Is This the End of Character Autographs?

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We now have some solid answers to at least some of the questions about new procedures when Walt Disney World reopens in July. Among the changes are an initial near halt of character dining and character meet and greets. You’re not going to be able to get one-on-one interaction with Mickey for a while.

Pre-printed character signatures at Storybook Dining.

But what will happen when character greetings resume?

At Disney theme parks, when guests have met characters in the past, there were three possible types of interaction: a pure hello and chat, getting a photo with a character, or getting a character autograph. (Virtually no one just says hi – that mostly applies to Yacht Club conventioneers who accidentally wind up at the Cape May Cafe character breakfast.) Most guests pose for a quick photo with the character and a significant subset also asks for an autograph, which takes much longer.

While Disney-branded autograph books are still readily available, there were some signs, even pre-pandemic, that Disney had been gradually trying to slow the pace of autograph collection. For example, some physically capable characters, such as Kylo Ren, did not offer autograph signing at their meet and greets. (Yes, he’s a bad guy, but other villains have signed in the past.) And the Artist Point Storybook Dining character meal offered guests a pre-printed card with images of character signatures rather than having the characters on site actually sign things.

Why was this happening? The logical answer is that autographs slow things down. You can stand next to Mickey, have a hug, and pose for a photo in a few seconds. Guests with autograph books, and particularly families with several books, take much longer. Despite character attendants’ best efforts, there is always some opening books, searching for the right page, positioning the pen properly in a giant gloved hand, and so on. While Disney undoubtably makes a nice profit on autograph book sales, they were also facing guest dissatisfaction over time spent waiting in lines. And perhaps more importantly, when you magnify this slow-down by four or five characters meeting guests at a typical meal, you’re slowing the pace of table turnover by several minutes, likely forfeiting far more income than might be earned on the sale of an autograph book.

In addition to this financial factor, new pandemic-related safety protocols will likely include a stark reduction in opportunities to touch things. When characters sign autographs, they’re passing a book and pen back and forth between themselves and the guest, and often between an attendant as well, dozens of times per hour – those books are portable high-touch surfaces. Many characters wear gloves, but some of the face characters do not. That’s many more opportunities to pick up germs rather than simply standing for a picture.

My guess is that when meet and greets do resume, many, if not all, of the characters will stop signing autographs. Once guests become accustomed to that, I wonder whether the practice will return.

And here’s the usual caveat: I have no insider information, I’m just speculating about possible park changes.

What do you think might happen? Do you like gathering character signatures? Would you be sad to see this practice discontinued?

Erin Foster

Erin Foster is an original member of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel at DisneyWorldMoms.com, a regular contributor to TouringPlans.com, and co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line. She's been to WDW, DL, DL Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, Aulani, DVC Vero Beach, and DVC Hilton Head. She's a Platinum DCL cruiser and veteran of 10 Adventures by Disney trips. Erin lives near New York City, where she can often be found indulging in her other obsession - Broadway theater. Erin can be reached on Twitter @MsErinFoster.

4 thoughts on “Is This the End of Character Autographs?

  • June 11, 2020 at 11:33 am
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    And nothing will enrich the character interactions more than doing away with those infernal books (and pillowcases, picture frames, bags, etc.). Rather than enjoying time with the character and getting cool, fun photos, most kids (and their parents) are so caught up in the “here sign my _____” that they never actually speak to the characters and interact with them. In my mind that’s the best part of meet and greets, not some autograph that will inevitably be shoved in a drawer/box and forgotten about as soon as the trip is over.

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  • June 11, 2020 at 11:35 am
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    VERY interesting hypothesis. I never considered that autograph collection would come under the scrutiny of the operations/efficiency folks, but if they’ve already been looking to reduce the average duration of character interactions, it makes (disappointing) sense. In that case, post-COVID protocols would offer a perfect non-controversial way to eliminate autographs, and then just never bring them back.

    If and when we hear that character autographing is eliminated from the training of new character & guest relations CMs, then we’d know they’re gone for good. If they stop training CMs on the official autographs, then a few years from now, Mickey wouldn’t know HOW to give you an autograph even if he wanted to.

    Now that you mention it, I could see the same happening to self-service toppings bars at quick service restaurants, s’more’s campfires at the resorts, the Eletrical Water Pageant, poolside movie nights, the harmony street barber shop, and other zero-or-low-revenue offerings. They will all be suspended post-COVID, and may never return if their budgets get shifted elsewhere.

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  • June 13, 2020 at 4:00 pm
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    I agree with Chris completely.
    Autographs from characters are utterly ridiculous.
    Good riddance.

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  • June 15, 2020 at 9:23 pm
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    I’ve never understood the appeal of an autograph from a fictional character.

    Reply

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