My Disney Top 5 - Character Experiences at Walt Disney Worldby 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
4 – Dale at Cape May Café
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
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
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
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!