One of the greatest things about the theme park community is how it includes so many wonderful people, each possessing a unique story. While some of us just love going to the theme park resorts – enjoying the attractions and restaurants – many others have found a certain niche and effectively become go-to people in their field. For example, I would consider myself to be a casual fan of “Hidden Mickeys” at Walt Disney World, yet what I do know on the “art” of finding them I learned from “Hidden Mickey Guy” Steve Barrett. Our fandom is filled with fascinating people like Steve, and here at the SATURDAY SIX we want to shine a spotlight on some of these amazing guys and gals.
Previously we took at a look at @bioreconstruct’s favorite aerial photos, picking his brain on what made them so memorable. Today we’re going to look at another part of theme parks that many people love: meet and greets. We’ve done articles on the best meet and greets at Disney’s Magic Kingdom as well as the Universal Orlando Resort, but for this we needed to find an expert. When it comes to characters, nobody knows more about meet and greets than Heather Winfield. Throughout her journey, Heather has met over 300 characters (which you can see at her website) and we wanted to know one thing: what are HER favorites? Take it away Heather…
HEATHER: My favorite thing to do at the Disney parks is meet characters! I’ve met 322 unique characters, but over the years, a few special meets have stood out. Here are six of my favorites.
# 6 – Megara, Pain, and Panic
Megara from Hercules has always been one of my favorite characters, but she’s pretty rare at the parks. In 2014, I attended the 24-hour day at Walt Disney World, and was so excited when I found out she would be meeting at the event. The Hercules characters didn’t start meeting until 2 a.m., but I got in line after midnight, and the line was almost already closed. I didn’t meet her until 4 a.m., so it was a long wait, but to me it was so worth it! I’ve met her a few times since, but that first meet will always be special.
# 5 – Mulan and Shang
Once upon a time, or the early 2000s, I started taking some day trips to the parks when we attended Phillies spring training. I didn’t know adults were allowed to meet characters, so I took a few pictures of characters I saw from afar. One picture I took was of Mulan, Mushu, and Shang meeting by the Hollywood Studios Hat, since Mulan is one of my favorite Disney movies. Fast forward to this year, Shang has become my number one most wanted character to meet, as I had never seen him in the parks since that day. I honestly never thought I’d end up meeting him, he was a pie in the sky hope.
Sometimes you’ll luck into finding random characters at the parks. It’s character training – because the character attendants obviously need to train before being around guests! This February, I was casually eating lunch at the Brown Derby when a friend told me that Mulan and Shang were meeting elsewhere in the park. Thank goodness I was with my mom, because I was able to RUN out of the restaurant to the back of the park, where I finally, FINALLY was able to meet Shang! It was one of those moments where I suddenly couldn’t think of anything interesting to say, but he was great. I still can’t believe I met my most wanted character without knowing it was happening that day!
Speaking of Mulan, I have to throw in a second favorite meet here! Mulan usually meets in her pink Matchmaker dress in the parks, but at a few special events, she has met as Ping. Last year, I attended Disneyland After Dark 90s Nite. There were rumors throughout the day that she would be meeting as Ping. I didn’t really believe it, since I didn’t want to be let down if she wasn’t. But when the event started, she was meeting as Ping! As luck would have it, my nails were Mulan themed, so we were able to chat about that too. I was SO excited!
# 4 – Heroes: Hercules, Phoebus, John Smith, Flynn Rider, Prince Eric, and Aladdin
I’ve run over 50 runDisney races, meeting many fun characters on the course over the years. But the best character spot I’ve ever stopped for was during the 2015 Princess Half Marathon, where Hercules, Phoebus, John Smith, Flynn Rider, Prince Eric, and Aladdin all met together! At the time, I had never met Hercules or Phoebus, so it was extra special to get two new characters. I probably could have stopped the race right there and considered it a success.
# 3 – Boo
For Pixar’s 25th anniversary in 2011, EPCOT hosted Pixar Weekend featuring guest speakers and tons of special characters. It was even included with your park ticket, back before everything became an upcharge event. Fortunately, it just so happened to coincide with our Star Wars Weekend trip in May! I met 10 new characters that day, but my favorite was Boo.
Sully and Boo were switching out with other Monsters Inc characters. After meeting Needleman and Smitty, we got back in the line to meet Boo…and so did everyone else! It became clear that no one was going up to meet the other characters, as we all just wanted Boo. The line was starting to back up through the door. So they ended up bringing out Boo early, which is something I had never seen before, nor do I believe I’ve seen it happen since! She was SO adorable and I think she’s still one of the cutest characters to meet!
# 2 – Dreamfinder and Figment
With so many character meets over the years, it’s always hard to choose my favorite. But this one was both such a shock and super rare, so it’s one that will always be special for me. During the 2013 D23 Expo, I was sitting with a few friends waiting for the Alan Menken & Richard Sherman concert. One friend pointed out that she saw Dreamfinder and Figment behind where everyone was sitting. They were coming out of the Tony Baxter Legends ceremony, and very few people were paying attention. The original Figment ride was my favorite when I first visited Epcot when I was 5, so I ran over, wanting to just take a picture OF them. When I got there, the person walking with them asked if I’d rather have a picture WITH them. I could hear my friends, who were far away at this point, screaming as they were so excited for me. I still can’t believe it happened!!
# 1 – Br’er Bear and Br’er Fox
These characters aren’t that common in the parks, but they aren’t rare either. But the interaction is what makes this meet stand out. My very first trip to Disneyland was in 2012. We ate at the Plaza Inn at rope drop, where we met a bunch of great characters. At the time I had never met Br’er Fox before, so I told him and he was really excited and it was a really fun interaction. Fast forward to around 5 p.m., and I spotted Br’er Bear and Br’er Fox waving to guests who were on Splash Mountain, and then they started meeting. When it was our turn, Br’er Fox started miming something, but I didn’t understand what. Other people in line were trying to figure out what he was saying, but they couldn’t, and he kept trying. It was hilarious. Finally, Br’er Fox pulled the Disneyland map out of the outside pocket of my bag and pointed to the Plaza Inn. That’s when I realized he was saying he saw me at breakfast! So many hours later and he remembered me! It was such a fun interaction, and one of the things that made me fall in love with Disneyland right away.
Honorable Mention – Scarecrow Mickey
I was very nervous before my first runDisney race, the 2012 Happy Haunted Trail Run 5k. While I was taking a picture in front of a backdrop, Scarecrow Mickey walked out. This instantly calmed me down for the race, so it’s one of my favorite meets. Plus his outfit is pretty adorable!
Double Secret Honorable Mention – Cheshire Cat
I met a lot of fun characters during my first visit to an international park, but my favorite was Cheshire Cat from Disneyland Paris! He doesn’t meet in the US parks, so I was excited to meet him at the Inventions Easter Brunch. I wore a matching dress, and he loved it!
Bonus: at one point during the meal, several of the Alice in Wonderland characters posed for a group picture. This was so fun!!
Triple Threat Honorable Mention – Quasimodo
Quasimodo is incredibly rare. I had never even seen him in person, and never thought I’d get to meet him. So I was so surprised and excited to see him on the course during this year’s runDisney Princess 10k! Best race ever!
Thanks Heather! Be sure to follow Heather’s adventures on her Twitter account (@HeatherW25) and Instagram (/HeatherW25). Her website – I love characters! – not only shows all the Disney characters she has met over the years, but also breaks them down by movie or special event. You’ll also see all the other characters she has met like the Peanuts gang, residents of Sesame Street, and more!
So there you have it: Heather Winfield’s Favorite Disney Character Meets! See you next weekend for the latest installment of the SATURDAY SIX, where we’ll look at something fun from the world of Disney and Universal. If you enjoyed yourself, be sure to check out The Magic, The Memories, and Merch! articles covering the latest from the Disney Outlet Stores. You can also follow Your Humble Author on Twitter (@derekburgan).
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Special Thanks to The Elite Brandon Glover, the bio-est of all reconstructs @bioreconstruct, Captain Cruiseline Scott Sanders of the world famous Disney Cruise Line Blog, my personal protege Hunter “Elvey” Underwood, the SAT SIX Fun Squad of Parkscope Joe and Nick, hot shot Michael Carelli, and Hermione Granger’s tutor Megan Stump for their invaluable assistance with this article. The SAT SIX is inspired each week by goofballs Aengus Mackenzie and LitemAndHyde and you Potterheads will enjoy Meg’s other blog work over at the Central Florida Slug Club.