I’m a big fan of turning to experts when I don’t know what I’m talking about. Our family has never really been into the characters at Disney World but so many people are that I wanted to go straight to the guy who knows all about it.
Kenny “the Pirate” White is that guy.
In 2007, Kenny won the Disney Dream Job contest to be a pirate. After that, he gained a lot of respect for the characters and an appreciation for how much joy the characters can bring to the people who come to see them.
Kenny also holds the TouringPlans.com Ultimate Touring record for all 4 Disney World parks (which includes visiting every attraction, show, parade and live performance in a Disney theme park in a single operating day) and his biggest challenge in completing that was the waiting time for the characters.
He created his character-focused site in December 2011 and it has racked up hundreds of thousands of visits in that short time. He released a character locator app for Android in August 2012 and he’ll follow that with a version for the Apple App Store.
I had some questions to ask Kenny and he provided fantastic info.
- his favorite characters to interact with
- where he suggests going to meet the most characters at a time
- what characters like the best from guests
- info on the new app he created to help people find characters during their trip
(comments in italics are mine)
Note: This was posted in July 2012 and most of the new Fantasyland changes have now taken place. Read my article on New Fantasyland to see what’s changed at Magic Kingdom.
Q: Fantasyland is undergoing a lot of changes and a lot of the changes are character-related. What are you most looking forward to once all of the work is complete?
A: As it relates to characters I hope to see some new characters introduced in the new Pete’s Silly Sideshow, but most of the rumors are pointing toward several VIP characters like Donald, Goofy and Daisy relocating to that location. It would be nice to see them in new costumes though.
I’m excited to hear that Ariel will return to her fin form! [Ariel has been appearing at Magic Kingdom in "human" form which can be confusing/disappointing to a lot of people. -Shannon] She’ll have a new greet area in an all new Grotto.
Belle gets to return to hosting her popular storytime, but in an amazing new library. She will meet guests following her storytime.
Enchanted Tales with Belle (coming late 2012 to Fantasyland at Magic Kingdom)
Next year the other Princesses will move from Town Square Theater into an all new location in Fantasyland. I was saddened to see a great, classic ride go away [Snow White's Scary Adventures recently closed to make way for Princess Fairytale Hall -Shannon], but I bet the Imagineers will do amazing things with the all new meet area. I’m sure it will also include FASTPASS to help families continue to plan their time with Princesses.
I’ve heard rumors that Rapunzel will move into the old Skyway building. Rumor has it that they are transforming the space into a tower much like the one that Rapunzel was held in by Mother Gothel. She’ll be much more warmly received by the hoards of fans. [There was an overhead Skyway operating until 1999. One of the buildings where people loaded into the Skyway cars was demolished, leaving space for something new to be put in. -Shannon]
Some people think that Flynn will return to that location, but I’m unsure. It’s sad that Walt Disney World doesn’t have more strong male face characters like Flynn.
Winnie the Pooh has already relocated to a newly decorated meet area next to his ride. The failed Tigger’s Bounce Area was closed as soon as it opened and went unused until Pooh and Tigger moved into their new digs. It proves to be extremely popular as they hold lines longer than they ever have.
Winnie the Pooh Meet and Greet area, located next to The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Q: If families want to see the most characters without taking a lot of time away from rides, what would you suggest?
A: I am a big proponent of character meals. My family has visited every meal and have visited some many times. They are a great way to meet four or five popular characters with no waiting in line while consuming bacon! (Just not at Crystal Palace. It hurts Piglet‘s feelings).
My family loves the breakfast meals and eating in the Castle is something everyone should do at least once.
1900 Park Fare is our favorite dinner meal because the Tremaine Sisters are there playing with guests. They are some of the funniest characters in Walt Disney World. [1900 Park Fare is a restaurant located in The Grand Floridian. The Tremaine Sisters appear at Cinderella's Happily Ever After Dinner. -Shannon]
Not only can you meet popular characters, in some cases you can meet characters that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to meet on a daily basis like June, Agent Oso, Lilo or the Mad Hatter.
I only find the large meets like the Character Spot [located near Innoventions West at EPCOT -Shannon] helpful to families if they visit early in the day or late at night because they can easily spend 45 minutes to an hour waiting. The benefit is that you get to see all the VIP characters in one location, the drawback is the long line. At least it’s air conditioned though!
Q: Do you have any specific suggestions for greeting characters (certain autograph books, recommended pens/markers, etiquette for greeting characters, etc.)?
A: The Characters love to sign for their fans, but it is certainly helpful to have any type of hard back book, like an autograph book or memory book of some type. Many moms like to make their own special books with a space for the photo on the left and the autograph on the right with all types of appropriate decoration. The characters are especially fond of those homemade books.
Make sure you provide them with a nice fat pen or felt marker to sign with. Their hands are quite large and it’s difficult to grip a standard ballpoint pen. If you are using a felt marker, purchase one that is retractable so your entire family doesn’t get autographed shorts, tshirts and skin accidentally. Characters will also sign other items like clothing or hats, but the guest cannot be wearing the item at the time.
Retractable Sharpies make great character-signing pens
While we are in Disney World to have fun, please use respect and manners when greeting characters. Greet them loudly, as they can’t hear quiet children’s voices over crowds and music.
Make sure that parents direct the attention of the character to really small characters. The character’s line of site is sometimes limited and they might accidentally step on your little one or not even see them to spend time with them.
Please don’t pull on their costuming! None of us would like to have a child attempt to pull on our shirts and Mickey doesn’t either.
Please and thank you go a long way in greeting and I have a bunch of great interaction tips on my blog to help children have a fun time with their favorite character.
Q: Are there certain character locations that seem to have “better” characters than others?
A: My favorite locations are the ones that offer unique characters, fun personalities or characters in different costuming. Some of the best characters to interact with include the Tremaine Family, Peter Pan, Alice, Tinker Bell and Flynn Rider was hilarious. I enjoy the ones that have a great sense of humor and a playful spirit. The Tremaines always try to get my 13 year old son to marry them.
I enjoy the Phineas and Ferb and Merida meets because there is a great element of fun involved in the wait areas. Phineas and Ferb’s director is casting a new movie and gets audience members involved in some great comedy moments.
Merida’s meet is unique because they teach you how to shoot a foam tipped arrow. This distance is a little short for my liking, but it’s great for kids. Merida’s brothers appear in bear form and make all kinds of sounds and expressions for the guests while Merida speaks to them. Merida asked me if I enjoy the Caber Toss. I hadn’t ever heard of that, so she had to explain that it meant throwing a large pole through the air. I told her I’m more of a tooth pick guy.
I enjoy meeting Davy Crockett, Donald, Mexico Donald, Pirate Goofy and VIP characters in Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios because they are wearing different costumes than their standard fare.
Q: Some characters have stopped appearing in the theme parks. Any that you will miss?
A: I miss Roger Rabbit more than any character, but haven’t seen him since 1990. But I think you mean of recent vintage, so I’d say my favorite lost meet was the Power Rangers. My kids had so much fun interacting with them and learning new karate moves. I guess it was karate, perhaps Judo, maybe Jujitzu? The poses were classic.
I hate that Animal Kingdom has retired some great characters recently. I really feel like Jiminy Cricket should return because he is the face of the conservation for the park.
I really miss the Tweedles because they were a hoot to meet with. They were always playing with the kids and messing with their books.
I wish they would reintroduce Jack Sparrow and Flynn Rider for boys to have some face characters to meet.
I never got to meet the Bowler Hat guy!!! I want to meet the Bowler Hat guy!
Q: Which characters/locations currently offer FASTPASSes? Do you recommend using a FP in those cases?
A: The only character locations that offer FASTPASS is the Town Square meet and greets. The Princesses (Belle, Cinderella and Rapunzel) offer one FP and Mickey (often with Minnie) offers a second one from the same FASTPASS location. The Mickey FASTPASS isn’t connected to the primary system, so it is in essence a free FASTPASS [this means you don't have to wait to get another FASTPASS like you would normally -Shannon]. You can get one for Mickey and the Princesses at the exact same time.
I really love FASTPASS. I know there are people who loathe the system, but it really helps us to save time. Meeting the Princesses in their old location was arrive early or wait a very long time. Now, I can grab a FP and come back later with a shorter wait. I highly recommend using FP for these meets.
Q: Final thoughts?
A: In the past, guests couldn’t plan their character meets. No one knew the schedules and the only way to learn, up to 3 characters at a time, was to call the CHIP hotline from City Hall or a store with a phone.
Disney has tried to improve it somewhat with their Mobile Magic app, but it’s not a very good app for characters. It only lists the next two or three meets and you must be in that park to use the app, so no one can plan from home using it. I also noticed that it tends to keep the same schedule stored in memory for long periods of time, which keeps one from knowing the full schedule for the day.
I started kennythepirate.com to help people plan their meets and experiences more fully from home before ever going to the parks. Some say that takes the “spontanaeity” out of touring, but guests are paying thousands of dollars and want a better experience in the parks. I knew there was a need for full schedules, but never thought I’d see over 250,000 visits since I launched the site in December. People love their Disney characters and want to meet them with less waiting.
To prove that planning helps, my 8 year old daughter and I sought to meet as many characters in one operational day across the 4 parks. We decided we would never run and we didn’t skip any meals. We only used Disney transportation and met at total of 60 unique characters, 68 including different costumes and 71 total character meets.
Kenny and his 8-year-old daughter, Debbie, in the middle of her first Ultimate Tour
Now, most people would never attempt anything like that, but it certainly proves that scheduling your time equals a better guest experience. We also want to help people while they are in the park, so we are created the first ever Character Locator app for the Android platform first, and hopefully for iPhone later. I enjoy helping people love Disney Parks as much as we do!
A screenshot from the character app for Android
Thank you for such great info, Kenny!
I invite you all to check out Kenny’s site. Here are some highlights that you might find the most helpful.
- Magic Kingdom plans for princesses or princes.
- Character interaction ideas (like “Ask Mulan how to be an honorable child”)
- master list of all characters and where to find them
As always, please leave your questions or comments in the comment section.
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