This just in: people love to meet their favorite Disney characters. Since day one, Disney Parks have included character meet-and-greets as signature attractions. There’s just nothing like getting a hug, a high-five, and an autograph from your favorites, and more and more, Disney is getting wise to the potential to make character experiences into headlining experiences.
2013’s Limited Time Magic promotion across the Parks division was practically built around limited-time meet-and-greets with long-lost, rare characters. Fans went wild for the opportunity! Just this month, Walt Disney World hosted its second annual Disney Villains event at Hollywood Studios, this time turning it into a hard-ticket, exclusive, paid event. It makes sense – frenzied fans want to see and meet their favorites up close, and who doesn’t love the villains? Maleficent, Jafar, Hades, and more made rare appearances to crazed fans. Star-Lord and Gamora from Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy even made their first ever appearance, driving fans wild!
As guests clamor for more and more character encounters, Disney’s been forced to replace the walk-around characters of yesteryear with queued experiences built into permanent meet-and-greet locations. That’s not necessarily a bad thing! Here, we’ve collected a dozen of the most elaborate and impressive character greeting locations at Disney’s theme parks. Which of these have you seen? Which characters do you think deserve their own elaborate meet-and-greet locations?
1. Pixie Hollow
Location: Disneyland Park and Hong Kong Disneyland
Characters: Tinker Bell, Vidia, Iridessa, Silvermist, Terence, Rosetta, Fawn, and Periwinkle from Disney Fairies.
At Disneyland Park, you can meet Tinker Bell and her miniscule friends among the oversized wonderland of Pixie Hollow in Fantasyland. The itty bitty plot of land (formerly home to Triton’s Garden and Tomorrowland’s Monsanto House of the Future) gets even smaller thanks to massive blades of grass, towering mushrooms, and dancing fountains in color-changing puddles. The winding path through Pixie Hollow leads to a larger-than-life teakettle where Tink herself awaits visitors.
2. Town Square Theatre
Location: Magic Kingdom
Characters: Mickey Mouse and Tinker Bell
When Magic Kingdom announced its plans for New Fantasyland, it included an entire sub-section themed to the Disney Fairies line, set to replace Mickey’s Toontown Fair. Plans were tweaked and the Fair area instead became home to Storybook Circus. Suddenly, Mickey’s House and Pixie Hollow were no more at Magic Kingdom, necessitating a change. Now, both characters meet in the charming Town Square Theatre on Main Street. Lovingly dressed in props, costumes, and posters from Mickey’s earliest shorts (but maintaining the classy Main Street style), the Town Square Theatre now allows guests “back stage” to Mickey’s dressing room for a really unique meet-and-greet with the Big Cheese himself.
3. Fantasy Faire & Princess Fairytale Hall
Location: Disneyland Park & Magic Kingdom, respectively
Characters: Disney Princesses
Fans revolted when Disney announced that it would replace the Carnation Gardens plaza along Main Street with an extension of Fantasyland called Fantasy Faire in 2013. When it opened, the uproar was silenced. The beautiful Medieval-European village fits perfectly with the existing Fantasyland style and is chocked full of details, like a whole sub-land within Fantasyland. Under the purple tent of the Royal Theatre, vaudevillian retellings of Tangled and Beauty and the Beast delight visitors. Next door, the Royal Hall is the perfect place for princess encounters with Cinderella, Aurora, Ariel, and other Disney classics.
A similar attraction called the Princess Fairytale Hall opened at Magic Kingdom as part of the New Fantasyland expansion of 2013, with magnificent reception halls, chandeliers, and tasteful portraits lining the corridors en route to the princesses.
4. Jedi Training Academy
Location: Disneyland Park and Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Characters: Darth Vader, Stormtroopers, and Darth Maul
Certainly one of the most unusual meet-and-greets at Disney Parks (primarily because you fight the characters you’re meeting), Jedi Training Academy allows young “Padawans” to suit up with a lightsaber and endure the rigorous and exhausting training that only true Jedis can endure. It ends with a surprise visit by a Star Wars villain, with whom each Jedi-in-training gets to battle. An unusual situation to be sure, but it makes for great photo opportunities.
5. Ariel’s Grotto
Location: Magic Kingdom
Characters: Ariel from Disney’s The Little Mermaid
Ariel’s Grotto has changed location at Magic Kingdom quite a few times over the years! Originally nestled into an imaginative purple cave alongside the park’s vacant Submarine Lagoon, the mermaid swam a bit east and relocated into the gorgeous grassy seaside hills of Eric’s Castle when New Fantasyland opened in 2012. Queuing under gorgeous seaweed chandeliers implanted into the wave-carved caverns, guests are eventually led to the gorgeous greeting chamber where Ariel sits on a clamshell throne – a fitting reception for the mythical princess.
6. Halloweentown Haunts
Location: Disneyland Park and Magic Kingdom
Characters: Jack Skellington and Sally
Each year from autumn to winter, the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland becomes Haunted Mansion Holiday, when Jack Skellington and his Halloweentown friends overtake the mansion from Halloween to Christmas. The twisted tale of The Nightmare Before Christmas characters’ world unfurls for all to see on the ride, but you can actually meet Jack and Sally in person along the foggy streets of New Orleans Square. At Magic Kingdom, the characters are available during Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, as well.