Disney Now and Then: Meeting Characters

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It doesn’t matter how old you are, no trip to Disneyland is ever complete without visiting the characters. I don’t care if you went on Space Mountain 10 times and waited 5 minutes to go on Peter Pan. If you missed seeing a character, you missed a pivotal part of the trip, because let’s face it: Meeting Disney characters will give you warm fuzzies. I know this because a certain someone I know teared up when she hugged Mickey on her 30th birthday at Magic Kingdom, then I went on to gush that I used to work for him and well gosh I was just so nervous! Ok, the teary eyed mess was me. While I was a character host at the Disneyland Resort, I got to be a part of people’s memories as they met characters for the 1st or 100th time. A lot changed in the time I worked at the resort, and a lot continues to change. I can probably fill a book with the stories of working in this department, but these are the tales that stand out. Sit back, relax, and let me take you back to a simpler time, in this week’s Now and Then: Meeting Characters.

THE CASTLE AND THE QUEUE

In most of my childhood photos, I’m a) At Disneyland b) Posing adorably with a character and c) There is not a single other person in the shot. You see, my parents used to rent out Disneyland for me so we wouldn’t have to deal with crowds (kidding). The park just wasn’t as packed back when I was a kid as it is now. There was once a time I was on Royal Paige duty hosting one of the princesses, and you could take a casual stroll towards the castle and wander the area greeting guests and making magic. I still remember the first horrifying day that everything changed. I was walking a princess through the hub and over to the wishing well. I made the mistake of looking behind me, and my heart sank. A line formed behind us while we were walking. Everyone following us was determined, and I can guarantee you, the last thing on their mind was having a delightful twirl or curtsy with a princess. Their only goal was to get in line before the line was cut. Think of visiting a princess like a Black Friday sale. You HAVE to get there before the doors open or everything will be gone aka, a host is going to cut the line right as you walk up. With the insanely large crowds that would swarm the princesses, I would start to feel like Princess Secret Service.

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This was the birth of Princess Fantasy Faire. Fantasyland theatre was the location for P.F.F. and you could do everything from catch a coronation ceremony on the Fantasyland stage or wait in the hour and a half line to see not 1 not 2 BUT 3 PRINCESSES yay! Here’s the catch: The photo location was a grab bag, meaning that guests had no idea which 3 princesses they would get. Due to the popularity of the area, the location was heavily staffed with royalty, however once in awhile, the extremely popular 3 princess such as Snow White, Cindy and Aurora would depart and they would get replaced with Princess Minnie, Lady in Waiting and some princess that the entire line has never heard of. In these rare occasions, I would be beaming thinking, “This is awesome! Guests get to see how adorable Minnie looks in her pink princess dress!” or “You haven’t lived until you had a chat with a Lady in Waiting.” Guests did not always agree with my joy at these types of switches.

Here’s the thing, I haven’t visited Disneyland in 4 years. Last I went, Princess Fantasy Faire was alive and well, and I’m positive that so much has changed. The thing that I will always miss when that change occurred, was casually walking through the park and seeing a princess by the castle. Because if you want magic, that’s it right there.

HIT SQUAD AND OTHER ADVENTURES

The characters used to go on rides. That was a thing. They were known as the ‘hit squad.’ An entire unit of characters would get sent out to go on a ride with guests and holy cow it looked like the coolest thing. It was like a living breathing Disney commercial to see Mickey and the fab 5 ride Splash Mountain together or to see Cinderella, Pearla, Fairy Godmother and the Prince ride the carousel. If you weren’t on the hit squad for the day, there were still a ton of ways to have a good time. I used to play duck duck goose with the Queen of Hearts and characters of Wonderland or host a game of hopscotch with Goofy in Toontown.

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Guys, I’m not going to lie…I was a trouble-maker. I once walked with Brer Bear all the way from Critter Country to the exit of Haunted Mansion so that he could scare people exiting the ride. It was his idea! Brer Fox also convinced me to walk the overpass at Splash Mountain and toss ice chips into the water next to the logs to get a giggle out of people on the ride. At the time all of these incidents were occurring, the characters were allowed to free roam through certain parts of the park. As the crowds started to increase, setting up designated photo locations became a way to keep the guests organized. While I completely understand the logic behind a photo location, I will miss the days when I ran around the park with characters trying to see what kind of mischief we could get into.

 

THE RETURN OF THE HOST

I’m thrilled to go back and visit my old stomping ground this August for D23. I promise, I will try not to host the critter country characters or form a line for Mickey Mouse. I’m really excited to see how the department has changed, especially with the introduction of so many new characters. I’m really curious to see how the Elsa/Ana meet n’ greets are setup, and I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that Thor and Captain America are in the park. I mean, I’m not complaining about it (I will be first in line), but I’m definitely still getting used to the partnering with Marvel. The first thing I will do when I get to Disneyland, is wander around Town Square. There is nothing in the world like being greeted with the smiling face of Mickey and Minnie. And whether they’re skipping around or greeting a line of people, that feeling of seeing characters will never change.

Erika Jenko
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Posted on July 31, 2015, in Articles, Disney Now and Then and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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