I’ve already talked about my need for speed on here, so you might imagine that waiting in line for character signatures runs contrary to the goal of maximizing time within the parks — and you’d be right. There is a wide variety of characters you can meet in the Walt Disney World parks, so how can you possibly fill your children’s autograph books with pictures and signatures and still have time to experience all the parks have to offer?
There are a few cheat codes to rapidly filling your signature quota, and none of them require you to press up-down-up-down-left-right-left-right-B-A-B-A-select-start.
The first one requires money, but we did it for the first time on our last trip and it was totally worth it: the Disney dining plan — specifically, table service meals with character dining. With one table service meal per day, you can eat at a variety of character dining locations and quickly soak up four or more character encounters per meal. We enjoyed Tusker House (Mickey and pals), Hollywood and Vine (Disney Junior), Chef Mickey’s (Mickey and pals), Akershus (Disney princesses), and the Crystal Palace (Winnie the Pooh). Had we obtained signatures and pictures at only these locations, the Rad girls would have still easily filled up their autograph books with no room to spare. (By the end of our trip, they were doubling up on pages.) The character dining options are by far the most efficient means of meeting characters and getting pictures and signatures.
Of course, many people might say, “sure the table service meals are great, but they’re expensive!” You’re not wrong; there is a significant increase in price over Quick Service — and an even bigger increase over not doing the dining plan at all. However, you’re not purchasing food with your hard-earned dollars; you’re purchasing time, and time is worth a lot in Walt Disney World. Considering the fact that we visit Disney only about once a year, we found the trade off to be completely worth it and vowed to do the Disney Dining Plan from this point forward. If your children are a bit older — the Rad girls are currently twelve and eight — they will love it. Rad Ella didn’t necessarily want to wait for autographs like she used to, but she still liked getting an autograph book and filling it up — when it was convenient, which this definitely was. Rad Hallie was just psyched by all the personal attention and the plethora of signatures that came with it.
Another way that you can crush the signature game is to be clever with your FastPasses. If you are strategic with your FastPass selections, you can use the time after rope drop, especially during Extra Magic Hours, to knock out some of the parks’ most sought after characters while everyone else is running — er, I mean briskly walking in a faster than normal fashion — to the E-ticket attractions. There is about a half–hour window after rope drop — longer during the EMH — that you can practically walk right in to popular meet and greets. Some of our favorites that we grabbed on our last trip were Talking Mickey, Tinkerbell, and Princess Fairytale Hall in the Magic Kingdom; Star-Lord and the Star Wars Launch Bay characters in Hollywood Studios; and Mulan in Epcot, who we had never met. In the Magic Kingdom, we hurried to Space Mountain, did Buzz Lightyear, met Talking Mickey, hit Pirates, and knocked out Thunder Mountain before we used a single FastPass.
After all that, we rode Haunted Mansion, came back through Fantasyland for Small World, and ended up at Princess Fairytale Hall. We never waited more than a few minutes for each attraction and were able to get some key signatures. If your kids are younger and character meets are a priority (and you move slower, because strollers), you can hit the meets first and the rides later — especially if you’ve got great FastPasses. If your kids are a bit older like ours and you can move more quickly, you can probably sprinkle the meets in between rides throughout the morning, saving your FastPasses for after the EMH ends.
The final way to obtain signatures in the most efficient manner possible is to simply keep your eyes open and talk to cast members. While this seems like a no brainer, it can actually be more effective than you realize for grabbing some of the highly desirable pop up characters. I’ll be the first to admit that we haven’t even come close to meeting all of the characters available in the parks, and I’ll also say here and now that we probably aren’t even aware of all of the possible meets. (Seriously, they’re almost impossible to keep up with, which is kind of fun in its own right.) Many characters still appear throughout the parks in certain locations at certain times, and a friendly cast member might spill the beans if you ask nicely or act as though you have no idea where you are or what’s going on or what year it is. (Next week, on Quantum Leap…) You know those paper maps that are more or less obsolete? They’re great for pinpointing locations and times if you get an especially chatty cast member to give you the insider information. Some of the most well known locations are on Main Street near the front entrance to the left and right (you’ll sometimes snag Aurora or Snow White there), behind the castle on the right (if you’re facing it) you can meet the Fairy Godmother or Cinderella’s stepsisters, Anastasia and Drizella. In Animal Kingdom, Pocahontas
has a meet just to the right of the entrance to Dinoland USA that is easily overlooked. In Epcot, the Epcot character spot is almost never crowded until well into the day (find it around the corner from Starbucks), and the World Showcase is a veritable gold mine of potential character meets. There is almost one per country, and with the exception of Elsa and Anna, almost none of them gets very crowded if you know when to arrive. Slide into the DMs with a nearby cast member and see if you can extract some secret knowledge. You never know what he or she might tell you, especially if you’ve just missed a character.
While I don’t always think that meeting characters is the best use of our time, it is an undeniably fun experience that results in two opportunities for permanent memories: pictures and autographs. Even when I’m at my most impatient — we could be on Big Thunder right meow! — I typically end up laughing along with the Rad girls at something funny that happens when they meet a certain character. A few notable moments:
Woody and Jessie dancing with Rad Ella on our very first trip
The White Rabbit scaring Rad Hallie and resulting in this classic photo.
Meeting Elsa and Anna for the first time. (You can read more about that here.)
Watching two girls grow up Disney.