The Essential Guide to Finding and Meeting Characters at Walt Disney World

It’s no secret that I love visiting the Disney Parks. In fact, in 2018 and 2019, I was fortunate enough to spend 9 months living practically next door to Walt Disney World through the Disney College Program and visited the parks regularly. However, my first stops weren’t always the exciting roller coasters or the newest attractions. Instead, I often found myself lining up to meet Pluto or Captain Jack Sparrow, excited to talk to my favorite characters once again. After all, each character interaction was different from the last!

During these numerous character interactions, I not only learned about the variety of character meet-and-greets available at Walt Disney World, but also some tips and tricks that helped me make the most of my time with the characters, even when doing solo visits to the parks. This post will cover those tips and tricks on how to have a great Disney character interaction that extends beyond the simple hug, photograph, and autograph signing!

An Essential Introduction to Disney Character Experiences at Walt Disney World

How to Find Character Meet-and-Greets at Walt Disney World

During your trip to Walt Disney World, the My Disney Experience app on your phone will be your best friend, especially since the paper Times Guide (which used to list character meet-and-greets and their times) has been retired. This app will let you know which Disney characters are doing meet-and greets, in addition to where and when. 

The best way to find a list of character experiences on the My Disney Experience app is to navigate to the map icon and select “Characters” from the drop down at the top. Afterwards, click “Filter” on the top left and select the park you are currently in. On the app’s map, this will then show you where characters are currently meeting throughout the park, noted by using map markers with a Mickey Mouse silhouette. Clicking one of these markers will let you know which character is meeting and the exact location, and clicking again will let you know the timed appearances throughout the day.

However, if you want a list of all characters meeting throughout your selected park, just click the “Show List” button”; this then displays a full list of all the characters meeting throughout the park and where. Clicking on the picture of a character then shows the appearance times of that character throughout the day. (Which is especially helpful as not all characters meet throughout the entire day!) 

Types of Character Meet-and-Greets at Walt Disney World

Stationary Characters at Walt Disney World

The majority of characters at Walt Disney World are what I like to call “stationary characters”, meaning they have designated spots where they do meet-and-greets. This includes characters like Ariel at Ariel’s Grotto, Cinderella at Princess Fairytale Hall, and Anna and Elsa at Royal Sommerhus. 

The PhotoPass photographer did an AMAZING job of capturing my first time meeting Figment!

Roaming Characters at Walt Disney World

Although the majority of Disney characters will have designated meet-and-greet spots, there are a few characters that will be marked as “roaming” or “sightings throughout [location]” on the My Disney Experience app, meaning that they don’t stay stationary, but rather roam throughout a designated area. This makes a meet-and-greet and/or photo opportunity not guaranteed unless they approach you. 

The majority of roaming characters are Star Wars characters within Galaxy’s Edge, such as Kylo Ren, Rey, etc. Kevin (the bird from UP) and the Country Bears are other characters that also regularly roam, but there is always the possibility of other Disney characters walking around.

Character Palooza Events at Walt Disney World

“Character Palooza” is a term for an unannounced pop-up character meet-and-greet event featuring multiple Disney characters. These are unannounced and unadvertised, so it’s just a matter of stumbling upon them at the right time, but it can be absolutely magical if you do happen upon one during your Disney vacation! 

Meeting Pinocchio at International Gateway in EPCOT

At EPCOT, I’ve only seen Character Paloozas happen in 3 locations: (1) the walkway next to Regal Eagle Smokehouse at The American Adventure pavilion and (2) International Gateway, which is the back entrance to EPCOT, and (3) the walkway between the UK pavilion and Canada pavilion, towards the entrance to World Showcase pavilion. However, I’ve noticed the majority of these pop-ups happen at International Gateway, so it’s definitely worth checking out as you walk by!

From what I’ve experienced and read, the only other park that has Character Paloozas is Hollywood Studios. However, if you do come across one, know that Character Palooza events often include rare characters, such as Pinocchio, Baloo, and Mr. Smee! 

Related: The Essential Guide to Finding Rare Characters at Walt Disney World

Exclusive Cardholder Character Meet-and-Greets at Walt Disney World

Although most character meet-and greets at Walt Disney World are well advertised (minus Character Palozza), there is also a “hidden” character meet-and-greet at Walt Disney World! This character meet-and-greet is exclusively offered to Disney® Premier Visa® Cardholders at EPCOT. Although the characters in this meet-and-greet are not announced in advance, it is typically 2 of the “Fab Five” characters, but I have also experienced just 1 character at this spot.

For this meet-and-greet, you simply show your Disney Visa card to the Cast Member at the door and they let you enter the line. It is typically about a 30-minute line, but it’s unique in that you usually meet 2 characters at once AND you get the PhotoPass downloads from the meet-and-greet for FREE, even if you didn’t purchase a PhotoPass package for the entire day.

Character Dining at Walt Disney World

Character dining is one of my favorite ways of meeting a large number of characters in a short period of time, especially if it is a short vacation! Only select table service dining locations offer character dining around Walt Disney World, and sometimes only at certain meal times. However, character dining is also a great way to meet rare characters. (More info on that below!)

Some of my favorite character dining experiences at Walt Disney World that I highly recommend are:

  • Akershus Royal Banquet Hall: I’ve done character dining at this location twice and I absolutely love it! It’s a great way to meet multiple princesses in a short period of time. The breakfast is also labeled as Norwegian-inspired, which also offers a fun experience.
  • Tusker House Restaurant: By far my favorite character dining experience! Each of character wears such fun safari outfits and they have an amazing food selection. During my last visit I was here for breakfast but they switched over to lunch during it, so I experienced both menu selections.
  • 1900 Park Fare: Reopening in 2024, this dining location will feature characters such as Mirabel, Aladdin, Cinderella, and more. This location is also known for its iconic Strawberry Soup!

Character Pop-Ups at Resorts

Throughout the year, there are often character pop-ups at the resort, although they are much harder to find and plan for, as they are sometimes unannounced. These can be tied to special events at the Disney resorts OR they can just be a random pop-up as the characters venture outside of the parks to explore!

One great example of an event pop-up is the Mardi Gras event at Disney’s Port Orleans – French Quarter resort. To celebrate the holiday, the resort had a block party, parade, and (of course) character appearances from Princess and the Frog! Both Princess Tiana and Louis (a rare character!) were meeting during this fun event and I had the opportunity to meet both!

Meeting Louis at Port Orleans – French Quarter during Mardi Gras
Meeting Princess Tiana at Port Orleans – French Quarter during Mardi Gras. She was super sweet and we talked about dress designs, since her mom is a seamstress.

There are also some characters that show up at the Disney resorts unannounced, but these are more “surprise sightings” than anything else. (This also happened during my stay at Disney’s Port Orleans – French Quarter.) However, since these pop-ups are more of a surprise, they’re not something you can plan for. It is definitely some extra magic to your vacation if you come across a character pop-up at a resort though!

How to Find Rare Disney Characters at Walt Disney World

There are plenty of Disney characters that offer essentially guaranteed* meet-and-greets throughout Walt Disney World, such as Cinderella and Mickey Mouse. However, there are characters that appear less frequently or almost never at all, thereby making them rare characters.

Mary Poppins and Bert walking in a parade in Frontierland

There are a few ways to find and meet rare characters at Walt Disney World, but a lot are circumstantial. Some of these strategies include:

  • Attend an After-Hours Party: After-hours parties, such as Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, frequently use rare characters as one of the main draws for guest attendance. While the characters can change based on the party, you may find villains at the Halloween party, etc. 
  • Spot a Character Palooza: “Character Palooza” (the unannounced pop-up character event mentioned above) often includes rare characters! However, since these pop-up meet-and-greets are unadvertised, it’s just a matter of luck if you come across one.
  • Watch the Parade: Some rare characters consistently appear during parades (Flynn Rider, Captain Hook, etc.), even if they rarely do meet-and-greets. However, if they are “roaming” during the parade (i.e. not on a parade float), there is the possibility that they will approach you and interact with you! (So be sure to get a front row spot!) 
  • Book Character Dining: Some character dining locations offer meet-and-greets with rare characters! Two of these experiences include:
    • ‘Ohana: The character breakfast here features Lilo (a rare character) and Stitch.
    • Story Book Dining at Artist Point: Although Snow White is a regular character at the Disney Parks, this character dining experience also gives you the opportunity to meet two of the dwarfs and The Queen!
  • Visit during a Holiday: On some holidays, rare characters will appear for meet-and-greets! I have found this to be especially true on Valentine’s Day, when princes appear in meet-and-greets, sometimes alongside their princess.

*”Essentially” is the keyword here. There’s never a 100% guarantee, but it’s rare that these characters don’t appear for meet-and-greets. 

Tips for a Magical Meet-and-Greet with Disney Characters 

Have Your Phone and Park Ticket Ready for Photos

I absolutely love candid photos with characters, so the first thing I do is make sure that I have my phone ready (with the camera open!) to give to the character attendant or PhotoPass photographer. This way, they can begin snapping photos as soon as the character meet-and-greet starts! 

If you have an iPhone, I also recommend having Live photos turned on during your Disney vacation. Live photo essentially capture a couple seconds of “video” each time a photo is snapped, which is especially helpful if someone blinks during the photo. With Live photo, you can then change the “Key Photo” portion of the “video” to a frame where they are not blinking, helping you capture better photos during your vacation!

Pro Tip: It’s also important to note that some characters, like Mary Poppins, will not have a PhotoPass photographer with them. Characters meet-and-greets without a PhotoPass photographer are less common and the character attendant will let you know in advance while in line. In these cases, the Character Attendants can help take photos.

In addition to having your phone ready, I also recommend having your park ticket ready for after the character meet-and-greet. The PhotoPass photographer will scan this as you are leaving so that all of your photos upload to My Disney Experience. (It’s nice to browse the photos, even if you don’t purchase them.) A Magic Band is the easiest way for them to scan your park ticket, but you can also add your park ticket to your phone’s virtual wallet and scan it that way or have your physical ticket in an easy-to-reach spot in your pocket or backpack.

Have Your Autograph Book Ready

Have your autograph book ready BEFORE it’s your turn with the character! I cannot emphasize this enough. Nothing says awkward like trying to have a conversation with a character while digging through your backpack for your autograph book, which has somehow dropped into the deepest section of your backpack. 

Instead, have your autograph book out before it’s your turn to meet the character. Even better, turn to the page you’d like the character to sign to make the process easier for them.

Related: Disney Parks Bag Packing List: Essential Items for Park Days

Use a Clickable Sharpie

After visiting the Disney Parks so many times throughout my life, I always praise the existence of clickable Sharpie markers when meeting Disney characters. Clickable Sharpies make the autograph process so much simpler, especially when the characters don’t have to worry about taking off and putting on the cap.

Ready to step up your meet-and-greet game? Consider bringing clickable Sharpie markers in a variety of colors for characters to choose from! It’s so much fun to see which color each character will choose to sign their autograph in and it is a great talking point during your Disney character interaction.

Ask a Question or Make a Comment about the Character’s Story

One of the best ways to start a Disney character interaction is to ask them a question or make a comment about their story. These can lead to fun stories and conversations that will be much more memorable than the photograph.

For example, when talking to Anastasia and Drizzela a few years ago, they asked if I would clean their house for them. When I responded, “Isn’t that Cinderella’s job?”, they screeched, “No, she moved out like 60 years ago!”

The accuracy was astonishing.

There are a ton of lists that give examples of questions and talking points for Disney character interactions, but here are some of my favorites to get you started:

  • Ask Winnie the Pooh and Tigger if they’ve seen any heffalumps
  • When addressing Captain Jack Sparrow, leave out the “Captain”
  • Tell Peter Pan that you’ve lost your shadow
  • When talking to Anastasia and Drizella, ask which one has the best dress
  • Ask Doug if he’s seen any squirrels
  • Ask Russell what is favorite Wilderness Explorer patch is

Dress Up or “Disneybound”

A vacation to Walt Disney World is the perfect opportunity to dress up, and coordinating your outfit to the Disney characters (also known as “Disneybounding”) offers an amazing interaction piece. Disneybounding is also the perfect opportunity to show your “Disney Side” without breaking the “no costumes for adults” rule.

My Mouseketeer outfit was a huge hit with Minnie Mouse!

Although I have certainly gone all out when Disneybounding before (my Orange Bird Disneybound is a perfect example), your outfit doesn’t have to be too complicated, either. I once wore a purple skirt, black shirt, and seashell necklace (Disneybounding as Ursula) to meet Sorcerer Mickey before Fantasmic!. We had an entire conversation about how I had accidentally stolen his voice and how I would need to get it back to him before the show.

Give the Characters a Small Gift

Disney characters create a lot of special memories and a great way to interact with them is by giving them a small gift! However, I do need to emphasize that it should be a small gift, such as a drawing, trading pin, friendship bracelet, etc. To get the best Disney character interaction, make sure that the gift is either personalized to the character or goes along with their storyline.

I spent some time scouring the official planDisney question boards and there are a few key rules regarding gifts:

  • Cannot gift food (so no boxes of chocolates, candy, etc.)
  • Nothing of value (small items like trading pins are okay)
  • Small, simple gifts are best (drawings, friendship bracelets, etc.)

(You can view the official planDisney posts this information came from here, here, and here.)

Need some ideas? Small gift ideas for Disney characters include:

  • Treasure pieces for Captain Jack Sparrow
  • Friendship bracelets for the Disney Princesses
  • Homemade bookmark for Belle

Ask a Question about their Special Event Outfit (if applicable)

The Disney Parks hold a variety of festivals and special events throughout the year, such as the Food & Wine Festival, Flower & Garden Festival,Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, and more. During these events, characters will often wear special outfits that they don’t wear any other time of the year. For example, Daisy Duck has a baker outfit during Food & Wine Festival and Winnie the Pooh has a honey bee costume during the Halloween parties.

If you happen to attend one of these events where the characters are also wearing a special outfit, use this as a talking point! For example, with Daisy Duck’s baking outfit, you can talk to her about her baking skills, favorite recipes, and maybe even challenge her to a baking contest.

Also, don’t be afraid to go into an elaborate conversation, even if the character can’t talk back directly (they do need to save their voice for their many shows, you know); the character attendant can also help translate if you have a hard time understanding their gestures!

Use the “Set” and Props to Your Advantage

Some Disney characters will meet on a “set” that is specifically designed for their character meet-and-greets, such as Olaf’s beach at Hollywood Studios. Don’t be afraid to use the set and its props to your advantage during your Disney character interaction!

For example, Olaf’s beach set features sunscreen, a beach ball, sunglasses, and lemonade! You could ask Olaf plenty of questions around these props, such as if he’s been putting on enough sunscreen or if he’ll be challenging Elsa and Anna to a game of beach volleyball later.

Daisy Duck and I spent time talking over her designs at the character meet-and-greet!

During a visit to Animal Kingdom where I was wearing an elaborate Orange Bird outfit, Daisy Duck and I talked about outfit designs, since she had a set piece dedicated to all of the designs she was creating!

However, if the character isn’t meeting on a set, don’t be afraid to use your own “props” as talking points. A common one is the free “I’m Celebrating” buttons that can be customized to your celebration.

Pre-Plan Your Pose with the Character

With the above tips, you’re sure to have a great character interaction, but don’t forget to snap a photo before leaving! 

Planning a pose with the character can offer some amazing photo memories, such as a “fish face” with Ariel or pretending to faint at the sight of Gaston. Disney characters will be happy to help plan the perfect pose with you, which is so much more fun than the simple “smile at the camera” photo!

Have a great Disney character interaction story you want to share? Let me know in the comments below!

As a former Cast Member and current Annual Passholder, I love putting together tips to help others make the most of their magical vacation! Be sure to check out these posts below to continue planning your trip to the most magical place on Earth!

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