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in the Park
Tips and ideas for the traveling family
|Adrienne Krock, editor|
Remember when we had Christmas in July here at MousePlanet? I went
searching for a picture of my son Matthew on Santa's lap to contribute,
and guess what? The most recent one I have was from when Matthew was three
months old, and even then Matthew looked less than pleased.
Matthew is still at an age where he just doesn't "do" big people in costumes. He's OK from a distance and from time to time we try to approach them to see if he's "grown out of it" yet. Occasionally, he's fine with female face characters (who are mostly the Disney princesses... maybe he's just a ladies' man?)
Meet my friend Erin , who has never had a problem with characters.
Even at Matthew's age, she would happily pose with her angelic smile for a character photo op. Whether it's a face character or a head character, Erin's fine. So the first message I bring you today is to not have preset expectations about how your child might act with characters, and to be patient. With all the other senses that are bombarding your child when traveling, characters can be scary. Be forewarned that your otherwise brave and daring youngster may find Mickey's huge head intimidating.
I'm not going to provide age guidelines because I think all kids are different. Erin has always loved characters, but at four, her big brother still isn't too keen on them. Even though Matthew has seen Aladdin and Jasmine's storytelling too many times to count, and even though they are face characters and not head characters, Matthew still wanted nothing to do with either one of them on a recent visit to Disneyland!
Disney characters are marvelous at handling anxious youngsters in these situations. Truth be told, I'm not a big fan of Pooh and his pals. (My MousePlanet buddies are probably surprised it's taken me this long to tell you all that.) But I will confess: one of my favorite memories of Matthew and a head character involved Eeyore. Eeyore was very patient with Matthew, approaching him very slowly and waving from a distance. When Matthew would start to cry, Eeyore would back off.
After several attempts to approach Matthew, his persistence paid off: Matthew allowed Eeyore to come up and hug him. I have yet to get Matthew that close to a character again but I'm grateful to that Eeyore for not giving up! After Mickey and Pooh (ick), Eeyore was one of the first character nAMes Matthew learned to say. In fact, I think he said Eeyore before he said Mom! (OK, Tony, I think that story is good for two whole months of you not making nasty comments about my operating system...)
There are a few things you want to have prepared for meeting characters. If you want a low-cost memento, bring or purchase an autograph book. You may want to bring your own Sharpie pen to get nice autographs. Because head characters often have padding on their hands, you could wrap masking tape around the pen to make it easier for them to grip.
If you're a scrapbooker like I AM, you could even do more preparation. My suggestion? Cut pages of acid-free, lignin-free (or archival-quality), photo-mounting paper and assemble your own autograph book, or bring a small clipboard with you. Wrap masking tape around your waterproof, fade-resistant pen to make it easier for characters to grasp.
Several companies also offer small scrapbooks (around 5x7 inches) which you may choose to use as autograph books. I prefer to use photo-mounting paper and add the autographs to my scrapbooks, on the sAMe page as the photo I've taken with that character.
This brings me to the most important character-meet tools: a working cAMera and film! While you can purchase cAMera batteries and film at Disney parks, I don't recommend it because prices are obviously not the best in town. So remember to pack extra film and batteries for your park excursions.
How to Find Characters
There are more than a few ways to find characters in the parks and resorts. I'll start with my least favorite: walk-around characters. Walk-around characters are nice because you can "happen" onto them. While the characters are usually wonderful, our fellow visitors... well, they're not always so wonderful. These days, walk-around characters often do not have hosts or hostesses with them. The crowds around them can get quite unorganized and you might have to be assertive to get a moment with the character.
Another option is the official meeting locations. There are several locations throughout Disneyland, and they are listed on the Disneyland Today Guide. When they are open, there are always characters at these locations. There are also nice, organized lines for these characters, as well as character hosts / hostesses to assist them and you both.
Several of these locations also offer photographers to take souvenir pictures that you can purchase later at the Photo Shop on Main Street. You can also take a picture with your own camera. These locations may offer a sticker that says, "I met (character name) today." One very popular location is Triton Gardens, where the Little Mermaid greets her many visitors - it is located between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland, adjacent to the walkway leading to the Matterhorn off the central hub of the park.
Here's my favorite character-location tip: Mickey works very hard in his Toontown studio, but Toontown is often empty in morning right around opening. If you arrive at that time, go straight to Toontown and say "Hi" to the Big Cheese without waiting in a long line. You can also enjoy the other Toontown attractions while you're there before it gets hot later in the day. It's also important to keep in mind Toontown at Disneyland does close early for the fireworks during the summer - and early anyway the rest of the year. So don't put off your visit too long while you are there if this area of the park is important to you.
My favorite character-meeting opportunities are the Storytellings. There are two storytelling locations. One is inside Tinkerbell's Toy Shop at Sleeping Beauty's Castle. Each show features a different princess and assistant. The second is my favorite: Aladdin and Jasmine's Storytale Adventures at Aladdin's Oasis. You can meet the stars of the show after the storytellings Now, I know that no one ever tells them "Adrienne sent me" but you should!
A final option are character meals
Here's a link to the MousePlanet Disney character meal page for Disneyland. The resort has four formal, character meals.
The first is at Plaza Inn on Main Street. The downside, for me, is that the characters here are Pooh, Eeyore, Piglet, and Tigger. If you like Pooh, this is good news for you. This is a buffet, so everyone in your party who is over the age of three must pay for the buffet to participate. Their prices are: $16.99 for guests 12 and over, $9.99 3 three to 11, but the greatest part is that children under three eat free.
At the Disneyland Pacific Hotel, (which soon is to be renamed the Paradise Pier Hotel), the PCH Grill hosts Minnie's Character Breakfast. This breakfast offers little shows every fifteen minutes throughout the morning and includes three face characters: Merlin, Belle, and Gaston.
While Matthew was still not keen on Merlin, and Gaston made him cry, Matthew did enjoy meeting Belle. Face characters have an advantage over head characters in that they can talk with guests. Belle and Gaston have always been played very well at this breakfast, in my experience, and part of the fun for me is to watch them interact both with guests, as well as with each other. While children under three do not eat free here, Minnie's breakfast offers a choice of the buffet, or ordering off a menu. If someone in your party has a small appetite, the menu may be a better choice.
At the Disneyland Hotel, Goofy's Kitchen is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, with a choice of ordering off a menu or the buffet. The buffet price for children under three at both Goofy's and Minnie's, is $3.95. Children three to 11 are about $9. The restaurant also offers both head and face characters. Of course, the advantage of Goofy's is that you have a choice all three meals, not just breakfast. Be aware that it closes down between meals, so it is not open continuously throughout the day.
Finally, Mary Poppins Practically Perfect Tea is divine at the Disneyland Pacific Hotel. However, the only character at this event is Mary herself. While CMs (Cast Members) serve tea, Mary sings and mingles with her guests. She even has a costume change! If you're looking for a quaint afternoon tea with Mary, go for it. If you're looking for a chance to meet more than one character, keep looking.
Finally, I'll leave you with a charming reminder about how magical moments with characters can be
A few months ago, Sue Kruse wrote a precious column in which she shared with you an encounter she witnessed between Cinderella and a young guest. The story brought a tear to my eye and touched my heart. If you missed reading it, or would like to revisit this priceless experience, click here.
Face Character - A face character is a one whose face you can see, such as Aladdin, Tarzan, Cinderella, Snow White, etc. These characters are allowed to talk to visitors.
Head Character - A head character is one whose face is covered by a costume head, such as Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Pooh, etc. These characters are not allowed to talk to anyone.
Princesses / Snow White's Wishing Well (to the right / east of the castle off the hub) - 9 AM to 4:30 PM
Storytelling / Tinker Bell Toy Shoppe - 11 AM, 12 & 1:30 PM
Ariel - Little Mermaid / Triton Gardens (between Tomorrowland and Fantasyland off of the hub) - 10 AM to 6 PM
Various / small world Promenade (across from Storybookland boats) - 10:30 AM to 3:30 PM
Pooh & Friends / Near Splash Mt. entrance - 10 AM to 8 PM
Aladdin & Jasmine / Aladdin's Oasis (between Jungle Cruise & Tiki Room) - 11 AM to 6:30 PM, with Storytelling sometimes scheduled
Mickey's House - Opening until early closing of Toontown
Minnie's House - 11 AM to 7 PM
Goofy & Pluto / Wandering - 10:30 AM to 6 PM
Mickey's ToonTown Fair:
Meet Mickey inside the Judge's Tent - (M, Th, Sa [Surprise Morning Days]): 9 am to park closing (Tu, W, F, Su): 10 am to park closing
Disney Character meet and Greet inside ToonTown Hall of
Fame - (M, Th, Sa [Surprise Morning Days]): 9 am to park closing (Tu, W, F, Su):
10 am to park closing
Meet a Disney Character outside Town Square Exposition Hall: 9 am to 1 PM
Character CongOasis - 11:30 AM, 3, & 4 to 6:30 PM
Splash Mountain Courtyard - 11 AM to 3 PM
Ariel's Grotto: 9:15 AM to 7:30 PM
Fantasyland Character Festival: 10 AM - 7:45 PM
Mouse Gear: 9 AM to 8:45 PM
Mexico - 11:40 AM, 12:40, 1:40, 2:40, 4:20 PM, 5:20 & 6:10 PM
China - 12:20, 1:20, 2:20, 3:50, 4:40, 5:30 & 6:10 PM
American Adventure - 12:20, 1:20, 2:20, 3:50, 4:40, 5:30 & 6:10 PM
Morocco - 12 noon, 1, 2, 3:30, 4:20, 5:10, & 6 PM
France - 12 noon - 3 & 3:30 - 6:30 PM
United Kingdom - 12 noon, 1, 2, 3:30, 4:20, 5:10, & 6 PM
Animation Courtyard - 10:15 AM - 5:40 PM
Al's Toy Barn - 10:15 AM - 5:50 PM
Mickey Avenue - 10:15 AM - 6 PM
Washington Square - 10:15 AM - 6 PM
Camp Minnie-Mickey Character Greeting Trails: 30 min. after park opening to park closing
(Check with the park for particular characters that may be important to you as schedules are subject to change)
Special thanks to Kenny Cottrell for the Walt Disney World information
Adrienne gathered experience taking kids to amusement parks when she worked as a day camp counselor and director. She was an elementary school teacher before she started her favorite job, being Matthew's Mom.
Adrienne and Matthew visit Disneyland several times a month, usually with Daddy, too.
Besides Matthew, Adrienne and her husband Kevin created and maintain The Happiest Potties on Earth website.
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