It's been more than two years since Disney characters mingled with theme park guests—rubbing noses, whispering secrets, and perhaps most importantly, offering hugs. When Disneyland reopened last April after a 14-month closure triggered by a global pandemic that made physical interaction risky, visitors could only glimpse Mickey and Minnie Mouse "from behind roped-off areas or elevated stages," reports the Los Angeles Times. This "bummed out some families so much that they canceled or postponed their trips," per the New York Times. But now, the wait is finally over. As of Monday, character interactions are back at Disneyland, where the excitement is palpable.
"It's part of what makes Disney so special," Bri Petrarca, a mother of two sporting a T-shirt reading "Here for the hugs," told the NY Times on Monday as 50 people waited in line to hug Minnie Mouse near the Main Street USA magic shop. Another mother wiped away a tear as her 2-year-old daughter rubbed noses with Mickey. "We've been waiting and waiting for the character interactions to come back," said Alyssa Sutherland, who'd traveled from Alberta, Canada. The return of high-fives and hugs from favorite characters including Cinderella and Frozen's Elsa and Anna, following the lifting of most mask requirements in February, represents a return to normal—and to intimacy—at Disneyland.
"They provide an emotional touch point," Robyn Vossen, general manager of entertainment operations, told the NY Times. "That personal, one-on-one interaction may be the most powerful offering that the Walt Disney Company has." It's also key as the park's "next challenge" is repairing relationships amid higher prices for customers and record profits for Disney, writes Robert Niles at the San Jose Mercury News. Last month, Disney announced the return of "some of our most beloved magic, like character greetings," to be rolled out at parks "throughout the spring and early summer," per the LA Times. Another magical experience, Disneyland's Main Street Electrical Parade, returns on Friday. (Read more Disneyland stories.)