After months of prepping and planning, you and your family have finally made it to Walt Disney World. You are ready for laughter, happiness and tons of fun. More importantly, you’re ready for hundreds of priceless photo opportunities. Everyone is smiling and sitting perfectly as you take picture after perfect picture. High up on the photo list, of course, is your little one meeting Mickey or another beloved character for the first time. Things are going to be flawless and you’re going to treasure the moment forever.
We’ve all either been there or seen pictures of little ones meeting Mickey or another character for the first time and the kid just isn’t having it. At first there is the look of hesitation, then a side eye as your little one scans the suspicious character up and down. You’ve probably been holding your child (either by habit or by necessity) and you lean in to hug the character…
Wrong move. Here comes the wailing and your littles’ finger-nail claws digging into your arm with vengeance.
How could you!? Don’t you understand how this character looks like a crazy giant, potentially untrustworthy, stuffed animal? There is just no way, no amount of candy, no amount of cookies, no amount of ice cream is going to turn this situation around.
All you really wanted was a picture. Just one picture of your kiddo smiling. Or, heck, even just one picture of your kiddo not screaming bloody murder. How do you get to that point? There are no promises, but before we took our oldest to Walt Disney World for the first time we unintentionally did a little prep work. We were (somehow) proactive and it paid off! Take a look at the following suggestions for tips on how you can make meeting Mickey and the gang for the first time a little less crazy.
1. Watch Videos and Shows Before Arrival:
Before you leave for your Walt Disney World vacation be sure to give your little one at least a few opportunities to see ‘real’ Mickey (or other desired character) in a movie or show. This helps differentiate cartoon Mickey from the Mickey they will be seeing in the parks. Some kids go into their Walt Disney World vacations expecting a small cartoon Mickey Mouse. Talk about being thrown off guard when a much larger and real life Mickey shows up instead. One of my favorite ways to work this in is by watching the Disney Vacation Planning DVD. Seeing Mickey in the Magic Kingdom really seems to drive the idea home for kiddos that the Mickey they are meeting is different from Mickey in Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.
2. Meet Up with Characters Locally:
If you’re planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Walt Disney World, odds are you don’t live right next door to the most magical place on earth. You’re probably flying or driving a rather long distance. Therefore, you don’t have the luxury of popping into the parks a few times to ease your kiddos into meeting the characters. Due to this fact, you’re going to have to be creative in finding opportunities to introduce your kiddos to characters.
Near my home town we have a coney island restaurant that has characters come into the restaurant every Wednesday evening. They even have Disney characters! While they aren’t exact replicas (Disney is hard to duplicate), my kiddos probably don’t notice a ton of difference. At the coney island my kiddos are able to see first hand what characters look like and get used to seeing them.
3. Role Play Characters with Your Little at Home
Before you find yourself standing in line at a Disney park to meet a character, try a little role-playing with your kiddos at home what the experience is going to be like. You get to pretend to be a character (I like to pretend to be Cinderella, but you can be whomever your heart desires.) and your kid gets to stand in ‘line’ to meet you. A homemade autograph book and special sharpie marker do the trick in providing your little the opportunity to ask for an autograph. After the autograph, have your little lean in for a quick photo taken by another family member or a self-timer if it is just the two of you. By letting your kid run through the routine of getting an autograph they will have a chance to practice what will happen when they meet their favorite character. Bonus points if you stay in ‘character’ for the rest of the night.
4. Start with ‘People’ Characters
Where I’m from, mice are usually about six inches long. That includes the tail. Not 5’3″ with ears bigger than my head(side note: where is the life-sized Mickey’s tail?). When you do the comparison, you can kind of understand where your kid is coming from. If it’s the giant head or giant hands that are throwing your kiddo off, instead of starting your child’s introduction to characters with Mickey Mouse opt for a more ‘human’ character. Such as Sleeping Beauty, Gaston, or Snow White; basically, anyone who can talk. Seeing such characters can be a good transition in between meeting Mickey and the gang.
5. Schedule a Character Meal
Instead of jumping right into a character line for a meet-and-greet, schedule a more relaxed character meal. What’s that you say? Instead of meeting a character for ‘free’ (after the cost of park admission), you want me to throw a 100+ bucks out the window for a potential mid-meal meltdown during a character meal? No, thanks.
Hold up, I have good reason for this suggestion. Just listen.
With a character meal, your kiddo has a more relaxed chance to warm up to the characters before they approach. They are able to eat, fill his or her belly and take in the character’s interactions with other kiddos before they arrive at their table. Yes, they can also see the characters while they are waiting in line for an autograph, but the character might not come into view until the front of the line. Then all of a sudden it hits your kiddo that they are next and they freak out. Ekk!
At a meal they can scan the whole dinning room and can watch the character as he or she makes his or her rounds. Once the character comes to your table you have the option of waiving from afar or by this time your little one might be warmed up and ready to meet and mingle! Yay! Smile and say cheese.
Plus, if you sit down for a meal, you have a better chance of making sure your little one’s belly is full. A full belly usually results in a happy, or at least happier, kiddo. You have to stack the deck in your favor. Might as well throw the fully belly card.
6. Talk Talk Talk Talk
At home, before your trip, talk up a storm about how awesome the characters are in Walt Disney World. Be super excited and continually express how you can’t wait to meet your favorite pals. If your kids see you excited and stating how much you love the characters of Disney, they might get excited too. Vice versa also applies to this situation. If your kids sense that you are nervous and are worried about what will happen when they meet Mickey, it might become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Happy thoughts only! You might be able to will those happy photos into existence.
Just like adults, kids like the familiar. The more you prepare them for a new experience coming up, the better. Now you are equipped with a plan to help make your character meet-up a more relaxed and enjoyable experience. If you go through the list and your kid still freaks out when you are at your character meet-and-greet, don’t sweat it.
Save meeting the characters for another trip if you can or take a picture with a substantial amount of distance between your kid and the character. It’s not going to be the deal breaker of your trip and will probably result in a pretty hilarious photo to look back on when your child is older.
Word of advice: Save meeting Kylo Ren for after your kid has become comfortable meeting characters. You don’t want your impressionable little ones being convinced to join the Dark Side…