One of the highlights of our Disney World family vacations is always character meet and greets. But that doesn’t mean that it’s always been that way!
When our kids were babies, character meet and greets were just about the cutest thing ever. And when our kids got a little older (let’s say around 3 and a half), we were literally those parents scouting out all the best places to meet our kids’ favorite characters around the parks.
But those years in between? Well, let’s just say that character meet and greets with toddlers (especially young toddlers) might not always be as magical as all the photos and videos you’ve seen.
And heck, how our kids have responded to character interactions has changed even within the same trip sometimes depending on their mood.
So, if your kiddo is excited to see the Disney characters, but you’re not sure how they’ll do when they actually meet characters, here are my top 15 tips for character meet and greets with toddlers at Disney World:
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Start preparing before your Walt Disney World trip.
The more they know the character, the more comfortable they’ll be around them. In fact, the very first character meet and greet that my 3.5-year-old (at the time) absolutely loooved was Buzz Lightyear. Why? Well, just a few months earlier, he had dressed up as Buzz for Halloween!
Do your research.
Make sure to check out which characters your little one will be able to meet. The last thing you want to do is promise them that they’ll see Spider-Man when he’s nowhere to be found in Disney World. Or what about, let’s say, Mary Poppins? You might be able to find her… but you might not.
As you’re planning your Disney World vacation, make sure to get to know the My Disney Experience app. This will help you easily find which character meet and greets are at each park.
To find them, just go to the map on your My Disney Experience app, and use the filter on the top of the page to select “Characters.” You’ll then see all the character meet and greet spots. You can click on each icon to see which character is at that spot. Then you can click on the character to see what time they’ll be there.
Talk to your little one about what the Disney characters will be like.
The characters are almost always bigger in person than kids think they’ll be. After all, they’re used to seeing the characters as stuffed animals or up on a TV screen.
I make sure to remind them, “Mickey is as tall as Mama!” or “Goofy is even taller than Dad!” Showing them photos of the characters also help.
If they’re old enough to realize that the characters don’t talk, I tell them that Disney characters love to play charades. That way, they don’t expect to get a “Hiya, Pal!” from Mickey as we walk up to him.
Visit with “face characters” before “fur characters.”
Visiting with characters that don’t wear a mask (AKA “face characters”) may ease your little one into character meet and greets.
“Face characters” (think Cinderella or Anna) don’t seem to be as intimidating because they look just like anyone else, and they can talk to you.
The “fur characters” (think Mickey Mouse or Winnie the Pooh) can look larger than life to a toddler, which can sometimes make them nervous to approach the character. I know my kids have seemed to be thrown off when what looks like a giant stuffed animal starts to move towards them.
Have the character meet with other members of your family (or watch other families do their meet and greet) first.
Seeing positive interactions during character meet and greets shows your child that there’s nothing to be worried about.
“Aw, Mickey is so nice! He even signed his autograph in that little girl’s book! So sweet!”
Plus they’ll be to get an idea of how character meet and greets go. You’ll walk up to the Disney character, say hi, give hugs or high fives, then pose for a photo. And they’ll see that there’s an endpoint to the interaction. You won’t be hanging with Mickey all day!
Explain to your kiddo what’s going on as you’re walking up to the character.
“It’s our turn! I’ll carry you, and we’ll go say hi. We can even give Donald a high five if you want!”
Gently explaining what’s happening as it happens helps ease the tension. Your kiddo knows exactly what to expect, so there’s no wondering about what’s going to happen when it’s their turn to meet the character.
I’ve found that a high five or fist bump (“knuckles” as we call it in our household!) works better than making them feel like they have to go in for a hug, but of course, each kid is different!
Explain to the character what’s going on as you’re walking up with your kiddo.
“Goofy, you are his favorite! He’s been so excited to meet you, but he’s a little nervous.”
Instead of Goofy running over to say hi, he’ll likely allow some space so you can approach him. Maybe he’ll play peek-a-boo or stick out his hand for a high-five.
The Disney World characters are trained so incredibly well. And they’re used to all sorts of reactions during character meet and greets. One kid might run over and give them a big ol’ hug while the next kid buries their head in their mom’s shoulder.
The character will respond as best they can, but it’s also helpful to say it out loud too (I mean, they are in a costume after all, so visibility may not be the best on their end).
Plan to be in the photo.
Come camera-ready and get those pearly whites ready to smile! Because having you there will help decrease your toddler’s nervousness. You’re their safe zone after all.
You can have the Disney World PhotoPass photographers take photos (they’ll even use your own camera if you’d like!). That way, you can focus on your little one and let the PhotoPass photographers work their magic.
Tip: If your toddler is too nervous to interact, but you still want to capture the moment, hold your little one on the opposite side that the character is on. That way there’s a little distance between the Disney character and your kiddo for the photo. See the photos below for some examples.
Watch your own demeanor.
Your child may feed off of your energy. So, keep things light, happy, and as non-stressful as you can.
Show them how excited you are to meet the Disney character, and have fun interacting with them.
But don’t necessarily overdo it. Your kiddo will be able to sense that things aren’t “normal” if you start acting like a crazy person about it (I’m totally not talking about myself here…ha!).
And watch your kiddo’s demeanor.
Watch their body language and cues. And adjust as needed.
If they really start freaking out, you might want to abort the mission and just wave as you pass by. Or you might feel their nerves start to ease a bit, in which you can slowly try to go up to the character and say hi.
Now, on the other hand, if your little one is super excited about seeing the Disney character, be ready to capture the moment and grab some of your own pictures or videos (especially if you’re not planning on purchasing Memory Maker, Disney’s photo service).
And one more word of caution when it comes to watching your kid’s demeanor. Make sure they don’t get so excited (or so upset) that they become a little rough with the character.
Here’s a real-life example from when we visited for my middle guy’s first birthday:
My son got curious about what that big black thing was in front of his face (AKA Mickey’s nose) and slapped at it playfully. The character attendant with Mickey Mouse quickly said, “We need to be nice to Mickey.”
Of course, what he was doing wasn’t malicious by any means, but at the end of the day, the character attendants are there to keep the characters safe.
Have a fun autograph book and pen with you.
Having something for the Disney characters to sign does a few things.
- It takes away the focus from your kiddo so they don’t feel so much like the center of attention.
- It gives your child something fun to do during the character meet and greet and helps them ease into the character interaction.
- It’s something fun to look back on at the end of the day (and the trip!), reminding them of a positive experience and getting them excited to meet characters in the future.
Want to know my favorite autograph ideas for Disney World? The easy answer to that is: the best Disney autograph books are the ones you’ll actually use or look at in the future.
Sure, part of the fun is actually getting the character’s autograph. But being able to look back at it and relive those moments when your little one met a favorite character is almost just as fun.
So, back to actually answering the question. My favorite autograph ideas for Disney World include:
- A Disney book. I’m not just talking about a plain autograph book, but an actual book. Like this Disney cookbook. Or a Disney kids’ book like this. On one of our recent trips, we even hauled this beast of a book around, and now it acts as a fun table book that we often look through.
- A Walt Disney World photo album and blank index cards. When you meet characters, have them sign the blank index card. Then when you’re putting your album together, match up the photo and the autograph. I like this idea because it’s super easy to carry around index cards (just stick them in a bag in case it rains!).
- Polaroid pictures. Now, I haven’t tried this yet, but I’m highly considering getting my kids one of these cameras for a future trip so we can do this. I’ll come back and update you if we do!
Time your character meet and greets with toddlers right.
This is crucial. Is your toddler sleepy? Hungry? Totally over it? Probably not a good time. Plan to meet characters when your child is rested, fed, and happy.
And on an even greater scale, think about when you’ll want to meet characters throughout your entire trip (not just that one day).
If your kiddo loves a certain Disney character, but hasn’t done any character meet and greets yet, you may want to save that special character until later in your trip. That way, your kid can get used to character interactions before meeting their favorite character.
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Think about how long you’ll have to wait in line to meet the character.
Piggybacking off that last one…if you spend a bunch of time waiting in line for a character, be aware that your kiddo might not be too thrilled by the time they get to the front of the line.
If there are Disney characters that you know your little one will want to meet, consider purchasing Genie+. Genie+ doesn’t just allow you to make Lightning Lane reservations for rides. It also lets you make Lightning Lane reservations for some character experiences.
Not all character meet and greets will be a part of Genie+, though. So make sure to check which attractions are included in Genie+ if there’s a certain character you’re looking for.
Have a game plan for character dining.
Character meals are a great way to meet a handful of characters. They’re also a great way to ease your little one into character interactions.
But there is a chance they can go horribly wrong, too. Knowing that going into it will help you prepare and have a game plan.
At character meals, the characters will approach your table (you won’t be walking up to them). With that being said, make sure your little one is positioned at the table so that they can see the characters coming.
We learned this the hard way. Minnie Mouse came up behind our son at Chef Mickey’s when he was just over a year old…and it was over. It totally freaked him out to turn around and see Minnie’s face right in front of him. The rest of the breakfast consisted of lots of screaming and crying whenever a character came by.
So, don’t be us! Choose your toddler’s seat wisely. You can always move them to a closer spot later on during your meal if they love every second of meeting the characters.
Don’t push it. But also don’t be afraid to try again.
If they’re too scared, no need to push it. There will be plenty of other fun things to do during your time at Walt Disney World. And you can always wave to the character from afar. Parades are a great opportunity to do that!
With that being said, though, don’t be afraid to try again later during your trip. Maybe your little one just wasn’t having it earlier. Or maybe they needed time to warm up. If you see a short line for a meet and greet, you may want to try one more time to see how it goes.
Not to sound dramatic, but you really can make lifelong memories during character meet and greets at Disney World (like I’m pretty sure I will never forget that little laugh from my son when Mickey gave him a kiss in the photo above!).
So, when it’s your kiddo’s turn to meet Mickey Mouse (or any of their favorite characters for that matter), remember these tips for character meet and greets with toddlers. And get the camera ready (luckily, though, if you don’t have it ready, Disney PhotoPass photographers will be at most character meet and greets)!
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