standing 2 feet away from them). I took my camera and left.
    I noticed that he wasn't very friendly to the little kids who were a little shy either. He seemed rather irritated.
    I should have gone by town hall on my way out.
    But in the many many character interractions, just 2 not so great moments are far out weighed by the good ones!

    Oh, and I want to see the Chewbacca picture too!

  14. By cbarry

    Hey all,

    Just got this response to the article. Thought you'd all enjoy.


    Hi - That's me as Mary Poppins in your "Top 5 Character Experiences at Walt Disney World"/Aug. 6, 2010, article. A friend of mine recognized me in the article and sent it to me. I am so pleased that after all of this time, you still remember the character experience. As a performer, that's why we did what we did - to give magical memories to all of the guests. And I'm thrilled that even now, it's still a good memory. Tell Samantha that Mary said "Hello and to have a Supercalifragelisticexpialidocious day!"

    Cheerio -

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