Disneyland Paris and character encounters: a problem?

Of all the activities on offer at Disneyland Paris and Disney parks around the world, nothing is less emblematic than character encounters. Who hasn’t wanted to have a photo of their child with Mickey? Or their little princess with one of the Disney princesses? And even, as an adult, a cuddle with Winnie or Stitch? In its promotional tools, the destination often uses images of these encounters to entice visitors to come to the park, except that …

Characters’ schedules

The Paris resort has something unique in the world. Although there are a few characters (often at the Main Street U.S.A. photo points and at the entrance to Walt Disney Studios Park), character encounters are concentrated in the 11.30am to 2pm time slot. That’s a pretty short time slot, considering that the photo points that start when the park opens end around the same time.

Looking at the park’s application today, I noticed that of the 8 photo points on the application (excluding the Princess Pavilion, Star Port and Meet Mickey Mouse, which are special cases). For Disneyland Park, 4 of them are at these times. As I wandered around the park, I also found 6 other photo points with these same times. So we have more than half of the character encounters with a rather short time slot when you consider the park’s opening times. What’s more, of the remaining photo points in the same park, 2 others start earlier but finish at the same time. So from 2pm, there are officially virtually no characters left in the park. The remaining points close their queues at 5pm at the latest. This means that we can no longer meet people in the parks from that time onwards. Bear in mind that the park may close at 11pm at certain times of the year.

It is of course possible to meet characters in the morning or evening at Disney hotels, but few visitors are aware of this. Walt Disney Studios Park fares better in terms of timetables, with meeting points ending around 4pm. But there are very few of them, with only 4 photo points in the whole park, not counting the Hero Training Center, which is also a special case. Avengers wander around the campus at random and don’t, of course, take photos with everyone.

Having been to foreign parks myself, the characters’ time slots are much more extensive and are not concentrated in three hours during the day. The characters are present throughout the day and sometimes even until the park closes.

Character Encounters: diversity?

As a big fan of the characters, I loved being able to look around the park for the unannounced characters that came out on certain days. I’m writing this sentence in the past tense because, since Disneyland Paris turned 30 and Covid came out, that’s really no longer the case. Whether at Walt Disney Studios Park or Disneyland Park, the characters that come out are always the same and always in the same places. Mickey catches cobwebs in the garden at Phantom Manor. Goofy and Minnie are starting to get sore feet from playing cowboys in front of the Cowboy Cookout Barbecue. Baloo is still wondering why he’s next to Hakuna Matata and not Colonel Hathi’s Outpost Restaurant. As for Pinocchio and Geppetto, they’ve had time to see It’s A Small World go in and out of rehab. Winnie has put down roots in Town Square and Woody and Jessie are still wondering if there are any other PIXAR characters.

And that’s just for the announced meets. The surprises are Chip and Dale, Donald and Daisy, Pluto and Goofy, sometimes accompanied by Max, Tigger and Eeyore, Piglet and Coco Rabbit. And let’s not even get started on the seasons, because the same characters await us year after year.

So, I’m not saying we’re not happy to see the Villains back for Halloween (well, different from those we’ve already seen all year and whose photo spot is just made official for the season) and characters in Christmas outfits. But between Goofy as Father Christmas in the Studio and Frontierland, and Max in his Halloween outfit, we hardly see anything new from one year to the next.

But why a problem?

With the rise of social networking, more and more visitors are interested in these famous encounters with the characters. However, there are only a small number of them, and the time slots are limited. This increases the frustration of visitors, who sometimes have to wait almost an hour to meet the characters. Many of them give up and miss out on an experience that only Disneyland Paris can provide. As fans of meets, we all have an encounter that transports us just thinking about it. How many times have I said to myself that this is the magic of Disney. But with all its constraints and not very diverse characters, many visitors don’t get to experience these moments.

What’s more, the characters are always the same. When a different one finally comes out, we see a real rush, with queues that can last up to 3 hours and Cast Members having to control situations that can be complicated. Remember the 100th anniversary of the Walt Disney Company, with a disastrous selfie spot at the Théâtre du Château and a poorly managed photo opportunity at Walt Disney Studios.

Pavillon and company …

The Princess Pavilion

Are you coming to Disneyland Paris for a magical family day out? Would you like your little boy or girl to take a photo with the princess of their dreams? Disneyland Paris has the solution: you can sleep at the superb Disneyland Hotel, where the princesses walk around the lobby regularly during the day, with the royal troop or at their exclusive meeting point. And even at the Table de Lumière for an extra 120 euros per person.

Too expensive for you? Don’t worry, Disneyland Paris still has something for you. Treat yourself to a meal at the Auberge de Cendrillon, where Cinderella, her friends Suzy and Perla and other Disney Princesses will come and sit down with you. And, of course, the meal costs €95 per person, although you don’t know which princesses will be there.

Ah, it’s still too expensive, but Disneyland Paris has one last solution for you: the magnificent Princess Pavilion is waiting for you, with a waiting time often close to 90 minutes. How many princesses will you meet? Just one. But which one? We can’t tell you. So yes, you can queue for up to 3 hours to meet a princess you’re not interested in. Why not set up a booking system like the training centre at the pavilion? That way, visitors wouldn’t have to queue, because the queue would be virtual. As a result, even if it’s not really the princess you’re hoping for, there will still be a lot less frustration because the impression of wasting time won’t be the same.

Yes, and if you’re not happy with that either, the last solution is to go and watch the parade and hope that one of the princesses notices you and says hello. Meet them elsewhere in the park? No, it’s impossible, they don’t go out in the park as surprise photo opportunities. And why not? We’re not sure. Because princesses are among the most popular characters, they’re also the hardest to get to in the park. They do come out during Princess Week at the end of August, but otherwise they seem trapped in the pavilion.

Meet Mickey Mouse

Of all the photo spots like this, Meet Mickey Mouse is undoubtedly the most successful. Short films in the queue keep us waiting to see our favourite mouse. Nevertheless, why not change Mickey’s outfit according to the season, or have a different outfit from one room to the next, to make the visitor experience more interesting, as in other Disney parks abroad?

Star Port

Star Port suffers from the same problem as Meet Mickey Mouse, a weariness of having the same thing over and over again. Our resort, having no other opportunity to meet Star Wars characters (for the moment, I hope). It’s frustrating to think that you can only meet Darth Vader when you know that the other characters from the universe could come. Darth Vader obviously has a huge popularity rating, but why can’t we meet the others too? I had a glimmer of hope during the last Christmas season when Rey, Chewbacca and Boba Fett could also be met, but it was short-lived and we were back with our eternal Darth Vader.

Hero Training Center

I think the Hero Training Center is the perfect example of what Disneyland Paris can do. A virtual queue that takes the frustration out of waiting. You can choose between a random character or the most popular one. A very good experience that I recommend. For a while there was a redundancy in Captain Marvel but, in my opinion, this has been improved over time.

Significant efforts

Amongst all these negative points, there are a few moments of hope. Indeed, we can only appreciate that Disneyland Paris offers us exclusive encounters on theme days such as Valentine’s Day or International Women’s Rights Day. Women’s Rights Day was a real success for me, and I’d like to congratulate Disneyland Paris for that.

What’s more, we can’t help but notice that Disneyland Paris is also trying to keep up with the times, with the meeting of Asha this winter, for example. Or the Marvel characters visiting the Campus when the films are released. And we’re even offering meetings with the Mandalorian and Grogu at Discoveryland last year and bringing him back this year. That’s what we want at Disneyland Paris. Characters that keep up with the times and change from time to time, like other parks around the world.

There are still many things that Disneyland Paris could offer. I’m hopeful, given the direction things are going, that this slump may soon be coming to an end. So yes, I’m not saying that the current characters shouldn’t come out any more either, but a bit of renewal wouldn’t hurt either.