Everyone gets a family photo in front of Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World on their Disney vacation. It’s practically a law or something that you do. You probably don’t need any pointers when it comes to those photo locations, so this article will point out great photo options that do not include the main icons in each of the Walt Disney World theme parks.
While the classic Walt Disney World photos are great, wouldn’t it be nice if visitors to your home saw something a bit outside the norm when they look at your family photos. The photos we have up in our house are pretty much all unordinary. We love when guests come over and ask where a photo was taken, and are surprised when the answer is Walt Disney World. It sometimes challenges their preconceived negative impression that Walt Disney World is all about kiddie rides like Dumbo and meeting Mickey Mouse. Now, expecting that simply taking and displaying the photos below is going to cause your non-Disney fan friends to have epiphanies about the greatness of Walt Disney World, but these shots will at least add some flavor to your mantel!
Don’t think of this as a definitive list, but instead a handful of examples to get your creative juices flowing. It seems like many people only stop for photos at “designated” or popular locations (I can’t count the number of times I’ve been taking photos in odd spots only to have a few others approach with cameras and try photos from the same vantage), when really, there are great locations for photos just about anywhere in the parks!
Here are some of our favorite locations for family shots.
Tomorrowland Palm Trees
If you’re from the Midwest like us, you might be flat out mesmerized by the majestic palm trees that grace the state of Florida. You know what will impress your friends even more than a photo of you next to a palm tree? A photo of you next to a metal palm tree…of the future! Okay, so maybe neither photo will impress anyone, but we love these metal palm trees in Tomorrowland at the Magic Kingdom. If you don’t like awesome things like metal palm trees, another great option in Tomorrowland is the globe that is a veritable magnet for kids. Pretend like you’re moving the earth (much more original than holding Spaceship Earth).
Oh, and yes, we are doing “the robot” in the photo above. Yes, we are major dorks.
Suggesting unique World Showcase photos is like shooting fish in a barrel, so I’m only going to include our #1 spot. This location is tucked away near the back of the Morocco pavilion, and is usually fairly quiet. We recommend relaxing back here even if you have no photos in mind. There are literally hundreds of other great spots throughout World Showcase, especially once you get deeper into the pavilions, so we encourage you to explore and think up other interesting spots of your own. These photos are the ones people are most likely to think are from locations other than Walt Disney World (for obvious reasons), so if that’s your goal, go nuts in World Showcase!
Since I only want to do one location outside of the theme parks, I’m going to combine several spots into one with this pick. First, the beaches of Disney’s Polynesian Resort or Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa. Second, the Boardwalk at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn or the lighthouse at Disney’s Yacht & Beach Club Resorts. There are a lot of other locations at Deluxe and Moderate Resorts beyond these picks, but we figure you are most likely to visit these resorts on your Walt Disney World vacation. (If you are on vacation and you don’t visit at least one of these five resort hotels, chances are, you’re doing something wrong.)
All of these resorts are great locations to get dressed up (here’s where Sarah gets her dresses…to pre-preemptively answer questions that would otherwise likely be asked in the comments) and have nice photos taken. Non-Disney professional photographers can do shoots at the hotels, and in most cases local pros are the best option at the resorts. (Disney Fine Art has some great photographers, but also some mediocre ones.)
Toy Story Game Rides
I love to take photos of Sarah while we’re riding Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin or Toy Story Mania. They’re often fun and intense, heat-of-battle shots. I don’t often do it on Toy Story Mania as we so seldom get to ride that, but if you do want photos there, get them during the first screen, which is a warm up and doesn’t count toward your score, anyway. The lighting is better in Toy Story Mania, and your subjects will be wearing 3D glasses, so unflattering shadows under their eyes won’t be a problem (like it is in Space Ranger Spin).
Walt Disney World is known for its many gardens, with so many that you should have no difficulty finding one in every land of every park that would make a nice backdrop for a photo. If I’m just taking a photo of Sarah, I’ll often look for a particular flower bed filled with flowers that match or compliment her outfit. This is more difficult with more people, unless you all have those delightful matching family vacation shirts!
As you might have gathered from the lead photo, we enjoy sitting on dirty pavement at Walt Disney World! There are a lot of great locations for this, but Sunset Boulevard at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is probably my favorite because of the lights all around and the Crossroads of the World in the distance. The bonus here is that you can literally set your camera on the ground if you don’t have a tripod (assuming it’s late at night) and capture an interesting photo. During the Christmas season, the Streets of America–decked out with the Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights–make a great location to capture a Disney-inspired Christmas card photo.
Main Street Clock
This is one we love to get on the way out of the Magic Kingdom for the sole purpose of demonstrating how late it was (and thus how hardcore we were…Disney street cred is totally earned based on how late you stay in the parks…right?) when we left. Even if you aren’t doing it for street cred, it’s a fun photo, and one that might have a ‘hint’ of Cinderella Castle in it without being dominated by the icon.
Journey into Imagination ImageWorks
We know what you’re thinking…this place is a shell of its former self and you can’t imagine stopping here even for a few moments. We aren’t suggesting that you play here for hours, but ImageWorks does make a great spot for some moody photos bursting with color. Thanks to these colorful lights, you can capture a photo that’s lit “naturally” (in other words, don’t use a flash). If your kids are anything like me, they’ll be drawn to these lights, and you can get some great candid shots here. If this doesn’t work, go outside to the leapfrog fountains, which are also a great candid photo op location!
We’re definitely not the first people to think of taking our photos using items in gift shops are props, but we think we’ve done it in some unique ways beyond just the normal “put on a hat that hundreds of other people have tried on before” method. Any gift shop with Christmas decorations is great by us. We also like the Tower of Terror gift shop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Not only does this gift shop have a lot of unique items, but it’s also very well designed. Another great option (for the same reason) would be Splash Mountain, but we have actually never tried to pose for photos here. I actually didn’t even think about it until I sat down to write this article (blogging can even help the blogger, apparently!). We always pass through here quickly on the way to the restrooms to dry off, but next time we’ll stop and get shots! If you want a nice photo with good lighting, the best place for a photo is either of the gift shops at the entrance to World Showcase. These shops are well lit and free of harsh lighting.
Cigar Shop Native American
We can’t take credit for this idea–it was shared with us a while ago by a reader–but it’s such a good one that we want to share it with you. This native American is a great measuring stick for annual photos with your kids’ growth if you visit Walt Disney World annually, or on a semi-regular basis. We think this is a great idea, and the perfect subject since this Native American is in a great location on Main Street in the Magic Kingdom. We like this spot at night because Main Street is bright enough that you can have a moody photo with natural, no-flash lighting. However, we highly recommend grabbing a “backup” photo somewhere else (our secondary pick would be by the Cinderella Fountain just behind the Castle in Fantasyland) because it seems somewhat likely that this Native American will disappear at some point in the future given that it could be construed as culturally insensitive, even if period-accurate. It would stink to take an annual photo here for 5 consecutive years only to find it gone on your sixth visit, and have no backup locations!
Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover
We are Disney dorks. Exhibit A in support of this was the robot photo above, Exhibit B is the fact that we’ve ridden the TTA Peoplemover over three times as much as any other attraction at Walt Disney World this year. (For those curious, second place is Haunted Mansion, third is Carousel of Progress, fourth is Spaceship Earth, and fifth is Impressions de France.) With all of these rides come many photos. Since the TTA is primarily an ambiance ride, there are plenty of opportunities for photos here without the family becoming irritated that you want to stop and capture pictures of them. The lighting here is harsh at night, but during the day, it’s generally very good. We recommend capturing a bit of those blue seats in your photo. Not just because we consider them iconic (that’s probably just us), but also because they are a pretty color that will likely compliment the rest of the photo.
Animal Kingdom Animals
What I really mean is the living animals (well, I suppose Rafiki is living, but you know what I mean), but the other kind work, too. There are a ton of animals throughout Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and many can be included in the background of your photos, or even as subjects themselves. This is possible in the Oasis and back at Rafiki’s Planet Watch, the two places in the park where animals are closest to guests.
This should come as little surprise given my article proclaim that “Dinosaur Gertie is Awesome,” but it’s a good spot, nonetheless. Normally we go for a view close to Gertie with her head peeking over us, but when I was looking for illustrative photos for this article, I couldn’t find those shots. Across the water is an okay perspective, too.
We know that Tomorrowland is already way over-represented in this article, but it’s a favorite spot for photos of us. The entrance to Tomorrowland is one of our favorite spots, and the vibrant colors and plenty of background interest makes this a shot we try with regularity. As with all of the Tomorrowland photo spots, this is significantly better at night.
Accomplished Celebrities in Front of Grauman’s
You might be thinking that I’m breaking my “no icons” rule with this last shot, but I’m not. Grauman’s Chinese Theatre is not the official icon of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, so I’m really just circumventing the rule (sort of an odd thing to do since I set the rule myself…). There are no rules when it comes to this, as I’m willing to do just about anything to convince people to take photos in front of Grauman’s rather than that Sorcerer Hat. Grauman’s Chinese Theatre is considered a true real world icon because it’s gorgeously designed, whereas UFO-spaceship hats are not. So play the part of an accomplished celebrity and get a classy photo in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre! (When you really think about it, that oversized sorcerer hat does fit the “Hollywood That Never Was…” theme of the Studios better than Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, since there really never was a giant sorcerer hat in Hollywood and there actually is a Chinese Theatre, but I think that’s sort of missing the point.)
Just in case we didn’t list enough locations, here are a few others: Sword in the Stone (Fantasyland, Magic Kingdom), Silk Water Fountain (Asia, Animal Kingdom), Liki Tikis (Adventureland, Magic Kingdom), Fountain of Nations (Future World, Epcot), Animal Bench (Asia, Animal Kingdom), Rivers of America Boardwalk (Frontierland, Magic Kingdom), Independence Bell (Liberty Square, Magic Kingdom), Muppet Fountain (Streets of America, Disney’s Hollywood Studios)…you get the idea.
The list goes on and on. Just because there isn’t a PhotoPass photographer or Kodak “Photo Spot” sign somewhere doesn’t mean it wouldn’t make a great location for a family photo. Most of the time, the real “quality” of a photo will be determined by the subjects in it and the memory of capturing it, not how awesome the icon in the background is. I’ve found that when we have fun and capture a photo in the moment, rather than drag ourselves to a specific spot for a photo that’s “on the list,” we tend to cherish the photo a lot more. So don’t worry if you find yourself taking family photos in some seemingly odd locations–in fact, you should embrace it!
If you’re interested in improving your Disney photography, check out a few of my top photography blog posts: