June 4, 2011

Tip of the day—Character Greetings, Photos, and Autographs

 CIMG3503 I mentioned in an earlier Disney post that way back when I first went to Disneyworld I remember running up to the characters for a big hug and photo.  Character greeting isn’t like that anymore.  Now, you wait in a line to see the characters, and it almost seems like a factory assembly line.  It isn’t as magical as it once was, but I can certainly understand why they have made the change.  It seems fairer and feels fairer.  Above you’ll see the one experience our daughter had with a character that wasn’t in a line, parade, or character dining experience. 

Don’t get me wrong, it is still very exciting to see the characters!!  I still get a little star struck when I see Mickey, and our daughter turned to goo when meeting the princesses for the first time.  We saw just about every character that was on the list that she wanted to see, and we have tons of photos and autographs to cherish.  Below are some tips from our character greeting experiences.  Remember that if you see a word or phrase that you don’t recognize, check the Disney post that I wrote to explain some of the Disney-speak.

Autograph books: 

  • You don’t have to have an autograph book to get a character to sign for you.  Most of the handlers, those cast members that help to watch the time for the characters and make sure that the lines run smoothly, usually have extra pens, sharpies and note cards.  Note that if you have an autograph book, you’ll have to keep up with it in the parks.  This might mean that you’ll need to put it in a plastic bag when riding some of the rides that get you wet.  For us it meant schlepping a bag around with us, though that didn’t really turn out to be such a big deal. 
  • Autograph books from the gift shops are pretty small and cost around $10+.  I noticed that some children had more than one book because they had run out of room in their purchased book.
  • We are blessed to have a close friend who makes books.  She designed an autograph book for our daughter and gave it to her as a belated birthday gift.  She used Disney scrapbook paper so that Cinderella could sign a page with Cinderella on it and Belle and others could do the same.  Everywhere we went, we received compliments on that book!  She made it large enough so that we could put a photo alongside the autograph on the same page, and once we print all of the photos it will become a scrapbook from the trip.  This is proof that you don’t have to do what everyone else is doing to make it magical.  Bring some scrapbook pages with you, shop for Disney themed notebooks at Target or even dollar stores, or just bring plain paper with you that you could later decorate with stickers or clip art. 

The best places to see the characters:

  • We found that some of the best places to see the characters were at character dining experiences.  A friend had turned us onto this idea when she took her girls to see Mary Poppins at the Supercalifragilistic Breakfast at 1900 Park Fare inside the Grand Floridian Resort.   They loved Mary Poppins at the time, and it was one of their top ten favorites that they experienced during their trip.  We ate at the Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall for breakfast and saw Snow White, Belle, Aurora, Ariel, and Cinderella.  At the Donald’s Safari Breakfast at Tusker House Restaurant we saw Goofy, Mickey, Minnie, Daisy, and Donald.  We didn’t have to wait in line in the heat and were dining at the same time—multi-tasking, if you will.
  • The Animal Kingdom seemed to have the best handle on how to keep guests happy while visiting with the characters.  They have a section of the park called “Camp Minnie-Mickey” where you can take short trails to visit different characters under the canopy of trees and small awnings.  The waits are short and the characters are present most of the time.
  • Near the entrance of the Magic Kingdom you’ll find the Town Square Theater.  There we saw Mickey, Aurora, Cinderella and Belle with little or no wait.  This is also a FASTPASS attraction to further reduce your wait.  Plus, it is inside in the air conditioning! 
  • We took Couponing to Disney’s advice and found Pooh and Tigger inside the Crown and Goose toy store in the UK in Epcot.  There was virtually no line and we spent longer with the two of them than almost any other character.  Alternately, we saw people waiting in a long, hot line near the Dumbo ride in Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom. 
  • Check your Times Guide for information on where and when you can see the different characters.  If in doubt, ask cast members for the inside scoop, and they’ll help you to find your favorite characters. Note that most of the characters are present about an hour after the park opens and aren’t as available later in the day. 
  • If all you want to do is see the characters and not get a photo or autograph, be sure to watch the parades.  You’ll see all your favorites and more!  You might even get a high five (or high four, depending on the character) or get to dance with them.
  • Rapunzel character greeting is, at least at this point, different from almost every other character greeting.  At this point, I don’t think that Disney is fully capitalizing on the success of her movie.  Rapunzel can ONLY be found at one place—the grotto that is to the right of the castle in the Magic Kingdom, just before the bathrooms that are near the entrance to Fantasy Land.  If you want to see her.  Be there for the rope drop and send your fastest skipper/walker (you aren’t supposed to run so I can’t really tell you to run) to that spot to hold your spot in line.  One person can hold a spot for your family, and at least when we were there, that one person had to stay in line the entire time.  So, if you are near the back of the line and waiting for the 12:15pm visit with Rapunzel, that means someone is stuck there instead of enjoying the park until that point.  We were in the second spot for the 10:15am showing on our first day.  We sent Hubby to get some fast passes for rides in Fantasyland while we waited.  Since she was the main character our daughter wanted to see, we waited.  Had we been in the 12:15 or 1:15 line, we would have tried again another day.

Things you’ll need to know:

  • Explain to your child that the characters sometimes don’t talk and can’t visit for a long time.  Friends of ours went to the Cinderella breakfast at the Magic Kingdom and talked about disappointed that she wasn’t sitting down, eating with them and interacting with them for a long time. 
  • Be ready for the autographs and photos.  The handlers really like to keep the lines moving, especially for the more popular characters.  Have your pen and paper ready and camera in hand along with your Photo Pass Card. 
  • Not all characters can sign their names because of their costumes.  We explained this to our daughter that some of them hadn’t been to school yet to learn the alphabet—this explanation worked just fine for her. 
  • Remember that the Photo Pass photographer will take a photo with your camera as well as with theirs.  This gives you a little added insurance in case you don’t get a good photo on your personal camera. 
  • If you have a child who is disabled, talk to the handler about bi-passing the line.  There was a precious girl who we saw while waiting for Jasmine and Aladdin in Adventureland.  She had been through multiple heart surgeries, was on oxygen and her mother said she had a fragile system.  Not one single person complained or cared in the least about her going straight to the front, and the look on the little girl’s face when she met Aladdin made me tear up.  Those characters were so precious with her, and I realized what a special person it takes to work that job, to be caring and pleasant and to give each child that magic moment. 
  • Many characters are only at certain places for certain times.  We never saw Alice because each time we made it to her line she was just about to leave or did leave.  Ask the handler how long the character will be in that place to determine if you want to wait in line.  Remember that if a character is set to be at their greeting spot by 11am, if you really want to see them, show up around 10:30am.  For really popular characters, you might want to be even earlier.  We waited about an hour to see Tinkerbell.  This was fine because she’s one of our daughter’s favorites, and we took turns shopping at the Mouse Gear store in Epcot with our daughter while one of us held our spot in line. 

Other notes:

  • Many children like to dress like their favorite characters in the parks.  Do it!  (if they want) It was so fun to have our daughter dressed like Sleeping Beauty when she met her at the character breakfast.  While many other children went to the Bibbity Boppity Boutique to get their hair and makeup done for the experiences, we opted to forego this.  Frankly, the children we saw with the hair and makeup done looked a little like they were going to a child beauty pageant—it just seemed like a little “much”.  Instead, I brought sponge curlers and glitter nail polish for our daughter.  She felt very princess like, and to me the look was much more little girlish than the paid for option.  Another bonus was that we saved money by doing it ourselves!  Note that I have a close friend who had her son’s very first haircut at the barber shop in the Magic Kingdom and talked about how wonderful that was.  If we had a little boy, we might have tried to do that during our stay.  I’ll also add that all of the little girls we saw who had been to the beauty shop really seemed to love their get up.  Ultimately, you’ll have to decide if it is a priority for you and your family.
  • Some children drew pictures for their favorite characters.  This seemed like such a sweet idea, and I wished we had seen this before our last day!  Very cute!  Others gave the characters stickers which I saw them promptly remove and give to their handlers—not quite as magical because other kids saw them do this.
  • Don’t sweat it if you don’t see every character on their top 5 or top 10 list.  It really isn’t that big of a deal, and plus, it will give you a reason to come back in the future!  The virtue of watching a parade or two is that you’ll at least be able to say that you saw the characters, even if you didn’t get an autograph or personal photo. 

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