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A Child’s First Trip to Disney World: Preparing to Meet the Characters!

by Mommy Frog on July 11, 2013 · 6 Comments · in Family Travel

A Child's Guide to Disney World

It’s safe to say every parent planning a child’s first trip to the Walt Disney World Resort is hoping for a vacation’s worth of picture-perfect memories and cherished moments — with minimal meltdowns. To help make that dream a reality, we are debuting a series of posts around the topic of a child’s first visit to Disney. Our first post is about meeting the characters for the first time. If you have suggestions that aren’t listed here, please drop them in comments below!

No matter how big a fan your child is of her favorite Disney character, her reaction to meeting that character in the parks may surprise you. It’s quite common for young children to be afraid or even shy when they meet the characters for the first time, and understandably so, since some of them are more than twice a child’s size!

sophiagiseleAs you might have read in Leap’s roundup last week, Sophia the First is headed for Disney’s Hollywood Studios® later this summer. My first reaction upon seeing Sophia next to model Gisele Bündchen (who recently visited the Disneyland Resort with her family) was shock! Sophia was almost as tall as the 5’-11’ Gisele and her head was easily three times the size of the supermodel. Now, Lily loves Sophia, but Sophia is supposed to be a little girl. I am not sure how Lily will handle Sophia being so large!

This brings me to another point. Even children who’ve made repeat visits to the parks can get “shy” or scared as they progress through different developmental stages. Some children never warm up to the characters. Even though Lily has been to Disney a few times in her short life, she seems to have a different reaction to the characters each time we visit. While I *think* we’ve made it past the stage where she avoids eye contact with the face characters, there are still times when I can’t get her to sit with a character without me holding her and getting into the picture too.

Here are a few tips to help prepare young children for character encounters.

  • Let your child see the characters in action ahead of the trip! Introduce the characters to your child by watching videos of them together. We have a whole playlist for Disney World parades that feature a ton of characters on our YouTube channel.
  • rapunzelDon’t make a character encounter your first stop. Now, it’s true that the lines can get very long for the most popular characters (here’s looking at you, Rapunzel), but it’s very easy for a child who’s never been to Disney World to get overwhelmed. Unless she immediately shows interest in seeing the characters, let her take in the sights and sounds a bit first.
  • Start with a face character. There are two types of characters in the park, those who wear face-covering headpieces (such as Mickey  and Goofy) and those who resemble the character and thus don’t need a headpiece (Cinderella and Snow White). Because they speak and they are adult size, children tend to warm up to the face characters, particularly the princesses, sooner than their masked friends.
  • Let your child “warm up” to the character. Sometimes it helps if one parent greets the character first and the other stays with the child at a comfortable distance, so that she can see that it’s safe. We grownups know that Pluto (who likes to hang out at the Town Square flag pole) won’t bite, but your child does not!
  • Hold your child during the meet-and-greet. If a child knows Mom and Dad are going up to meet Mickey with her, she may be open to at least a photo. As I mentioned, this has been one of my tactics with Lily. Position your child on the opposite side of the character, so you can be the buffer between them.

Character Dining

  • Schedule character dining for later in the vacation. Instead of risking a bad reaction early in your vacation, make your dining reservation for later in the trip, so that if the characters are truly terrifying for your little one, you can cancel the meal.
  • Never push a character encounter. If your child is adamant about not wanting to get near a character, don’t force it. Give her some time, and try again later in the day.

What tips do you have for meeting the characters? Share them below!

Related: Top 10 Character Greeting Tips by Tad

Hoppy planning!
–Mommy Frog


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6 Responses to “A Child’s First Trip to Disney World: Preparing to Meet the Characters!”

  1. Tory western says:

    Although my children have always loved the characters, I have noticed that they are usually a little hesitant around then in the first day. I know some parents may be upset to travel so fa and pay so much to find out the kids are terrified. My advice is not to give up if the kids do not initially love the characters. Give them a few days to warm up to them and follow the suggestions above. They are all wonderful tips. The best tip is probably I hold your child opposite the character. You also may want to stand a few feet in front of the character to help increase distance on the first few pictures. Make sure to show your children all the pictures when you get back to the room. They will be excited that they are in the picture with the character and may be more excited to try an encounter the following day. They may be scared in the moment, but are usually proud when they look back on it.

  2. Chris says:

    We took our twin girls when they were 4 1/2 and they were terrified of characters. We had gone to a couple local baseball games and they cried when they saw the mascots. We bough 2 autograph books and explained to them what they were for. Our first stop was Animal Kingdom and we saw a couple of characters walking around, and we admired from afar. We asked the girls if they wanted their books signed or a picture to put in their photo album and they slowly approached them. After the first encounter they were on a mission to have everyone sign their book. We let the kids decide the pace of trip and what they wanted to do and it worked out perfect.

  3. Karen says:

    We show my grandsons the DVD “Disneyland Fun” numerous times before every trip (they were both 8 months old on their first visits & are currently 5 & 2). The DVD has the characters from the parks interacting with kids singing, riding rides & playing. The music is from Disneyland (or past music – it was made in the ’80′s). It isn’t so scary for them because they are then used to seeing the oversized characters playing with kids in Disneyland. My son had this video on VHS as a kid and now my grandsons have it on DVD.

  4. Elizabeth says:

    We just had ou first trip to Disney one month ago and it was amazing!!! We have the BEST pictures with the characters and I think it is due to a few reasons:
    1. When we booked the trip, we started making bi-weekly trips to ChuckE Cheese. We wanted the kids to be comfortable with dressed up characters and if they are okay with a large rat, they will LOVE Mickey Mouse :)
    2. We paid ahead of time for the photo pass (which gave us a big discount) so we (mommy and daddy) didn’t worry about getting pictures with our camera. We were able to introduce the kids to characters and enjoy the moment. Plus they took a lot of pictures that we GREAT!
    3. I bought each of my kids a Disney storybook that had about 15 stories in them. We read one every night together. Instead of having an autograph book to sign, the kids got their story books signed. They were a little heavy to carry around, but so worth it. They were excited to have the stories signed that they read and the characters really played it up. If one of the characters didn’t have a story in the book, they signed the front.

  5. Shannon Minor says:

    I have to say that starting them off easy was the best way for my daughter. She was 2 when she first visited and absolutely loved all things Disney. Her first reaction to Mickey Mouse was a little different than expected. She didnt cry but wouldnt go anywhere near him. We then tried a different approach-we would show her the characters from a distance and wait for her to go up to them. By the end, she was hugging them and dancing with them at Chef Mickey’s.

    All kids are different but I think allowing them to choose when they want to engage is a good start:)

  6. shawna mason says:

    When we went during September we were lucky enough to just run into everyone we wanted to meet. We found that as long as we were doing everything the opposite of everyone else, we were doing it the right way!

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