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Disney’s PhotoPass: Pros, Cons & Everything in Between

by FrogBlog on October 8, 2013 · 6 Comments · in Family Travel, Reviews

Mommy Frog’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Undercover Tourist customer Vern Woodruff, who visited the Walt Disney World Resort in November. He shares his experience using PhotoPass. Please note that some of these photos were taken by PhotoPass photographers with Vern’s camera; not all were shot with the PhotoPass professional cameras.

Recently, Disney has launched a new site for PhotoPass called MyDisneyPhotoPass.com. If your most recent vacation started prior to Sept. 4, your photos can still be viewed on the standard site. With the new site, the expiration date for photos taken in the park has changed, and a photo now expires 45 days after it was taken, although guests have the option to purchase a one-time extension of their photos for 15 days for $19.95. 

Family - Cinderellas Castle

A visit to Walt Disney World will be sprinkled with many magical and memorable moments, especially if this is a first visit for your child or children. For them, it is a place of enchantment and wonderment, a feast for their senses, and where they can meet some of their favorite characters. To little ones who believe in Santa and the Tooth Fairy, Mickey Mouse and Cinderella are not just people either in a costume or just dressed up, but the REAL Mickey Mouse and Cinderella. If you are like the vast majority of visitors, you will have your camera and be ready to capture these moments. In recent years, Disney has developed a service to assist you in your quest to capture the magic – PhotoPass.

PhotoPass is a complimentary service open to everyone, where Disney photographers will take your picture and give you a PhotoPass card tied to the pictures. Additional pictures can be tied to the same card by the photographer scanning it, or different cards can be obtained from the photographer. Once you create an account at Disney’s PhotoPass site, you enter the codes from all of your cards to view your photos. You can then look through the assorted products that are offered and choose items you want to purchase. (For guests, testing out MagicBands at one of the participating resorts, PhotoPass photographers will scan your band instead of giving you a card.) However, if you first find out about PhotoPass when you are at the park, you will not be able to optimize your use of the service and you will also miss out on some great discounts. With a little bit of planning and research (which you must be doing or you would not be reading this), you can determine ahead of your visit if PhotoPass is something that will be of value to you. The goal of this post is to help you with that determination, and to optimize your PhotoPass experience if you choose to take advantage of the service.

Prior to my family’s visit in November 2012, I had been planning, reading and researching our trip for over a year. However, I did not learn about PhotoPass until about 4 weeks before our departure date. Then, I had difficulty trying to find out more about the service, the pros and cons, and whether it would be worth the expense. After all, I had a camera and I could take pictures of my kids standing with a character just as easily as a PhotoPass photographer.

When you visit Disney’s PhotoPass website, there are several aspects of the service that are highlighted.

1.) Utilizing PhotoPass photographers, the entire party can be in the picture instead of missing the person who usually takes the pictures.

Darth Vader - Verne

2.) PhotoPass photographers are located throughout Walt Disney World, especially around prime locations, spots with photogenic backgrounds, and at many character greetings. Two interactive attractions, Enchanted Tales with Belle and Star Wars Jedi Training Academy, are also staffed with a PhotoPass photographer.

Balloons - Verne Carl

3.) A PhotoPass exclusive is Magic Shots, where the photographer will pose you as needed and then digitally add a character (like Tinker Bell) or balloons to the picture.

4.) For those who want digital copies of all their PhotoPass pictures, you can purchase Disney’s PhotoCD. This CD contains high-resolution copies of all your PhotoPass pictures along with a limited license agreement that allows you to print copies of your photos at photo shops. There is no limit on the number of photos you can have, but you are time limited to a 14 consecutive-day period. The CD will include Magic Shots as well as copies of any photos you edited in your PhotoPass account by cropping or adding special Disney borders.

Exp Everest

5.) An upgrade over the PhotoCD is PhotoPass+, which Disney started offering in early 2012. PhotoPass+ includes the PhotoCD, but also includes digital copies of the photos and complimentary print packages for certain dining locations (i.e. Chef Mickey’s), attraction photos (i.e. Space Mountain, Expedition Everest), photos from other Disney experiences (i.e. Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique), a copy of Disney’s Photo Gallery CD (containing stock photos from around Walt Disney World), and a special PhotoPass+ card for the photographers to recognize.

Chef Mickeys

If you plan ahead, you can save about $50 on a PhotoCD or PhotoPass+. Purchasing a PhotoCD prior to your vacation costs $119.95, versus $169.95 if you wait until after your trip. The PhotoPass+ option is $149 if you purchase it at least 14 days before your departure versus $199.95 if you wait. The reason for the 14-day lead time is that you will be sent a package that contains Disney’s Photo Gallery CD and a certificate that you will redeem at a PhotoPass Sales Center in Walt Disney World (there is one in each theme park, as well as some other locations). Looking over all of this, I struggled with whether I should pre-purchase a PhotoCD or PhotoPass+ since I was not sure about the service, but I wanted the advance purchase discount of about $50 if I did buy it. In the end, since this was the first visit for my three kids (ages 5, 7 and 8), I decided to go ahead and purchase PhotoPass+ since it had the advantage of adding attraction photos to the account for no extra charge and receiving free photo print packages at selected dining locations, one of which we would be visiting. Here is the link to purchase in advance.

Since I have now used the service, here is a list of Pros and Cons that I found from my experience.

PROS

  • You can quickly obtain a picture while walking through an area and passing a PhotoPass photographer.
  • With someone else taking the picture, you can focus on trying to get your kids to smile or pose how you want.
  • marianneThere was no problem with having the PhotoPass photographer take a picture of just the kids first, then a photo of all of us. They were very accommodating.
  • You do not have to hunt for a random person to take a picture with your camera of the entire family.
  • The photographers are generally positioned at optimal locations for pictures with the major backdrops and icons.
  • The photographers were in the park and taking pictures prior to opening, so I did not need a tripod to have a picture taken of my family with Cinderella’s Castle in the background when we had a breakfast dining reservation prior to official park opening.
  • The PhotoPass photographers will take a picture with your camera too, but they take many more pictures and are extra enthusiastic using their own. Also, they generally have their camera settings correct while yours may be off (i.e. forgetting to change your camera from an indoor setting to bright sunshine outside, not having the flash set correctly).
  • Space MountainRide attractions and dining locations with photos are included in your account. Also, free print photo packages at certain dining locations are included. We were given our free photo package from Chef Mickey’s before we were finished with our meal.
  • Tinkerbell - MariannFor the photographers around Cinderella’s Castle, be sure to ask about having a special picture taken with you either holding Tinker Bell in your hands or a bunch of balloons. Tinker Bell and the balloons will be digitally added to your photo. We had several really sweet shots taken of my 5-year-old daughter holding Tinker Bell and some cute shots of my 7- and 8-year-old boys holding balloons. The one constraint is that for whatever reason, they don’t take these photos with the castle in the background. The background was usually the street or the ground.
  • Typically, if you wanted to take a photo with your camera too, the PhotoPass photographer would wait until you had taken your photo first. However, if you are taking photos at the same time, make sure that you are very close to the PhotoPass photographer. If you are off to the side, the kids will look at you and they will not be looking straight ahead in the PhotoPass pictures.
  • By purchasing the package in advance, you know to take advantage of any PhotoPass photographers you see.
  • Electronic copies of all of your pictures will be sent to you on a picture CD, along with a copyright release that allows you to print your own photos. This is significantly cheaper than purchasing individual prints of the photos from Disney. I had no problems printing off my pictures at a local Wal-Mart.
  • You have 45 days from when a photo was taken to claim your photos from your online PhotoPass account. After claiming your photos, you can edit your photos and add borders before ordering your PhotoCD with all the pictures. There are a number of neat borders and overlays available to enhance your photos (i.e. character autographs, theme park and character specific borders). The price is the same regardless of the number of pictures in your account or the number of CD’s needed to send them all to you.

CONS

  • Family - Animal KingdomThe price of the package. If you purchase in advance, you can save $50 but you do not know how your photos will look and how much you will use the service. If you wait until after using the service to decide, it costs $50 more and you may have missed using it at times because you did not know if you would purchase it (i.e. the attraction and dining photos).
  • The online photo editing tools are fairly limited and the web-page response is slow at times. Also, you can only use one border / overlay on a photo (i.e. you can’t add a Mickey border and Mickey’s autograph to the same photo). The other issue with the borders/overlays is that the available options can vary from day to day. For example, 2012 dated overlays disappeared for a week around Christmas, then returned. There were several attractive princess-specific overlays (i.e. Cinderella or Snow White themed) that were available when I first started editing pictures, then they disappeared.
  • With 45 days to claim your photos, you need to be disciplined and make time to go through your pictures shortly after returning from your trip.
  • The price is the same whether you are in the parks for 1 day or 10, so it obviously makes more sense for longer visits.
  • If you do not plan on having many photos taken, then it is pricey for just a handful of pictures. In this case, just hand the PhotoPass photographer your camera to obtain the pictures you want.
  • Santa Goofy - MariannWhile PhotoPass photographers are with many of the characters, they are not with all of them. Surprisingly, there were no photographers present with any of the three character meals we attended (Crystal Palace, Chef Mickey’s and Cinderella’s Royal Table). So, you’ll need to carry around and make sure you have your own camera available for such times.
  • PhotoPass photographers are not always available at the different locations they are supposed to be at. For example, there were several times that no photographer was present near the Tower of Terror or Space Mountain.
  • The quality of the pictures can vary from one photographer to another. However, you can always use your own camera. By the same token, if you hand your camera to a random person, there is no guarantee as to how he or she will frame and take the picture. At least the PhotoPass photographers would take a number of shots each time so hopefully at least one of them turns out well. Having multiple shots are nice to choose from, especially if someone blinks or frowns in one of the pictures.
  • Even though your PhotoPass card is scanned by the photographer, it is possible for pictures from that photographer to be lost. You might be able to reclaim the photos if you can remember when and where the missing photos were taken. However, this means you need to go through the pictures immediately after returning and try to determine if any photos are missing. After spending a number of days in the parks and stopping countless times for photos, remembering missing photos can be a challenge. Also, you have to submit a missing photo claim form within 30 days of the date of the photo. From my seven-day visit, there were four sets of photos that were missing. The PhotoPass cast members were able to locate three of the sets, but the fourth was lost. If there is something that you really want to make sure you have a picture of, be certain to have the PhotoPass photographer use your camera too.
  • While attraction photos can be added to your account, you need to write down the photo number and then stop at the attraction’s photo desk to have it added to your account. The ride photos are only available at that attraction for the day that you visit, so you need to make sure to have the photo added to your account prior to leaving for the day. However, if you ride multiple times, keep track of all your photo numbers and have them added to your account at the attraction’s photo desk after your last ride. One option for remembering your photo number is to take a picture of the photo preview screen after riding with your camera or cell phone.

SUMMARY

I would highly recommend this service for people who are visiting for multiple days and plan to see a lot of characters, especially if you have little ones and this is their first visit. My family visited for seven days and we had a 5-, 7- and 8 year-old that met many of the characters. We ended up having more than 800 photos from our visit, prior to additional ones that were added to the account as I edited the pictures. Also, when comparing the photos I took with my camera versus the PhotoPass shots, the PhotoPass pictures were typically better and clearer. For the seven-day visit, the cost ended up being just over $21 a day. If you plan to ride the attractions that take photos and want to have copies of them, or will be dining at the locations that offer a free print package, you will want to spend the extra $30 and purchase the PhotoPass+ option over the PhotoCD.

For more information on PhotoPass, visit https://mydisneyphotopass.disney.go.com/mymedia/.

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If you’re thinking about a trip to Disney World, make sure to check out the other news, tips and information we post to the blog throughout the week. If you’re ready to plan your trip, we recommend you start with our planning pages.


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6 Responses to “Disney’s PhotoPass: Pros, Cons & Everything in Between”

  1. Erin says:

    One quick note: I used the PhotoPass+ recently, and while they tell you the ride photos are only available that day, this does not seem to actually be the case. I had the photo numbers and the day I had the picture taken for a few pictures, one of which was three days earlier, and they were still able to find it for me. I was very glad too, it was a great picture frim Splash Mountain taken during extra magic hours when the photo pick up area was closed.

  2. Natasha says:

    Hi! Thanks for this really good post, it is really well rounded. There are a few things that have been updated, though, that I wanted to tell you about. I was a photopass photographer for an internship earlier this year, so I have the inside scoop ;D. You can now do a border and a signature (at least in store). On the whole, editing is a whole lot easier in store. So, if you go, come during the day, usually early morning or during a parade (if you’ve already seen it, or if you want to come in while your kids are watching it). That way a photopass photographer can help you go through the pictures and edit them the best way you can, cause we know all the ins and outs. plus we can tweak and edit the photos if need be. Plus, just the computer system as a whole is a lot more user friendly in store than it is online. The online website is really annoying. And there are a couple reasons for not doing magic shots in front of the icons. Some photographers do it, some don’t. It’s generally frowned upon because the magic shots are big sellers and if the shots have the icon in it as well, we’d lose money, cause why would you buy both the icon shot and the magic shot if you can just get one with both of them in it. I’m one of those photographers that say ‘Screw it, I’m gonna give you guys the best picture I can’. I remember doing one picture when I was located right next to the Sorcerer’s hat in Hollywood Studios (and I mean RIGHT next to it, practically underneath) and I had a little boy jump up with his one hand out high while I was down on my knees, so that it seemed like he was being carried away by balloons right past the Sorcerer’s hat. It. Was. Epic. A great shot and the family loved it later (I was working in the store later when they came in). Another reason why they don’t do it, is a lot of the locations are just too far away from the icon to get a good picture of it and say your little girl holding a very small Tinkerbell. It just wouldn’t turn out to be a good picture. Tinkerbell would be a dot on the page. Also, the equipment can be faulty sometimes, the scanners mostly. So, when that happens, the photographer has to leave their post to go call base, and usually they’ll tell them to come back to base, leaving their location empty for a little while while the replacement photographer gets there. That’s usually why a location is empty. Either that, or they were short that day. When that happens, locations like Tower and SM are secondary, so not as important as say, Main Street castle locations. Anywho, Thanks so much for sharing this awesome post. Very well rounded and informative!

    • FrogBlog says:

      Wow! Terrific information, Natasha. Thank you for sharing!

      – Mommy Frog

    • Vern Woodruff says:

      Thanks so much Natasha for taking the time to write your thoughts and add insider information to my post. Your notes are a great enhancement to what I had written, especially since it answers some questions I had and contains information that only someone who had worked as a PhotoPass photographer would know. I had never tried editing a picture in the store, and only looked at a handful of pictuers in a store when I had the Jedi Training Academy photos added to my account. Since I knew I would be receiving all of the photos taken with the PhotoPass+ package, I did not take the time to review them in a store during our visit. I wonder why the editing tools in the store are so much better than they are on-line? There is no way I could have edited my pictures in a store because I’m certain that I spent more time going through and editing my pictures than the total time I spent in the parks during our 7 day visit. Hopefully Disney will add some upgrades to the on-line editing tools in the future, especially since I plan to use the PhotoPass service again in just over a year. Just a couple of enhancements, like being able to add a border and an autograph or being able rotate a picture by a degree or two to straighten out one that is slightly crooked, would be great.

  3. This is a great overview of PhotoPass. I agree that it is surprising that there are no PhotoPass photographers assigned to the character meals. It detracts so much from the experience and the meal to constantly have to fiddle with the camera and get up to take pictures I would happily pay more for the service to have PhotoPass photogs at the character meals.

    Also agree that the website needs major help. It is so slow and the editing options are so limited.

    Even with the gripes of the lack of photographers at the character meals and the website issues, I would still recommend it for an extended family trip. It eliminates so much of the hassle of having to pull out the camera and deal with camera settings in the park, plus everyone gets to be in the picture.

    • Vern Woodruff says:

      Thanks for the comments Catherine. The only reasons I could think of as to why PhotoPass photographers are not at the character meals is that it would either slow down the characters as they make their way around a room, or they do not feel there is enough room in the restaurants for a photographer. Like you, I would have been glad for a PhotoPass photographer to take pictures in addition to the ones I took. The lighting in the restaurants can be tricky when you are trying to get your camera settings correct.

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