This post details the best views of World of Color, why I do not recommend the dessert party or dining package, and tips for taking great photos of the show. As a Disneyland local, I’ve seen World of Color 40+ times in the last 6 years from every possible vantage, and this is my regularly updated guide based on my experiences watching it.
For starters, World of Color is a fountain-based nighttime spectacular at Disney California Adventure. It’s the best nighttime spectacular at Disneyland Resort, in my opinion. There have now been several version of World of Color, including the original, Winter Dreams, Celebrate, and Season of Light. The last of these is the current version, debuting for Christmas 2016.
Since the show debuted, the best World of Color viewing spots has been a hot topic online. This is understandable, as the show remains incredibly popular and dining packages, FastPass, and frequently changing seating “zones” make it difficult to comprehend just how World of Color seating works. As mentioned above, we will give you tips to get the best view of World of Color…and do so without buying a dinner package or dessert party.
Although World of Color – Season of Light is a different show than the original, all of the advice contained in this guide applies to all versions of the show. In other words, if you’re planning a Christmas trip, these tips work, but even if you aren’t visiting until Summer 2017 (or later), these tips will also still apply.
This article is best read with the World of Color soundtrack playing, so fire it up and let’s get started…
Best World of Color Viewing Spot
Within Paradise Park, not all spots are created equal. I’m not going to spend a ton of time dissecting all of the spots within Paradise Park, because I have a clear favorite and I think once you’ve seen the show from that spot, it’s tough to watch it anywhere else in Paradise Park. Plus, after that spot, I think the differences between other locations isn’t all that significant.
My favorite spot in Paradise Park is the front row. More specifically, at the edge of the zone that extends farther out into Paradise Bay (if you can’t visualize that, it’s where R6 and Y5 meet on this map).
Please note that Disney California Adventure tweaks the viewing areas from time to time. Since this map was created, DCA has stopped distributing red Fastpasses, and that zone has become yellow. Still pretty much the same idea.
Since the front row R6/Y5 spot became my go-to spot, I’ve been able to snag it almost every time I watch World of Color. To get it, you need to get a FastPass, preferably for the last showing of World of Color (if that’s not what’s being distributed, ask a Cast Member for a later FastPass). This is important because the last show is significantly less crowded than the first one, so it will be easier to get a spot here.
As of 2016, FastPass order is blue, then yellow. This is because conventional wisdom says blue is the “best” view, and while that can be true, I disagree. I think the yellow zones average out to the best view. With that said, the easiest way to get to my preferred viewing spot where red meets yellow (on the map above) in the front row is by scoring a yellow FastPass (the easier FastPass to get!), arriving early to the yellow zone entry area by Golden Zephyr, and entering as close to the water side of the boardwalk as you can. Keep walking until you can’t walk any farther. Bingo, you should have a front row spot at the edge of red and yellow.
We usually return to view the show about 20 minutes before it starts, walking right up to the FastPass return. If you don’t get a yellow FastPass, you might have a more difficult time navigating the sea of ropes that potentially block your path to this area. If this happens, just wander until you get to the front boardwalk. There are ropes up all over the place, making this a veritable maze, so if you encounter these ropes or a Cast Member who won’t let you proceed, turn around and try going the other direction.
Eventually, you should be able to make your way down to the front without issue. I’ve seen every version of Word of Color numerous times, and this remains my pick for the absolute best viewing location.
Other World of Color Viewing Spots
The further back you go, the less immersed in the show you’ll feel. However, on the plus side, you will be able to see the projections better. In fact, I think the optimal view of the projections is actually all the way back outside of Paradise Park, with your back almost against the Little Mermaid dark ride building. We watched from this location once, and I was surprised at just how much more clear the projections looked.
I’m of the opinion that the water and other effects matter more than the projections, but if you care more about them, you might want to consider a spot in Paradise Park near the back. Had “Glow with the Show” caught on, I might feel differently about the view further back, but unfortunately, it didn’t.
Assuming you forget to get a FastPass or don’t want to view from Paradise Park, there are a few other options. The first of these is becoming more and more popular, and that’s the bridge to the boardwalk side of Paradise Pier. It seems like you used to be able to grab these spots at the last minute, but now this spot requires a little advance planning.
We recommend getting here about 30 minutes in advance if this is the spot you want. I like this spot for photography because you get a great view of the fountains without any obstructions, and also can include the crowd watching World of Color from Paradise Park as a bit of a human element. The only real downside to this spot is that you’re viewing the projections from the side, so they don’t look as good.
Continuing further towards the boardwalk, the best place in the park to actually sit and watch World of Color is Cove Bar. This one requires even more advance planning, as there are only a few tables at the edge of the water view, and they’re popular. The last time we viewed World of Color from here, we arrived about an hour and a half in advance. The biggest strength of this spot is that you can eat Lobster Nachos and have a beer while enjoying World of Color.
Although medical professionals were initially concerned that people might OD on awesomeness if they simultaneously consumed Lobster Nachos and watched World of Color, scientists have since confirmed that it is safe to do both at the same time. So you can rest easier. In terms of the view, its strengths and weaknesses are similar to the bridge location above. The view of the projections is slightly worse from here, though.
Paradise Pier’s Boardwalk on the benches in front of California Screamin’ is another option. We don’t really care for this location, but if you want a peaceful spot and all you care about is the fountains, this area is solid. You won’t be able to make out many of the projections, and the audio is not as good back here.
As far as photography goes, I think this spot isn’t good because you lose Mickey’s Fun Wheel as an anchor to the photos (the best you can get is the side of it…and then you can see its infrastructure, as above). Again, we don’t recommend this spot, but if you really hate crowds, it might have appeal.
One final wild-card location is the viewing deck from Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel. This spot is only for guests of the hotel and requires a room key to access (it used to be only for guests staying on Disney Vacation Club points, but on our last non-DVC stay, our room keys worked for access).
I know this location is not going to be an option for most of you, but even many hotel guests don’t know about this location, so it’s worth including as a “reminder” of sorts on the off-chance that you’re staying there. Last time we were up here, we were literally the only ones on this deck. The view isn’t perfect, but it’s unique and there are no crowds!
Dining Packages & Dessert Party
This may lead you to ask, what about a World of Color dining package or the dessert party? Neither are bad options, but I wouldn’t waste the money. If you want the best view of World of Color, follow the tips above.
With that said, both the dining package and dessert party offer excellent, centered views of the show. The dessert party is directly behind what I label as the best view, and it’s on an elevated platform. The upside to this is that you’ll have more elbow room, won’t get wet (if that bothers you), and will be able to enjoy desserts while you watch World of Color. You’ll also have seats; whereas everywhere else you stand to watch World of Color.
The biggest downside is that the World of Color dessert party is currently $80 per person. That’s a lot of money. The other downside (if you don’t mind getting wet) is that this view is far less immersive than the front row. Because of this, I do not recommend the dessert party unless money is no issue, you really hate standing, or really love desserts.
Seriously, I cannot stress watching from the front row enough. After watching World of Color from the front row, I gained a much greater appreciation for the show, and now it’s a must-see from that location. World of Color is much more about the visuals than it is about storytelling, so having the best view of these visuals is the key to enjoying it.
The dining packages also involve paying a premium for a meal at Carthay Circle Restaurant, Ariel’s Grotto, or Wine Country Trattoria and getting a FastPass for the reserved viewing area. The view for the dining packages is typically elevated and adjacent to the dessert party (albeit without actual seats), but you can also go for front row in pretty much the dead center. (The front “Y5” area is also green “D1.”)
If you’re already planning on doing a large meal at one of those 3 restaurants, upgrading to the World of Color dining package might offer peace of mind, but I really don’t think it’s in any way advantageous. If you get to Disney California Adventure before noon, you can easily get a FastPass for the red zone and have just as good of a view without the dining package.
World of Color Photography Tips
Like Fantasmic, World of Color has multiple elements that call for different approaches to photography. In my Fantasmic Photography Guide, I indicated just how difficult it is to photograph Fantasmic. Fortunately, unlike Fantasmic, it’s generally fairly easy to get halfway decent photos of World of Color. Still, to get the quality of photos in this post, you do need good equipment and technical knowledge of manual settings.
For point and shoot users or DSLR owners without that technical knowledge, my best recommendation is to put your camera in “landscape” or “night landscape” mode (the names may vary based on the camera you’re using, but they should sound something like those). Night landscape mode is the better option, but you need to hold your camera as steady as possible if using this mode. If, after a few shots, you find that you’re getting a lot of blurry photos, switch to landscape mode.
The following assumes a working technical knowledge of camera settings and the elements of exposure. I highly recommend reading Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson (and other photography books) and coming back if the paragraphs that follow don’t make sense to you.
For DSLR users, the first question is going to be whether or not to use your tripod and remote shutter release. A lot of photographers do not use a tripod for World of Color, and I think that’s a mistake. The reasoning behind not using one is that the projections are moving, so you need a fast shutter speed to freeze them, and with a fast shutter speed, slight camera shake isn’t an issue. This assumes that you’re most concerned with the projections, and I don’t think that’s the right emphasis. Countless Disney shows have projections–they’re old news. World of Color’s strength is its huge fountains and dancing water.
You’ll notice that almost none of the photos in this article highlight the projections, and that’s because I think the best photos of World of Color focus on the vibrant fountains of water. The projections can make for good photos, but more often, they distract from the fountains. Plus, with a tripod you can experiment with longer exposures like the photo below (my long exposure experiments with World of Color have been largely unsuccessful). Depending upon the direction of the wind, you may get soaked. I always put a camera poncho on my DSLR when I photograph the show from here, and usually wear a poncho, too.
You’ll want to use a wide angle lens or possibly even a fisheye lens if you’re in my recommended spot. If you’re farther away, you might consider a mid-range zoom, but chances are a wide angle will still work. I usually use my Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 or my fisheye lens from the front of the house.
I’ve toyed with using a mid-range zoom before for abstract close-ups of the water fountains, but I’ve never been satisfied with the results. If this is your first time photographing World of Color, you’ll definitely want to go for the wide angle shots.
As for what mode to use, I again advocate the “aperture priority/auto ISO” method from the Fantasmic Guide. In this case, you have more wiggle room, though. Another alternative here that works just as well as going into manual mode, setting your aperture and shutter speed, and then using auto ISO. I do this fairly often, as I’m usually not concerned about increasing my shutter speed when possible.
This is because using a slower shutter speed for these fountains doesn’t negatively affect the photos. Sure, you won’t ‘freeze’ the water, but who cares? The benefit to slowing the shutter speed down a bit is that it allows you to stop down your aperture a bit and also decrease your ISO. Since World of Color is a nighttime show, it is dark during the show, so without a slow shutter speed, your ISO will definitely be in “noisy” territory.
As for specific shutter speed, I recommend somewhere between 1/50th of a second and 1 second for your “minimum” if using the aperture priority/auto ISO method. At the faster end of these speeds, you will be able to freeze the projections, but your ISO will be over ISO 1600. At the slower end of these speeds, the projections won’t be crisp, but you won’t have noise, and the fountains will still look great. My most common shutter speed when photographing World of Color is around one-quarter of a second. I think this is the sweet spot–maybe slightly faster.
For aperture, I like to stop down just a bit. If you’re using a wide angle lens, this isn’t necessary from a depth of field perspective, but it does help make your images sharper. My Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8 lens is sharp wide open (I still stop it down a bit), but my fisheye doesn’t hit its sharpest until about f/8.
This should keep your aperture below ISO 800 for most of the show, which is good. For metering, I go center-weighted with an exposure compensation of around -1. It’s easier to bring out shadows than it is to recover highlights, which is my reasoning for this. Beyond that, I prefer a dark sky in my World of Color photos (it’s one of the few situations where I don’t try to bring out the blues in the nighttime sky when post processing).
I think that looks better and better emphasizes the color in the fountains. I’ve seen many photos where the photographer tried to have a deep blue night sky in their World of Color shots, and to me, the photos have looked fake and over-processed. Just a personal preference there, though.
The final tip with regard to photography is the most important, and it can almost nullify the whole first section. The absolute best time to photograph World of Color is during its “post-show.” This lasts almost three minutes, and if you watched World of Color in Paradise Park, you should rush down to the front for this show. Everyone else will be leaving, so you will pretty much have the place to yourself (note the lack of people in the above photo!). You might be wondering why, given the relatively small fountain streams for most of the show. The reasons are the great mix of color in the fountains during this post-show, the high ‘bursts,’ and the light illuminating the boardwalk of Paradise Pier.
I highly recommend watching this video (it doesn’t spoil the show like a full video would) before photographing World of Color to memorize the music cues that occur just before the jets ‘burst’ up. The photo below was taken at one of these moments. These moments make for the absolute best photos of the show. If you only take away one thing from this article, it should be this tip. It’s that important!
Hopefully that all doesn’t seem too complicated. Really, shooting World of Color is quite easy once you get the hang of it. Sarah can easily capture good photos of it with her iPhone, and if an iPhone camera is capable equipment for this, any real camera is, too! If for some reason you aren’t able to capture your own, you can always borrow one of our World of Color Facebook Cover Photos! 😉
If you’re interested in improving your Disney photography, check out a few of my top photography blog posts:
Photography Buying Guide: Everything from Underwater Cameras to Software
Best Books for Improving Your Photography
5 Indispensable Tips for Better Vacation Photos
Choosing the Best Travel Tripod
Choosing the Best Camera Bag for Travel
If you’re preparing for a Disneyland trip, check out our other planning posts, including how to save money on Disneyland tickets, our Disney packing tips, tips for booking a hotel (off-site or on-site), where to dine, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide!
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Any World of Color tips you have to add? Will you be photographing World of Color sometime in the future? Do these tips seem helpful to you? Hearing from you is half the fun of these articles, so share your thoughts and any other tips you might have in the comments!