Hidden Gem: Tom Sawyer Island

It is getting toward mid-day and you are just finishing the first third of an epic Magic Kingdom day. You are hot, you are tired, you just had something to eat, or you are looking to find a little space to enjoy a snack you just picked up. Well then, step right up to the wooden rafts in Frontierland and head over to today’s hidden gem, Tom Sawyer Island. It is a quiet spot that has been through a lot of iterations over the years, and rumors have it disappearing altogether soon. Visit Tom Sawyer Island before it is gone. It has great tree coverage and shade with lots of little nooks and crannies away from the bustling crowds. It can also be a great way for kids to explore and roam a bit more freely given the only access on and off the island are those rafts.IMG_5825_6_7_8_9HDR

Often, on Disney vacations, we just want to get from point A to point B in the parks. Tom Sawyer Island is off the beaten trails, doesn’t connect any two places, and takes some time to get to and back from. If you need a rest and a little breathing room, it can be a nice mini-vacation from your vacation. The views are also really unique. The photo bugs out there may want to visit just to see things a little differently. You don’t often get to see the Great Thunder Mountain or Gracey Manor (Haunted Mansion) from those angles. I recommend, on your next long Magic Kingdom day, you take a few moments out out to explore a bit of a forgotten piece of Frontierland and Magic Kingdom history.

 

 

 

 

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Picture Perfect: Tea Cups

Disney is one of my passions, another is photography. Combining the two is one of my great joys in life. In addition, much of my Disney photography involves my family, so that is the trifecta of my life’s joys.

The name of this feature is a little bit of a joke. As anyone who has ever taken a picture before knows, there is no such thing as perfect. My goal in this feature is to give some quick tips to those who have a camera and want to take a cool picture no matter what skill level. I will talk a little bit about things like shutter speed and depth of field. I’m happy to go into more detail if anyone has any questions, but most everything I talk about can be achieved almost as well on automatic. The most important thing is to take the pictures. Perfect doesn’t matter.

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My wife on the Tea Cups. This was my first attempt at this particular shot and I loved it.

My first tip is actually a great example of perfect not mattering. I love the Tea Cups in Magic Kingdom. They are a fun classic Disney ride, the line is rarely very long and it is hard not to smile on them. It is also one of my favorite spots to snap a photo of some loved ones.

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My wife took this picture of me in the Tea Cups with my sister’s family and my GoPro (another great option for this ride).

I like this photo opportunity because it won’t be part of anyone else’s PhotoPass so you get a unique shot and it can be done pretty easily. Just get in the cup with your subject (you can even do a selfie if you want). By sharing a cup, you and the camera automatically share the same movement which will keep your subject pretty sharp and will create a great blur in the background. The photo looks so active and fun, much like the ride. Make sure to use your camera strap and hold on to it tight, the g-force can get intense if you have someone who spins the cup like crazy (I’m looking at you, my niece and nephews).

Technically Speaking: For those of you who just want the basics and aren’t interested in some of the more technical details, feel free to skip to past this part. For those of you interested in some of the technical stuff, here it is. I use a Canon 6D dslr. I had the 24-105 f/4 L lens at 30 mm and was shooting pretty wide open, maybe f/4.5 or 5.0. You need to balance you shutter speed a bit to blur the background but keep your subject sharp. You’ll have to fudge a bit here. I used something 60 – 80 range. I had a somewhat high ISO to make sure I had enough light. I was around 1600.

You might end up with your subject a little blurred or without the perfect composition, don’t worry about it. It is such a fun shot, those little imperfections just add to the overall mood of the photo. Just remember to be safe, have fun, and keep shooting.

Hidden Gem: Jumping Water Fountains

With a less than popular ride and a mostly unused pavilion, EPCOT’s Jumping Fountain, today’s hidden gem, goes unnoticed. These simple water features, which defy gravity, capture the imagination of children and can be a cool place for adults to rest while their little ones chase the dancing droplets and get a little wet. IMG_6888They can be found right by the exit from the Journey Into Imagination with (not enough) Figment and the Disney and Pixar Film Fest, tucked in a corner and away from the more well traveled paths.   I remember being fascinated by these as a child, as well as the nearby “backwards” fountain.  Neither is talked about much or featured on many itineraries, but it is a can’t miss for my family. Surprisingly, my niece and nephews request to visit those fountains every trip. There is no line, no FastPass, no extra cost, and no limit. Too often we can let our Disney vacations become a race from one E ticket (popular) attraction to another. Instead, a trip to the Jumping Fountains can offer a much needed respite and a change of pace and an oasis in the hustle and bustle. Remember, vacations to Disney World are still vacations and EPCOT is the perfect place to slow down and smell the roses (sometimes literally). On your next trip, leave some time to enjoy this oft unappreciated hidden gem.

Additional tip, your kids might enjoy the nearby wildlife too.