Disney World: Meet the Characters

   Armed with hearts full of anticipation, the girls tore the last link off of our countdown chain on the way to Disney World.  During our week-long stay we had planned three different character dinings to make the best use of our time.  Though I wasn't sure how the girls would react to all the Disney characters, and my husband was sure he didn't want to waste the whole trip in line at meet and greets, we were excited to meet a few princesses, and maybe even Mickey.  We had the Disney Autograph Books I made in tow, and a double stroller, camera, snacks...ready, set, GO!

   Wait/  Before you go to meet anyone, make sure you obtain a PhotoPass card from PhotoPass photographers {update: you can use your magic bands to store your photos}.  Usually found near the entry gates (and throughout the parks), their job is to take pictures of you in front of Disney landmarks and with characters.  Utilize this service!  No payment is due when the picture is taken.  You can have as many taken as you want and they will hand you a free PhotoPass card each time.  Once you get one card, have it handy and give it to future photographers before they snap your pictures so you can minimize the amount of PhotoPass cards to keep up with.  When you get home, create an account here and order away! 

Warning: If you lose your PhotoPass card then there is no other way to retrieve them.  And, prices are steep.  Each 4 x 6 is $14.95 (reg price). It's a great service if you aren't an avid photographer!  I take thousands of pictures of my girls but still needed the professionals to get shots like this:

   Also, you'll need to know the differences between a "meet and greet", "character dining", and just running into a character walking through the parks- they are substantial.  Character dinings are purchasing a sit-down meal for the family and, while you are attempting to eat, multiple characters come by the table to say hello, take pictures, sign autograph books, and maybe even dance.  Dining with characters is a great way to meet a bunch at once and not spend all day in the meet and greet lines.  They are a bit pricey at times, but these are more private than meet and greets in the parks.  The downside?  Your child may be too excited to eat.  So you just spent more than you'd like and your starry-eyed babies are starving in two seconds.  In our experience, we had to be quick to order and get them to eat as much as possible before the characters arrived.  Or, don't plan on rushing off to the next attraction and stay as long as possible- in the hopes they'll calm down and eat, assuming there isn't another group waiting to fill your table for the next available time.

   Meet and greets are at no additional cost and happen regularly throughout the day in all of the parks.  Be sure to grab a park guide and a times guide before or near the entry gates.  It includes everything you need to know for the day- including which characters will be available for meet and greets with their locations and times.  You will still receive the same greetings, photo opp, and autograph as in character dining, but sometimes after you've waited in a very long line.  The more popular princesses will have very long lines so try and get a fast pass for ones such as Anna and Elsa.

   Other than character dining, meet and greets, or shelling out some serious cash for a private event, the only other way to see characters is in passing.  (There are a couple of free exceptions: Jedi Academy and Pirate Tutorial.)  If a character is walking through the park, don't bother trying to stop them.  The castmembers guard them from the paparazzi (us) while they come or go from their breaks.  Just wave and keep it moving.  I was recently told if you see any of the Toy Story characters to yell, "Andy's coming!!" and they'll hit the floor.  I tried it when I ran into Woody coming out of a backstage entrance in Disneyland but his castmember snapped back, "Andy's off at college!"  I was deflated.  His castmember was annoyed.  Like I said, don't bother trying to stop them.

   However, if you see a castmember standing with a PhotoPass member, feel free to stalk.  They are positioning themselves for a character to come back from a break.  A few meet and greets aren't listed on the guide.  They're secret.  Ask the castmember where they'd like you to start the line!

Here is what we learned while trying to meet the girls' favorite characters, i.e. every single one:

Hollywood Studios

   The first stop on our trip to Disney World was Hollywood Studios!  As soon as we entered Pixar Place, we saw Buzz and Woody through a window.  Funnily enough, they had never sat through any of the Toy Story movies before, but Baby Girl went crazy and wanted to meet "Cowboy".  I was nervous.  How would my four and two year old act while waiting in line?  And would they break down crying with fear once we actually met the characters? 

   Luckily, it went pretty well/  Buzz and Woody have their own air-conditioned building at Pixar Place, right across from the favorite Toy Story Mania ride.  And, there are sets from the movie to entertain the kids while you wait in line!  Genius.


Of course, my oldest opted out (despite her normally fearless personality)
and my youngest walked right up to them and shook hands!

Two seconds later, she decided they are a little creepy.
(characters in full gear don't speak, only the real people talk)

Magic Kingdom

   The next morning we had breakfast at Cinderella's Royal Table in her castle!  This is an absolute must for every little princess.  (It books up six months, or more, in advance.  Book it quickly!)  You get the most time with each princess than anything else in the parks and the castle is beautiful.  We took a risk and chose the 8:00am breakfast on a day without extra magic hours.  (Extra magic hours are only available to guests staying on the resort.)  It was a little difficult making sure we got there on time and the girls were sleepy.  We forced ourselves into the early slot for one reason: you get into the park before it's open.  Granted, you can't roam around, but on your way to breakfast, no one else is in the park so you can get a picture in front of the castle sans photo bombers!  Also, if you finish breakfast in a timely manner, upon exiting the castle you are allowed to wait for the official park opening near the carousel.  We rode Peter Pan three times before the people at the main gates caught up with us!  (Just a reminder, if you take the 8:00am time slot on an extended magic hours morning, then there will be people everywhere already.)
Despite there being no crowd, my children still wouldn't smile.

Tip:  Skip the pricey Bibbidi Boppidi Boutique!
Bring your own jewelry and crowns.
And I did their makeup on the bus ride over.

Another Tip:  Ariel was only appearing at the 8:00am time slot
when we went to Disney World last fall.

   Next time, we are definitely going to be initiated into Jack Sparrow's Pirates League!  It is the boys' equivalent of breakfast with the princesses.  I heard many parents raving about how much fun their little pirates had while we were there.  Since the Pirates League was all booked when we learned it existed, I set my greedy Disney sights on another thing I heard about- a pirate boat ride.  It was all booked too (despite me calling to check repeatedly) so we'll have to plan ahead next time for the super cool Pirates & Pals Fireworks Voyage!  After Cinderella's Royal Table that day and a wonderfully long nap, we came back to the Magic Kingdom to stalk a few castmembers by the front gate. It turned out we were waiting for Chip 'n' Dale!  Then Pluto showed up!

   A few days later we found Jasmine and Aladdin in Adventureland at Magic Kingdom.  Their meet and greet area is so pretty.  Disney even decorates the ground!  Unfortunately, it is not air-conditioned nor shaded and the kids have to stare at a gift shop for part of the line.  We were sweating in the morning sun but the girls loved meeting them!

   We met Pooh and Tigger next to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh ride.  But later that night, during Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, the whole gang (Rabbit, Eeyore, and the elusive favorite...Piglet) were all there, and in costume!  I wished I would have known.  We would've waited to get a picture with them when the girls were dressed up too.

   Secret of the Wings hadn't been released yet, but we got to meet Tinker Bell and Periwinkle at Tinker Bell's Magical Nook before we even knew who Periwinkle was!  This was the most organized and easiest meet and greet.  The building is roomy, air-conditioned, and movies were playing while we stood in line.

   And we couldn't forget our beloved Tiana in Liberty Square!  Her dress was beautiful and she was charming, laughing about the cat on the ceiling and appreciating how much the girls love beignets!  Tiana's gazebo is tucked away so the line wasn't too long, but we would've waited a while to see her!

   Now, here comes a Disney World secret.  After our first day at Hollywood Studios, the girls both started to ask to meet Peter Pan.  At this point, I knew they had seen both movies (Return to Neverland is really good too) and liked Peter Pan.  But by the end of day two, they were incessantly begging to meet "the real one"- only to find out he is never in one place at any given time.  I was told repeatedly he follows his own set of rules and would never agree to a grown-ups schedule.  Great.

    Well, five days later, we caught him.  The only place you can find him for a meet and greet is a hush, hush park secret.  And if you can get to him first thing in the morning, you won't be disappointed!  Three first-thing-in-the-morning attempts later (he was a no-show the first two times because of private events), we were first in line on the bridge before you cross over into Adventureland.

   We stood and waited for him to appear.  I've never seen both girls so still and quiet!  All four of us fixed our sights in the same direction as the floating castmember and stared.  Suddenly, we saw his green hat peak over the horizon!  While we cheered, and even squealed a bit, the PhotoPass photographer clicked away and captured this:


   As soon as he greeted us, he whisked the girls away (about three feet) and started whispering and pointing at the lake and into the trees, filling their imaginations with tales of the lost boys- only to look back at us every couple minutes and mutter something about icky grown-ups under his breath.

   Until this moment, I didn't know what "Disney magic" even meant.  But the way their hearts leapt and eyes twinkled from listening to his stories gave me goose bumps.  My husband and I slipped each other a silent high-five and a glance that said, "Wow!  Now that was cool!" 

   Those ten minutes with Peter Pan are all the girls talk about!  Almost every night before they go to bed, they ask us to "get enough dollars to go to Disney World" so they can visit Peter.  I had no idea he would have that much of an effect on them.


Animal Kingdom

   Animal Kingdom is a great place to meet characters because, for the most part, they're all located in the same area: Camp Minnie-Mickey.  You can meet the whole gang, Minnie, Mickey, Donald, and Daisy, nestled in a line of four little, grass huts! Pocahontas was over there too when we went, but I think she's been moved to Bradley Falls (just outside of Africa) for now. If your children want to meet Pocahontas, this is the only place she is available.  I guess she isn't in high-demand because she lacks the big princess ball gown and is paling against the bright lights surrounding Anna and Elsa  right now. Telling from her gasps and many, many thank-yous when the girls showed her pictures of their costumes the night before at Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, she might even be getting a little bit of a complex.  Go show her some love.


These are more from a PhotoPass photographer's magic:

     Can you tell they adore Donald Duck
We watch his vintage cartoons on youtube all the time!

And finally, the boss man...Mickey!
(Don't tell Donald I said that.)


   I read on countless blogs that Epcot is the best park to meet characters.  "Forget lines and get the autograph books out!  Head to Epcot!"  Well, that's a bunch of bologna.  Except for the Finding Nemo ride and Turtle Talk with Crush at the front of the park, there isn't much for small children to do. {update: the Maelstrom ride in Norway is being turned into a Frozen ride soon} My dreams of sampling each country's cuisine and possibly squeezing in a cocktail or two, maybe even a brief moment of romance, while the girls quietly relax in the stroller were quickly squelched and replaced with this:

She threw long enough of a fit that a little boy came to check on her.
So what did I do about it?  Take a picture.
   Kids. Hate. Epcot.  Well, at least mine did.  It was hot and boring and the character lines were long.  I guess the word is out.  Now, if you want to meet more obscure characters like Mulan, Alice, and Mary Poppins, or if you'd like to see Aurora and Belle in their native France, then you'll enjoy Epcot's character meet and greets.  (Don't believe those who say the only place to meet Jasmine is in Morocco.  Obviously (top), we met her in Magic Kingdom.)  My girls were less than thrilled.

   Since we are Disney credit card holders (yes, my husband is that serious about taking these girls on Disney trips), we were granted with a private character visit in Epcot.  This was a redeeming factor for us.  The girls were overjoyed to meet Minnie and Goofy!  My husband and I liked not having to wait in line!



   On our last day, we kicked off a month-long birthday celebration for my husband at Ohana in The Polynesian.  Ohana offers character dining with Lilo and Stitch and their breakfast was my favorite of the whole trip!  And we might have had a few big surprise guests...but I'm not going to tell who they were and ruin the surprise.


Lilo teaching the girls to hula!

For a complete list of character experience options, click here!
 For a complete list of character dining options, click here!

Check out more of my Disney posts:

Planning and Packing for Disney with Small Children


  1. What an amazing post!!! Sooo much information for a fun Disney trip! You did your research friend. I know I would never take that much time planning so let's just plan a trip together! Hehe! Can't wait to take A in a few years! It looks so magical!

    1. Thank you Allison!! This was definitely a learning experience for me! I just had to relay some info. More coming...soon-ish. ;] We absolutely need to plan a trip together! That would be SOOO much fun!!!