Watching a child’s face light up as they see their favorite Disney characters in real life is pure magic, for everyone involved.
“As soon as a kid sees you and just rushes up to give you a hug or tell you about their favorite part of your (character’s) movie … it’s just so magical,” said Sarah Daniels, an actress, singer and professional gamer who portrayed a host of characters at Disney parks and on Disney Cruise Line from 2006 through 2017, including Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Alice, Ariel and young Elsa.
Having taken part in more Disney character greetings than most guests will experience in a lifetime, Daniels knows how to make the most of the moment and how to ruin it. Here are her insider tips. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.
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1. Let your kids take the lead
When you send your kids up to meet a character, let them go up. Let them have that interaction. Don’t blurt out things and interrupt. Let them take their time and warm up to the character.
Don’t blow through the interaction because you want them to say certain things. Let the kids take control of the interaction because the characters are gonna do the work. You don’t have to do the work.
2. It’s OK if they’re afraid
If your kid is afraid, do not shove them toward the characters. If they’re crying and screaming, do not make them hug them or say anything or do anything.
Just let them be scared. Put them on the outside of the photo. Maybe put yourself next to the character and then them on the outside, but don’t shove them forward. It’s awful. It’s traumatic for the kids.
3. Capture candid moments
When it comes to taking photos of the kids, don’t just take photos of the smiling, posing. Take photos of the kids looking at the characters, (and) them interacting.
There’s always a PhotoPass photographer with characters. Listen to them. They know how to get the best shots, (and) how to get the best moments.
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4. Don’t focus so much on autographs
That’s one thing that drives people nuts as characters. Kids just walk up, holding the book in your face, and that just like slows the interaction down immediately.
Obviously, have your books ready. Maybe one parent or one sibling can have the books, but make sure you’re getting that interaction, so that they can actually have a moment and the character can storyline. They can bring them into your world, instead of just signing a piece of paper and being like, “OK, bye.”
The autographs seem to be like this really important thing, but it’s really about the magical moments that are being created between the character and the kid. They’re meeting their hero. Let them talk. Let them have a great time.
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5. Bring a clickable Sharpie
If you’re getting autographs from characters, always bring a clickable Sharpie. Sharpies that are clickable are the best. Characters will try harder when they sign your books. Period.
If you bring like a little mini-golf pen or a tiny little Sharpie, they’re gonna be mad. The autograph’s gonna look terrible. They’re wearing giant gloves.
You bring a Sharpie, and I’ll be like, “All right, here we go.” I will give you the best autograph you’ve ever seen.
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6. Ask for consent
Always make sure to ask for consent before you do stuff. Like, don’t just kiss a character on the cheek. That’s weird. That’s germs.
Don’t just go in for a hug immediately. If they put their arms out, yes, of course, but if you’re an older adult and you want a hug, it’s nice to just ask.
7. Drop hints if you’re seeing the same character again
If you met Belle yesterday and you’re meeting Belle again, it’s nice to be like, “Hi Belle. It’s great to see you. We just saw you yesterday at breakfast, remember?” And then, Belle can be like, “Yep, sure did. That totally happened.”
It’s probably a different person, but it’s good that they can connect those experiences with each other.
8. Basic manners go a long way
Please and thank you go a really long way with characters. All my best interactions came from just people who were kind. I can remember (the) names of kids I met 15 years ago because they were kind, literally.
9. Basic hygiene matters, too
If you’re in a restaurant or even just out in the park, always clean your kids before you send them off to the princesses. Kids will come up with like chocolate on their hands or chocolate all over their faces, and they’ll come up and put their head on you, and then you’re covered in chocolate, and then you have to go change and then you get in trouble, even though you didn’t do anything.
I mean, it’s just basic things like cleaning your hands.
10. Don’t ruin the magic
I think people don’t realize that the people inside the costumes want to be there. They’re really happy to be there. A lot of people come up and will be like, “Oh, it must be hot in there,” and (make) just silly comments. You don’t need to say that.
Just have the interaction, (and) have a good time.