Friday, March 2, 2012

A Night in the Magic Kingdom

Last week both Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom were open for 24 hours straight to celebrate Leap Day. A lot of fans viewed this as a kind of endurance challenge, but I was more interested in being there during the hours between midnight and dawn. So, camera and tripod in tow, John and I set out around 9pm to go document a night at the Magic Kingdom.

Parking was pretty crowded, and since all three ferries were running to accommodate the masses we had to hang out on Bay Lake for a while, waiting our turn to dock. By the time we made it past the turnstiles it was nearly 10:30.

The crowds were thick on Main Street since the parade had just wrapped, so we made a beeline for the top of the train station to get a few wide-angle shots.

We also watched the castle projection show from here, but none of those photos turned out well. The construction screen jutting out from the right spoils the view, anyway.

As the crowds dispersed towards the hub, we hung around taking tripod shots around the station. I especially liked the view up the stairs:

For this next shot I had to sit on my knees in front of the tripod craning my neck up at an insane angle. I probably looked a little crazy, but I like the end result:

(John tells me he can't see a difference between these two shots, so let me assure you: they're different. I just can't decide which one I like better.)

Note that I could take this shot - with no people in it and while kneeling next to a tripod in a major walkway - at around midnight. At that same time Disneyland in CA was shut down due to capacity crowds. So, yeah, we didn't have it nearly so bad.

From there we wandered over to Tomorrowland:

I made a point to take theses shots while the TTA (aka People Mover) was rounding the corner, so I'd get the motion blur. I still have so much to learn about photography in general and night shots in particular, though. I think a longer exposure would have looked much better.

A few minutes after this an astoundingly eagle-eyed reader named Ric managed to find us. In the dark. In a big crowd. And all from my single tweet about the music in Tomorrowland. Seriously, this guy deserves a medal.

Anyway, after we chatted for a while Ric invited us to join him in the Touring Plans Scavenger Hunt, which got started around 1AM. I'm so glad he did: it was a small hunt with maybe a dozen teams, and it was so. much. fun. We raced around the park doing things we usually skip like the Tree House and Autopia, and there were even a few trivia bits that allowed me to flex my useless-knowledge muscles.

I'm not so sure the hunt was good for John, though, who is still recovering from his round with strep & that ear infection. It was only about 70 degrees, but so humid we were all pretty sticky and funkafied by the time we finished power-walking around the park 'til 4am. We also came in dead last, because CLEARLY everyone else WAS TOTALLY CHEATING. (Kidding, kidding. We figure the ride wait-times did us in.) Regardless, we had a blast.

After an ice cream cone and parting ways with Ric, we set up in Fantasyland by the carousel. (Well, I set up, and John sat on a bench playing Teeny Wings on his phone.)

I took approximately a billion photos from this vantage point, give or take a hundred or so. I couldn't help it: as you can see, the concourse was mostly empty, and it's all sooo pretty.

I wanted my shots as empty of people as possible, but funnily enough my "test shot" when a couple was standing in the way turned out to be my very favorite:

Isn't it sweet? She even had her head on his shoulder for a second, but I wasn't quick enough with the shutter. I also love that the exposure was slow enough to get a solid ring of light inside the moving carousel.

Here's another:

(You can click any of these for the full-size, btw. Blogger's upload keeps them pretty small.)

And for something different, here's one in black and white:

Because we were there so long, we got to witness a rare treat: Cinderella's two wicked stepsisters came out - making plenty of noise along the way - and rode the carousel for several trips.

They were loud and funny and surprisingly sweet, considering they're the "wicked" stepsisters. Mostly they just carried on like a couple of three-year-olds. (Which, come to think of it, is actually perfectly in character.)

Here they're saying goodbye to the horse:

Like I said: surprisingly sweet!

In fact, there were *tons* of characters out all night, including a photo spot with all seven dwarfs and Snow White, another with the cast of Pooh, and Rapunzel & Flynn over at the Storybook spot. I don't collect photos with the characters, but for anyone who does it was heaven. (My only regret was not going into the Town Hall to see Mickey & Minnie in their PJs.)

The only other thing of note for the night was the "dance party" in front of the castle, which started around 1am. It consisted of three parade floats - the generic ones shaped like giant gift boxes - parked around the hub with a DJ on top playing tunes and talking to the crowd. It was funny hearing a mix of "Hokey Pokey" with stuff like "Can't Touch This."

Hey, you know what this post needs?

More carousel!

A little after 5am the sky started to redden a bit:

So we wandered towards the hub to see if there were any good pre-dawn shots. I think this one is the best:

From there we wandered up Main Street again:

Everyone seemed to be gathering around the flag pole in Town Square, just waiting for the clock to strike 6 so they could escape to their beds. There was a hazy mist descending, so you couldn't quite see the top turret of the castle.

I grabbed a few more shots of the main buildings, sans crowds:

Wish I'd used the tripod for this one; it's super grainy.

Precisely at 6 we made our way out. Everyone was fairly subdued, but happy. Since John and I stay up all night most nights, we were in fairly decent shape for the drive home.

For some reason Disney chose 6am - the official closing time - to take all but one monorail offline, so while we were in line they told us all to turn back. A bit of a mess, but fortunately they brought all the ferries back online. Plus that meant I got this shot from the dock:

And then this one while we were on board:
That's half of John there on the left, bowed over and looking positively bedraggled. Like I said: this might not have been the best thing to drag him to while he's still on the mend. (If it helps any, he's been sleeping a lot since.)

And one final shot looking back as the sun started to come up:

Oh, and when we docked a few minutes later, the captain came on the intercom and started whistling "The Imperial March." Which was the perfect soundtrack for a sea of sleep-deprived zombies staggering out into the morning light. ;)

Hope you got a vicarious sleepy thrill out of our shenanigans! As always, I'll have all these pics and a few extras over on my Flickr account, in case you want to just see the slide show.

Update - Since some of you are asking: I use a Canon Rebel XT, and most of these shots were taken with our new wide angle lens.


  1. I love the second, tighter shot of the staircase. Gorgeous. And all of the carousel shots are fantastic. I'm completely and utterly jealous.

  2. LOVE your pics. That is absolutely my favorite place on earth, and I so wish that we could have been there for the fun! Maybe in four years...

  3. I like the 2nd photo up the stairs. I think getting the camera closer to the ground and tilted upwards creates the impression of child-eye view.

  4. The first shot leaving the dock in the morning makes me think of Spirited Away. Thanks for sharing your pics!

  5. Spectacular photos! I wish I could have gone to either park for Leap Day (believe me I tried - just too expensive) Thanks for giving me a Disney fix to tide me over til I get there myself (Disneyland in October). Allie

  6. Jen, these shots are AMAZING. Seriously. I am awed.

    Also? I didn't know Anastasia and Drusilla were at the parks!!! I've never seen them. I would flip. I've met Cindy & the Fairy Godmother, but the stepsisters would be so awesome...

  7. Those are amazing! I particularly like the pre-dawn shot you took over Tomorrowland (at least I think it's Tomorrowland). We're heading to Disney in a few weeks and this post makes me super-excited!! :)

  8. I think I like the second stairs shot too, but I may change my mind again in about 30 seconds.

  9. These pictures are all GORGEOUS. I'm completely jealous that you get to do stuff like this, but love that you can post such beautiful pictures for everyone to see. You're a wonderful photographer!

    And I have a couple friends in Florida, at least one of whom spent the night in the park too. I know she also saw the ugly stepsisters, so I wonder if you ever wound up seeing each other.

  10. Beautiful photos!

    Tell John he's blind - I totally see the difference! =) It's like you are a little mouse looking up the stairs in the second one. I like.

    I can't decide which ones I like best - I love them all! Thanks for sharing!

  11. Thanks for posting these! I've never been to WDW, and I was part of the traffic problem in Anaheim, trying to get into Disneyland, but got turned away at 9pm, so I didn't get to play in the Park in the wee hours. I'm soooo jealous that it wasn't crowded there!
    Hope John(thoJ) is still recovering nicely.

  12. I love them all! We just got back from a weekend at Disneyland, and I already want to go back. Gotta love the Mouse!! °o°

    I adore the Castle in FL, and I wish I could live there. Thank you for sharing your pictures!

  13. I didn't even know that the wicked stepsisters were characters at the parks! Wish I lived closer.

  14. I've never been there, but I had to "de-lurk" and say how much I love your pics. That second shot of the stairs is definitely better than the first. I love how the lamppost distorts into the edge. Wonderfu!!

    You took some amazing photos there! Makes me want to visit just to take photos.

    LOVE that pre-dawn shot. The colors are AMAZING. Curious about your camera and lens used.

  15. Awesome Jen! I am curious about your camera, Nikon or Canon? I love my Nikon DSLR, but my Canon PNS. Great shots, and that one of the couple was wonderful! It'd be a great enlargement!

  16. My friends and I were there all night too! We had a GREAT time!

    I have to get twitter on my phone so I can track you down. I figured you'd be in the park!

  17. Oh Jen! I love the photos of the Carousel. Anastasia and Druzellia (Oh god I can't remember how to spell her name) became some of my favorites when I went down a couple times. Lady Tremaine was impressed that I knew her name!

    I just recently (2 months ago) started a new job working for The Carousel Works, the world's largest manufacture of hand-carved wooden Carousels! If you are ever in Ohio please stop by as my Guests!

    Just some trivia.. The Magic Kingdom Carousel was completed in 1917 by the Philadelphia Toboggan Company as #46, carved mostly by Italian immigrants. Sadly to Carousel Aficionados it is consider badly altered from the original. However.. Carousels are meant to be ridden and many folks would rather see a Carousel of it's age and history taken care of and enjoyed than sitting in a warehouse rotting away. I know I do!

    The Carousel Works just took on a restoration of a 100+ year old carousel that is in horrible condition. There was also a rumor floating around when I was hired that Disney had contacted Carousel Works about a project.. perhaps for Shanghai. I'll keep you updated!

    I hope you enjoyed this little bit of Non-Disney Carousel Related Knowledge!

  18. I gotta ask.. how'd it go with people leaving at 6? Were they strategically moving people forward early? or was everyone pretty beat up by then!?! It would have been my personal goal to be one of the last to leave, especially to try to get some early morning pre-dawn gorgeousness of Main Street.

  19. Oh these are fabulous pictures! What a great way to spend the early morning hours!

  20. Oh, sorry to nitpick, but you wrote "Rapunzel and Finn" when it should be "Rapunzel and Flynn".

    It looks lie you guys had a ton of fun! I'm jealous. Get lots of sleep!

  21. Wow, beautiful photographs! Now that Jeri Lynn said it, the second the last does remind me of Spirited Away.

  22. My sister, crazy person, made it 22 hours, til 4 pm. Her group of friends carried a white board around with them so they made signs with the attraction, how many attractions thus far, and the time all night! They had a CM write the attraction name differently at each one, and Conquered the Kingdom except for 2 rides that kept shutting down so the waits were outrageous when they were up. Me? I stayed home and watched tv, but drove past it all on the way to the Grand at 545 AM :-)

  23. These shots are GORGEOUS!!! Thank you for sharing, Jen. :D

  24. Jen, I really do like the second stair picture SO much better. You can tell the different between the stairs above and below the landing, which makes it all the more cool. It's just missing in the first one, and somehow that makes it less dramatic.

  25. I am positively green with envy. These photos are just beautiful. Hope your man is feeling a bit better!

  26. I may have said this a million times before (at least I did in my head) but I have never wanted to go there as much as I do after seeing your pictures and reading the love letters you write to that place. I can't wait to get down there! When our littlest one is bigger and before the bigger one turns into an alien (teenager) we will go.

  27. Nice work with the photos! The second stair shot is better, the forced perspective is more dramatic and the light on the banister is better in that one as well.

  28. I hope the couple at the carousel sees it and they contact you so they can get a big copy and use it for a wedding or anniversary picture.

    It reminds me of the Woodstock album cover. Is that weird? I think it's the whole "candid couple" thing. Like, even though there is a lot going on around them, at that moment their world consists of just them.

    It's sweet.

    Oh, and Disney should hire you to take promotional shots. Just sayin'.

  29. Oh I wish I could go, but Florida is a bit of a haul for us. I love the shot of couple in front of the merry go round. *sigh*

    Someday I will find a friend that likes Disney and go. Someday.

  30. Now I have the Imperial March stuck in my head. Thanks.

  31. Oh these are killing me! They're gorgeous! I haven't been to WDW in over a year now (when we got engaged), and I have another 6 months until our honeymoon! I've never been this long without a Disney fix and my heart hurts a bit looking at such wonderful, pretty photos.

  32. Totally a difference between those two stair shots! They are both nice, but I prefer the second one. :)

  33. Oh my gosh. Beautiful shots!!!! I love the ones of the castle, and that sweet picture of the couple by the carousel is just adorable. Fabulous. Thanks so much for sharing these!

  34. I REALLY want to go to Disney World and this just made the desire even worse. Beautiful shots!

  35. These are GORGEOUS! The staircase and the couple by the carousel are just stunning. Like "Disney should be paying you" awesome.
    I just recently learned how to do the tilt-shift effect in post on photoshop (or the Sherlock effect as my husband calls it). So, I had fun playing with the elevated Main St. shots (pure fun for me, watermark retained, and I swear not to post them anywhere).
    Speaking of my totally useless new skill. I learned from here if your are interested.

  36. Oh it gives me goose bumps we had a dream vacation their this past march, and I wish I could go again, I love to see this and would love it to be an anniversary with hubby one day. Oh how fun!

  37. Wow. I LOVE the carousel shots, they're amazing. And I can really see the difference between the two stair shots. I think the second is my favourite, it has more contrast.

  38. Jen, thank you for posting these! I received a Canon Rebel for Christmas, and just took a photography class in DC today to learn how to use it better. Seeing your beautiful photos, incorporating some of the things we learned today, makes me want to get out there even more! Beautiful shots. The biggest thing I learned today: never be afraid to look like an idiot while going for that awesome shot. And I can totally tell the difference between the one on the tripod and the one you took on your knees!

  39. Carrie (like the movie)March 3, 2012 at 11:45 PM

    LOVE these pics!!! I haven't been to Disney in over 10 years, but I may have to plan a trip for next Leap Day. That was amazing.

  40. Yay! I was counting on you to post about the all-nighter. Now I don't feel so bad having missed it. Thanks!

  41. I see the difference in the two shots of the staircase. But then again, I have taken a few photography classes (*ahem* very few) and I liked the composition part of it, so I see what you did there. I like the bottom one because the colors are richer. :)

    You need to submit your photos to some amateur contests. I think you'd be surprised at the results.

  42. Love these photos! My husband and I were working til late at Studios so by the time we would have gotten to MK (after changing our clothes), it would have been nine thirty or ten. We wanted to watch the sun rise over the castle at six. But we had to take into account the fact that he was back at work at eight and I had an important meeting at nine the next morning, so we didn't go. :( So thank you for letting us live vicariously through you.

  43. Those are beautiful pictures! I wish I lived close enough to visit Disney World when I wanted.

  44. My parents & I spent 24 hours at Disney is CA & it was absolutely AWESOME. Cast members started the morning lining Main Street to meet us 6am-ers for the world's longest High Four (wearing Mickey gloves!) as we all rushed down the street to start our day. By the end of the night Mom, dad, and I had hit Star Tours 14 times (I was even the Rebel Spy :D); our goal of the day was to see how many times we could in 24 hours.

    The strange thing was that the park was practically dead until 8pm, when something like 50,000 (I've found all kind of crowd counts, but they all vary around 60,000 people) all tried to get into the park at once. The gates were locked down by 9:30pm. So many people!!! At the end of the night a cast member told us that he’d heard from some higher ups that the park had never been so full before, not even at Disneylands's 50th birthday (I also attended this event, and they didn't shut the gates down then, and that was in the middle of July! This was a Wednesday in February!).

    By the end of the night, all the cast members at Star Tours knew us BY NAME and so we chatted with them and learned that by 6am several of them would have been working for 13 HOURS STRAIGHT!!! Apparently Disney had no idea the event would be such a success, they had massively under-staffed the park.

    What impressed me was how well Disney dealt with the influx of so many people. They are masters of crowd control, it's seriously impressive. And everyone was so cheerful! Even poor Alex (one of our Star Tours pals, who in the wee hours of the morning let us ride 3 times in a row without getting up, just so he could get my dad a turn at being the Rebel Spy!) was still full of enthusiasm and smiles and kindness after being in the park, working since 5pm.

    It was such a great time, such a great party, I'm truly impressed by Disney personnel, and I'm so totally going back in 4 years to go again (and yes, I will drag my elderly parents along with me AGAIN :] )

    ANYWAY SORRY!! I started this comment out to say GREAT PHOTOS!!! And then gave you a novel xDD;; So... LOVE THE PHOTOS, JEN!!! Wasn't it a great party???

  45. I can tell the difference between the 1st and 2nd staircase shots and I have to say that I like the 2nd one better, since it lifts the light on the right above the roofline and places it more into the sky. I just love the angle on it. So that's my 2 cents ;)

  46. Very nice photos! I was tempted to go, but felt I was getting sick the evening of 2/29 and so opted out. Reading about the chaos at Disneyland on Twitter, I was definitely happy I opted out this time.

  47. Such gorgeous photos Jen! Do you remember what settings you used on your camera for some of your shots? I'm still fairly new to the SLR thing, and I'd love to get some pretty pictures when we go to Disneyland in September.

  48. @ Karen - For the tripod shots I just set the ISO up around 100 or 200, and then let the camera do the rest. (I don't use full manual settings yet.) Sorry; I know that's not very helpful!

  49. Can you believe it--I was at Disneyland on Weds with my family! We are a homeschool family, and so had planned this trip around our schedule (and that of my relatives we stay with), not knowing there was going to be any big hullabaloo going on. All I can say is WOW.

    The beginning of Weds was great, with short lines (ah, Disney off-season mid-week = great weather, no lines, no crowds = reason #116 to homeschool) and we even walked right on to some rides, like Pirates of the Carribean! But around dinnertime the crowds were coming. I knew the evening and up till about 1 or 2 would be the busiest, so the least ideal times to be there, but we have little kids and it was a big stretch to stay till 11. (Our kids are troopers, though!) We noticed that what had been short lines became ridiculous--like two hours wait for Space Mountain, with no FastPasses available. No thanks! We left after the second parade, and there were a LOT of people trying to leave at that point (Main Street was actually completely blocked with bodies, like stopped traffic on the highway) but even more people were still trying to come in!

    So when we left at 11 the park was already at full capacity (they have to count the people who might be gone but may have gotten their hands stamped earlier, who much be allowed re-entry), but yet the trams were crowded with people still arriving, and we heard newcomers talking about being stuck in traffic for over an hour trying just to get to the park! When we drove away, we could see the waiting cars snaking for blocks. . .

    But I was thinking of you much of our visit, Jen, not only wondering if you were making the leap at Disney, but also because I found my first hidden Mickeys! I took some pics, so when I blog about them, I'll share the link. : )

  50. Once again you remind me why I keep coming to your blog... we have so much in common! I recently took many of the same photos (well, similar subjects and angles anyway) during the post-midnight hours of an Extra Magic Hours visit. It doesn't seem to matter how many years I spend visiting WDW, I always find new and interesting photos to take. :-)

    I had no interest in attending the Leap Day event. For starters it was in the middle of the work week (a busy work week as it turned out), but also because it didn't seem all that "special" to me given the regular availability of EMH at the Florida parks. In talking to friends out west prior to the event I came to the conclusion that it was a much bigger deal out at DL. Attendance seems to have proven that point.

    I look forward to maybe running into you around the parks some day. Until then, keep up the great posts! :-)

  51. Hi Jen! Can you tell me which wide angle lens you're using? I LOVE all your pics, but with the staircase one...mmmm...I like the second one! No, wait...the, definitely the second one! :-)

  52. What great pix! I sadly ended a wonderful week at WDW on the 28th. I had been there for the Princess Half Marathon, which was a complete blast -- I don't know if you like running, but did you know that they're doing the first Twilight Zone Tower of Terror 10-Miler this September? I can only imagine how much fun that would be ...

    Glad you enjoyed the all-nighter!

  53. I vote for the first shot of the stairs...that one spoke to me as a fellow shutterbug..but they are both beautifully set.

    We were at Disneyland, CA that night...we didn't stay overnight being decent parents and all...We went out for the afternoon as my mom is a leap year baby and we went to celebrate. It was fabulous with no wait times on the rides and my daughter was chosen for the jedi training school for the first time and all on Grandma's "real" 14th birthday...even leaving early in the was a special day at the park!

  54. Sooo jealous! Jealous of your photography skills, (you have an amazing eye!) and of your proximity to Disney World. I have loved all things Disney since I was little and was finally able to make it there four years ago at the age of 26! I'm also jealous of your knowledge of the park and all things Disney. I can't wait to go back again, maybe in 5 or 6 years when my son is old enough to be a Disney nerd with me!
    Thanks for the beautiful images!

  55. That is awesome! I cannot wait to go to Disney in June! I am taking my girls for a whole week and I have never been!

  56. Those shots are absolutely gorgeous. I haven't been to Walt Disney World since I was a little girl, and that really made me want to go back. Hopefully I can make it down there soon. Great photos, thanks for sharing!

  57. Oh my God how beautiful. I love the way everything glows. Wish I could have been there.

  58. Am I the only one who thinks of Great Gatsby with that first 'leaving the dock' shot? I know there are two green lights in the photo, but still....

  59. These are beautiful! I love Disney World. I have only been there once, but cried when I got there and cried when I left (and I was 24...). These pictures reminded me of that wonderful vacation!

  60. All these pics are fantastic. I like Pic 2 of the stairs slightly more. It seems to have better definition on the railings I think. The angle/composition is great in both shots.

    So it isn't just me. I always wondered who the other strange people lying on the ground taking pics at odd angles were in WDW. Now I know who one of them is at least :)

  61. Thank you so much for allowing us to see what you saw. Disney World really is a magical place!

  62. Learned a neat trick in photo class last week that you could use, if you happen to run Photoshop. If you want a shot with no people in it, but the people keep getting in the way, just take several shots without moving your camera. The idea is that you will get a picture of each thing you want without a person in front of it in at least one of your pics. Then there are several different ways to stack and merge these photos together, such that PS will automatically remove all or most of the people. Just google 'removing people from photos in' your version of PS. You might have a little bit of minor retouching to do, but PS should do most of the work for you.

    There's a vary similar process for fixing the noise/grain in long exposure night shots. Again, take several shots, then use the median stacking mode to eliminate or greatly improve the noise. (Again, google 'photo stacking to remove noise' for your version of PS).

    You ought to see if your local community college has a digital photography program. I found it was actually cheaper for me to take two full semester photo classes and buy PS and Lightroom at the student price, than it was to just buy PS from the software store, and I get 16 weeks instruction in photography and the software! I've continued on with classes because they're just so much fun. Well worth the money if you really want to make the best of your camera when you're out and about.

    And as always, lovely shots!

  63. Texpenguin, thank you for the brilliant suggestions! You've seriously inspired me to look up the local college courses, too. John & I took a b&w photography course together before we were married, & those are some of the best memories I have of that time. :)

  64. So glad you went and took a ton of pics! I wanted to go so badly, but going with OR without the 2yo wouldn't have been any fun ;p

  65. What an opportunity and what fascinating pics! Brings back memories - it is more than 20 years ago that we were there...
    One more tip for "eliminating" people from pictures - you can use a neutral grey filter to prolongate the exposure time. I used one in this pic here - about 20-30 people passed by between me and the light art object, some even stopping for a moment. Exposure time was 25 seconds:
    Lots of greetings from Berlin


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