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 a digital download of all photos taken by PhotoPass photographers, plus on-ride and character dining photos taken at select locations at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. For a number of reasons, there’s a lot of confusion about Memory Maker and PhotoPass, and we thought we’d try to clear some of that up.
At Walt Disney World, the easiest way to distinguish Memory Maker and PhotoPass is by thinking of Memory Maker as the package you purchase that gives you access to your photos, and PhotoPass is the service that Disney offers with Cast Members taking your photo around the park. PhotoPass is a free service available to everyone, including those who purchase Memory Maker. At Walt Disney World, Memory Maker is the digital download product. Things get confused a little bit because there are other PhotoPass-branded products (including single-photo downloads for $15, coffee cups, etc.) available for purchase, but the main thing to remember is PhotoPass=service, Memory Maker=product.
Got that? Okay…that’s the ‘rule’ in Florida. At Disneyland, PhotoPass is still the service, but (as of early 2016) the product is called PhotoPass+ One Day. There are also other products that can be purchased under the PhotoPass brand, but the main product that offers inclusive digital downloads is PhotoPass+ One Day, and as the name suggests, it’s offered day-by-day. So, it’s not totally inclusive.
Confused yet? Don’t feel too bad. Disney has been changing the names and what these products offer pretty frequently, to the point where even we are having a tough time keeping things straight. Hopefully, by the end of this article you will understand the services and products, and know what’s right for you.
Memory Maker & PhotoPass+ Overview
Let’s start with the products. Memory Maker costs $149.95 at Walt Disney World ($169.95 if not pre-ordered), and PhotoPass+ One Day is $39 at Disneyland per day. For some of the higher tiers of Annual Passes (including ours), digital downloads of all photos are included at no additional charge. Memory Maker and PhotoPass+ used to include PhotoCDs shipped to you that allowed download of your photos, both have shifted to a digital download delivery service.
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. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train offers both on-ride photos and on-ride video (see our video in this post). 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 vacation 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 the PhotoPass service and conclude with a review of the Memory Maker and PhotoPass+ One Day products.
We have never purchased regular PhotoPass because the value for us simply is not there; now that it’s included in our Annual Pass, we’ve used it a decent amount for the convenience, but still wouldn’t pay for it in most cases. 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/Memory Maker: product (the photos available for digital download) 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 nice service, but the products under its brand aren’t all that great. The “professional” PhotoPass photographers are not skilled professional photographers. 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 the service component of 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. That’s just the start of the problems. With PhotoPass, sometimes you’ll get photos that are out-of-focus, poorly composed, or not properly exposed. This isn’t a problem most of the time, but can be an issue.
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. Some are excellent. (So if you’re a good PhotoPass photographer, please don’t take offense.) However, most aren’t any better at photography than the average tourist in the parks. So don’t purchase Memory Maker or PhotoPass+ One Day because you think it’s a great way to get professional-quality photos from the parks. It’s not.
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 Memory Maker or PhotoPass+ One Day to anyone on a tight budget. Granted, there are benefits if your camera isn’t very nice, but I think most guests would be better suited by purchasing a nice point & shoot camera like the Sony RX100 (my favorite point and shoot camera), having PhotoPass photographers use that to take their photos, also using it to take their own photos, and then purchasing photobooks through reputable online photobook services with all of their vacation photos. Doing that, you’d come out ahead monetarily after only a couple of trips. Plus, you’d have a wonderful camera at the end of the day, which is an excellent pocket-sized camera that’s easy to carry around Walt Disney World and Disneyland that is capable of almost as good of photos as the PhotoPass cameras. Plus, by purchasing a nice little point and shoot like that, you are able to take your own nice photos in other circumstances!
Memory Maker & PhotoPass+ One Day Review
This is not to say there are no benefits to Memory Maker or PhotoPass+ One Day. 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 water parks at Walt Disney World, Memory Maker 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 or (at Walt Disney World) are taking a longer trip. If you’re going on a two week long family reunion and 10 of you will be using PhotoPass photographers to capture thousands of photos from the special trip, the per photo cost of Memory Maker is so low that it’s more likely to be worth it for you. By contrast, if you’re only getting 10 or so photos per trip with PhotoPass, you’re paying $10+ per photo, which is more difficult to justify.
Memory Maker 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. Obviously everyone’s circumstances are different in this regard, so weigh your circumstances accordingly when determining whether you should purchase Memory Maker or PhotoPass+ One Day.
Perhaps the single biggest benefit is the on-ride photos. Disney normally sells these for $15 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 or PhotoPass+ One Day can be found.
During the course of one recent 5-day trip to Walt Disney World, we got 17 on-ride photos. On a longer trip, we could’ve gotten even more. 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 nice.
Then there’s the video on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, the newest attraction in the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World. It’s pretty neat and fun to show family and friends or share via social media. I think this is the way of the future, and Disney will likely try to incorporate on-ride video like this into as many future attractions as possible. Check out our Seven Dwarfs Mine Train on-ride video (we are about halfway back–I’m the dolt holding the camera up to my face):
Obviously, there’s a huge difference in price between Memory Maker at Walt Disney World and PhotoPass+ One Day at Disneyland. On average, people stay at Walt Disney World a lot longer than at Disneyland, which is probably why the service is offered day-by-day at Disneyland. I think this approach works, and if I were purchasing the package at Disneyland, I’d probably only do it for a single day (if I had Park Hopper tickets) and have that day be “serious photo day” trying to do as many attractions with on-ride photos as possible, and finding as many PhotoPass photographers as possible. The same approach isn’t quite as practical at Walt Disney World, so it probably makes sense to have Memory Maker be a length-of-stay package.
Overall, I have a difficult time recommending Memory Maker at Walt Disney World or PhotoPass+ One Day at Disneyland 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, I think it only makes sense for long or special occasion trips. 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 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!
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Do you agree or disagree? Like PhotoPass or hate it? Have you tried Memory Maker or PhotoPass+ One Day? Are you considering trying one of them? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!