You booked your room, made your dining reservations, snagged your FastPasses. What's left? Characters! Don't leave those meet-and-greets to chance. Former Disney VIP Tour Guide Andrea Keech shows you how to meet Mickey, and all his friends, in this unique Disney World planning guide.
From Abu to Woody, you'll learn not only where and when to meet your favorite Disney characters, but what to ask them, how to interact with them, and how to pose with them. Plus, for each character Keech provides a brief biography and a few fun facts so that you can come up with ideas of your own about how best to plan your meet-and-greets.
Locating characters is more art than science. Characters often pop up where you least expect them, and unless you're paying for the experience, at a character dinner or other event, you never know for sure who you're going to meet. Keech to the rescue, with details about character meals, shows, parades, dance parties, and streetmosphere. She gives special coverage to the holiday parties where rare characters often can be found.
A few magical character meet-and-greets can turn your Disney World vacation into a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Don't hope for the best; plan for the best, with Walt Disney World Characters 101.
Chapter 1: Abu–Aurora (A)
Chapter 2: Baloo–Buzz Lightyear (B)
Chapter 3: Captain Hook–Drizella (C-D)
Chapter 4: Eeyore–Indiana Jones (E-I)
Chapter 5: Jack Skellington–Lotso (J-L)
Chapter 6: Mad Hatter–Mushu (M)
Chapter 7: Needleman–Queen of Hearts (N-Q)
Chapter 8: Rabbit–Sully (R-S)
Chapter 9: Tarzan–Woody (T-W)
Chapter 10: Character Meals
Chapter 11: Character Shows
Chapter 12: Character Parades
Chapter 13: Character Dance Parties
Chapter 14: Streetmosphere
Chapter 15: Halloween and Christmas Parties
Chapter 16: Surprise Character Meets
Chapter 17: Rare Characters and runDisney
Appendix A: Autograph Essentials
Appendix B: PhotoPass Magic Shots
No visit to Walt Disney World is truly complete without bumping into some of the delightful costumed characters who populate each of the four parks. Back when I was a Disneyland Tour Guide and VIP Hostess, it was possible to encounter just about any and all of your favorites without ever having to wait in line or do any advance planning whatsoever. They seemed to be around every corner just waiting to interact with you. There were fewer people in the park than there are today, and character visits were far more casual.
Today, in Walt Disney World, the subject of this guide, it requires quite a bit of strategy if you hope to meet even a few of the characters. Many of them, especially the most popular and sought after, are only found at the end of long lines in special rooms designed just for that purpose. You won’t find Anna and Elsa hanging around outside the Norway Pavilion at Epcot’s World Showcase just waiting to sign an autograph book and dispense a warm hug to your little ones. Micky Mouse no longer lingers on Main Street to wave at passersby and spontaneously interact with guests as he used to do. In recent years, it has become something of a cottage industry trying to find out where the characters will be and when.
Not only that, but a segment of guests today make it something of a game trying to “log” as many of the rarest characters as possible. They record their finds and post photos online to prove their character-hunting prowess, similar to avid bird watchers who hope to catch a glimpse of some rare and exotic species to add to their “collection.” Most of us aren’t so serious about it. The average guest merely hopes to say “hello” and maybe share a hug or snap a picture with a few beloved favorites from their childhood or to be sure their own children have a chance to meet some of their favorites. To make that magic happen, you’d better have a pretty good idea when and where to find a character because the odds of you simply bumping into one like you could when I led tours are slim to nome.
In this book, I’ll introduce you to the current crop of costumed characters at the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios. I’ll tell you about their backstories and personalities, and give you some fun facts and little-known trivia about each one. I’ll let you know where they’re available for meet and greets, and at which restaurants, parades, and shows they will appear. Finally, I’ll suggest a few original questions to ask them (even though some won’t be able to answer in words, characters can be very expressive with their gestures), my tips for interesting interactions, and some posing ideas for photos.
A lot of people aren’t very imaginative when it comes to approaching and interacting with characters. Some stand awkwardly beside them for pictures. Some thrust autograph books at them and don’t ever say a word. That’s a shame because the characters love to have fun with guests and are creative and playful if you encourage them. I’ll tell you how to do that and give you practical ideas you can use.
Hey, wait a minute! Doesn’t Walt Disney World have it’s own informative website? Yes, it most certainly does: disneyworld.disney.go.com Isn’t it possible to find all of this information yourself online? Sure it is—providing you are willing to invest weeks and even months researching and recording everything that you find. Are you? Most of us are far too busy with family, home, and work responsibilities to devote that kind of effort to meeting Disney characters. After all, that’s just one part of your vacation, even if it is a very important part. In this book, I give you the benefit of all of that research time plus four years of experience as a Disney Tour Guide and VIP Hostess, along with my personal insights from numerous trips to Walt Disney World as a guest. I’ll save you the time and effort, organize everything you need into manageable chapters, and make it simple for you to look up exactly what it is you want to know. It will all be at your fingertips.
Part of the real magic of a Disney vacation is seeing young children who are absolutely convinced that their beloved animated friends from movies and television programs have come to life right before their eyes. Their wonder and delight is something we can all enjoy, and if they’re your children or grandchildren, that experience is miles beyond priceless. Those are the memories that will last a lifetime. I well recall when my two-year-old daughter was simply entranced with Pluto. She was wriggling and dancing up and down with excitement—and then she kissed him right on the end of his long, red tongue! When my son was four and happened upon Cinderella on our way through her castle, she kindly knelt down to his level and upon finding out his name and where he was from said, “Welcome, Prince Robert of the Kingdom of Iowa.” He bowed to her quite seriously and in that moment, for all of us, Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother really had waved her magic wand. Don’t miss out on memories like these of your own!
A dear friend of mine, Wendy, was a costumed character at Walt Disney World on her off-hours from teaching. She is quite petite, about 5 feet two-and-a-half inches tall, and that half-inch, she assures me, is critical in the costumed character world. She played Chip, Dale, the White Rabbit, the Mouse Ladies, any of the Seven Dwarfs except Dopey who is even smaller, and a variety of other little characters from Disney films. Her training was extensive. Characters receive some of the most rigorous instruction of any employees in the parks, just as the tour guides do. They are (very nearly) universally kind to all, generous with their time, and happy to be living representatives of the spirit of the Disney organization. They learn how to sign autographs in a clever, character-specific way. They learn how to dance or pose like their animated counterparts. Most of all, they learn how immensely critical they are in maintaining the illusion of magic so important to every guest’s Disney experience. Being chosen as a character is an honor, and they take their responsibilities seriously.
I’m a Disney veteran. I’ve been going to Disney parks since I was four years old, back when Disneyland opened in 1955. As a tour guide (we Disneyland guides trained the very first Walt Disney World tour guides in the summer of 1970), then a parent, and now as a grandparent, I’ve spent countless thousands of hours learning the ins and outs of how to thoughtfully plan and enjoy the very best of what Disney has to offer its guests. Interacting with the costumed characters is a critical part of any great Disney vacation, whether it’s having dinner with the princesses at Cinderella’s Royal Table in the castle, a sweet meet-and-greet with the hilarious duo of Buzz and Woody in their Toy Story room at Hollywood Studios, seeing the many fancifully costumed characters in Mickey’s Boo-to-You Halloween parade, watching the enchanting character scenes at the fireworks extravaganza known as Fantasmic!, or simply sharing a hug with your old pal, Mickey Mouse, you simply don’t want to miss out on the fun of meeting the costumed characters.
To avoid disappointment, bear this in mind: not every character appearance is guaranteed. Sometimes a character won’t be where you expect, maybe because Disney shuffled the schedule, cancelled a meet and greet, reassigned the character elsewhere, or for any number of reasons. Characters also have a way of popping up where you least expect them. While the information in this book is accurate as of press time, if you absolutely, positively must meet a particular character, check with Disney before you make any promises to your kids that morning.
With that out of the way, consider this your crash course in how to plan perfect meet-and-greets at Walt Disney World.
Andrea McGann Keech was born in southern California and visited Disneyland often, ever since it opened in 1955. She fulfilled a life-long dream of working at the park and became a bi-lingual Tour Guide and VIP Hostess during college holidays from 1969 through 1972, experiences described in her first book, The Cream of the Crop: Tour Guide Tales from Disneyland’s Golden Years (Theme Park Press, 2016).
Andrea taught students in English and Spanish in grades K-12 during teaching career. She was a member of the National Assessment of Educational Progress Committee that established Writing Standards, 2011-2018, for students in grades 3-12. She has written for a variety of national educational journals and presented often at teaching conferences, but the most fulfilling aspect of her work, by far, was seeing her students succeed.
Andrea lives in Iowa City with Shadow and Sunny, two wild and crazy standard poodles. Her happiest role is that of playing Mary Poppins to beloved grandchildren Katherine and Drew and spending time with new grandson, Will.
Her other Disney books are The Indulgent Grandparent’s Guide to Walt Disney World, Treasure of the Ten Tags—A Disneyland Adventure, and Walt Disney World Dining Guide 2018 (all from Theme Park Press).
If it's Captain Jack Sparrow ye be seekin', you're not likely to be disappointed, as he appears frequently in the Magic Kingdom.
“Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me!” Savvy? He’s a scalawag, a plunderer, a buccaneer, a rogue—but despite all that, Capt. Jack Sparrow is also magnetically compelling and immensely popular. His ghostly ship, the Black Pearl, with its skeleton crew, is almost as famous as he is. His forearm bears the tell-tale “P” brand, administered by the East India Trading Company to forever mark him a pirate. He also has a tattoo of a sparrow flying across the setting sun to indicate he has sailed every one of the seven seas. (Johnny Depp eventually got a real tattoo just like the one he wore in the film.) The films in which he stars are based on the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland that opened in 1967, although many people today, especially children, think the films inspired the attraction instead of the other way around. Jack’s morals and personal code of ethics are as flexible as a wet noodle. They bend to suit to any situation. The captain dresses casually in a slouchy, leather, tricorn hat, a sash for a belt, tall boots, and a ubiquitous red bandana. He fastidiously braids his beard and strands of his long hair with beads and other adornments for decoration. He even wears fashion-forward “guy-liner” to accentuate his smoldering eyes. When it comes down to tossing off the perfect bon mot or casually stepping in at the very last second to save the day, you can count on Jack. Sure, he puts himself first and maybe imbibes a bit more rum than he should, but he does have redeeming qualities…all of which he’d be glad to enumerate for you!
Continued in "Walt Disney World Characters 101"!
When you least expect it, you might be surrounded by Disney characters, all eager to meet, greet, and maybe even dance.
There are times on a Walt Disney World vacation when spontaneity is the order of the day. You can’t plan for it, you can’t count on it, but you can certainly enjoy it to the hilt when it happens. That’s the case with Character Palooza and the Hoedown Happening. Neither is advertised or generally even publicized. Those in the know are aware of them, and now you will be, too! (Keep in mind that these character meets are held outdoors and so subject to cancellation due to inclement weather conditions.
The title of this event is tongue in cheek, based on the old term “lollapalooza” that’s been around since the 1890s. It means something impressive or attractive. You may have heard of the Chicago music festival called Lollapalooza in recent years. The word is similar in meaning to humdinger or doozie, and that’s what this surprise meeting is—a real lollapalooza...except with Disney characters. It happens in Hollywood Studios with no fanfare or advance warning. All of sudden, a crowd of costumed characters comes out of nowhere prepared to interact with guests, pose for pictures, and sign autographs. Imagine the surprise! Imagine the excitement! Guests flock to this event like bees to honey. It feels almost like an unplanned, unscripted party—something you don’t get a chance to experience very often at Walt Disney World these days. In the crush, guests sometimes get overly enthusiastic, so be advised—safety first. There are no PhotoPass photographers to document the event. You need to bring your own camera or recording device. Have any autograph books ready, too. There will be lines forming for each character. Choose your favorites in order of priority. The event closes to guests very quickly, so be sure you’re ready to go!
You can see between 5-10 or more of the characters who are featured in the finale of Fantasmic! Look for the Evil Queen, Pocahontas, Meeko, John Smith, Dopey of the Seven Dwarfs, Snow White, the Prince, Pinocchio, Gepetto, Chip & Dale, Goofy, Pluto, Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck in his sailor suit (this is just about the only place you’ll find “classic” Donald), Mulan, Mushu, Belle, Tiana, Stitch, Timon, Baloo, Br’er Rabbit, Br’er Fox, Br’er Bear, Mary Poppins, the penguins, Minnie Mouse, Princess Jasmine, and practically any other character who appears on Steamboat Willie’s steamboat. The characters change every day.
Although it’s random and locations change quickly, Character Palooza generally takes place inside Hollywood Studios unless there’s a special event, in which case it might happen outside the front gates. If you see a crowd of expectant guests starting to gather for no apparent reason, Character Palooza just might be about to happen! Be on the lookout.
About 10-20 minutes, but it varies.
It can happen just about any time in the late afternoon or early evening, but it happens only on days when Fantasmic! is scheduled, and then usually a couple of times that day.
Continued in "Walt Disney World Characters 101"!