I’m on location at the Walt Disney World Resort to learn more about some new developments here, including MyMagic+, a major new high-tech initiative from Disney that may well have a wide-reaching impact on the resort scene.
The most visible element of MyMagic+ is the new “MagicBand,” the latest accessory everyone is wearing this spring in Orlando. Replacing several variations of paper or plastic cards and tickets (and even cash), the MagicBands can be worn like bracelets and use an RFID signal to serve as an all-purpose pass around the resort. When guests check in to their hotels, they get the bands instead of a room key. When they arrive at one of the theme parks or attractions, they tap a discrete post to enter. When they arrive at a ride, they tap again. When they shop in one of the stores or dine in one of the resort restaurants, they can tap to pay with a linked credit card. And when one of the official photographers throughout the resort snaps a photo, they will also tap the band to link the pictures to the right subject for easy downloads later.
Design details: The MagicBand is adjustable and has a peel-away layer to make the band small enough to fit young children. Parents and kids who visit MyDisneyExperience.com before their trip can personalize their MagicBands by selecting one of seven colors and having names etched on the inside of the band. At the resort, guests can add accessories that are sold in shops to their bands, including plenty of bling elements.
Security details: The MagicBand uses radio frequency technology when being used as a room key or ticket to parks or attractions. When using the bands for purchases, guests must use a PIN for added security. The bands are not GPS enabled and cannot be used for tracking. (They can, however, be used to help reunite separated children and parents.) Disney says that guests’ personal data is not stored in the MagicBand. “MagicBands and RF-enabled cards contain only a randomly assigned code that securely links to an encrypted database and associates the guest’s MagicBand or ticket with the experiences they’ve selected,” the company said in a statement, adding that “extensive measures” are in place to protect guest information—“a responsibility Disney takes very seriously.”
The MagicBands are part of the launch of MyMagic+ as a multi-element platform that also includes the upgrade from Disney’s previous FastPass program to FastPass+, the My Disney Experience mobile app and website and the PhotoPass Memory Maker.
At a media gathering to explain the expansion and new developments, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts CEO Tom Staggs (above) called the new services “immersive, seamless and personal.” Disney has doubled its attractions in the FastPass program (including viewing areas for parades and meet & greets with characters), and the app and website will let individuals, families and friends reserve access to more areas both before departure and on-the-fly. And since all reservations are made online (whether from a computer or via the app), there is no need to get paper tickets in order to skip the line. Just show up within the designated window (generally an hour), tap and enter.
Good to know: While some attractions still have a bit of a wait time, the resort team is finding ways to make the wait less boring. At the Dumbo ride, once parents and kids check in they collect a buzzer (much like restaurants do), and the kids can play in an air-conditioned tent while the parents relax and watch them until the buzzer calls them up for the ride. (Of course, the parents can always play while the kids relax and watch. Whatever works.)
Each member of a family can make a profile on www.mydisneyexperience.com, Gary Daniels, Disney’s director of product management, explained, and can manage their itineraries and passes individually or as a group. Friends can also link their accounts and profiles to share itineraries or parts of itineraries, which will auto-update across everyone’s phone instantly.
The Memory Maker option, which can be booked for $149 before arrival or $199 afterwards, lets guests take unlimited pictures across the resort with official photographers, letting the whole family be in the picture together. The photographer scans the wristbands after each photo session and uploads the pictures automatically. When they log in to their account, guests can order print copies of their favorite shots and download unlimited copies.
The early response to the improvements has been positive, Staggs said, noting that since FastPass+ rolled out, it has seen a usage increase of 40 percent over the previous version.
And new additions to the program may take that number even higher. In the Magic Kingdom, Be Our Guest is a restaurant that is serving as a prototype for how different businesses throughout the park can work with both FastPass+ and the MagicBands. Guests not only make reservations for dining times at the restaurant, but can look over menus and select their meals before arrival. When they come in, the staff greets each guest by name and escorts them to a table, and the food arrives shortly afterwards. When they are finished, the guests pay by tapping their wristbands and can walk right out. So far, only Be Our Guest offers this option, and there is no word yet on how long the testing phase will last or if it will expand to other restaurants.
MyMagic+ and MagicBands are available to guests at Disney Resort hotels and Walt Disney World Passholders. Guests staying off-site (and who don’t have passes) will get a card to use much as they would the band, or they can purchase a wristband upon arrival and link it to their account.