It was mid-afternoon during the Rock Your Disney Side 24-Hour Party, and despite being up since 4:30 am and only having had about 4 hours of sleep the night before, I was feeling pretty good. Everyone has always told me that I wouldn’t be able to keep up my “hyperactive pace” as I got older, but since graduating, I’ve found that I’m now able to sleep even less. Not that any of you care about that, but I pride myself in forcing myself to push the limits, so humor me. I’m sure it will catch up to me at some point, but hopefully by that time science finds a way to replace the weak parts of me with robot features.
Sarah, on the other hand, was not doing so well. She had met me in the park after 10:30 am, and was already feeling like she needed a nap to make it through the night. In fairness, she didn’t slept until 10 am, but she takes longer to get ready and wasn’t in much of a rush to get to the park. I guess sunrise photos present a challenge when taking iPhone photos for Instagram! 😉
We decided to grab some coffee and cola from Auntie Gravity’s (their iced-coffee is small and disgusting, for what it’s worth) and wander around Tomorrowland for a bit to see if that worked as a pick me up before she decided whether she’d walk back to the Contemporary for a nap. We did the Peoplemover a couple of times, getting off in between because there was actually a line for it! I’m not sure how many times we did the Peoplemover total during the 24 hour day, but I’m going to go with “a lot.” I have some roughly hour-long gaps in between some photos, and most of those gaps can be explained by relaxing on the Peoplemover. For the record, neither of us fell asleep on the Peoplemover. It really was just a matter of relaxing and chatting. I’m a staunch ‘no talking during attractions’ person, but the Peoplemover is one exception to that rule, which is partly why we do it so much.
After these rides, Sarah decided to play it safe and head back to the room for a nap so she could make it all the way through the night. I hadn’t been taking many pictures during the afternoon, so I figured it would be a good opportunity to wander around and get some shots. Here’s what I came up with…
As I was trying to photograph something else near Jungle Cruise, this balloon attached to a parked stroller blew into my camera. I think I speak for all(?) Disney photographers when I say that while I hate “abandoned” strollers, they do score points with me when they have balloons attached to them. Disney balloons are great to photograph, but there’s no way I’m buying one just for photos, making these stroller balloons great.
Although it is a bit awkward when the owner of the stroller approaches while you’re taking photos of the balloon. For this reason, I recommend taking the photos with a telephoto lens as opposed to a wide angle one. Unless you enjoy awkward encounters, in which case go nuts with the wide angle!
After a pretty successful morning, I wasn’t even remotely in the zone that afternoon. I wandered around taking more photos, most of which found their way into the recycling bin.
I also met a lot of people, and actually conversed with some of them! I had talked to several people that morning, but I always kept it short because I was ‘on a mission,’ so to speak. Anytime someone says hello to me in the parks, I’m thinking there’s about a 50/50 chance they’ll think, “what a weirdo” (or worse). This is partly because, in fact, I am a weirdo. It’s also partly because my mind is often preoccupied with something else. Just remember, people like me from the internet are usually odd. That’s why we are on the internet!
The light was starting to get “good,” so I figured I better snap out of my funk.
That didn’t really happen, but I was still able to grab a few nice sunset shots as the sun disappeared below the horizon.
I wish I would have spent more time focusing on scenes in which the sun was lighting up scenes, rather than just shooting into the sun. I love the way the sun is kissing Prince Eric’s Castle here, but this is literally the only photo I took of this scene.
I am a big fan of the Castle Walls. I think they add a lot to the environment and are especially photogenic. These are in no way a significant thing for most Disney fans, but I think it’s the details like these that make Disney parks great. I hope that the Castle turrets supposedly coming with the Central Plaza/Hub redesign resemble the ones in Tokyo, as I feel those also add a lot, and further enhance the presence of Cinderella Castle in the park.
Hoping the sun was lighting up the sky behind Splash Mountain, I headed over there.
The official sunset time was approaching, so I headed over to Tomorrowland, where I had no luck. I finally headed over to the bridge overlooking Cinderella Castle and took a few shots. After I thought the sunset was well over, I took this shot. It was more or less an afterthought at the time, as the sky looked fairly blue to my eyes with only vague traces of color. However, when I opened up the raw file in Photoshop, I noticed the camera picked up a ton of color!
Obviously, this photo has been edited, but the colors are accurate to what was in the photo straight out of camera. I don’t understand the science behind it, but it amazes me what the camera can “see” that our eyes can’t. I just wish I had put more effort into the photo in the first place, as I really like the end result both in terms of color and the guests in the foreground. I only wish I would have put more effort into capturing the guests.
While I was photographing the sunset here, I noticed they were setting up a roped-off fireworks viewing area around me. I decided to just stay there for Wishes, as I fully expected Main Street to be chaos and Sarah was on her way to meet back up with me and she’d have an easy time finding me here.
The Frozen segment of Celebrate the Magic was new to me. I really enjoyed it. I’ve said this before, but I really think Celebrate the Magic is underrated. I know Magic Kingdom fireworks are a quintessential Disney experience, but I think I’d be okay with Disney shifting from Wishes to a longer projection show that incorporates some fireworks, plus lasers and water fountains. I far prefer Disney Dreams at Disneyland Paris to Wishes, so this would be a win in my book.
Celebrate the Magic can be tough to photograph, and my results aren’t helped here by the fact that I botched things a bit.
I decided to go for a longer exposure of the finale. I didn’t expect it to be this blown out, but I kind of like how the intense fireworks illuminate the entire area.
Sarah had arrived just before Wishes started, and came bearing food from Contempo Cafe. She knows the way to my heart! 😉
It may not be clear from these fireworks photos, but this is an absolutely awful spot for viewing the Magic Kingdom fireworks. Essentially, all you can see is the few bursts shot from Fantasyland, and the highest bursts shot from behind the park. Most bursts are shot from behind the park, so that means you’re missing a lot of the show from here. I cover better locations in our Magic Kingdom Fireworks Viewing Guide.
After that, it was time to start the fun part of the 24-hour party!
Being used to these events at Disneyland where the parks are PACKED overnight, we were surprised by the relatively low wait times. We did a ton of attractions, putting photography on the backburner for most of the rest of the night.
Sarah had never done Enchanted Tales with Belle, so we did that. She was really impressed by the technology, which she thought made a cute and humorous show something that would appeal to a range of guests. I wouldn’t go quite that far–I do think the technology gives it wider appeal than it otherwise would have, but the story and entire premise falls a little flat for me..as an adult without kids. However, I’d never dream of going to other character meet/shows like this, and I do enjoy this. I think for the target audience, it’s an excellent experience. Personally, I’d sooner do Turtle Talk with Crush, though. I think that’s the more enjoyable show of this nature, even if it lacks the Belles (ha!) and whistles.
One of my goals for the year is more variety in my photos. I still love a static landscape shot, but I want to mix it up with photos like this. This is that singles and doubles approach that I mentioned in my blog post on photography composition. Not every shot can be (or should be) a beautiful sunset behind Cinderella Castle!
We did some other attractions in Fantasyland, then Sarah stopped to gaze longingly into La Fontaine de Cendrillon. Totally unposed, just like those other shots from the first part of this report. Riiiiiiiight.
As we were walking past Prince Charming’s Carrousel, I panned one of the horses (for non-photographers, that’s moving your camera with the subject, with the idea being that the subject is crisp or close to crisp and the background is blurred–the success rate for these shots can be low) and Sarah really liked the results. We did this a while ago at Disneyland, but she wanted a new, better shot so she got in line. Unfortunately, every single one of my photos was a fail. Besides this stationary one before the ride started.
After that we wandered around and did other things in Fantasyland. As we were exiting ‘it’s a small world’, some guy in a Malificent shirt handed us cards to do an exclusive Malificent meet & greet. We figured this was “exclusive” in the same sense that those old Carousel of Progress “bonus FastPasses” they distributed were exclusive, so we planned on blowing it off. However, I happened to see a photo on Twitter from someone else who had done the meet & greet earlier, and it was “movie Malificent”!
Disney meet & greet face characters can be sort of hit or miss in terms of their look being believable, and there’s pretty decent wiggle room when you’re playing a character who is animated. Doing a meet & greet with a character portraying a well-known actress with a distinct look? That seems like a recipe for disaster. Somehow, they pulled this one off flawlessly, with the woman playing Malificent being not only gorgeous and a dead ringer for Angelina Jolie, but also totally nailing the character. This was by far the creepiest meet & greet I’ve ever experienced. I was uncomfortable the entire time, which I think was the character’s goal. It was a ton of fun.
We went up to the Cinderella Castle dance party, which I was able to tolerate for all of 30 seconds before leaving Sarah there while I wandered off to take photos. I may be a bit of a curmudgeon, but I am not some staunch purist who thinks there shouldn’t be dance parties under any circumstances. During special events, weekend nights, etc., I think dance parties in the parks actually have their place. With that said, there are just some songs that aren’t ever appropriate for the Magic Kingdom. Those inappropriate songs were about 50% of the playlist during this dance party.
While Sarah was dancing, I headed up to the front of the park for photos.
We actually saw about 10 people that night wearing Glow with the Show ears. That may seem like a low number (and it is), but comparatively speaking, it’s higher than normal!
Disney needs to get DJ Roomba to spin mad beats for these parties.
We had been giving fellow Disney photographer Mark Willard a bit of a run-around prior to this, but we were finally able to meet up and hang out with him for a little while. With that it was time for more dark rides. First up, Little Mermaid.
As a change of pace, I decided to try my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR lens for the dark rides. Always good to have some variety in dark ride shots.
The Little Mermaid dark ride is generally fairly easy to photograph, but lighting in some scenes can be a challenge.
Bonus points to anyone who knows where in the attraction this Sebastian is found.
Next up was Haunted Mansion.
Leave it to cats to think hanging out around a bunch of ghosts is a good idea.
After that we wandered towards the front of the park, where I noticed that the moon looked pretty cool. It was a waning crescent, which I know not because I’m a moon freak, but because that’s what Google said. I kept moving around to find the best angle, ultimately heading up to Swiss Family Treehouse for this shot.
We then headed for the Frontierland dance party. I was sick of this one after 45 seconds (a new personal record for time spent at a Disney dance party?) at which time I wandered towards Splash Mountain for photos. It turned out the bridge over the Rivers of America was the perfect spot to photograph the moon!
I also photographed Splash Mountain while I was back there, before going to find Sarah. I didn’t want her to get too much groove on.
We were in the home stretch and, surprisingly, neither of us were all that tired.
At around 5:45 am, we decided to line up for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train one more time. About 5 minutes later, I noticed the sky turning a rich shade of blue, so I got out of line and started taking photos.
I didn’t have much time in New Fantasyland, as they were clearing the park fast once 6 am hit.
While I can’t blame them for wanting to get guests out of the park so they could do maintenance, etc., before the next operating day, I wasn’t expecting it given that Disneyland has been pretty lax about clearing the park the last couple of years at the end of these parties. I should have planned out a better plan of attack, as I saw other photographers over by the Liberty Square Bridge capturing the beginning of a gorgeous sunrise, but I couldn’t get over there.
Instead, I made the bone-headed move of going all the way up Main Street to try to get an elevated view from the Train Station. The Train Station was roped-off and I wasn’t allowed to go back down Main Street for shots in the hub. I basically stood at the end of the street watching the sunrise unfold but not being able to photograph it. Now I know how dogs feel when they are on leashes and want nothing more than to chase cars.
The view on the way out…
The sunrise just kept getting better and better, and even though we couldn’t be in the park for it, we felt like walking back to the hotel during the sunrise was a nice way to end the…MONORAIL!
…That essentially describes what I was thinking when I turned the corner and saw this monorail. The idea of photographing monorails at sunrise hadn’t even crossed my mind before, and all of the sudden I was going crazy.
We waited for several monorails, photographing them each as they passed! After about 5 Resort Monorails passed without a second Express Monorail (which is what I really wanted), I came to the conclusion that the first Express Monorail we saw was parked in the Magic Kingdom station.
After about 30 minutes of waiting and photographing the monorails, I decided to give up and head back (Sarah had walked back about 15 minutes prior) to the room. All told, I had about 10 monorail shots that I really liked, which was the perfect way to end the 24-hour (or 25+ hour, by this point) day.
Overall, we had a blast at the 24-hour party. Honestly, there’s very little about the party itself that appealed to me–I dislike dance parties and we forgot about the Villains pre-parade, which was the only thing that was of interest–but I still really enjoy them. As a photographer, the opportunity to be there for sunrise is huge, and it’s fun to try to put together a solid day’s worth of photos. As a guest, it’s fun to experience a day in the park with a lot of like-minded guests, and to see the costumes.
There were a couple of things that disappointed me. First, Walt Disney World totally dropped the ball on having worthwhile unique foods for the party. We spent very little on food that day, after spending embarrassing amounts on food at Disneyland the two previous years. At Disneyland, the food has been the highlight of the event for me. Second, and sort of to that end, since these are clearly becoming a yearly thing, I hope Disney understands that the luster of 24 hours in the park, for many guests, is wearing thin and there needs to be more done to draw guests to these parties. It’s still exciting enough to me to make a special trip for it each year, but I had by far the most fun at the first event, “One More Disney Day” at Disneyland. Special menus at Disneyland is a start, but unique fireworks, more decorations, special lighting, and other little touches are all little things that would all go a long way in enhancing the appeal of these parties to repeat guests. Finally, I’m disappointed in Sarah and I for not once doing Carousel of Progress or Country Bear Jamboree during the party. That is just distinctly unpatriotic.
We had a few hours to sleep before our lunch reservations in Epcot, so it was time to head to bed…
For actual Walt Disney World trip planning tips and comprehensive advice beyond these quick and random tips, make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide and related articles.
Did you attend the Rock Your Disney Side 24-Hour Party at Walt Disney World? What would you change about the 24-hour parties to improve them? What do you think of the dance parties? Share your comments on any of these things—or anything else from the trip report—in the comments!