PhotoPass or Personal Cameras: What do you think?

by Adrienne Krock, staff writer

Long after the vacation ends, the memories last in the photos we take. Disney Theme Parks sure offer plenty of opportunities for photos—but they even provide the photographers to snap them for their guests. This week we asked our Parenting Panel: Do you use the Disney photographers and PhotoPass, or only use your own camera? Read on to hear from three different sides: Yes, No, and Maybe.

Chris, also known as GusMan, is always planning his next family trip to the Walt Disney World Resort and loves to help others plan their trips, as well sharing his experiences. Chris writes:

Along with many other dads, I'm a technology buff. And when it comes to capturing vacation memories, there is nothing more rewarding than getting that great shot of your kids as they meet Mickey or see the castle for the first time. The only problem is, I tend to be absent from most of the pictures found in our digital scrapbooks. Sure, there may be a few candid shots here and there, but overall, my presence is more of a cameo appearance than a supporting role.

Enter PhotoPass and Disney's answer to the parent who packs many a camera yet has a desire to become more than the unsung hero in the memory book.

I have to admit, when PhotoPass first came out, we were not sure how to best use the service. We would get our picture taken a couple times, maybe purchase a print from time to time and that was it. In essence, we just depended on the photos we took as our main source of vacation memories. However, once my wife started creating digital photo books, and wanted more pictures with the whole family, we started looking into PhotoPass a lot closer.

PhotoPass is much more than a simple family photo opportunity. Over the past several years, the offering and the photographers themselves have grown into a real feature of the parks. We love how the photographers get creative with poses and even adding different Disney characters into the shots as a neat surprise. At times, we also request just pictures of the kids, as well as separate pictures of just my wife and I, which is also a nice treat. And one other great feature is that some of the photographers can be found at the water parks, around resort pools, certain attractions, and even at your favorite character spots. With all these different opportunities, everyone can get into the action and not worry about be left out of the end credits in your family's vacation slide show. Not to mention, you wont have to worry about your expensive camera not being waterproof around Disney's Typhoon Lagoon.

Because my wife is a digital scrapbooker, we find a lot of value in preordering the PhotoPass CD. This way, we can get every picture taken by PhotoPass photographers, edit them when we get home, and then have them available for any sort of photo project. We make it a point to stop at many of the PhotoPass photographers for that quick shot. Also, in some cases, when we tell the photographer that we pre-ordered the CD, they will do something totally different. One time at Epcot, the photographer spent nearly five minutes with us and took nearly 50 different candid pictures! You just can't always capture that sort of magic with your own camera.

As you can see, we find a lot of value in PhotoPass. However, we do make it a point to use it to the best of its ability. Does that mean that I take fewer pictures with my own camera? Absolutely not! I can concentrate on taking candid pictures of my family enjoying the vacation without it seeming too staged. I can also then focus on capturing the beauty of the parks themselves. In essence, PhotoPass does not take away from my ability to capture vacation memories in my own creative way, but enhances it by getting the precious shots that I would not otherwise capture.

The Parenting Panel welcomes a new member: Elizabeth, who posts on our MousePad message board as eabaldwin, has been a Disneyland Annual Passholder since 2010. She and her husband have two daughters, ages 8 months and 2 1/2 years. Elizabeth writes:

We do use PhotoPass. It is convenient that it is attached to my Disneyland Annual Pass, so they snap photos and I hand them my pass. We have a good camera and always take photos with ours, or hand it off to a Cast Member to take a few for us. Being in the parks with young children, I can't imagine going without our own camera to capture all the moments that happen when a PhotoPass photographer is not there. We have used a photo from our Thanksgiving Day trip for our Christmas card for the last two years. The PhotoPass photographers have yet to get a better picture than we get with our camera. It is nice to be able to compare photos to see which ones come out better. We have not purchased any photos from PhotoPass yet, but we do always look at them once we get home. They would have to take a significantly better photo for us to pay the premium for a PhotoPass photo or download.

There is really only one down side to PhotoPass that I can think of for us. It can be difficult with two cameras and getting all individuals in the photo to look at the one that is snapping away. This is especially true with young children. We have countless numbers of photos with Mickey where our daughter is looking at the PhotoPass camera instead of ours. This is, of course, only an issue when there is another camera in addition to the PhotoPass photographer's.

On the other hand, we used PhotoPass-Plus on our recent trip and I am very excited to have a CD of hundreds of photos that I can share on Facebook or print out at Costco. I wish they would make a less expensive option of the PhotoPass-Plus that does not include the dining photos. I would do that every time we go to the parks. We do not do character meals with each visit that we make. At the current price (as of this publishing date, $69.95 with the preorder discount for Disneyland, $169.95 for Walt Disney World), it is only reserved for special occasions.

Parenting in the Parks columnist Adrienne Krock's three boys are now 13, 11, and 8. They've been visiting the Disneyland Resort since they were each just weeks old and Annual Passholders since their 3rd birthdays. Adrienne writes:

Regarding PhotoPass, I sit squarely in the middle. Our family uses PhotoPass… sometimes.

As very local Annual Passholders to Disneyland, we rarely consider PhotoPass worth the expense. Our visits are often short and we rarely stop for character photo opportunities. From time to time, we ask a PhotoPass photographer to take pictures for us on our camera. We do occasionally pick up a PhotoPass card. Based on mixed experiences posted online by Annual Passholders, I do not use the PhotoPass code attached to my Annual Pass. Some have reported that their photos did not stay attached to their code as long as Disney promised they would, and they lost their photos before they could order them. Instead, I always ask for a card, which the photographers always gladly give me.

In my experience, I find the PhotoPass photos are only really worth it when I have many photos on my card, or multiple cards, and I am prepared to purchase the entire CD or download of photos. Recently, my husband and I visited Disneyland together and I really wanted to get a special picture of the two of us. Thanks to a special offer, I was able to score a good deal on a Photo Pass CD. We stopped for every Photo Pass photographer we saw during our visit. Most of their cameras took better photos than ours—most of the time their digital SLR cameras are already set to the conditions of their settings. For that visit, I knew I wanted the PhotoPass and planned to get my money's worth.

Another visit this summer, we ran into Chip and Dale, my son's favorite characters. The visit was priceless. We asked the PhotoPass photographers to just start clicking away. I never would have been able to get my camera set up and then take as many pictures as they did in that encounter. We managed to gather enough photos on cards over the next 30 days to make another PhotoPass download purchase worth it.

When we visited Walt Disney World a few years ago, I felt I could not afford not to get the PhotoPass. The reality is that the photographers can get much better pictures when they do not have to juggle my camera and theirs. Given the freedom to only use their own cameras, they took many priceless photos of my family. I really enjoyed being able to attach our Test Track ride photos to our PhotoPass, as well, and now with the PhotoPass-Plus option, we would be able to add even more ride photos and dining experience photos as well.

As a parting note, we learned two PhotoPass tricks this summer: First off, take a picture of your PhotoPass cards with your camera or phone so that if you lose the card, you will still have the number and access to the photos you lost. Second, should you ignore the first tip, or forget, do not worry if you lose your card. We lost a card this summer so I went to the PhotoPass counter in Disney California Adventure. I told the cast member roughly what time we took our photos and in which locations. She was able to find a photo we took, track down all the photos attached to the lost card, and attach them to a new card for us. If only it was so easy to replace lost memory cards from our cameras!

MousePlanet columnist Chris Barry his wife Diane, 11-year-old Samantha, and twin 8-year-olds, Casey and Alex, live on Long Island and are all major Disney and Walt Disney World fans. Chris writes:

In some aspects PhotoPass seems like a no-brainer. I mean, Disney is going to take your photos, scan a card for you and they'll be available shortly for you to view in the parks. If you don't check them out in the parks, it's easy enough to log on to the PhotoPass site when you return home and order your photos. If you don't want them, just ignore them, they'll disappear and there's no harm done.

The plus side is that you can get a professional photograph taken of you and your family in most of the prime locations throughout Walt Disney World. It's also a great way to include everyone in the photographs. Take it from the family photographer ... I'm barely in any of our Disney pictures because I'm the one always taking the photos. It's rare to find a picture of all 5 of us say in front of Cinderella Castle or with Spaceship Earth in the background. Unless we're traveling with others, or we enlist some other kind guest to snap a photo of us, these shots rarely happen. You can pretty much guarantee getting these kinds of shots by utilizing PhotoPass. To me, that seems to be the biggest advantage.

When it comes to photos with the Disney characters however, things are a little different. We have plenty of shots with us all together flanked by our favorite characters. These have all come from my own camera. The Disney character handlers are always willing to use your camera and snap a shot or two of you while you're getting your autographs and posing for the PhotoPass photographers. We always take the PhotoPass card when offered but if we have a good one on our own camera, we're happy with that. As long as the Disney character handlers keep offering, I'll keep letting them take photos of us with our cameras.

Keep in mind that while there are always Photo Pass photographers in front of the major locations like the ones I mentioned above, the same couldn't be said for all character meet and greets. When you meet Mickey Mouse in the Town Square Theater in the Magic Kingdom, you can bet they'll be a PhotoPass photographer there. When you meet Peter Pan near the bridge to Adventureland there probably won't be one around. They're not everywhere.

That's the main reason that I can't rely completely on PhotoPass to cover our excursions in the parks. To me, one of the true joys of wandering around Walt Disney World is discovering the small details and capturing them in a photograph. No PhotoPass photographer will get you on Tom Sawyer's Island with Big Thunder Mountain in the background, or get those amazing carved animals in the Tree of Life for you at Animal Kingdom. Nor will they be able to snap a photo of your little ones gazing up in awe at Winnie the Pooh when he gets to your table at the Crystal Palace. Only you and your own camera can capture these moments and a million others in a place as vast as Walt Disney World.

Over the past 10 years of family trips, I can honestly say that we've only purchased prints from Photo Pass a handful of times, three or four at best. I blame that mostly on the cost. Quite frankly $14.95 for a 4x6 print is just too much money to spend when I can go to the local drugstore and print out one of my own 4x6 photos for 29¢. Currently Disney is offering a complete Photo CD with unlimited photos for $169.00. In my opinion, you'd have to take a whole lot of Photo Pass shots to make that worthwhile. Consider that an 8GB memory card costs about $10 on sale and can hold upwards of 1,500 pictures. Spend $20 on a 16GB card and depending on the number of pixels your camera shoots with you can almost triple that capacity. You have to be getting more for your money by taking your own photos. I've only used Photo Pass when they've captured an image that I just couldn't get like my wife and I alone on our "grown-ups only" trip in front of the castle or that shot of my sons and I this past summer in front of Spaceship Earth on our "boys only" trip. So, please forgive me for using this line, but, at least for now, I'll have to take a pass on PhotoPass.

It's your turn—keep the discussion flowing!

Visit the Parenting in the Parks forum on our MousePad discussion board, and share your opinions about this topic or many others, or send your suggestions via e-mail. Reader-submitted tips might be used in a future article, and you might be selected to participate in an upcoming panel discussion!



  1. By starleet

    Since it is free to have your picture taken with the PhotoPass, why wouldn't one want to? You don't have to buy the photos and can look at them online when you get home. It really seems like a non issue to me. Have fun posing for the pictures, then look at them at home. If there is a really good one, then buy it or make a mug out of it. I wish they had the t-shirt option with the PhotoPass. I made several with various pictures a few years ago. When we wear them in the parks people ask where we got them. I tell them PhotoPass but they aren't available anymore.

  2. By mkelm44

    I'm with Starleet here... it doesn't cost anything to have the PhotoPass picture taken, so I do. In general I'd say we use our personal cameras for candid shots but use Photopass for that one or two "official" pictures of the trip. Even though we only end up ordering one or two pictures, as long as we aren't in a rush or the photog is busy, we get the picture taken. After all, you never know when the perfect picture will happen. Maybe its in front of the castle, maybe in front of spaceship earth, maybe in some random corner of the park...

  3. By olegc

    I do usually have the photopass person, and their handler, take both photos. However, when there is a handler then as stated the angle could be odd or our family is not looking at that camera. I usually focus on PhotoPass when its a special event or something like that - Christmas or Halloween party, private event, school performance (they snap pix of the groups and place on green screen of castle, or snap the marching band down the street). Then, though, the cost is what gets me - so I even have to think about the digital purchase of one or two pix.

    Our point and shoot we have had since our 2007 trip to WDW has been our workhorse but its definitely shown its age long ago. If I have a night shot they handlers are too far away to take an appropriate picture. and at times they press the button hard - which moves the camera and well, you know, there goes your photo. In 07 when we were in WDW we did do the CD because it was our first trip - but we noticed there were no candid shots (as Adrienne noted - snapping away). All the pics were posed - and in all of them we were in the exact same spot. It was an unfortunate but interesting outcome.

    Overall - might as well get PhotoPass and make a decision later on whether to get them. This is OT but do they offer better effects in park than online? specifically for the halloween party - i was wondering if I missed out by not getting our photo in park.

  4. By adriennek

    Quote Originally Posted by olegc View Post
    In 07 when we were in WDW we did do the CD because it was our first trip - but we noticed there were no candid shots (as Adrienne noted - snapping away). All the pics were posed - and in all of them we were in the exact same spot. It was an unfortunate but interesting outcome.

    Overall - might as well get PhotoPass and make a decision later on whether to get them. This is OT but do they offer better effects in park than online? specifically for the halloween party - i was wondering if I missed out by not getting our photo in park.

    This brings up a good point that I wish I'd emphasized more in my section of the article but Chris/Gusman mentioned in his: In my experience, the more you engage the photographer, the better your photographs will be - or at least the more you'll get! A few times on our trips, when we've had those snapping away moments - we've really engaged the photographers - and if they're there, the characters.

    One time we met Sorcerer Mickey when my youngest was going to be SM for Halloween. We told Mickey this and Mickey was SO excited! HE was posing my son and teaching him SM poses and then telling the rest of my family what to do, where to stand, etc, etc. We got tons of shots - (most of them posed but we'll never forget that story with all the pictures we got from it!)

    The time I mentioned in the article, the adults in the group were actively engaging the photographers. We encouraged them to take lots of pictures, thanked them profusely, and it really just egged on everyone from the kids to the characters to the photographers.

  5. By GusMan

    Quote Originally Posted by adriennek View Post
    In my experience, the more you engage the photographer, the better your photographs will be - or at least the more you'll get!

    Thanks for bringing this up again. This is really a good point for those who prepaid for the CD. Some people think it is not really worth the prepay option or getting the CD at all because they dont know if they will get enough pictures. Part of that is a factor of the photog and part of that is the guest requesting nicely different pics and/or mentioning that you already prepaid, prompting a photo frenzy. This is especially the case in the event of a photog not being busy and there is no line - take advantage of their slow time.

    Never be afraid to ask nicely for a certain picture. Also, if you see some other guests doing something funny, feel free to be copycats.

    One other tip I will bring up - take a picture of the numbers on your photopass cards just in case you loose them. Trust me - it can save you.

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