Leap's Note: Today's post comes from Undercover Tourist customer and super Disney World fan Vern Woodruff. Vern has written about the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, princess dressing in the parks and the Jedi Training Academy. Today he offers a review of Universal Orlando's Photo Connect Star Card.
When planning for a visit to the Universal Orlando Resort, you will likely see information or ads for Universal’s in-park photo service called Photo Connect. Like Disney's PhotoPass, Photo Connect consists of a number of photographers spread around both Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure, as well as ride photos on select attractions. The most common locations for the photographers are at the park entrances and with characters. There are also a small number of photographers who are roaming or at other various locations. Once your photo is taken, there will either be a photo-viewing area close by where you can see your photo or you will receive a card that you can take to one of the Photo Connect service counters around the parks. You can purchase prints or other various photo products, but they are kind of pricey, especially if you want more than just a couple of pictures. If you think you would be interested in all of your photos from a day at Universal, an available upgrade is the Photo Connect Star Card.
The Universal Orlando Photo Connect Star Card has two options, either one day or three consecutive days of photos at the parks. The one-day option is only available online for $69.99 +tax, while the three day option is $89.99 +tax when purchased online in advance or $99.99 +tax at the park (tax rate is 6.5%). If you purchase in advance, you will receive an e-mail confirmation that you can print and take to a Photo Connect desk at the parks to redeem your purchase. I recommend the main desk, just inside of the park entrance. Both of the Photo Connect Star Card options have the Amazing Pictures Mobile App, so you can view and share your photos with your smart phone while at the parks. A Photo Connect-themed lanyard and Star Card are provided for you to wear so photographers will know that you have the upgrade. They will take a picture of the back of the card to tie the photos to your account instead of handing you a regular Photo Connect card. While both options allow you to receive discounts on Photo Connect products, the three-day option includes one free 4x6 print and one free 5x7 or 8x10 print in a folder (note that these need to be picked up while at the parks, but you can have your pictures printed at any time during your visit).
If you have visited Disney World, you are likely familiar with its in-park photo service PhotoPass and the Memory Maker upgrade. Prior to my family’s visit, I thought Photo Connect would be similar. However, there are a number of differences. If you are thinking about getting the Universal Orlando Photo Connect Star Card on your next trip, hopefully this list of my pros and cons can help you make the best decision.
Pros of Universal Orlando Photo Connect Star Card
- With someone else taking the picture, it is much easier to have everyone included. At the character greeting areas, there was typically at least one additional person with the photographer who helped to supervise the line. This person was very willing to take a picture with my camera or my wife’s cell phone and often asked me if I wanted them to take a picture with my camera.
- All of the ride photos are included for those that offer it. Depending on how much you like ride photos, this can be a nice perk. However, after riding you need to make sure that you stop by the ride’s photo desk to have the picture added to your account. Photos taken while you are waiting in line for some rides (such as the Amazing Adventures of Spiderman) or posed photos (such as with E.T. Adventure) are included.
- After returning home, you can access the pictures on the Universal Photo Connect website. You can download copies of all your pictures as originally created by Photo Connect (with a border and at a certain aspect ratio). The website has some basic photo editing capabilities, such as allowing you to change the aspect ratio, adjusting the amount of zoom for the image, selecting a different border or no border, rotating the image by 90 degrees and the ability to add digital “stickers” of a small assortment of characters. After completing your edits, you will need to download the file to your computer because it is not saved in your online account.
Cons of Universal Orlando Photo Connect Star Card
- The biggest con for me is that the digital image files are relatively low resolution and are meant primarily for sharing via e-mail or social media. However, if you are printing a 4x6, the resolution is high enough that the print looks fine. A second big con is that you are not provided with a copyright release document. This may be an issue if you want to print copies of your pictures somewhere else besides home. Both of these issues differ from Disney’s Memory Maker, which gives you high-resolution digital files and a copyright release to allow for easily printing the pictures at a store.
- There are relatively few Photo Connect photographers roaming the parks or set up near various scenic or photographic locations. We always found photographers just inside of the park entrance, but only encountered a few in other areas of the park.
- The process in which photos are tied to your account is not as slick as it is at Disney. Since it is done by a photographer taking an actual picture of the back of the Photo Connect Star Card, we ended up with our own photos as well as a number of other people's photos that must have been taken by the same photographer.
- Character greeting opportunities are plentiful at the parks, but the odds seemed to be about 50-50 whether a Photo Connect photographer would be with the characters. We had a character breakfast with the Grinch, with one of the advertised perks being a digital photo with the green one himself. However, the photographer who was with the Grinch left shortly after we arrived for our meal. When the Grinch came around to our table, the photographer was not there, so we did not get a photo with him then. We ended up having to wait around, and eventually the photographer returned so we were able to squeeze in a quick photo with the Grinch before he had to leave.
- Since few photographers are roaming the parks or at locations other than with the characters, there were only a handful of opportunities for Universal’s version of a “magic shot,” which my kids loved from Disney. An example of this type of picture would be all of us posing with one child holding a hand in front of them. Then, a cartoon character or Universal-themed image would be digitally added to the picture later. However, for this to be done, you had to make sure that you stopped by one of the Photo Connect service counters to have it added. If you forget to do this at the parks, you can add a digital “sticker” of a character using the online photo editing tools at home.
- While most of the photos could be edited in my online account, including the ride photos, not all of them could be modified. Photos with Sponge Bob or one of his friends could not be changed, so if we wanted a different aspect ratio or a copy of the image without the border, it could not be done. Photos that were taken in front of a green-screen and edited by Photo Connect to add a digital background could have the original image (with the green-screen) edited, but you could not select a different aspect ratio or edit the image with the fancy digital background. The ride photos could be edited, but you could not create a version without a border.
- Some of the photos were iffy or of poor quality. Several sets of images were basically unusable due to glare or streaking from sunlight. Other photos occasionally had poor cropping of the image field, cutting off some of the background or people.
- If the system is not working for some reason and you receive a regular Photo Connect card instead, you need to stop at a Photo Connect desk to have the pictures added to your account. We had this occur with the Transformers photo opportunity. Also, you will want to check your pictures on your phone throughout the day if possible to make sure that all of your photos are added to your account. If you are missing one, you’ll need to stop at a Photo Connect desk before leaving the park.
Other Things to Consider
- To give you an idea as to how many photos you could expect to have taken, my account had 141 photos from three full days in the parks with many character visits and at least one ride on all the attractions that offered ride photos. This worked out to an average of 47 a day. By comparison, my family averaged more than 150 a day at Disney during our last visit.
- One thing to be aware of if you have a Photo Connect Star Card and Universal Express is that some rides, such as The Amazing Adventures of Spiderman, have a photo opportunity in the regular line. With Universal Express, you completely miss this photo stop.
Overall, since this was our first time at Universal Orlando and we stopped to see a lot of characters during our three-day visit, I was content with the Photo Connect Star Card at a cost of about $32 a day. However, if you do not plan to see many of the characters and are not interested in the ride photos, then you would not receive as much value from the package.
Have you used Universal Orlando's Photo Connect Star Card? We'd love to see your tips! And for those of you wanting to learn more, please share your questions.
Related: Disney's PhotoPass and Memory Maker Pros and Cons
Vern and his wife are the parents of two boys and a girl that all love Disney’s animated movies and shorts. He lives in Ohio and is employed as a mechanical engineer, which helps to explain his excessive attention to detail, organization and planning. His oldest son enjoys watching the animated shorts from the Disney Treasures series, his youngest son has the middle name “Donald” and he likes telling people that he was named after Donald Duck, and his daughter loves the Disney Princesses, especially Rapunzel and recently Elsa.