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!
As 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.
- Don’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.
- 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!