Disney recently began offering Memory Maker, which is a renamed version of the popular PhotoPass photography package available at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Memory Maker includes the standard PhotoCD available for purchase from PhotoPass, with the “plus” parts of Memory Maker being on-ride and character dining photos taken at select locations at Walt Disney World and Disneyland.
UPDATE: in December 2013, Disney renamed PhotoPass+ as “Memory Maker” for Walt Disney World. It’s still called PhotoPass+ at Disneyland. Consider this a Memory Maker/PhotoPass+ review, as there are not substantive differences between PhotoPass+ and Memory Maker. It’s basically just a new name and now tied to My Disney Experience.
Memory Maker costs $149.95 at Walt Disney World ($199.95 if not pre-ordered), and PhotoPass+ is $69.95 at Disneyland ($99.95 if not pre-ordered), which is about $50 more than just the PhotoCD at Walt Disney World, and the same price as the PhotoCD at Disneyland. However, Memory Maker includes a separate gallery CD with over 300 stock photos and a code to order a PhotoCD of your photos. Instead of ordering the PhotoCD, you can download your digital photo files, which is what we did.
The big draw, though, is that Memory Maker also includes select on-ride photos and character dining. These ride photos included in the new package at Walt Disney World are: Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Rock ‘n Roller Coaster, Expedition Everest, and Dinosaur. On-ride photos at Disneyland are: Radiator Springs Racers, California Screamin’, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, and The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.
Character dining locations included in Memory Maker at Walt Disney World are 1900 Park Fare, Ohana (breakfast), Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show, Chef Mickey’s, Cinderella’s Royal Table, Tusker House Restaurant (breakfast), Hoop Dee Doo Musical Revue, and Princess Storybook Dining at Akershus Royal Banquet Hall. Character dining locations included in PhotoPass+ at Disneyland are: Ariel’s Grotto, Goofy’s Kitchen, Disney’s PCH Grill, and Plaza Inn (breakfast).
Pre-ordered PhotoCD packages online can be upgraded to Memory Maker or PhotoPass+ upon arrival at Walt Disney World or Disneyland, but we recommend pre-ordering due to the difficulty we’ve heard some people have encountered in doing this. For attraction and dining photos at Disneyland, guests must have their PhotoPass+ card present for the picture, which means that you can’t share PhotoPass+ with people who are not present in your party.
This is where Memory Maker has a big advantage in being tied into the MagicBands. This way, it’s integrated into the rest of your experience, and you don’t have to stick with the person who is the designated PhotoPass+ card holder. So long as you’re all together in Walt Disney World’s system for the MagicBands, every photo scanned into any of your MagicBands will appear in the party account.
Whether Memory Maker is worth the cost depends on a number of factors, namely, how many photos you’ll take with it and what you think of PhotoPass in the first place. Given that, we’ll start with our review of regular PhotoPass and conclude with a review of Memory Maker.
We have never purchased a regular PhotoPass PhotoCD because the value for us simply is not there. The regular PhotoCD is around $120 (the preorder cost), which just isn’t worth it to us. Disney touts PhotoPass as a great way to get professional photos with the whole family in the shot. Based upon this pitch, it’s pretty clear that there are two components to PhotoPass: product (the photos on the CD) and service (having someone else to take the photos for you so the whole family can get into the shot). Some people don’t realize this, but only the product costs money. The service is free, as all PhotoPass photographers will capture photos for you for free with your camera.
Reviewed with this in mind, I think PhotoPass is a bad product. The “professional” PhotoPass photographers are not skilled professional photographers. Granted, there are some PhotoPass photographers who are excellent at what they do and are actually professional or skilled photographers who simply moonlight for Disney, but my experience has been that these skilled photographers are few and far between. Instead, most of the professional photographers employed in PhotoPass positions are only professionals in the sense that it is their job to take photos. Technically, that does make them professionals, but when most people hear the term “professional,” I think they assume something about the skills of the person with the pro title. Claiming PhotoPass Cast Members are professional photographers is about as misleading as it would be if Disney claimed that Test Track ride operators are professional race car drivers.
We use PhotoPass regularly (just to take photos of us with my camera), and at least half of the photographers don’t understand the concept of a prime lens (it’s a lens that doesn’t zoom–-while you may not know this if you’re not a photographer, this is something any real professional photographer knows–it’s photography 101) and attempt to “zoom” my prime lens, leading me to explain that it doesn’t zoom.
I don’t want this to sound like I’m piling on PhotoPass Cast Members. I’m not. As Cast Members, they’re usually delightful to us just like most Cast Members are, but as photographers, I don’t feel that many of them are up to snuff. I realize I’m painting with broad strokes here, and as I mentioned above, some are excellent. (So if you’re a good PhotoPass photographer, please don’t take offense.) However, most of them are simply regular Cast Members with nice camera equipment who aim and press a button. They aren’t any better at photography than the average tourist in the parks. So don’t pre-order a PhotoPass PhotoCD because you think it’s a great way to get professional-quality photos from the parks. It’s not.
This is not to say there are no benefits to the PhotoPass product. By virtue of the camera used being a semi-professional DSLR, there’s a good chance the photos they take will be nicer than photos you take with your own camera; but you could easily achieve comparable results if you had a DSLR. You also have the benefit of being able to add borders and other graphic elements to the photos if that’s your thing, and at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland, there are some “special” photos that only PhotoPass photographers can take, such as guests holding Simba or Tinkerbell, or Stitch coming out of the pavement.
If you’re going to Blizzard Beach or Typhoon Lagoon at Walt Disney World, PhotoPass also has more value because these photographers are positioned in a lot of fun locations where you probably couldn’t get your own photos (like in the wave pools and at the end of attractions like Crush N Gusher). These photos can be a lot of fun, and definitely make PhotoPass a much better value.
Beyond that, the product becomes a better value if you have a larger party and/or are taking a longer trip. If you’re going on a two week long family reunion and 10 of you will be using PhotoPass to capture thousands of photos from the special trip, the per photo cost is so low that it’s more likely to be worth it for you. By contrast, if you’re only getting 100 or so photos per trip with PhotoPass, you’re paying around $1 per photo, which is more difficult to justify. The PhotoPass CD might be easier to justify for special trips from which you want as many memories as possible. If it’s your “Disneymoon” or a your son or daughter’s first trip to Walt Disney World or Disneyland, some of the photos taken by PhotoPass might be priceless. If that’s the case, you may have no hesitation to pay ~$1/photo for the PhotoCD. Obviously everyone’s circumstances are different in this regard, so weigh your circumstances accordingly when determining whether you should purchase the PhotoPass PhotoCD.
All of that said, as a service, PhotoPass is wonderful. This is because all of the photographers will take photos of you with your camera for free. We use this free service all the time, and while the photos don’t always turn out well, it’s nice to have Cast Members conveniently located in front of icons to take photos of us.
Given the fact that PhotoPass will take photos of you with your own camera, I have always had a really hard time recommending the PhotoPass PhotoCD to anyone. Granted, there are benefits if your camera isn’t very nice, and the PhotoPass photographers are more “aggressive” in getting good photos with their own cameras than with yours, but to me, that’s not enough to justify spending over $100 on PhotoPass. Most guests would come out ahead if they purchased a pocket-sized Canon S95 (my favorite point and shoot camera), had PhotoPass photographers use that to take their photos, and then purchased photobooks through reputable online photobook services (the quality is higher than Disney’s, in many cases). Doing that, you’d come out ahead monetarily after only a couple of trips. Plus, you’d have a Canon S95 at the end of the day, which is an excellent pocket-sized camera that’s easy to carry around Walt Disney World and Disneyland. It’s not as nice as the DSLRs that PhotoPass photographers use, but most people who aren’t skilled photographers won’t notice much of a difference. Plus, by purchasing a nice little point and shoot like that, you are able to take your own nice photos in other circumstances!
Since I’m not really a fan of the PhotoPass PhotoCD, it stands to reason that I wouldn’t like Memory Maker or PhotoPass+, either, as it’s basically a more expensive PhotoCD, right? Not exactly.
We used PhotoPass+ at Disneyland, where the $70 price is the same as a regular PhotoCD. As mentioned above, in addition to what you’d have on the regular PhotoCD, this includes the Photo Gallery CD with over 300 stock images, plus photos at character meals and on-ride photos. The stock images are very nice and offer some cool perspectives and character shots, but there are plenty of great Disney photos you can download online for free so this doesn’t add significant value to the package, in my opinion. We didn’t have any character meal photos taken, but those also would have been nice, but not a necessity. After all, you could use your own camera for these photos.
The big benefit is the on-ride photos. Disney normally sells these for $14.95 a pop, which I think is a bit excessive, but people buy them. We love making funny (well, we think they’re funny, you can be the judge of that…) faces for these on-ride photos, and although we have never purchased an on-ride photo, we love them. There have been cases where we’ve come really close to buying these photos, but the price always dissuades us. So for us, this was where the real value of Memory Maker could be found.
During the course of our 5-day trip to California, we got 17 on-ride photos. If these were the only photos of value we got from PhotoPass+, they would have cost a little over $4 each. Of course, we would not have purchased all of these photos if we were paying for them separately, but it’s still a much better value than buying the photos individually at the attractions if you’re into on-ride photos. Plus, we did get other photos, and the convenience of not having to hand off my camera to the PhotoPass photographers was a nice luxury (but not something for which I’d pay much of a premium). Having PhotoPass Cast Members around at night was also especially nice–although the photos didn’t turn out as well as photos I could have taken myself.
Obviously, there’s a huge difference in price between Memory Maker at Walt Disney World ($150) and PhotoPass+ at Disneyland ($70), which I would attribute to the average vacation duration at each of the resorts. On average, people stay at Walt Disney World a lot longer than at Disneyland, so they have more opportunities to get photos at Walt Disney World than Disneyland, leading to greater perceived value in the product from guests. Our vacations at Walt Disney World are the same length as our vacations at Disneyland, so this doesn’t prove true for us.
Overall, I have a difficult time recommending Memory Maker/PhotoPass+ to everyone for every trip. If you’ve never purchased on-ride photos but like the idea of them, consider trying it for a longer trip (or if you’re a local, purchase it and use one card for 14 days and go on those attractions a lot), and go nuts getting as many of those photos as you can, plus other photos. After that trip, you might just stick to using PhotoPass as a service to get photos taken with your own camera (although we are considering it again this Christmas at Disneyland).
If you’re visiting Walt Disney World, due to the higher price, it’s not something I would ever purchase, but as indicated above, my idea of value isn’t necessarily the same as yours. If you are taking a week or longer vacation with a lot of family members, it might be worth getting Memory Maker so that you can get character dining photos and, more importantly, on-ride photos. If you get an on-ride photo from most of the attractions (or multiple photos), the per photo cost of the upgrade to Memory Maker is pretty insignificant. Thus, the longer your trip and the more people in your traveling party, the better of a value Memory Maker is. In most cases, I think there are far better ways to spend finite vacation dollars than on Memory Maker, but everyone values aspects of their Disney vacations differently, and it might be a great value to you depending upon your circumstances!
Disclosure: We were provided with complimentary PhotoPass+ by Disney. This has in no way influenced my review.
Do you agree or disagree? Like PhotoPass or hate it? Have you tried Memory Maker or are you considering trying it? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!