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Mike Scopa

It's All About Character

Meeting your favorite personalities at Walt Disney World

Friday, March 18, 2005
by Mike Scopa, staff writer

Some years back when attendance was hurting in the Walt Disney World theme parks, cast members were sent to the parks to survey the guests. Among the questions asked was what the guests wanted most out of their visits to the parks. Beyond collecting that data, cast members also queried guests on what improvements could be made regarding guest experience in the parks.

You might have seen the results of this survey. One was the arrival of the Fastpass system. The other was the change in the number of character meet-and-greet opportunities.

Today, guests can pretty much expect to run into a character just about wherever they venture into the parks.

In this session, let's look at where and how you can find your favorite characters, and also go over proper protocol for character interaction for those visiting the Walt Disney Resort.

Character Search

As a result of that survey, Disney decided to bolster the character meet-and-greet opportunities, and pump it up they did. As a matter of fact, there are so many opportunities to meet the characters that it might just make some guests consider how to fit this meet-and-greet time into their park-touring schedules.

But how do you schedule that? Is there a way to work your touring plan around meeting up with some of your favorite characters? Let's take a look.

As you can imagine, just as each park has a daily schedule of activities such as parades and nighttime spectaculars, it makes sense that there would also be a scheduled set of character meet-and-greet times. The best place to find out about this schedule is Guest Relations. If you are interested in meeting a specific character, then visit that park's Guest Relations and ask if they can provide you with some information as to where and when your favorite character will be meeting guests.

In some cases, the folks at Guest Relations might be able to make a quick phone call and find out exactly when and where your character is appearing that day. Once you have this information, you can then plan around that event and enjoy your day in the park even more. You might say that a visit to Guest Relations and asking such a question is very similar to receiving a Fastpass for an attraction. Rather than waiting around you can instead enjoy the park's offerings and then make sure you are at the right spot at the right time.

Let's look at each of the four main theme parks, including some specific park locations where guests are most likely to find some characters.

Magic Kingdom

Even before you arrive at the turnstiles of the Magic Kingdom theme park, you might encounter your first character on the ferry boat that takes guests back and forth from the Ticket and Transportation Center to the Magic Kingdom. If you're lucky you might be able to enjoy the trip with characters like Pluto, or Chip and Dale.

Be advised that this treat does not occur for every trip across Seven Seas Lagoon and that your chances of seeing these characters are best in the morning.

One of the character jackpot areas within the Magic Kingdom is Tony's Town Square. When you walk into the Magic Kingdom in the morning you might find yourself looking at as many as 10 characters waiting to meet the early arriving guests.

Specifically, you find characters such as Princess Aurora, Aladdin, Wendy, and Cruella De Vil right outside Tony's Town Square Restaurant. You can also spot characters near the Main Street Confectionary, The Emporium, City Hall, as well as right in the center of the square near the statue of Roy Disney and Minnie Mouse.

Adventureland is also home to some character-meeting places. You might find Jasmine and Aladdin next to Aloha Isle, as well as Rafiki or Timon, while Chip and Dale are often seen near Aladdin's Magic Carpet Ride. You could also come across Genie in any of these places in AdventureLand.

Frontierland is the place where you can find several of the Country Bears dancing with park guests. They can be found right outside the Country Bear Jamboree attraction.

You might find Stitch and Buzz Lightyear in Tomorrowland. Their locations vary, so make sure you check with Guest Relations if you are interested knowing where and when they make their appearances.

In recent years, you could find your favorite characters in Fantasyland at the Fantasyland Character Festival. You could also find your favorite mermaid at Ariel's Grotto.

Finally, you might find yourself treated to a character meet following the daytime castle forecourt shows. Those characters that perform in the show often come down to the castle forecourt to spend time with guests.

These are the main areas within the theme park where you might encounter some characters. There are other minor areas such as just before the bridge to Adventureland where you might also find meet-and-greet opportunities.

Let's not also forget such character dining experiences with Winnie the Pooh and Friends at the Crystal Palace and Minnie and Friends at the Liberty Tree Tavern.

The Magic Kingdom offers more character interaction than the other three Walt Disney World theme parks.

Epcot

Depending on when you enter Epcot, you can find a busload of characters arriving to greet guests just beyond the Leave a Legacy area. Like the meet-and-greet bonanza in Tony's Town Square at Magic Kingdom, here you are surrounded by characters well before you begin attraction-hopping.

You can also find this double-decker bus at the Showcase Plaza. With the World Showcase as a background, this area is an ideal place to take that memorable photo of your favorite character. The Showcase Plaza has a lot of space for you to mingle with the characters, and thus is the ideal spot in the park to interact with them.

There are other areas around World Showcase where you might find some special characters. For instance you could spot Mulan at the China pavilion, Aladdin and Jasmine in Morocco, and even Esmeralda and Hunchback in France.

For character dining, there's the Garden Grill at The Land in Future World, and the Storybook Princess meals at Norway.

If you happen to be in World Showcase you might also find a rather large Figment near Imagination, and possibly a space-suited Goofy near Mission: Space.

Again, it's best to visit Guest Relations for specific times and appearance.

Disney/MGM Studios

Sometimes during the morning hours, you can find several characters waiting to greet you at the front of the park near Crossroads. However, the best place to encounter the characters is in the general vicinity of the Sorcerer's Hat. You might find as many as a dozen or so characters out to welcome you, pose for pictures, and sign autograph books. This large character meet happens several times during the day.

You might also find some characters on Mickey Avenue, usually near the trailers that are parked along the street. Recently, Mickey Avenue has been home to JoJo and Goliath.

Lilo and Stitch usually hang out near the Magic of Disney Animation.

Commissary Lane is often overlooked as an area to meet some characters. This is the area where you find characters like Sully and Mike from Monsters, Inc.

Finally, you can see Woody, Buzz, and other Toy Story characters at the Toy Barn, which is right around the corner from Mama Melrose and the Muppet 3D exit.

Disney's Animal Kingdom

In Disney's Animal Kingdom, you are often greeted by characters near the entrance to the park, as well as Discovery Island near the Tree of Life. However, you should have the most luck on the road to, and in Camp Minnie-Mickey.

There is no telling who you might find there, but you will certainly find some favorites as well as characters from Tarzan and The Lion King.

If you are a Rafiki fan, you might want to be on the lookout for him at Rafiki's Planet Watch.

Finally, one of my favorite places for breakfast, Donald's Breakfastsaurus, offers you a great breakfast and a great place to see Mickey, Donald, Goofy, Pluto, and others.

Keep in mind that this theme park and Epcot do not usually offer as many character-encounter opportunities as do Magic Kingdom and Disney-MGM Studios.

WDW Resorts

You might also find characters at the resorts—specifically those resorts with restaurants that offer character meals. Some of the best places to dine with the characters are:

  • Breakfast and dinner at Grand Floridian's 1900 Park Fare
  • Breakfast and dinner at Chef Mickey's at the Contemporary Resort
  • Breakfast at 'Ohana at the Polynesian Resort.

Of course, you never know when you'll run into characters wandering around the resorts. You might find Chip and Dale near Pioneer Hall at Fort Wilderness. If so, they are likely to be dressed in their Rescue Rangers garb. You might also catch Chip and Dale at Wilderness Lodge Lobby warming themselves in front of the fireplace.

It's always a good idea to keep your eyes open wherever you are, be it in the parks or at a resort.

Character Protocol

Now that we know where to find the characters, let's talk about how to act around them. The meet-and-greet experience should be as enjoyable for the characters as it is for the guests. Help teach your children how to interact with them as well. It's always nice to see parents showing their children how to properly act with the characters.

Be patient – Characters are pretty popular so you can bet that there will be long lines of guests waiting to see their favorite character. Many guests wait a year or so to get to WDW and see their favorite characters, so waiting a few minutes more should not be difficult.

Respect other guests – Imagine how you would want to be treated by other guests. That's how you should treat them. This means not cutting in line, and giving those in front of you ample time to enjoy their moment with the characters.

Addressing the characters – You know how you enjoy people calling you by name. The same is true for the characters. When you see Pluto give him a big, “Hiya Pluto!” Or when you see Mickey, be sure and shout out his name. When you speak to the characters, it helps to be in front of them so they can see who is talking to them.

Obey the greeters – Each character normally has a greeter to assist in crowd control and answer any questions the guests might have. The greeter also informs the guests when it's time for the character to take a break. Guests should abide by the greeters instructions so that everyone has an enjoyable experience with the character.

Cameras on the ready – Once you are next in line, it's a good idea to have your camera ready for that special photograph. That means turning your camera on, taking the lens cap off and being prepared to just point and shoot. And if you need to, there's no harm in taking two photos.

Carry a big stick… erh pen – Have you ever tried writing while wearing a pair of mittens? It's somewhat difficult unless you have a thick pen. With that in mind, those character who are wearing gloves or who have large paws will appreciate using thick pens to sign autographs.

Show your appreciation – Think of the patience exhibited by the characters and how hard they try to make your family's moment with them as special as possible. Be sure to thank them if you get a chance and tell them they are doing a good job.

WDW guests are given an enormous number of opportunities to meet up with their favorite Disney characters. Whether it's at the parks, the resorts, or while enjoying a meal, you can be assured that somewhere, your favorite character is waiting to meet you and help you…

…Remember the Magic.

Next Time

I can't think of anything more important to discuss on April Fool's Day than an April Fool's approach to a Walt Disney World vacation. That's what's in store for next time.


Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Mike here.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mike Scopa first visited Walt Disney World almost 30 years ago. Planning a trip was simple back in the 1970s, with only the Magic Kingdom and a few Disney-owned resorts in Orlando.

Over the past 11 years, Mike has been perfecting his WDW trip-planning skills as he has hosted chats and bulletin boards about Disney for a Fortune 100 company.

Mike brings his experience to MousePlanet in a series of lessons to help you with all the phases of planning a WDW trip.

Mike pays special attention to all the details that ensure your family has the best possible time at the Happiest Place on Earth.

You can contact Mike here.

OTHER LINKS

Here are trip reports that Mike has written that are part of MousePlanet's archives:

Michael Scopa -- August 1999 -- Walt Disney World (CSR)

Michael J. Scopa -- July 1997 -- Walt Disney World (WL/CBR)

Mike Scopa -- July 1994 -- Walt Disney World (WL / CBR)

Also, don't miss Lani Teshima's column, “The Trip Planner” for more travel planning information.

Get the latest info about the resort at “Park Update: Walt Disney World.”

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