A human touch: Disney CFO promises character experiences will return soon
Character meet-and-greets are coming back soon. Promise.

Orlando, Florida, USA-November 12, 2015: Mickey and Minnie Mouse
'Yes, we are coming back to full capacity ... We're not yet there.'

One of the things many families missed at Disney World was getting close to their favorite characters during the pandemic.

“Hello, it’s Mickey Mouse. Please stay back 6 feet.”

“There’s Elsa from ‘Frozen.’ No hugs! Don’t go under the rope.”

But as restrictions are being lifted at the theme parks, those deeper character interactions could return soon, The Walt Disney Co.’s Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy said this week during a Q&A at a financial conference. She didn’t provide a deadlined timeline in her remarks other than “soon” or “this year.”

“The other thing that has not yet come back, but should be coming back soon is character meet-and-greets. And for any of you with children or grandchildren … little kids love being around those beloved Disney characters,” McCarthy said during the Morgan Stanley Technology, Media and Telecom Conference 2022.

Beyond photo opportunities and making kids smile, the characters play a key part in running a theme park. They help Disney manage the crowds which makes the full return of meet-and-greets even more important.

“Those character meet-and-greets take people out of lines for going on Space Mountain or Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway,” McCarthy said.

Also helping Disney control the crowds are the Magic Kingdom parades and the nighttime spectaculars at the parks, the CFO said.

Disney has operated a scaled-back version of entertainment since reopening during the pandemic, but McCarthy promised changes will happen later this year.

“They’re all not back yet. I think with the trending of COVID, we’re definitely going to see some of those face-to-face interactions come back,” McCarthy said, according to transcripts.

In the pre-pandemic past, Disney often faced criticism from fans who complained the parks were too crowded. Fans waited hours in line for rides or stood waiting for food. Space was tight as people packed the pathways.

The pandemic hurt Disney World financially when the parks shut down for several months in 2020. But Disney tried to make the best of it and used that as an opportunity to make major business changes and reinvent how it operates, company leaders have said.

“Yes, we are coming back to full capacity … We’re not yet there. But one of the things we were able to do when the parks were closed was really look at some of the underlying technologies for how we could run the business better and give a better consumer experience,” McCarthy said this week.

One big change is visitors need advance reservations to enter the parks. Buying a ticket or using an annual pass alone is not enough to gain entry.

McCarthy called the reservation system “one of the key linchpins.”

“Now, we needed that (reservation system) when we were limited — severely limited in capacity, when the government restrictions were such that you could only allow, 10%, 20%, 25%,” McCarthy said. “But then we saw that we could actually use this, even when the restrictions were lifted, that we know how many people are going to the park on a given day. And if they filled up a certain amount or how many reservations would be left for people just walking up at the last minute, but it allows us to better balance load throughout the year, throughout the week, throughout the month.”

Gabrielle Russon

Gabrielle Russon is an award-winning journalist based in Orlando. She covered the business of theme parks for the Orlando Sentinel. Her previous newspaper stops include the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Toledo Blade, Kalamazoo Gazette and Elkhart Truth as well as an internship covering the nation’s capital for the Chicago Tribune. For fun, she runs marathons. She gets her training from chasing a toddler around. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @GabrielleRusson .


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