We’ve been lucky enough to return to WDW recently for two “socially distanced” trips and have seen the protocols and offerings around the parks continue to change as a result. Everything from being required to wear a mask to what restaurants and hotels are open has been affected by the pandemic in some way. One of the things we have always looked forward to during our visits to WDW (and even more so now that we have our son Lincoln) is getting the chance to meet and interact with some of our favorite Disney characters. The pandemic has changed this too and my opinion of how character meet and greets are being done now continues to evolve.
What once consisted of waiting in long lines for your chance to snag a one-on-one pic, autograph, and hug with a character, or to sit around at a restaurant as you wait for Mickey to arrive, has been replaced with quick socially-distanced interactions. These meets usually utilize some sort of barrier (a rope, a bush, a stage, etc…) between you and the character and while these interactions don’t allow for the meet you might be used to they do have benefits of their own as well. Even now as I write this, I can’t decide if I'm for or against... I actually think I want both.
Back in April, we went to Topolino for breakfast with Minnie, Mickey, Daisy, and Donald. While I really enjoyed this breakfast and loved seeing the characters (after not being in the parks for almost 2 years) I do have to say that I would not plan my trip around character breakfasts, (in fact we ended up canceling our Chef Mickey and Tuskerhouse reservations after this). While this might not be the case for a fist time visit or (one-time visit) and setting up a character breakfast might be worth it, for us who visit often the price to social distance with characters was not worth the meal, especially when our son is a picky eater. At character meals now, the characters parade around the room, almost like on a runway and while they do pause at predetermined locations for guests to take their pictures I felt and continue to feel that this was impersonal and made it difficult to connect with the characters.
They move rather quickly and if you don’t get seated at the right table, they can be quite far from where you are. As you are required to stay seated during the meal and taking pics (you can NOT go stand by them and they don’t stand behind you at the table) if you aren’t in the right spot the pics can be a little awkward (some of the time the character can’t even hear/see you trying to take a pic). During this visit, Lincoln didn’t seem impressed. In what usually was usually a time when he’d be yelling for the character to come to the table and excited to see them, now he just sat and ate his breakfast not engaging with the characters (they were just too far away and not really interacting back with him). However, you were still able to get that pic with a character (albeit in the background) which is better than nothing.
Character meet-and-greets in the parks have also changed. What once consisted of waiting in line to run up and hug Mickey, now has you walk up to an area (often with others nearby) to perhaps share a quick “Hi” and a wave, then turn and take a picture with a posing character behind you. I do want to give all the credit in the world to the characters though as they make sure to interact in some way with every person who comes up. We actually had so many awesome instances where characters were still taking the time to speak with Lincoln rather than just taking a pic and turning to the next guest. These interactions were much better than the ones we experienced at the character breakfast and we highly suggest enjoying these meetings!
On our most recent trip (August, ‘21) my opinion on socially distanced meet and greets started to change a little more positive. Like so many I still long to see Lincoln snuggle into Pluto, get a big Mickey hug or to high-five Buzz Lightyear. However, with socially distanced character meets we were actually able to take pictures and interact with Elsa, Anna, Snow White, Pooh, and Joy. These are characters that I wouldn’t wait in line in the August heat to see in the past (especially when their lines can be an hour long...I’m looking at you Anna and Elsa). We got to see many others as well (through cavalcades and other distanced pop ups) that we might not normally dedicate the time to during a visit. And again while this is how things are “normally” done, we didn’t usually feel it too much. For example typically, when the princesses are out in Epcot we wave from afar anyway and continue on our adventure.
Another positive thing I noticed during these trips was that while walking around the parks you’d randomly see characters out and about which just felt more magical. In Magic Kingdom, Chip and Dale were floating down the Rivers of America. In Animal Kingdom, Discovery River had characters floating throughout the day. I want to see more of this! More characters making random appearances and not just for pictures, but engaging with guests in new and entertaining ways! We also got the opportunity to see combinations of characters that you might not usually get under “normal circumstances.” Seeing Peter Pan and Gaston argue over who got to take Mary Poppins to a ball was great!
While our current situation due to COVID has caused these changes, I am actually kind of hoping that Disney learns from some of these situations and continues with them once we do finally get back to “normal.” Can we have both socially distanced characters and up-close-and-personal Mickey Hugs? I feel that both could be offered. I think the characters at Epcot could be socially distanced, allowing for families to take pictures and continue on their way and not spend time waiting in massive lines. Bumping into characters randomly while we wandered around the parks was magical and really made you wonder what you might run into around every corner.
Lincoln enjoyed watching Pooh try catching a butterfly on the lawn near the Imagination pavilion so much that upon returning home from Disney he grabbed his butterfly net and has not stopped trying to catch butterflies for his friend Winne. (If you watched our insta stories you’d know that Lincoln is on a first name basis with Winnie). I can still hear Lincoln yelling “Winnie, it's behind you!” Later in the trip when we found Snow White near Germany, Lincoln showed her his fruit snacks and told her that red was his favorite. These are the memories I want!
Some of these experiences were honestly more interactive than some close contact greets have been in the past where you can sometimes feel rushed as you don’t want to hold up the rest of the line and since you just spent time standing in line you might be ready to get to the next thing. With that said though, I DO still want the return of close contact character interactions, I think it's important to have a Mickey hug or a kiss from a princess. One of my favorite pictures is Lincoln at 20 months with lipstick all over his face from Sleeping Beauty. I think Characters that are found inside like those at Magic Kingdom, the fairies, Ariel's grotto, Mickey and Tink could be done in a more personal setting with one family in the room at a time or moved to an outside venue if needed. I love the memories of Lincoln jumping out of my arms at 15 months just so he can hug the mouse and that time at Ohanas when Pluto got down on all fours and barked out the window with Lincoln who thought he was a dog. I hope that other moms, dads, addicts, get to make these memories too.
While the pandemic continues and we all adapt with the times, I’m interested to see how Disney continues to evolve in all aspects of its parks and how they will look once we’re back to normal. Whether character meet-and-greets return to how they were pre-pandmic, if they stay socially-distanced forever (I hope not), or if they introduce a hybrid set up in the future you know we will always find ways to say hi to our favorite characters! Thank you for reading along and as always we want to hear what YOU think! Head over to our FB group to continue the conversation and let us know what you think about the current character situation and what you hope the future will look like! See Ya Real Soon