Our little guy was 18 months old on his first trip. I planned lots of character meals, even though my Mom thought for sure he would be scared to death of the big, fluffy characters. Mom’s usually right, so I was worried. She had a good basis. When I was 4, I was afraid of them. In a fit of optimism, I had scheduled at least one character meal per day for this trip, often more.
Thankfully, mom was wrong on this one. He LOVED every single character he met.
But what about your little one?
There is no way to tell for sure that your little one isn’t going to be afraid of the characters. For toddlers especially, their reaction to characters might vary from one day to the next. However, there are some clues that might help you sort it out.
Two things to keep in mind as you make your decision:
First, please remember that it’s not just about “you knowing your own child” so if you try it and it doesn’t work the first time, then don’t feel bad. Character meet and greets are nothing like your child has probably encountered before. Even encounters with mall Santas and Easter Bunnies are no comparison to what awaits at Disney.
Second, remember that Disney has been training character actors for decades. They have this thing down to a science. Characters are not just taught to “act like the animation’s personality.” The training goes much, much deeper.
These wonderful cast members are specially chosen for their talent to feel out the situation and are great at sensing a child’s boundaries. If a child is nervous, the cast member will recognize it and respect those boundaries. They are aware they should not reach out and touch a child who is acting nervous or concerned. They are very well versed in body language and postures that are less threatening to children. I’ve heard many stories of children who were nervous at first and a cast member said or did something that set the child at ease and made it a wonderful experience for the whole family.
This is especially relevant for children with special needs. Thousands of children with special needs visit the park every year and Disney is well versed in handling sensitive individuals.
How Do I Weigh My Odds at Success?
How does your child react to strangers? Are they interested in people they don’t know? Do they smile at them? Wave? Are they fearful and avoid eye contact?
How does your child generally react to new situations?
Another indication of reaction is often the age of your child. Most people with kids 2.5 years and under seem to have no issue with the character meet and greets, yet slightly older toddlers seem to be more of a gamble.
Older toddlers can be more apprehensive to new situations. I’ve even heard several accounts of kids who loved the meet and greets at age 2, but they were very shy or nervous at age 4. That certainly doesn’t mean you should avoid character meets if you have older toddlers because most toddlers have favorite characters they’d love to see. It does, however, demonstrate the unpredictability of the little ones.
If you have concerns, let the cast members know that it’s your child’s first character meet or that your child is shy when it’s your turn to meet.
While character meals are definitely not for everyone, it’s worth a try to go to at least one.
The interactions make wonderful memories and great photo opportunities.
A Few Tips:
- Many toddler moms recommend that children may be more receptive to characters whose faces aren’t covered for their first meet of the trip. These characters may be less strange because they look more like people. (For example, a princess before a character with a cartoon mask like Goofy).
- Most toddlers are more cheerful and less likely to get spooked when they first wake up. If your toddler is like this, early morning or after nap meets may work best for you.
- In the same ilk, end of day and dinner meets may not work for you as tired, hungry children tend to be crabby and less receptive of new things.
- Dining meets are usually less formal, but more interactive. They provide an atmosphere that is less pressure because the child can sit and observe the other people interacting with the characters before being confronted themselves. If you worry that your child may be fearful, be sure to position them so they won’t feel cornered. Sitting on your lap as a character approaches can help.
- Dining meets also provide a situation where you have a child who is fed and hasn’t been waiting in line, so they will be more positive.
- An adult approaching the character first and interacting also eases tension.
- Never try to force your little one in, even if it means missing that photo op. You can always reapproach later or with a different character, which often works.
Character meets are some of the best parts of Disney. I’d definitely recommend scheduling at least one character meal or FastPass a meet and greet into your vacation.