Not since the Magic Kingdom opened in 1971 has anything grabbed more attention — and caused more excitement — than the introduction of MagicBands, the Walt Disney World Resort’s new “vacation management” system. Beginning at the end of 2013, guests will no longer receive admission tickets, hotel room keys and Fastpasses in the form of plastic or paper cards. Instead, everything a guest needs to enjoy a Walt Disney World vacation will be stored on a wristband known as My Magic+ or MagicBands. To enter a park or your hotel room, or even make a purchase in a gift shop, all you’ll need to do is wave your band in front of a specially designed reader.
Of course, as this marks a significant development in how guests enjoy Walt Disney World, there has been endless speculation about the system on online message boards and social media. Because the introduction of the bands coincides with the new FastPass+ system, which allows visitors to schedule their attraction visits before they even leave home, there’s concern about how they will impact wait times and visitors’ ability to see what they want, when they want. However, there is growing evidence that MagicBands will make Disney World vacations more enjoyable and stress-free for all ages.
For now, MagicBands distribution is limited to those visitors who are staying in Disney resort hotels, although there are plans to roll the system out to day visitors in 2014. When you make a reservation for a Disney vacation, you’ll receive a notice approximately 30 days before your arrival. It will direct you to log in to the My Disney Experience website or application to customise your band, which is a soft, plastic band containing a radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip. Customisation options include choosing a colour and having your name imprinted on the inside of the band. The bands are durable and waterproof, and they can be worn even while enjoying a dip in the pool or Disney water parks.
When you check in to your hotel, the band will be activated. It will include your hotel room key, your park admissions, dining credits, a link to your credit card for purchases in the park and your FastPass+ selections. To use the band, all you need to do is touch the designated readers throughout the resort with your wrist; the idea is that instead of carrying (and possibly losing) physical tickets and keys, you’ll have everything you need right on your wrist.
One of the most controversial parts of the MagicBand transition has been the FastPass+ system. In the past, guests who wanted to bypass waiting in line for popular rides and shows could use their park admission ticket as a Fastpass. This allowed them to bypass the standby line if they return at a designated time.
With the new system, guests can schedule their ride times from home before they arrive at the park. In other words, besides booking a hotel and cheap flights to Orlando, you can schedule a ride on Splash Mountain or Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. When your ride reservation window opens (usually 30 to 60 days before check-in), you can log in to My Disney Experience and choose up to three (in some cases, four) attractions you want to experience on each day of your vacation. You can only choose attractions in one park per day, and there are limits on which attractions you can choose; for example, you cannot schedule rides on all three “mountains” in the Magic Kingdom, but instead choose one major ride and two or three “smaller” attractions, including special seating for shows and fireworks. Once you arrive at the park, the system works like the old Fastpass system. You arrive at the attraction in your scheduled window and then board with little to no wait time.
You can make changes to your itinerary at any time. Plans change quickly on vacation, so you aren’t locked in to a certain time once you choose it. There are kiosks set up throughout the park with access to the scheduling app where you can make changes, or you can make adjustments via your smartphone on the My Disney Experience app.
The new MagicBand system at Disney World is getting a lot of attention from fans and is sure to revolutionise the way we experience theme parks going forward. Being such a new system, there are sure to be bugs, but by all accounts, in a few months MagicBands will be as much a part of Disney as a certain mouse.
Disney Fastpass tickets photo: Express Monorail / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND