Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Eeeeeek! Big, Scary Characters

Everyone wants to meet Mickey Mouse, right?!


Character Meet and Greets can be a huge part of your Disney vacation. Disney and Pixar characters are EVERYWHERE and will sign autographs, pose for pictures, and generally clown around with you and your children. That said, many families head to the park without any preparation for what the characters actually are. When you tell your four-year-old he is going to meet Mickey Mouse at Disney World, his mind takes him to that tiny little cartoon character that is smaller than his whole 3.5 feet of being. What he will get at the park, however, is a costumed person who is not only taller than Mommy and Daddy, but also has a bit of girth to speak of. To him, Mickey Mouse becomes something akin to Bigfoot. And it can be quite scary.

To alleviate your child's fears... or at least lessen them... here are some tips from Ryan over at The Main Street Gazette (who also happens to be a preschool teacher) and me:
  • Take them to local sporting events that have a team mascot. This will get them used to the concept of a full-grown person hidden underneath a big furry suit. Most teams have them, including minor league baseball teams, and they are quite approachable. Don't force them to approach the mascot... let them hang back and get comfortable with the idea, watching other kids interact so they know what is expected in this type of meeting.
  • Another good source for determining how your children like costumed characters is holiday time at the mall. Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny... all of them will help you see what your child's fears are ahead of time (if they have any, that is).
  • Get the free Vacation Planning Video from Disney. This DVD includes many shots of characters with kids, so your little ones will get a good idea of exactly how big they are compared to themselves. Don't be shy about pointing that out to them. Saying things like "Look at how TALL Mickey is! I had no idea! He looks so much smaller on TV!" will set your young ones at ease about their own surprise. And it will ensure they actually pay attention to that fact.
  • When you arrive at the parks, try to take advantage of some shows that have characters in them before walking your child up to a costumed Cast Member. An ideal way to do this is to catch the show done at Park Opening for the Magic Kingdom. The characters appear with adult dancers, but they are above your head on the train platform... far enough away to be much less intimidating.
  • The next step to easing children into meeting characters is to start with the "face" characters like Cinderella, Jasmine, Aladdin, Mary Poppins... these are characters that are in costume, but you can see their real, albeit heavily made-up, faces and they can speak to your child and interact at a more real level. (As a side note, neither the boys nor the men in my party have ever complained when dragged into a Princess Character meal. Not once. No idea why.)
The key to all of this is to be ready for your children to NOT meet the characters. Although they are all over the Disney World resort, it is absolutely possible to have a completely successful vacation without seeing a single one of them up close. Your child will not hold it against you that you didn't force him to meet Tigger. If you really want pictures of your kids with characters, there are great opportunities to take photos with "fake" characters like statues, models and cutouts.

Pushing your child into a photo with a character may not really bring about the result you are looking for. Tears and screaming don't make for pretty pictures. Incidentally, the characters will sign autographs for anyone who asks... you don't have to be a kid. So you can be the one to approach them for the first couple of times to see if your child warms up to the idea. It may also meet your goal of using that autograph book you made at home or the one you bought in the resort gift store when your child begged for it, insisting he really wanted Mickey to sign it for him.

Please share your tips for preparing young children for character interactions in our comments.


Anonymous said...

Since I have 2 kids who love characters and 1 who doesn't my biggest advice would be not to force it. Owen has gradually warmed up and I can get pics with him in them now, but I have to let him make the first move. Also, I have to say the characters themselves are very sensitive to the kids. We had Captain Hook at a character breakfast and he was good about hanging back and making sure the kids weren't scared and letting them approach him.

Sophie said...

Elise's first encounter with the characters occured around 18 months, on board the Disney Wonder. Thoughts of her loving parents, home, toys, etc... quickly evaporated as she spied the characters on the ship, and she would have gladly followed Daisy and Donald anywhere in the world. I, on the other hand, was really tempted to snuggle up to Captain Jack Sparrow... Hey, I'm just sayin'...

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