(Article last updated: April 20, 2016)
During the afternoon at Hollywood Studios, you might see a group of people waiting like they were getting a glimpse at Willy Wonka's chocolate factory.
While these people aren't actually waiting to see Oompa Loompas and a crazy chocolatier in a top hat, they are in fact waiting for something just as magical: the fabled Character Palooza meet and greet.
What is Character Palooza?
Character Palooza is an unpublished character meet and greet that occurs on any day that Hollywood Studios holds performances of Fantasmic, between the hours of 4 p.m. and 7 p.m., depending upon crowd levels. Anywhere between 5 and 10 random characters will be out for a 20-minute set of meets, composed entirely of characters you see in the finale sequence of Fantasmic. This means you might get the chance to see characters you won't see out for meet and greets in the rest of the parks!
Character Palooza occurs at random times throughout the day in various locations including Streets of America, Echo Lake, and the gates near Tower of Terror in order to keep with its theme of surprise.
Character Palooza has become increasingly popular in the last year as the word has gotten out, but you still won't find any times listed for it on park maps, nor will many Cast Members acknowledge its existence if you were to ask them about it. Those in the know, however, will be waiting at various spots, and if you see a group gathered, chances are they are going to open very soon!
Character Palooza tips
Now that I've broken the Fight Club-esque rules of this secret (shhh), I'm here to fill you in on how you can make the most of your experience should you happen to be there when it begins.
- Leave your strollers in a nearby stroller parking area or ask a Cast Member to park it for you. Strollers are not allowed in the area.
- Have your autograph books and cameras ready. There are no PhotoPass photographers at this event, so you're on your own for pictures, though a character attendant will be happy to take pictures for you with your camera or phone.
- DO NOT RUN. Yes, you might see a character at the end of the trail that you REALLY want to meet first, but safety is key. You will get the chance to meet them along with everyone else, and it isn't worth getting yelled at by a Cast Member.(Note: these last 2 tips apply when this event is held behind the Tower gates. When the event is held on Streets of America or Echo Lake, attendants will be on hand with each character dispersed around the area.)
- The set up consists of a mini walking trail with characters all the way up a slight incline on the left hand side. The best strategy is to head to the top of the trail and work your way down. Lines for characters at the front of the gates form the fastest, and the rarer characters are typically at the top. Character attendants will cut off lines for meets as they see fit, so if you don't want to follow this strategy, make sure you get in line for which characters you really want to see first.
- The gates close almost as soon as they open. Be prepared for this and make sure you are in the crowd of people waiting.
Now that you've gotten the basics of how to make the best of your Character Palooza experience, I'm sure you're wondering which characters will be there. That's the most fun part about it: it changes daily! I'd like to share with you some of my favorites I've found so far.
The Evil Queen from Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is often out to throw some shade. She decided my sunglasses looked better on her than they did me.
A photo posted by Dustin (@dustin_b_hayes) on Apr 22, 2015 at 10:14am PDT
Mary Poppins is often out at Magic Kingdom and Epcot, but sometimes Bert joins her at the Palooza! We all let our inner penguin shine through.
This is the ONLY place at WDW I've ever found Donald in his classic sailor outfit.
A photo posted by Dustin (@dustin_b_hayes) on Jul 21, 2015 at 2:32pm PDT
MUSHU! If he's out to meet, he'll typically be standing with Mulan. I might've asked her to step out of the frame. Oops.
Pinocchio is one one of the rarest characters to meet, and I've only seen him once at this event out of the several times I've gone. His line was longer than everyone else's so he was the only one I got to meet, but so worth it.
And now, my favorite find of all...
A photo posted by Dustin (@dustin_b_hayes) on May 6, 2015 at 3:26pm PDT
ROBIN HOOD! He was tucked away at the top of the hill and his line got long FAST. If you happen upon him, be prepared for him to be the only one you meet depending on the length of other characters' lines.
If you're a die hard character hunting fan like myself and you find yourself at Hollywood Studios in the afternoon, be sure to check out Character Palooza! It might just be an experience you'll never forget. Happy Hunting!
(NOTE: Character Palooza is now often found outside the park's entrance near the far right gates.)