The Secret of Character Palooza at Disney World
One of the best kept secrets at Walt Disney World isn’t something that you’ll find on a theme park map. It’s not even something that gets listed on My Disney Experience. It’s a character meeting that’s on the hush-hush. MickeyBlog’s about to let the cat out of the bag on the huge mystery, though. Here’s a quick guide to Character Palooza, one of the most unique events in Orlando.
What is Character Palooza?
You know that wonderful show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios? I’m talking about the one with the fire-breathing dragon and the giant snake. You know it as Fantasmic!, and it’s many people’s favorite nighttime show at Walt Disney World.
Why is Fantasmic! so great? Literally dozens of cast members play parts in the show each evening. At the end of the performance, they all ride around on the Steamboat Willie, with Mickey Mouse as their trusty captain. During these closing moments, guests in the audience frantically snap pictures of many of their favorite Disney characters. Yes, the cast members are all in costume!
Here’s the thing about these cast members. They have to walk over to the Fantasmic! area before each show. Disney has quietly turned these logistics issue into one of the best secrets at Walt Disney World. When you time your arrival right, you partake in the ultimate character meeting, one that includes more than 20 Disney characters! Yes, that’s Character Palooza!
Where Is Character Palooza?
Disney hasn’t officially commented on Character Palooza for a simple reason. They want to keep the event secret. Otherwise, guests would swarm to the designated spot each day, ultimately causing delays in the Fantasmic! presentation. Nobody wants that.
Someone from Disney’s Moms Panel did address the matter earlier this year. She states, “Character-Palooza typically takes place between 4 pm and 7 pm, and can happen by Tower of Terror, Streets of America, or around Echo Lake.”
In other words, even unofficial but informed opinions about Character Palooza are vague. It can take place at several locations. All of them are at Hollywood Studios, though. This knowledge allows you to narrow your search parameters. You also know that it won’t happen on the west side of the park since that’s the designated Toy Story and (eventually) Star Wars area.
What I can say based on experience is that I’ve had the best luck with Character Palooza when I’ve hung out near The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. You may have noticed that a park gate is just to the right of the ride entrance area. This gate is where cast members can walk to Fantasmic!, and it’s also where they can take time out from their show preparations to interact with guests.
I also must confess that the first time my family discovered Character Palooza was entirely by accident. We suddenly noticed about eight Disney characters taking pictures and signing autographs right by us. We had just departed from Tower of Terror, and we happened to walk straight into it as we exited the attraction’s adjoining gift shop. I say this to point out an unavoidable aspect of Character Palooza. A little luck goes a long way.
You can increase your odds slightly by paying attention, though. When word gets out that Character Palooza is about to happen or in progress, a palpable excitement grows across the crowd. If you’re lucky, you’ll notice a large number of people all heading in the same direction. This group usually walks with purpose since the event may last for only a few minutes. So, always be on the lookout for a wide swath of people heading to Echo Lake, Streets of America, or Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
Is Character Palooza Worth the Effort?
The answer to this question depends on how much you value character meetings. Very few places at Walt Disney World feature a great deal of characters in one location. Cinderella’s Royal Table, Akershus, and Chef Mickey’s are great examples of restaurants with character meals. Princess Fairytale Hall at Magic Kingdom and Donald’s Dino-Bash! At Disney’s Animal Kingdom are also character spots with a large number of cast members available.
The difference with Character Palooza is that it’s unadvertised. That’s huge, because the crowds are much smaller. Sometimes, there will be more characters available than guests seeking photographs and autographs! You’ll get more personal interactions, and you won’t have to pay the cost of a meal. You also won’t have to wait in a line queue. When you see a costumed cast member at Character Palooza, you can sometimes walk right up to them. It’s the best possible interaction!
The downside is that Character Palooza only happens at certain times each day. There’s no guarantee about which characters will attend, either. That’s both good and bad. Some of the rarest Disney characters make appearances at this event! Again, luck plays a determining factor in who you meet each time. When you get a photo or signing from that special Disney favorite, it totally justifies the effort.
You can use a bit of deduction and knowledge to enhance your fortunes. Character Palooza happens multiple times each day. One of the unwritten but reliable rules is that it will happen at the same time each hour. How does this help you?
Let’s say that you find out that Character Palooza happened at 4:20 p.m. You can make the reasonable assumption that it will happen at 5:20 p.m. as well and possibly 6:20 p.m., too. The safe bet is to return at 5:10 to the area where it happened at 4:20. You should be first in line for the next batch of character meetings.
Also understand that the timing of Fantasmic! impacts the Character Palooza event. When Fantasmic has an earlier showing (say 7 p.m.), the character meetings are all an hour earlier. Generally, the first Character Palooza happens around four hours prior to Fantasmic!. So, that 7 p.m. show would cause Character Palooza’s window to open at 3 p.m., 4 p.m., and 5 p.m.
Character Palooza is not guaranteed to happen on the hour, though. You may have to wait 10-20 minutes for the characters to arrive. And I should also point out that the event gets canceled without notice from time to time. It’s a mercurial but wonderful character meeting.
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