The Character Experience

by Mike Scopa
AllEars® Feature Writer

Feature Article

This article appeared in the
January 27, 2009 Issue #488 of ALL EARS® (ISSN: 1533-0753)

During the '90s, Walt Disney World discovered that its guests craved something above all else -- and that was more character experiences. Guests wanted to see more characters, wanted to have more meet-and-greet opportunities and a chance to have their photos taken with the characters.

Well, the folks at Walt Disney World were more than happy to oblige their guests since then the guests would naturally find themselves spending even more time in the parks.

Soon guests saw more and more character meals. They were springing up everywhere... not just in the parks, but also at most of the deluxe resorts. Each of the monorail resorts, the Grand Floridian, Polynesian, and Contemporary, had their own signature character meal. Of course, each theme park also had at least one restaurant in which guests could dine and enjoy visits to their table by some of the most popular Disney characters.

Character Meet and Greet Locations

But there was more. Each of the parks added special locations where guests could consistently find characters. The Magic Kingdom saw the addition of Ariel's Grotto and the Toontown Hall of Fame, two special areas for guests to see such characters as Ariel and some of the Disney princesses. Epcot saw the creation of the Character Connection at Innoventions West in Future World just around the corner from Club Cool. The prominent Sorcerer's Hat at the Studios seemed like a good place for many characters to meet guests. The Animal Kingdom was designed with special character meet-and-greet areas down near Camp Minnie-Mickey. Of course, as time went on, each of the parks provided guests with other specific greeting spots for the guests to mingle with the characters, along with these showcase locations.

Character Meeting Protocol

Alongside this expanded character exposure came a learning curve for guests to understand all about meet-and-greet character protocol in the parks.

What does this protocol include? First and foremost it involves waiting. And the waiting gives parents the opportunity to teach their children what patience is all about. Waiting patiently in a long line to see your favorite Disney character, learning how to wait your turn, that builds -- as you might say -- character. Wow... we are having fun, Mom, and I am learning to be patient. Along with this patience and waiting your turn comes the opportunity to understand other theme park protocol like: do not cut in line. This comes under the heading of respect for the other guests.

There are two distinct character types: one known as "fur," which indicates a mask or a headpiece is worn, and the other known as "face," which means no mask or headpiece. The distinction is important, because when it comes to character protocol there are some special things to keep in mind when interacting with a "fur" character.

When interacting with a fur character guests should always try to stay directly in front of them, as they cannot see behind or to the sides. Also, fur characters have BIG hands, so they need BIG writing instruments. The characters will appreciate large pens, markers or pencils to sign autographs with.

Those special cast members who are always with the characters are known as Character Handlers. These cast members have the responsibility of assisting the characters in crowd control and also watch the clock so that the characters stick to their schedules. That means that the guests also have to honor the character schedules, so when the character handler says, "This is the end of the line," everyone knows what that means.

A side benefit from the waiting in long lines is that it gives guests the chance to get their cameras ready to capture that magic moment. With lines as long as they are everyone should try to enjoy their special moments with the characters, but also keep in mind that there is a line of people behind them. Having the camera ready when it's your turn will be a big help.

Imagine that you are one of those characters who patiently took the time to make a family's moment with them special. If you were that character what would make you smile, besides seeing happy guests? How about a simple, "Thank you, Mickey!" or "Great job, Pluto!"? Remember to say thanks.

Just as they have made your day, you can make theirs.

Can You Find These Characters?

Where can you find those special Disney characters? Well, here are some fur characters I feel are difficult to find in a meet-and-greet opportunity. Perhaps on your next trip to Walt Disney World you can keep an eye out for these guys and let me know if you spot them:

-- Abu. Aladdin's monkey does appear in the parks. He's not always easy to find, but you may spot him near the Morocco pavilion in Epcot, or maybe even near Magic Carpets of Aladdin in the Magic Kingdom.

-- Clarabelle Cow. Now, there is a Disney legend, a cartoon classic... but where do you find her? There is only one place to look, and that is the Town Square at the Magic Kingdom.

-- Frozone from the movie "The Incredibles." Where would you find him? Well, if you're real lucky you may spot him inside the Animation building at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

-- Panchito from The Three Caballeros. A rarity, but it is possible, especially near the Mexico pavilion in Epcot's World Showcase.

-- Marie, the white cat from the movie "The Aristocats." Marie can be found at either France in Epcot, or at the base of the Sorcerer's Hat at the Studios.

While you are searching for those rare fur characters, please think about doing the same for the following face characters:

-- Esmeralda from "The Hunchback of Notre Dame." Possibly at the France pavilion.

-- Bert, from "Mary Poppins" (was played by Dick Van Dyke). Very rare, but perhaps you may see him at the Town Square in Magic Kingdom.

-- Drizella, Cinderella's stepsister. Actually, you may spot her in several places, but be on the lookout for her behind the castle at the Magic Kingdom.

-- How about Meg from "Hercules?" She is another tough character to find, but most likely to be spotted in Hollywood Studios near the Sorcerer's Hat.

--The Queen of Hearts. She's a tough one to spot. I'd check near the Mad Tea Party in the Magic Kingdom.

New Kids on the Block

There are some relatively new characters roaming the parks these days.

Most noteworthy are:

-- Bolt, Mittens, and Rhino from the "Bolt" movie. These three guys are best found in -- you guessed it -- Disney's Hollywood Studios, usually roaming around near the Animation building.

-- the fairies from "The Fairies" movie. They can be found at the Fairies room (Pixie Hollow) at the Toontown Hall of Fame.

-- Tinker Bell -- I could have included her with the fairies but hey, she deserves her own bullet, don't you think? Tink can be found where the other fairies are, at the Toontown Hall of Fame.

OK, there you have it -- everything you ever needed to know regarding character meet and greets at Walt Disney World.

Did I mention who I look for most of the time when I visit Walt Disney World? I can find this character in almost every park. My personal favorite character will be the subject of an upcoming blog. For those of you who know me I'm sure you're nodding your head and saying, "Yes, Mike. I know who it is."

Well, I'm sure you do, but do you know why this is my favorite character? If you don't you'll just have to wait for my blog to find out my reasons.

Happy character hunting!

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Mike Scopa has been a huge Disney fan for as long as he can remember. He first visited Walt Disney World in 1975 and has returned many times (how many? he's lost count!) since. Mike is a contributor to the Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World and Cara Goldsbury's Luxury Guide to Walt Disney World, and has served as keynote speaker for the 2006 and 2007 MagicMeets. He is also co-host of the WDWTODAY Podcast and writes a regular blog, The View from Scopa Towers, for AllEars.Net: http://land.allears.net/blogs/mikescopa

Other AllEars® articles by Mike Scopa: http://allears.net/btp/mikescopa.htm

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RELATED LINKS:

Character Meet and Greet: http://allears.net/tp/fur.htm
Collecting Character Autographs: http://allears.net/btp/fur1.htm
Character Autograph Tips: http://allears.net/rta/tips.php (Use the drop down box and select Character Autographs.)


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Editor's Note: This story/information was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all current rates, information and other details before planning your trip.