[DISCLAIMER: The following was originally written by Jerry Skids back in 2009. He is a big Disney fan. He has his own WDW-themed podcast, which you can find here, or here. This is 100% Jerry’s words, completely unedited, out of respect to Jerry. If you are confused by any of the acronyms, check out the previous posts. My comments are listed in [ ] – anything in ( ) are all Jerry’s words. I have not fact-checked any of this information. Obviously some things have definitely changed since 2009, and should be used for comparative purposes only, as many attractions have come and gone since the time this was written. However, that does not invalidate his suggestions one iota. This is still useful, and I think this is so amazing, that I want to share his knowledge and wisdom. Thank you Jerry! Posted with his permission. – Editor]
WDW For The Single Guy: an experiment
Part 12 – A World of Characters
There are so many things to do when visiting WDW, there is no way to see or do every little thing on property in one vacation – even a 14 day vacation. Some people focus on attractions, some focus on live entertainment, some focus on non-park fun and nightlife (to be discussed later), and some people LOVE to focus on characters. There are many different characters from Disney films and attractions scattered throughout the parks and sometimes hotels. WDW breaks them up into three categories:
1) Fur Characters – They don’t necessarily have to have fur. They are the characters who have a mask, so they cannot speak. They communicate through extreme motion and “character sign,” created by Walt and his people. Some examples of fur characters are: Mickey; Chip & Dale; Donald; Jafar; and the Queen of Hearts.
2) Face Characters – Characters without a mask who can speak to you. They are trained to act just like the original character. These are mainly princes and princesses, but they also extend to some villains and other characters. Some examples: Belle; Aladdin; Cruella de Vil.
3) Streetmosphere Characters – These are characters that exist in the atmosphere of the themed area. The most popular ones are in Main Street USA in the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Blvd + Sunset Blvd in MGM Studios (now Hollywood Studios). These characters are not in other films or attractions, but constantly improv their way around the park as if they live there. They do not usually give autographs unless you ask, but they will involve you in games + arguments.
Why Do I Care?
Well, some people have a nostalgic attachment to characters and remember the good old days, some make it into a game or a mission to “catch ’em all” (see, we did it before Pokémon). Mainly, it’s truly a great experience to see the characters you grew up with in action – plus it’s fun.
A Little Bit of History
Back in the day, character catching was a lot different then now. They used to wander around the park talking to whomever they felt worthy, and you could just ask them for an autograph. Many times kids would crowd around the character, talking to them and shoving autograph books in their face – sometimes they’d be talking to many people at once. Unfortunately, in the mid-90’s, (over 30 years after the park opened), they decided that this was too chaotic and promoted favoritism (since some CMs would prefer one race over another and spend more time with them). They added way too much structure, and now there are lines for characters. The lines are anywhere from 1 minute to 1 hour, depending on when you get there. The worst thing about this is the time wasted unless you really know what you are doing.
Pluto, What Big Paws You Have
Most fur characters have hands / paws that are way too big to write with normal pens. So they sell these giant pens that dry up way too quickly at the park. The good thing is, if it fucks up on you – show a CM at any store that sells these pens your receipt, and they will replace it for you. Sometimes (most of the time) they’ll do this without the receipt. Also, there are some characters such as Buzz Lightyear who cannot sign due to the size / shape of their hands, so they use a stamp to “sign” – also some characters who haven’t learned how to do the signature yet will use a stamp, but this is less likely. Yes, every character has their own signature that will not change no matter what park you see them in, or when.
How Many Mickeys are there in WDW?
One. There’s only one Mickey Mouse.
What to sign?
Well, you can bring anything you want – a scrapbook, a photo, or a piece of paper – but they sell autograph books at the parks. This is what you’ll mostly see around the parks, but the fun of this is creativity. At home, I have a huge scrapbook. I take the autographs from the book (I never let them sign at the back of the page) and glue it next to the picture of me and the character. This way, I can prove I met the character, AND see the autograph. I’m only missing a few characters.
The Rare and The Rarer
Some characters are extremely common, while others are so rare, they show up one day a year. The best part of character catching is finding those rare characters you know everyone craves. For instance: on Halloween ONLY they have characters such as: The Walrus (from Alice in Wonderland); Jack Skellington (from The Nightmare Before Christmas); Sora (from the game “Kingdom Hearts”); and Jim Hawkins + B.E.N. (from Treasure Planet). Some people go to the hard-ticketed Halloween Party just to get these rare characters. Some characters USED to be common, but became rare due to lack of interest. Characters who will most likely never lose their common status are: The Fab Five (Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald, and Pluto); and Chip + Dale. Some of the rarest characters (not including the Halloween characters) are: Darkwing Duck; Malificent; Br’er Rabbit (the only one I NEED!); and the Snow Prince (from Snow White). I will include an actual complete list of characters, their status, and where you can usually find them – in the real [up-to-date] edition of this book, or paysite online – whichever it becomes.
Should I Actually Care About the Characters?
I dunno. I do! But then again, you might not really know why you are talking to actors. Listen, I can’t tell you what to do, but I’ll tell you this. Make sure you do what you want to so first, and meet some characters when you have some downtime – don’t spend your whole first trip chasing down characters. You will eventually find that it is a fun hobby and WAY less expensive than pin collecting. (There will be more on that “fad” later on.)
Where Do I Find These Characters You Speak Of?
All over the place!! But there are some places that are very reliable. In MK, Town Square (where you first enter Main Street) has a plethora of various characters throughout the day, outside of Pirates of the Caribbean, you’ll usually find Smee, Hook, Peter Pan, Wendy, and Captain Jack Sparrow (some outside Peter Pan’s Flight sometimes). Buzz Lightyear usually hangs around his ride, and as mentioned in the MK rundown, there are set spots to meet Mickey and other Toontown characters in Mickey’s Toontown Faire. In Epcot, they have the character connection in Future World right next to the Electric Umbrella Restaurant and Innoventions East. In here, they have various characters. In World Showcase, each respective country has its own characters (Belle in France, Winnie the Pooh / Mary Poppins / Alice i the U.K., and Mushu / Mulan in China). In MGM, Crossroads of the World is the main character spot, but Kim Possible hangs around the Streets of America, Monsters Inc characters appear in a warehouse across from ABC Commissary, and new characters show up at the Animation Studios. In Animal Kingdom, you can catch the Fab Five in Camp Minnie-Mickey, grab jungle / African characters such as Baloo, King Louie, Timon and others around Africa. Environmental characters like Meeko, Pocahontas, Rafiki, Stanley and Jiminy Cricket can be found at Rafiki’s Planet Watch (which used to be Conservation Station). Also, you can find Flik and Atta near It’s Tough To Be A Bug, and Mulan characters throughout Asia.
The Easy Approach – Character Dining
There are a bunch of meals where you can dine with the characters. They’re usually either buffets or family style meals, and cost a set price. I will list them briefly with the characters you usually dine with. Most of the time, the meals are just fair, but the added bonus of eating with the characters creates so much hype, you must make ADRs. Throughout the meal, the characters will visit you, take pictures, sign autographs, and such. These meals are held in hotels and theme parks – the character circle around the room and each one visits every table one at a time, regardless of your age. Some places are bigger than others — the bigger the restaurant, the less time you’ll get with each character because they have to hit every table. I will list the meals in order of most intimate to largest (also the type of setting, how the food is served, what the noise level is like, what meals have characters, and what the prices are – all other info will be in each restaurant’s bio.)
1:26 Cinderella’s Royal Table (Fantasyland, MK) – Characters: (breakfast and lunch) Cinderella, Belle, Snow White, Jasmine, and other princesses; (dinner) Fairy Godmother only / Beautiful castle meal / Fixed menu / Quiet / American food throughout the day.
1:26 Liberty Tree Tavern (Liberty Square, MK) – Characters: (dinner only) Fab Five, Chip, Dale, and Meeko / Family style food / not terribly noisy / American themed colonial.
1:54 (breakfast)/1:44 (dinner) 1900 Park Fare (Grand Floridian Resort) – Characters: (breakfast) “Mary Poppins + Friends,” which is not followed thoroughly… it’s sometimes randomly all villains! Or Pinocchio + Gipetto! Once, I saw Liverlips from The Country Bears there! (Dinner) Cinderella and her family (Charming, Lady Tremaine, the step-sisters) / buffet is one of the best / not TOO loud / normal setting with random.
1:46 Garden Grill Restaurant (The Land, Epcot) – Characters: (dinner only) Chip, Dale, Pluto, Mickey / overlooks Living with The Land, and rotates around the attraction / Family style, decent food / very quiet.
1:54 Akershus Royal Banquet Hall (Norway, Epcot) – Characters: Belle, Mulan, Snow White, Aurora, Ariel, Alice, Mary Poppins, Pocahontas, and others / the alternate “princess meal” / Family style + menu (all you can eat) / Quiet / Better food than Cindy’s — Norwegian food after breakfast (only breakfast + lunch for characters).
1:56 Chef Mickey’s (Contemporary Resort) – Characters: Fab Five and Chip + Dale (usually no Donald) / only breakfast and dinner / a standard buffet / Loud / Damn good American food.
1:57 Ohana (Polynesian Resort) – Characters: (breakfast only) Lilo + Stitch, Mulan, Mickey, Pluto / An okay family style American breakfast, but lunch/dinner is more interesting / Not too loud.
1:62 Cape May Cafe (Beach Club Resort) – Characters: (breakfast only) Goofy, Chip, Dale, Pluto, Minnie / kinda boring American buffet / food is not great / not too loud.
1:67 (breakfast)/1:87 (lunch + dinner) The Crystal Palace (Main Street USA, MK) – Characters: Pooh, Tigger, Piglet, Eeyore, and sometimes Alice + the Mad Hatter / a giant room buffet / American standard food is just ok / very loud
1:71 Hollywood & Vine (Echo Lake, MGM Studios) – Characters: (breakfast and lunch) JoJo, Goliath, June and Leo / a surprisingly decent buffet – American (as most are) / Not too loud.
1:112 Tusker House Restaurant (Africa, DAK) – Characters: (breakfast only) Donald, Daisy, Mickey, Goofy / Normal setting with regular American breakfasts / extremely loud / Buffet.
1:198 Garden Grove (Swan Resort) – Characters: (dinner only) Goofy + Pluto, OR Timon and Rafiki / characters only show up on weekends! / Regular American buffet is actually damn good / not too loud.
One Final Character Note:
Do not be fooled by the cute characters when you first come in. They are to stop the crowds from flying to the one (or two) main attractions and reduce lines. They will fool tourists. They will fool kids. But they will not fool you. Only stop if there’s a RARE character that you NEED to get. Then it’s worth it to revise your schedule a bit.
Next time: “Everybody’s talking about the new DHS, but it’s still MGM to us.”