The highly-anticipated return of hugs at Disney Parks is fast approaching, with Guests finally able to hug Mickey Mouse, high-five Donald Duck, and strike a pose with their favorite Disney Princesses.
After a long pandemic pause, up-close character meet-and-greet photo opportunities are returning to Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resorts next week. The COVID-19 pandemic altered a lot of the traditional Disney magic we’re used to at Disneyland Park, Disney California Adventure, Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme parks.
Now, though, it has been revealed that Disneyland Guests are going to have a different character interaction than those at Walt Disney World, after Disneyland officials announced details regarding the return of hugs at Disneyland.
From face masks and plexiglass to the new Park Pass Reservation system, the Guest experience at Walt Disney World and other Disney Parks across the globe was modified significantly for the health and safety of Guests and Cast Members.
Traditional meet and greets between Guests and Disney characters were not allowed at Walt Disney World or Disneyland during the pandemic, with characters only seen in new “sightings” or on character cavalcades down Main Street, U.S.A. Now that Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines are reduced, social distancing rules are being removed for character meet and greets on April 18.
One stark difference is apparent, however, between meet and greets at Disneyland in Anaheim and those in Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista. According to OC Register, Disneyland officials do not plan to use the costly Genie+ or Lightning Lane services at this time for character meet and greets at the Parks.
From January 26, 2022, meeting characters became a part of Disney World’s new Lightning Lane service. Disney Genie officially launched at Walt Disney World on the My Disney Experience app last October, along with Disney Genie+ and Lightning Lane access. These are the new paid iterations of what was previously the free FastPass service loved by Guests.
Seeing Mickey at Town Square Theatre, Princesses at Princess Fairytale Hall in Magic Kingdom, as well as the Olaf Celebrity Spot at Disney’s Hollywood Studios are all included in the paid Lightning Lane service costing $15 per person per day. Stand-by queues remain available at each Disney World meet-and-greet location at no additional charge.
Disneyland has opted to go in a different direction than Disney World when it comes to using Genie+ and Lightning Lane services for interactions with Disney, Pixar, Marvel, and Star Wars characters. Only the standby queues will be available to Guests, which may come as a surprise to those debating whether Disney CEO Bob Chapek is all about being a “cost-cutter” and making money at the theme parks.
Disneyland’s digital app service includes the free Disney Genie itinerary planning feature; the $20 Disney Genie+ replacement for the former FastPass line-cutting benefit; and the Individual Lightning Lane option that charges $7 to $20 to jump to the front of the line on the most popular rides like Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Disneyland’s paid Genie+ service offers front-of-the-line access to nearly 20 attractions but won’t include character meet-and-greets like at the Walt Disney World Resort.
Meeting characters often became an awkward experience for Guests with COVID-19 pandemic rules in place. Ropes were introduced at attractions like Meet Mickey Mouse at Town Square Theater, Pixie Hollow, and Princess Fairytale Hall, with Guests only allowed to take selfies with their favorite characters.
We can’t wait for normal meet and greets to return to the Walt Disney World Resort, Aulani Disney Resort in Hawaii, Disney Cruise Line, and Disneyland Resort on April 18!