Disney PhotoPass 101

I was looking through pictures from our family Disney trip in 1992 recently and I noticed something very interesting.  My mother isn’t in many of the pictures from our trip, and there are not many pictures of the whole group of us.  Disney has tried to solve this issue by offering the Photopass program.   Throughout the Disney parks, there are dozens of professional photographers at the best locations who are waiting to capture your family photo.  These locations are usually character spots or great photo opportunities near the most iconic Disney Parks symbols.  The process is simple: the photographer takes your picture and then scans a Photopass card.  This card can be reused throughout your vacation by giving it to each Photopass photographer you come in contact with, but if you don’t have one on you, just ask for another one, as multiple cards can be added to your account.  On our last 5 day trip as a family of 4 we had over 500 pictures after adding various borders and Disney logos.

Photopass card

[HINT – When you receive your card, make sure to take a photo with your camera/phone of the back of the card as a backup in case you lose it. The numbers on the back are what you need to be enter into the site to load your pictures.]

Magic Shots

Some of you might be saying, “Couldn’t I just hand my own camera to the photographer to take our picture?” and the answer is “Yes, of course!”.  In fact, we have done this often, mainly due to the fact that the PhotoCD isn’t immediately available, and we like to share our photos with friends/family through social media and Photopass photographers are happy to oblige.  One of the main differences between your camera and the Photopass cameras are “Magic Shots”.   These photos are taken in specific poses and later a surprise (usually a character) is added directly to the photo.  It is a very cool feature that adds to your experience,

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Three examples of magic shots Chip, Stitch and Tinkerbell 
(Borders can be added to any picture online before ordering as well)

We have taken advantage of the PhotoCD through Disney in every one of our trips since it was offered.  Although it is an added expense, it takes the pressure off of taking out your camera and asking someone to take a photo of the whole family.   We still used our DSLR camera and iPhones for candids in places that there were not photographers, but some of our best shots were done by the professionals.

Pricing

PhotoCD 

Regularly $169 – Special offer – $119 (SAVE $50) http://www.disneyphotopass.com/specialoffers/wdwphotocdlearnmore.htm

The PhotoCD only includes the pictures taken after you have signed up for the offer.  So if you pre-order the CD it will create a credit for the CD in your Photopass account.  Once you have added all of your photos and editied them  with borders and other character enhancements, you will be able to download the pictures immediately using this credit for free, or ask for CDs to be mailed to you standard shipping for $4.95 extra.  If for some reason you change your mind for any reason at all, you can get a full refund within 90 days of your pre-order.  So this package is worth pre-ordering and you can decide later.

NOTE : You must register the serial number(s) of your PhotoPass(es) online within 30 days or they expire. Your photos are taken off the website exactly 30 days after you register.

PhotoPass+

Regularly $199 – Special offer – $149 (SAVE $50) http://www.disneyphotopass.com/specialoffers/wdwppp.htm

PhotoPass+ has all of the benefits of PhotoCD, with the added benefit of all of the pictures from attractions: Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Buzz Lightyear, Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n Roller Coaster, Test Track (w/o PP+), Expedition Everest and Dinosaur.  The other benefit are the photos from select dining locations: 1900 Park Fare, Chef Mickey’s, ‘Ohana (breakfast), Tusker House (breakfast), Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show, Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue.   Cinderella’s Royal Table and Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall are also included although hard copy are already included in your meal cost, you can  add the photos to your PhotoCD.

Note: You must pre-order this at LEAST 14 days prior to your vaction as you will be getting a package in the mail with a voucher that you will need to use on your trip.

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Meet & Eat: A Guide to Character Meals in Disney World

Most of us who visit the Disney Parks have some desire to meet the Disney characters we fell in love with on the screen. We all have our favorite characters and some of us would be willing to wait for hours in line just for the chance to snap a picture and grab an autograph. Waiting in line in Disney to meet a character gives you less time to enjoy the rides and shows, so since everybody needs to eat, why not try to accomplish two things at once? Instead of a Meet & Greet, try a Meet & Eat with a Character Meal. Disney offers a variety of character meals at all times of the day, both in park and at resorts, and they include some of the most popular characters. The following chart summarizes the character meals offered at Disney World (click on it to enlarge it):

Character Chart

Tips for making the most of your character meals:

1. Make a Reservation for a Breakfast inside the park BEFORE it opens:

All of the character breakfasts offered inside the park (see chart above) have reservation times available BEFORE the park opens. For example, on a morning that Magic Kingdom opens at 9am, Crystal Palace begins taking reservations starting at 8am. If you are lucky enough to get a reservation at this time, you will be let into the park through the Reservation turnstile on the far right of the entrance about 15 minutes before your reservation time. This gives you the ability to walk down an empty Main Street and take in its glory with no crowds. Photopass photographers are often available to take photographs of your party in front of the castle and an empty Main Street. The other advantage this gives you is that you are eating your breakfast as the crowd builds at the entrance of the park. All of these meals are very good (I have eaten at all of them) and the character interaction varies, but I find it is as good as you want to make it. Once your meal is complete, you are ready to go and, since you are already inside the park, you will be one of the first people in line at your favorite attraction.

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Bonus Tip: You don’t want to have to wait at your table for your check when the park is open, so be sure to ask for the check as soon as you sit down.

2. Late Morning Brunch

For those of you who are late risers or for those that wish to take advantage of the lighter morning crowds by touring when the park opens, I suggest a late morning brunch or lunch where available. Since the best touring hours are usually the first couple hours after park opening, why not hit your favorite attractions early and then head to a character meal for a brunch? This also gives your party a break when the Florida sun starts to take its toll.

tusker

Bonus Tip: At Tusker House, if you book the last breakfast reservation of the morning (10:55am), you will pay the breakfast price but be able to enjoy all of the breakfast items as well as the lunch items that are being served.

3. Autograph Books & Cameras Ready

Although you are there to eat a good meal, try to make the most of your time with the characters. The characters rotate around the restaurant in a predictable pattern, so at buffets try to get your food before the first character arrives or when there is a noticeable break between them. Make sure you have your camera out on the table, and items such as autograph books out and ready for when the characters arrive. During most of the meals the characters will dance and interact with their guests, so be ready with your camera for some great photo opportunities.

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Bonus tip: Instead of an autograph book bring a new solid pillowcase and some permanent fabric markers with you. It makes a nice inexpensive souvenir for your child and they will use it daily.

Watch Before You Ride: Muppet*Vision 3D

This is the first in a new series that will give suggestions for films and tv shows to watch prior to your next visit to the Disney Parks.

Regardless of their individual duties, Disney Imagineers are first and foremost storytellers.  In the Disney Parks, their storytelling is evident in every detail that is visible to park guests.  Sometimes the story for a particular attraction begins well before the queue.  Think, for example, of the “coming attractions” posters that line the walls of the tunnel under the Main Street Train Station; or, the faded billboard on Sunset Boulevard that advertises the dilapidated Hollywood Tower Hotel.  These are details that create a complete story; even someone unfamiliar with the source material that serves as inspiration for the attraction can understand and fully enjoy the experience. But can the storytelling actually begin even further away from the attraction; like from the guest’s living room?

There are many films, tv shows, books and songs that may help broaden a Disney guest’s immersion in an attraction.  While many attractions (Beauty and the Beast: Live on Stage!, Voyage of the Little Mermaid) tell a complete story, others can benefit from some prior knowledge.  Again, a guest wouldn’t need to watch these to enjoy his or her time in the park, but watching the films and shows below may – to use a term Walt Disney himself coined – “plus” the experience.  These aren’t Required Viewing; they are Enhancement Viewing.

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There was a time when Kermit the Frog had the potential to rival Mickey Mouse in the area of universal popularity.  After Jim Henson died, however, the Muppet brand stumbled a bit and Kermit and the gang found themselves teetering on the edge of obscurity.  Then, at the 2009 D23 convention, dozens of Muppets poured onto the stage to announce the coming of a brand new theatrical release.  That film, The Muppets, borrows quite a bit from real life as it tells the story of the once-powerful, and now sort-of-pathetic troupe of felt performers.  It is the first production in decades that captures the spirit of the Muppets as they were produced under Henson, their creator.  It is a worthwhile addition to any family movie night schedule and will definitely prepare younger guests for the sort of eccentric humor that defines the Muppets.  Because the theme park attraction was the last project that Henson worked on, there is a temptation to cite the original Muppets trilogy or even The Muppet Show as your enhancement viewing assignment; there is even the possibility that The Muppet Christmas Carol would be your best bet, since it prominently features Bean Bunny, who is essentially the star of Muppet*Vision 3D.  The new film, however, strikes a near-perfect balance of respectful homage, zany nostalgia and modern edge and will prepare every member of the family to fully appreciate this Disney Park classic.

Additional Viewing: The Muppet Movie (1979); The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992)
These two, both mentioned above, will help to more fully round out a guest’s understanding of the Muppets’ sense of humor.  While the guest stars may be lost on younger viewers*, the stories are classics and the songs are timeless.  (*Here is one connection you can make for your tweens and teens: Dom Deluise appears in the opening of scene of The Muppet Movie; while your children may not know him, they may know his son, actor David DeLuise, who plays Jerry Russo – the dad on Disney’s Wizards of Waverly Place.)

Extra Credit: Great Muppet Caper (1981); Muppets Take Manhattan (1984); The Muppet Show (1976-1981)
Let’s be honest: you can’t watch The Muppet Movie and not want to continue watching the others films in the Jim Henson Muppets Trilogy.  Each a classic in its own right.  The five seasons of The Muppet Show showcase some of the most obscure guest stars that the world has ever known, but the humor generally holds up, even for some younger viewers. A personal favorite episode is season 4 episode 17, starring the cast of Star Wars. Try to check out this wacky meeting of intellectual properties that will both one day be acquired by Disney.

Advanced Degree: The Tale of the Bunny Picnic (1986; not available on DVD; check ebay for VHS); The Muppets at Disney World (1990; not available on VHS or DVD; check YouTube)

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As mentioned above, Bean Bunny is the de facto star of Muppet*Vision 3D, and The Tale of the Bunny Picnic was his film debut.  Originally aired on HBO, it is readily available on VHS on ebay, or perhaps at your local library.  While it is not an Easter story per se, it can loosely be considered the springtime counterpart to Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas.  The Muppets at Disney World is a fanboy’s dream.  Before there was Phineas and Ferb: Mission Marvel and Jedi Mickey toys, there was this fun mash-up that tells the story of the Muppets’ arrival at Walt Disney World.  While only crude versions are available on YouTube, it is worth searching out; our fingers are crossed that it is released one day in all of its original glory.

Online: The Muppets Studio Channel on YouTube
Today’s modern Muppet fan would be remiss to not check out this goofy YouTube collection of newer Muppet video clips and shorts.  While it isn’t updated as frequently as it was a couple of years ago, there are still tons of fun segments that are the closest thing to a throwback to the original The Muppet Show as anything produced in the past thirty years.