New automatic cameras have replaced PhotoPass photographers at Walt Disney World, most recently at the Minnie & Mickey Mouse meet and greet in Magic Kingdom’s Town Square Theater. In this post, we’ll share thoughts, photos, and info.
By chance, we’ve done this exact same meet & greet several times in the last two weeks, both before and after it switched to automated cameras. Our first two times were a couple of weeks ago during separate Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Parties (the low crowds ones mentioned in this post when Mickey had literally no wait) with a PhotoPass photographer.
Our most recent two visits over the weekend when both Minnie and Mickey Mouse were meeting in their Surprise Celebration costumes after the automated cameras were installed. As such, we figured it’d make sense to explain how the new system works, and offer our before v. after review…
The before experience is more or less your standard PhotoPass interaction. Note that this isn’t exactly an apples to apples comparison, as during Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, it’s just “County Mickey” dressed up in his costume. During Surprise Celebration, it’s both of them in their Wonder Bread get-ups.
Our interactions with fur characters are incredibly formulaic: we approach and do basic introductions and almost without fail, they notice something that Sarah is wearing that either feature the character or something that the character(s) “like.” Both times, this happened with Count Mickey.
At this point, the interaction is totally about Sarah, so I usually just awkwardly back off a bit so it’s not like I’m the third wheel creeping on the action in photos. This is pretty easy for a human to observe, and usually (75-80% of the time) the PhotoPass photographer will zoom in to focus on Sarah or compose the photos so I’m not in them.
With that said, the success or keeper rate on these spontaneous interaction photos still isn’t the greatest. A fun or cute moment in person with Mickey Mouse pointing to a hat might inadvertently look like him hitting a nose, etc. I’m sure anyone who has done a character meet and greet has been there, and has that uncomfortable mid-hug shot or something of the sort. It comes with the territory.
Nevertheless, human photographers generally do a good job with timing their photos for maximum impact, capturing awesome and special moments along with a few of the awkward ones. We have plenty of fun and goofy photos from interactions that we still look back on today and smile or laugh at, remembering the exact experience, all thanks to the timing, skill, and intuition of a good PhotoPass photographer.
Now for the automated cameras. As you can see in the photo above, there’s now a bookshelf directly opposite the character meet & greet, and there are two cameras installed (upper and lower) in the shelf on the left side. As guests are meeting with the characters, these cameras take photos (with flash) about every 3 seconds or so.
I have no clue how the technology behind this works (facial recognition? some sort of fancy algorithm?), but I don’t think it’s simply a timer as it wasn’t consistently 3 seconds. In any case, the technology is far from perfect, as the cameras continually captured those in-between moments of awkwardness as people were getting positioned or moving around.
In watching other groups during both of our times through, this is the first thing that struck me–the ‘trash to keeper’ ratio is undoubtedly worse with the automated cameras. The new system is perfectly adept at capturing the perfectly-posed moments, but not so good with anything else. This simply requires instinct and a deft photographer’s touch, and a computer lacks both.
Then there’s the obvious impersonal quality of it all. There’s still one Cast Member (character attendant) working at this meet, and that person does an admirable job attempting to direct guest attention towards the “magical bookcase.” However, even with a superlative Cast Member this still feels a bit like getting your picture taken at the DMV.
That might seem hyperbolic, and perhaps it is, but there should be absolutely zero room for comparing a meet with Mickey Mouse to the DMV. There’s nonetheless a discomforting quality to both and it’s hard to fully articulate this, or appreciate it until you’ve experienced it.
“Discomforting and impersonal” is probably the best case scenario if you’re a party of adults. We observed several families with small children have more issues than that. In fairness, this happens even with a PhotoPass photographer, but the Cast Members in that role have plenty of personal experience and humanity to employ every trick they know to overcome this. A bookcase has no such tricks up its sleeve.
On the way out, you scan your MagicBand at a kiosk to save the photos. I would share ours from this meet & greet to show what they looked like, but unfortunately, we still don’t have any of them. (Hence doing it twice.) It’s odd that this happened with both of our meet & greets, but we’ve now waited 48 hours and filed a claim, and still nothing. (We’ll update this if/when we get them.)
Here’s a file photo of us with the Surprise Celebration Mickey & Minnie, just so you don’t feel cheated:
Walt Disney famously once said, “You can design and create, and build the most wonderful place in the world. But it takes people to make the dream a reality.” That quote is famous in large part because the modern Walt Disney Company has made it famous. The line is used a lot when touting Cast Members and the Disney Difference.
I think Walt Disney World leaders would be well-advised to take this quote to heart when undertaking decisions that impact Cast Members and the guest experience. Again, people aren’t coming to Walt Disney World simply because it’s a collection of rides. As with entertainment, face to face interactions with Cast Members are one of those essential core underlying components that help define a trip.
I understand that automation is a fact of modern life, and something that will occur more, not less, going forward. With that said, there are good and bad forms of automation, and it takes thoughtful leaders who understand what defines Disney’s theme parks to realize that just because something can be automated doesn’t mean it should be automated. In some cases, automation is great. I don’t think many guests are going to come out against Mobile Ordering, even if its ultimate goal of cutting labor costs is identical to these automated cameras.
The differences lie in the how, why, and ultimate feeling it gives guests and Cast Members. It doesn’t take extensive studies with psychologists or human behavioral experts to tell you how people were going to respond to these automated cameras. As a society, pretty much our only experiences with automatic cameras are in “negative” situations, and this stands as a very obvious and in-your-face example of removing the humanity from what should be a fun and personal interaction.
Just about anyone reading this could probably predict the consensus reaction to automated cameras at meet & greets. I’m honestly a bit surprised that Walt Disney World has plowed forward with the idea, and I’m even more surprised that the face being attached to this is now Mickey Mouse. I would’ve thought that a meet with the company’s most enduring and beloved icon would’ve been safe from this–or at least one of the last in a slower rollout–but it looks like I guessed wrong.
Have you done the Mickey & Minnie Mouse meet and greet or any of the meets with automated cameras? What did you think of the experience? Do you agree or disagree with our review? Do you think Walt Disney World should be more careful when eliminating Cast Member roles like this? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!