I am a photographer. Not in the "I have a nice camera" way, in the "I have a minor in photography and took photographs for all my highschool and colleges publications, and I have a nice camera with nice lenses that I know how to use" way. I don't say that to be braggy, I say that so everyone understands that I didn't come by this choice lightly. I don't shoot weddings or get paid for taking photos, but that is because when I looked at the forked road in front of me, I didn't have the money to start professional photography and went into teaching. (The richest profession ever.)
I wanted to bring my big camera and my gorgeous lenses that all have names. However, that is a lot to carry, especially with two young kids. After much debate, my husband gave me a new Lumix for Christmas (which is actually quite impressive and fits in my pocket!) and I decided to go the Memory Maker route.
PhotoPass is a program Disney has that is open to all park visitors. Photographers in the park will take a photo and link it to your MagicBand or give you a card with a code that you can enter on Disney's website.
Memory Maker is what you purchase to have access to every single one of your photos to download, order prints and photo goods, and share for 30 days after activation. .
This is the best decision I made this whole trip. Better than getting up early to make restaurant reservations, better than staying up late for FastPasses, Memory Maker and PhotoPass are the best. The. Best.
1) There are over 20 photographers in each park, and they have really nice cameras with really nice lenses and most of them are more than just amateur photographers. They know their location, they know their cameras, and they are willing to get the shot you want if you are picky like me and have specific requests. Some photographers are at certain attractions while others just mill about. Sometimes they will take pictures randomly and scan your MagicBand afterward. They capture moments and are good at it. ALL Disney PhotoPass photographers will use whatever camera you bring to take your photo, too. You don't need to buy the package for that! Sometimes there is a line waiting for the photographers (like in front of the castle) but usually it is less than 5 minutes to get a photo taken.
2) You get to be in as many shots as you want. I'm always the one behind the camera, and usually I don't mind. But our last family photo on our wall (meaning it wasn't a selfie) is from 2 years ago, and we are at Disney. I'm going to get in the photo.
3) It is cheaper than most professional photo sessions. Whether you go for one day or 14, the cost is the same. Obviously it is a better deal the longer your stay. I bought the package a week before we left to take advantage of the discount and so that all the photos taken on our trip would be included. (There is a 3 day waiting period if you buy the discount Memory Maker, so be aware that you need to do it early or pay more.) Over the 6 days, we had 900 photos taken. NINE HUNDRED. Every character meeting, some meals, all the rides with photo options, the Jedi Training Academy... it is all there, and in gorgeous color. I still took my own photos, of course, but for the Memory Maker, we paid about $0.15 per photo. Most of them were instantly uploaded onto My Disney Experience and viewable from my phone, even though I didn't activate Memory Maker until I got home. I downloaded all the photos from our trip in high resolution, and chose a few stock photos, too. Yes, they have about 200 stock photos from events, parades, and of the parks' iconic attractions without people in them. Great if you are going to make a photo book.
4) It becomes something to do. We have a toddler and a preschooler. It seemed like one of us was always changing or taking a kid to the bathroom. Sometimes my husband would be paying for something or I'd be holding a spot in line while he found the stroller. Whenever there was a photographer nearby, we would take advantage of the few minutes found and take a photo. It was nice to have pictures with just one of us and one kid. Or just us and NO kids! Imagine.
5) Rides and some photo booths are included. A few rides even have videos now. You get all that.
6) Photographers can add magic. Just ask if they can take a magic shot. Location determines what sort of magic they will add to a shot. My 5-year-old was feeling a bit crabby, so a photographer asked her to put her hand up. This is what happened:
Now she is very certain she has Ice Magic.
7) Your whole party can share photos. It wouldn't matter if we had 10 people with us or just one, any photo scanned on one of our bands shows up in our account. So if your mom is running around with your toddler and gets his picture taken with Jake while your teen is on Splash Mountain, they will all be there. All of them.
8) This is probably the best one: You get to observe with your own eyes, not from behind a camera. Sometimes I prefer watching the world through a 35mm. But when my kid gets to run up to Mickey or is trying to hug Baymax or Tinkerbell is talking her ear off, I want to absorb every second. Someone else will capture the moment while I get to soak in every second. This alone is worth it. You won't want to miss these moments, trust me.
I am so, so happy with this. Sometimes the lighting isn't great or the cropping what I would have chosen, but if you have some photo editing skills, you can generally tweak that. If not, the Memory Maker comes with basic editing tools to help and frames you can add to make background guests disappear. Each photo "session" included 5-10 pictures, so even when the kids were crabby or the sun blaring, we got a good shot.
I am in no way affiliated with Disney. I was not given anything in compensation for my honest opinion. (Maybe someday I'll be that cool!)