Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tuesday's Tip: Toddlers and Characters

I originally wrote this post for Growing Up Disney on May 13, 2011.

Last December we took our then 23 month old to Walt Disney World for the first time for a 5 night, 4 day vacation. I was so excited to introduce him to the place I love so much! I spent hours reading web sites, other blogs, books and message boards about taking a toddler to WDW. I carefully mapped out our trip so there wouldn’t be any late nights right before early mornings, or late breakfast reservations too close to an early lunch and even mapped out when we could head back to the resort to rest. I booked breakfast on our first day at Crystal Palace in the Magic Kingdom with Pooh and friends. I wanted to eat here early so we could get a good photo of the family in front of the castle before all the crowds started piling in the park. We did get a good photo, but the breakfast was a disaster! That’s when I realized I missed a key component in planning my trip: prepare your toddler for meeting characters!
My son knew all the main characters by name from watching Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and Toy Story. He even knew a few others from books we’ve read and the vacation guides we used in our planning. I didn’t think there would be any problem when it came to meeting these same characters at the parks. I couldn’t have been more wrong! He was TERRIFIED to say the least. He was excited when they were 10 feet away or more, but once they came closer this is what we got: 

I’m sure he was thinking “Get those big animals away from me RIGHT NOW!”

As our trip progressed, he slowly warmed up to the characters. I still had to hold him as we approached the characters, but by the end, he was giving high fives to his new friends from the comfort of my arms!

As our next trip is fast approaching, I have some thoughts on how to get your toddler prepared for meeting the characters. 

  • Make sure your toddler is familiar with the characters before your trip and knows some of their names. Watch cartoons and movies, read books, watch youtube videos of meet and greets, and look at pictures.
  • If possible, show your toddler photographs of family members with the characters from the parks. Try to explain how “big” the characters are when you get to meet them. Show your toddler that Goofy and Woody are taller than daddy. Show him that Donald and Pinocchio are the same size as mommy. They aren’t going to be the same size as the stuffed animals in his crib!
  • While you are making plans for your vacation, remember to take it slow! My advice: don’t book a character meal first thing! Save those for later in the trip. 
  • Once you are at the parks, try to meet the face characters first. These are the characters that have a human face: Mary Poppins, the princesses, Alice, Aladdin, etc. These characters are easier for toddlers to get to know since they can talk and interact with you. If you must have a character meal on the first day, consider a meal with these face characters.
  • Once your toddler is used to the face characters, try progressing to the masked characters. Sit for a few parades and watch some stage shows. Watch the other children meet the characters. Let your toddler know that they aren’t scary.
  • When you think your toddler is ready to meet the masked characters, take it slow! Don’t force it on him. Carry him to the character and talk him through it. Tell the character and the handler that you just want to visit and say hi without any hugs or high fives. Let another family member approach the character and give hugs and high fives. This shows that they are our friends!
  • Avoid the villains and witches at all cost! Even when your toddler is comfortable with the masked characters, the villains area always scary!
  • Follow the lead of your toddler. If they never warm up to the characters, accept that fact and move on with your vacation. Don’t push it on your child. It will only make it a miserable experience for the whole family!


  1. Great post! We had a very similar experience .... Crystal Palace, 1st day, scared 12 month old boy!! 

    (The picture of your son pointing at the camera is hilarious!)

  2. Om my goodness.  We had the exact same trip in November.  It was odd watching little man be afraid of the characters after loving them so much on previous trips.  Great tips for getting them over their fears. 

  3. We've definitely had the same experience with toddlers being terrified of the characters. It's amazing how the happiest place of earth can also be the scariest for the little ones, but these are great tips to minimize that.

  4. My 19 month old was terrified of the face characters!! But ran up and hugged Mickey and Minnie and Donald! So you never know until you try.

  5. Great post! I think it's funny - Noah's never been really scared and he knows and LOVES the characters that we meet..  And after asking to meet Pooh, we finally got there an he climbed on me to get away.. never even got a full hug.  Kids are funny!