Living less than 30 minutes from Walt Disney World, we’ve met more than our fair share of Disney characters over the years. My eldest son met Mickey for the first time when he was three weeks old, although he was fast asleep so I’m not sure if that counts. Still, we’ve managed to pick up some tips on what to do – and what not to do – to make character greetings with a toddler at Walt Disney World a success!
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Familiarize your toddler with the characters before you go
If you’re going on vacation to Walt Disney World, chances are your toddler will be familiar with some of the Disney characters already. However if they really don’t know any of the characters, it might be a good idea to introduce them to some of the more popular ones before you go. This way they’re not approaching a 5′ tall mouse or duck with no idea who they are or why they would want to give them a hug!
The easiest way to do this is movies, TV shows and books. My son was a huge fan of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse around 12-18 months, and he loved the Winnie the Pooh movies (he’d watch maybe 15 minutes at a time) so those characters were familiar to him. If you aren’t keen on letting your toddler watch TV, there are plenty of books out there with the Disney characters in that you can read with your toddler to help him/her get used to who they are (this one and this one are great examples!)
Pick a few cuddly-looking characters
Our first character greeting was when my eldest son was 3 weeks old and we met Mickey. He slept through the whole thing and it was great! However a year later at 13-months, he was not such a fan of the mouse. While not keen on Mickey, he was more than happy to give hugs to Winnie the Pooh, Chip and Dale, and other more cuddly characters.
We figured out that if they just looked like big teddy bears, he was much happier to get close to them. So these might be some of the more approachable characters to begin with.
Consider character meals
This can either be a great idea or a terrible one. In theory I would suggest waiting to see how your toddler reacts to the first few characters he/she meets before booking a character meal, but we all know how quickly those dining reservations fill up!
Instead, I would suggest just booking one or two and be willing to cancel them of it turns out your toddler has a passionate fear of anyone in costume! There’s nothing worse than paying a small fortune for a character buffet only to have to leave early because your child screams hysterically because they can see Winnie the Pooh from across the room!
However if your toddler is doing well with the characters, this is a great way to meet them. You get to see a bunch of characters in one go without having to wait in a long line, and your toddler will be eating so will have something to do while waiting on the characters to come to the table.
The most popular, and probably most toddler friendly, character meals include Chef Mickeys (with Mickey and the gang), Crystal Palace (where the Winnie the Pooh characters can be found), Cinderella’s Royal Table (for a meal with the Princesses), and Hollywood and Vine (where you can meet the Disney Jr characters and dance to the Hot Dog song!) Check out this great post by WDW Prep School for a complete guide on character meals!
Timing is everything
It probably goes without saying, but don’t try to meet Mickey when your toddler is hungry, exhausted, or is just plain overwhelmed. When they’re on the verge of a meltdown, meeting a giant mouse might just send them over the edge!
You know your toddler best and know when they’ll be at their happiest. This is one of the reasons I think FP+ for characters with toddlers isn’t usually a good idea; you never really know what kind of mood your toddler might be in at 3pm 60 days from now, and if they turn out to be hungry or grouchy (or fast asleep!) you’ve wasted a precious fastpass!
Show them what to do
I always feel a little silly interacting with the characters, but when my eldest was young and showing signs of nervousness, I was super enthusiastic with them! Lots of “hi Mickey, it’s so great to see you!” and big hugs and smiles. There are videos of me meeting characters where you’d think I was meeting Johnny Depp I’m so excited!
But it meant my little one wanted in on the fun too. Seeing me approach a character first meant he knew the character was safe and friendly, and he’d usually tentatively walk up to them if mommy was there too. Now, he might veer off and head straight for mommy upon getting to the character, but then I could usually hold him and he’d be OK.
Check out this post by Kenny the Pirate for some fun ways to interact with the characters that will make the experience entertaining for everyone!
Babies will handle the characters better
The best character greetings for us have been when the boys were really young; like under 18 months. This seemed to be the magic age for the characters to get big hugs and smiles and we got great photos.
After that, we found that some character greetings went great and others were a disaster with no real rhyme or reason; one day Pluto was acceptable to go and hug, the next day he was horrifying and my little guy literally tried to run the other way when we saw him. Younger is definitely better here!
Don’t expect too much
Let’s face it: toddlers are unpredictable. You might do everything right, and still have every character meet and greet be a disaster. It’s not the end of the world! While having a cute picture with a Disney Princess might be something you really want as a souvenir from your trip, if it’s not meant to be, it’s OK.
There will be other wonderful photos, other amazing memories from your trip that will be just as fantastic – and if you’re lucky enough to return to Walt Disney World again, you can give it another try then!
Read through this post for my Ultimate Guide to visiting Walt Disney World with a baby here!