Time is Money: Saving Time Meeting the Characters

by Margie Binder, contributing writer

Most people traveling to Walt Disney World are prepared to spend some of their hard-earned vacation time waiting in lines, and happily accept the trade-off to experience headliner attractions and shows. Not often anticipated, however, is the time spent waiting in lines to meet characters. Meeting characters can be a magical part of a trip to Walt Disney World, but doesn't need to consume precious hours of vacation time.

Walt Disney World presents several ways to meet the characters: character meals, single line-multiple characters and single line-single character. Let's take a look at these options and look at how you can head home with a nice selection of autographs and pictures without allowing the character lines to consume your holiday.

The Eat-and-Meet

As with most aspects of a Disney vacation, talk before leaving home about priorities and expectations. If meeting characters is a high priority for a member of your traveling party, find out which characters the person most wants to see, then determine the best time and place to make that meeting possible. If staying on property, your hotel concierge can provide information on where to find a particular character, including whether that character is a regular at one of the character meals around the resorts and parks.

Character meals are more expensive than the average sit-down meal, but the great advantage is enjoying three to five characters individually stopping by your table, interacting with each member of the family, signing autographs, and posing for pictures. Most character meals include a logical grouping of characters, such as Winnie-the-Pooh, Tigger, Piglet and Eeyore at the Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom, or four to five princesses at the Akershus Royal Banquet Hall at the Norway pavilion in Epcot.

Character meals are served in buffet, family or fixed-menu styles, with the characters roaming in a predetermined path around the restaurant. One downside to buffet-style character meal is missing a character when you are in the buffet line. Usually you can see the characters progress through the restaurant and plan accordingly, and if a missed character is still close by, a discrete word to a cast member will usually result in a detour back to your table. Otherwise you will need to wait until that character's next cycle through the restaurant or simply skip seeing that character individually.

I don't recommend more than one or two character meals on a trip because of the expense and time commitment for each one, but as a trade-off for standing in a long, potentially hot line for one character's autograph, a character meal can't be beat.

Lining Up to Meet the Characters

In addition to character meals, Walt Disney World offers two other options for meeting characters at the parks: single line-multiple characters and single line-single characters. The details of most meet and greets, including time, location, and scheduled characters, are listed in the Times Guide, available at each park's entrance and at stores and other places around the parks. You can also find character information on Tip Boards, at Guest Relations or by asking a cast member.

The single line-multiple character meet-and-greets are usually held indoors, which can make it difficult to judge how long the line is, but pleasant to be out of the elements. Once you arrive at the head of the line or in a group at the head of the line, you are led into a larger area with three or four characters, and you simply rotate to each one. While there is a sense of being herded like sheep, the characters are very good about providing quality interactions, particularly with youngsters, and will take time for autographs, questions, and pictures.

The single line-single character meet-and-greet is just that--you meet one character at the end of one line, usually outside. If you are lucky, a character will walk into an area just as you are passing by, and you can quickly obtain a picture, autograph, and possibly a slice of magic. I'll never forget my two-year-old niece when she spotted Pinocchio walking into the courtyard of Italy in Epcot as we waited for the rest of the family to finish dinner. Pointing and gleefully hollering "No-kee-no! No-kee-no!", she strained in my arms until I took her over for a closer look. About 30 feet away, Pinocchio heard her. Magic ensued as the two of them bounced, pantomimed and ultimately danced together in the middle of the square. These spontaneous interactions should be embraced, but all too often I see families become obsessed with collecting as many autographs as possible; waiting in lines for hours and missing out on much of the variety that Walt Disney World has to offer.

Above all, if meeting the characters or collecting autographs is an important part of your vacation, arrive at the designated meeting location just before the scheduled appearance time, much like you hopefully arrive early for park opening. Waiting in line for 10 minutes before a character arrives is far more efficient then joining the hordes and masses once the character shows up. On occasion splitting up can also be a solution so one parent can wait in line with the Minnie-lover and the other parent can go on rides with the thrill-seeker.

Character lines can become a major time nuisance if you are not careful and disciplined. Don't fall prey unless a character is high on someone's wish list. Know your priorities and keep on moving. By carefully choosing one character meal, one multiple character line, and taking advantage of a spontaneous meeting or two, your family can head home with a nice selection of autographs and pictures without spending hours in character lines and missing out on many of the great rides and attractions in Walt Disney World.