After a pause on character meet-and-greets due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Disneyland Resort guests can once again hug Minnie Mouse and ask for Cinderella’s autograph.
A trip to Disneyland parks in Anaheim, California, is not a cheap or easy endeavor for most people, so how can you get the most out of your experience?
The Arizona Republic spoke with a former employee — officially called cast members — who has portrayed several beloved characters at Disney parks and also obtained tips from Disneyland’s official trip-planning experts for the do’s and don’ts of character interactions.
Here’s what they had to say.
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In its park rules, Disneyland asks that guests “please show common courtesy to fellow guests and our cast members.”
But after more than two years of living in a pandemic, some people might need help navigating these interpersonal interactions, especially now that the fences separating guests from characters are gone.
Sarah Daniels, a 32-year-old actor and Twitch streamer who was a fur character — someone who wears a full-body suit with a character’s head — at Walt Disney World in Florida before going on to portray Tinkerbell, Alice and Wendy, told The Republic that trusting the character performers to do their jobs is key to having a great meet-and-great experience.
It’s also as simple as being respectful by using “please” and “thank you.”
“When you’re meeting a princess, let’s pretend (they are) a real princess,” Daniels said. “They’re technically royalty, right?”
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Daniels, who lives in Seattle and has gone viral on TikTok for speaking out about her experiences as a cast member, has more than a decade of experience in creating magical experiences for Disney fans.
She told The Republic that she worked for the company between 2006 and 2017, during which she worked for the Florida and California parks as well as Disney Cruise Line, where she performed as Ariel from “The Little Mermaid.” She also played a young Elsa from “Frozen” in live shows.
Something Daniels has noticed both as an employee and someone who sees videos taken at Disney parks go viral is that some guests take trends too far. An example she gave was a myth that dates to about a decade ago about how exclaiming, “Andy’s coming!” would prompt Buzz Lightyear and Woody to fall to the ground, like in the “Toy Story movies.”
Daniels, who noted that character performers should not be getting on the ground, recommends avoiding replicating viral trends, no matter how funny or harmless it might seem.
“Those poor characters are just hearing it all day and a lot of the time it’s things they’re, you know, not allowed to do,” she said.
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‘Focus on the film’
Some people want to quiz characters to see how knowledgeable they are about their backstory. This was “uncomfortable,” Daniels said, because she was instructed to stick to her character’s original story and avoid referencing any sequels or spinoffs they appeared in.
“It’s like when you go up to Alice and you bring up things that were in the book, not the (1951) ‘Alice in Wonderland’ movie. Those are things that get tricky,” Daniels said. “People (would) come up and try to trick you and bring up things from the book. And I’m like, ‘Well, that’s not me. That’s a different story. This is my story.’
“Just make sure to focus on the film, like, the one film. That’s the best thing you can do — and not bring up random things to, like, catch them,” she added.
‘Let the kids and the character control the interaction’
At the parks, Daniels also witnessed were parents who micromanaged their children’s interactions with characters.
“I always say to have the best interaction with characters, let the kids and the character control the interaction,” she said. “The princesses and the face characters are trained to do the best work, so let them do the work.”
Allowing the characters to do their jobs helps ensure an “organic” interaction, Daniels said. She added that some people might think it would be helpful to rush through a meet-and-greet so a character can get through the line of fans quicker.
However, she said she preferred the opposite, noting that characters know how to efficiently move the line along if they need to; allowing them to work their magic will help you have a more fulfilling experience.
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Though she warns against trying to trick characters with questions, Daniels still encourages guests to bring up the character’s canon storyline to spark a fun conversation.
A planDisney panelist — someone who provides tips “so you can plan the family vacation of your dreams” on https://plandisney.disney.go.com — agreed that connecting with a character’s story can make for a fun experience.
A Disneyland representative provided The Republic with quotes from planDisney experts, who are independent contractors that receive a Disney vacation or park tickets for their participation, according to the website.
Panelist Kristen N. recommended “wearing a shirt or outfit themed to your favorite friend or prepare questions or quotes.” She also enjoys bringing books for characters to autograph.
As Daniels said, the characters are experts at their jobs. PlanDisney panelist Adrianna H. recommended asking them for suggestions on how to pose for your photos. She also noted that it’s “extra polite” to ask first if you’d like a hug from a Disney character.
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Forcing kids to pose with characters often does not end well, Daniels said.
“If the kid’s screaming crying because they see the character, don’t force it as much as you’re like, ‘I paid so much money. Please just get a photo with Cinderella,’” she said. “If you have to get the photo, grab your kid, hold them on the outside of your hip and put Cinderella on the other side of you. Something like that, that’s helpful.”
Daniels also said that informing characters about any assistance or special needs your child might have would help ensure a smooth interaction.
If you meet a character more than once, reminding them that you’ve already met helps avoid awkwardness, Daniels said.
“If you met Cinderella the night before at a dinner and then you meet Cinderella again the next day, it’s good to remind Cinderella because it’s going to be a totally different person,” Daniels said.
“So being like, ‘Hey, Cinderella, we loved seeing you at dinner last night.’ And then Cinderella can be like, ‘Yes, it’s so good to see you again. Thank you for coming to dinner.’”
How to find character experiences at Disneyland
According to Disneyland’s FAQ, you can “locate Disney characters by downloading the official Disneyland Mobile App and checking the Characters tab.” The app should have the most up-to-date appearance times.
“For more information when you arrive, please visit the information board near the entrance of both parks or City Hall on Main Street, U.S.A.,” the park’s website says.
To plan your visit ahead of your travels, you can look through the character experiences guide on Disneyland’s website.
There’s no need to stress over an itinerary, though. PlanDisney panelists say it’s common to have spontaneous interactions with characters as you make your way around the parks.
“You might run into Alice and the Mad Hatter on your way to Mad Tea Party or Peter Pan and his shadow might playfully follow you to Peter Pan’s Flight,” Tara H. said.
Besides character experiences, there are also performances and live entertainment such as Gen. Okoye and the Dora Milaje from Wakanda at the Avengers Campus. To find live entertainment times, go to the attractions and entertainment page on Disneyland’s website or search “atmosphere entertainment” on the app to learn more.
There are also character dining experiences for park visitors and resort guests, including a Minnie and friends breakfast in the park. Reservations are highly recommended, according to the park’s website.
Be aware that a reservation and valid admission ticket are required to enter a park. Purchasing in advance online is recommended; same-day reservations can be made at the gate as availability allows.
Reach Entertainment Reporter KiMi Robinson at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @kimirobin and Instagram @ReporterKiMi.
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