The Next Generation Initiative, Revisited

by Steve Russo, staff writer
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A long, long time ago, on February 17, 2011, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Tom Staggs spoke at the Disney Investors Conference and made a few comments that caused quite a stir within the Disney Internet community. I penned an article referencing those comments and if you'd like to see how good a prognosticator I am, you can read it here.

Mr. Staggs' comments referenced Disney's new concept, the Next Generation Initiative, and he spoke of several of its promised components. We can already see evidence of the initiative in the interactive elements added to a number of attraction queues such as the Haunted Mansion, Soarin', Space Mountain, Dumbo, etc.


Part of the interactive queue at the Haunted Mansion. Photo by Steve Russo.

We can also see the initiative at work in the not-yet-complete Fantasyland expansion, as well as the re-imagining of Downtown Disney as Disney Springs, where the construction is now underway.


Part of the Fantasyland expansion. Photo by Steve Russo.

In this article, I'd like to focus on two distinct and related components of the initiative: MagicBands and FastPass+. I would be negligent to discuss these two features without also delving into the program called MyMagic+ and another of its components, My Disney Experience. I know there's probably a great deal of confusion with these new terms and programs, so let's see if we can sort some of it out.

Before we do, let me explain where I'm getting my "insider" information. As part of a Disney-themed newsgroup, I've had the opportunity to interact online with a Disney Imagineer. Debbi goes by the online name of Admiral Boom (AB for short), and has been wonderful at dispelling misinformation and providing the straight scoop in many areas where, frankly, there's not a lot of detailed information available. I will point out that Admiral Boom will only share information that is not considered proprietary or "Disney confidential," so we'll not incur any corporate wrath here.

Boom has given me the go-ahead to share some of this information here on MousePlanet, provided I issue the following caveat: "These systems are still in test mode and will undoubtedly be tweaked and changed as Disney learns from the testing process. I can provide information on how things work today as long as you understand that tomorrow may be different."

Got all that?

Let's begin by identifying and clarifying the new buzzwords:

MyMagic+

This is the term used to identify the program that includes many new features such as My Disney Experience, MagicBands and FastPass+

My Disney Experience

My Disney Experience is an online (Web site) and a mobile app that helps you manage all aspects of your Walt Disney World vacation. You can find the Web site on the menu bar of the official Walt Disney World Web page. The mobile app is now available free for IOS (Apple iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch) and Droid devices. I'm hearing that additional technologies will be rolled out in the (near?) future.

In My Disney Experience, you can manage all your vacation plans in one place. This includes your travel group, hotel reservations, ticket media, dining reservations, FastPass+, Disney PhotoPass and more. As you link in members of your travel group, they can see all these plans in action and view updates as they occur.

The mobile app will sync with the Web and provide all your vacation details on the mobile device you carry into the parks. The mobile My Disney Experience also contains tons of park and resort information detailing park hours, attractions, restaurants, shows and more. As an added bonus, the app offers current attraction wait times and the current time window being offered for FastPass distribution.

MagicBands

MagicBands are wristbands that contain RFID devices. These MagicBands will identify the wearer and link to several databases that will contain your reservation, ticket media, FastPass+, dining reservations and more. We'll discuss the technology later but, for now, just know that the "radio frequency" signal transmitted from the device can be read by a receiving station, which may be located:

  • At Disney's Magical Express (DME) location in Orlando International Airport, allowing boarding of a DME bus to a resort;
  • On a resort room door allowing guest entry;
  • At a theme park entrance where ticket media may be verified and entry allowed;
  • At the FastPass+ queue in an attraction, verifying the existence and timeframe of a FastPass;
  • At checkout counters for shops and restaurants throughout Walt Disney World allowing for charges to your resort account.

FastPass+

FastPass+ will allow you to lock in FastPasses for select attractions before you leave home. Currently, the limit is three attractions per day in a single theme park. I know this feature has caused a lot of consternation as people have voiced concerns over planning their entire vacation "months in advance." As one who has just begun using FastPass+, I really think it will be a positive for most of us.

What's the technology used in the MagicBands?

First, it's important to note that Disney World has, for some time, been issuing Key To The World (KTTW) cards with RFID chips imbedded. If you've been to the resorts in the past 10-12 months, you've probably noticed that you can open your hotel room door by tapping the card against a plate. Likewise, you can tap against a Mickey-head reader to charge items to your room. You probably also noticed the conversion of the entry turnstiles at the parks to these new Mickey-head readers. The MagicBands are simply a different, and hopefully easier, way to carry the RFID device.


You can customize your MagicBands.

Per Admiral Boom:

"We have several types of MagicBands in test. One of these (internal testing only) has a near-field device on-board. This device can be both a communications device and a power transfer device, allowing a MagicBand to be recharged. The range for the RFID device in a card or MagicBand is approximately 4 inches, on a good day. The RFID device is powered by the radio signal sent to it by the station in use—it has no power source of its own. This is important because we don't want the cards or MagicBands to supply any information to a device unless you very much intend that to happen. The RFID devices cannot be turned off but they do wear out over time.

The MagicBand contains additional devices that the (KTTW) cards do not have. These devices are powered by an internal battery. The core of these additional devices operates using a Wi-Fi signal (on a different band than guest cell phones do) and thus has a bigger range. The range actually depends on the type of MagicBand (which translates to 'type of antenna' for the technological types). The MagicBands we have been testing should have a 20-meter radius (minimum), at full power."


Park entry with MagicBands. Image by Disney.

How long will they last?

Per Admiral Boom:

"The cards and MagicBands are reusable on future visits, of course. The cards could theoretically last 10 years or so. I'm not sure what happens internally as they deteriorate but our spec (and price point) was for a 10 year lifespan (minimum). The MagicBands have a shorter life but that is because of the battery. The MagicBands are potted (filled with a hard foam, which makes them waterproof and not easily reverse-engineered) and sealed, so the battery is not replaceable. They pretty much shut down when there is no matching equipment in range so they will have a good shelf life—but if you are in the parks every week, expect to replace the MagicBands on the order of once per year."

Are there other uses for MagicBands?

A question about finding a specific person (or lost child) was posed. While this is not its intended use, Admiral Boom did address the issue:

"With that kind of range, and with mesh-cell antennas all over the place (in the parks anyway ...), we have the ability to locate (and track) a particular MagicBand, should the need arise. I should also add in here that when we do 'track' guest movements, the data collected is totally anonymouse (Author's note: "Anonymouse" is Boom's term but I like it), and for statistical analysis only. Locating someone using their MagicBand is considered an emergency situation and is treated accordingly."

How safe is my information?

In this age of rampant identity theft, I know many are concerned about the security of their information. Admiral Boom:

"On the other hand, the MagicBand does broadcast an ID of sorts and that ID, combined with select information, can be used at an attraction or restaurant to advantage. We are currently encoding a guest's first name, home resort, and medical (allergy) information in this 'packet', which is sent to receiving stations (at attractions and restaurants). The ability to do this (and what information to make available) is under the guest's control. In addition, the receiving stations can not record or track the information."

I will add here that using the MagicBand to settle a bill in a table service restaurant will have the server bring a mobile device to your table. You will then "tap" the MagicBand to the device to charge the bill to your room account. In my opinion, this is much more secure than handing a charge card to a server and having them disappear for 10 minutes with it.

How does My Disney Experience work?

I'll offer my personal experience here. The Web site is fairly easy to use although it could be a bit more intuitive (in my opinion, of course). You'll have to go through several steps to be positioned to use My Disney Experience to manage your vacation(s). These steps include creating and linking the members of your travel party, linking your resort reservations, ticket media and dining reservations. This isn't difficult but it is a bit time-consuming.


Begin by customizing My Disney Experience.

Once done, however, all your vacation information is available in one location and that information is automatically synced to the mobile app so, home or away, it's at your fingertips. Once you're set up, any additional reservations or changes that are made will be linked automatically. No longer will you need to be concerned about copying and re-keying lengthy reservation numbers.


The My Disney Experience mobile app contains lots of information.

How do I make FastPass+ reservations?

Again, this could change. In my experience, the ability to access FastPass+ became available 60 days prior to my check-in date. It was very easy to do but, again, a bit time consuming.

For each day of my vacation, I could select three attractions within a single theme park. I could also use a "Quick Pick" and Disney would select three attractions for me. The system returns with four sets of FastPass time windows—one recommended and three alternatives. I was allowed to choose any of the four options.

I will say that I wasn't always pleased with all the time windows—I might have a FastPass for Soarin' at 9:00, Mission: Space at 10:00 and Test Track at 3:30 when I knew I wouldn't still be in Epcot. I did find it easy to go back in and modify one of the attractions, either replacing the attraction or changing the time frame.

Do I have to use FastPass+?

In a word, no. FastPass+ will eventually replace today's FastPass system but you can use it, or not, the same as you could today. If you don't have access to a computer or mobile device, there will be stations throughout the parks for use in securing FastPass+. There will also be cast members outfitted with iPads roaming around to assist guests where needed.

What if I want to make changes to dining or FastPass+ reservations?

I know that I frequently change plans at the last minute and visit Epcot instead of Hollywood Studios (as an example). I will have the ability to change those FastPass+ reservations on the fly, within availability, of course. The same is true for dining reservations and, as evidence, last January I successfully canceled a dining reservation and made another—all from my iPod Touch while waiting for a bus at Animal Kingdom.

Will this mean I won't be able to get FastPasses in the parks?

I'll let the Admiral respond to this:

"The premise is that we can take some percentage of the FastPasses available in the parks and turn them over to the vacation planners, to be used as a perk for pre-planning one's stay (and/or for staying on property). The goal is to minimize the impact of doing that to the already successful, current program. In the end, one will still be able to walk into a park and get FastPasses, just like we can today. The FastPass is not a reservation. It does not hold up other guests or contribute to attraction loading unless it is used. The new "system" allows us to dynamically modify an attraction's loading pattern, right up to the last second. This will take some getting used to (for us) but it in no way means that we want to change the rules."

By the way, we don't expect pre-arranged FastPasses to be a major item. Studies have shown us that the majority of our guests don't want to pre-plan their vacations to that level."

Summary

So there you have it. I know there are probably tons more questions but I'm viewing this portion of Disney's Next Generation Initiative as a real positive. I've not been a heavy FastPass user but will likely create a number of advance FastPass+ reservations to keep "in my pocket" just in case.

The real benefit, at least to me, is the single location within My Disney Experience to house all my vacation information—to have it available on my computer back home, the laptop I bring to the hotel room or the device I carry in my pocket. And I also have the ability to easily share that with all members of my travel party.

Let me leave you with one final piece of advice from Admiral Boom:

"What did I forget ? Oh yes, the self-destruct device. Just don't push the little red button on the back of the MagicBand, OK?"

Comments

  1. By Drince88

    I'd like to know what parts of this are still in testing - and that you have to be part of a 'test group' to participate in -- and which parts are rolled out now to all.
    Additionally, any go-live date (guesstimate) of when the things that are still in testing are going to be rolled out to all?

  2. By mckat

    It is good to get this updated information, but the one thing I found very surprising is the statement that normal FP will still be available. Everything I have heard to date has indicated that old FP will be eliminated when FP+ is finally in full force. The statement by Admiral Boom suggests running them in parallel. Now with the test there is a choise you need to make for one or other (For the whole vacation). Here is the real question for me- Soarn and Test track in EP and ToyStory in DS. Obviously more people want FP for these than can get them. Now they run out early in the day. How will Disney prevent them from running out 60 days before the day?

  3. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by Drince88 View Post
    I'd like to know what parts of this are still in testing - and that you have to be part of a 'test group' to participate in -- and which parts are rolled out now to all.
    Additionally, any go-live date (guesstimate) of when the things that are still in testing are going to be rolled out to all?

    Hi Cathy,
    I'll preface this response with the statement that this is MY opinion only. To the best of my knowledge, Disney has not made a definitive announcement on any release dates.

    All systems are still in test. The test has been growing to include more resorts and more scenarios. As an example, early on Annual Passholders were not included - now they are (or at least some of them are). To me, this resembles a soft rollout. It seems that every few weeks or months, Disney is including more and more scenarios and, eventually, we'll have them all.

    I think this is the right way to go. If you think of all the permutations of guests (on site, off site, locals, day guests, MYW ticket holders, AP holders, etc.) coupled with the necessary upgrades to park turnstiles, retail spots, restaurants, etc., it's important that the final rollout include all scenarios and handle them as fairly as possible. I'm certain Disney is discovering glitches and shortcomings as each new entity is introduced, tweaking the system and moving on for more testing.

    I could only speculate on when everything will be in place but it seems that things have been picking up steam recently.

  4. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by mckat View Post
    It is good to get this updated information, but the one thing I found very surprising is the statement that normal FP will still be available. Everything I have heard to date has indicated that old FP will be eliminated when FP+ is finally in full force. The statement by Admiral Boom suggests running them in parallel. Now with the test there is a choise you need to make for one or other (For the whole vacation). Here is the real question for me- Soarn and Test track in EP and ToyStory in DS. Obviously more people want FP for these than can get them. Now they run out early in the day. How will Disney prevent them from running out 60 days before the day?

    Sorry for any confusion. What I wrote was "In a word, no. FastPass+ will eventually replace today's FastPass system but you can use it, or not, the same as you could today." The existing FastPass system will be eliminated by the new FastPass+ system at some point but you will still be able to secure FaspPasses in the parks, via the new system, much the same way as you can today.

    Regarding the FastPasses running out... First, keep in mind that the popular attractions like Soarin', Test Track and Toy Story Mania often run out during the day. The demand is that high. Will they run out 60 days in advance? NO! Disney won't allow ALL FastPasses to be secured in advance. As Admiral Boom wrote (emphasis added by me):

    "The premise is that we can take some percentage of the FastPasses available in the parks and turn them over to the vacation planners, to be used as a perk for pre-planning one's stay (and/or for staying on property). The goal is to minimize the impact of doing that to the already successful, current program. In the end, one will still be able to walk into a park and get FastPasses, just like we can today. The FastPass is not a reservation. It does not hold up other guests or contribute to attraction loading unless it is used. The new "system" allows us to dynamically modify an attraction's loading pattern, right up to the last second. This will take some getting used to (for us) but it in no way means that we want to change the rules."

  5. By bochnikm

    With the ability of magic bands to “anonymousely” 'track' guest movements,; one use I hope they use it in are at the park bus depots. Disney will be able to tell when there are more people than a bus could carry and send in another one, or when people are waiting more than 20 minutes.

  6. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by bochnikm View Post
    With the ability of magic bands to “anonymousely” 'track' guest movements,; one use I hope they use it in are at the park bus depots. Disney will be able to tell when there are more people than a bus could carry and send in another one, or when people are waiting more than 20 minutes.

    Exactly> I know this type of thing has been discussed but we can only guess as to how long until implementation. It's got to be a "walk before we run" strategy.

    Carrying it a step further... if you head out to your resort bus stop at 5:00 PM and an RFID sensor detects that you and your party have a 6:15 ADR at Chefs de France, the system would surmise you're heading to Epcot and dispatch buses appropriately. Just spit-balling here but you never know.

  7. By DisneyGator

    Quote Originally Posted by bochnikm View Post
    With the ability of magic bands to “anonymousely” 'track' guest movements,; one use I hope they use it in are at the park bus depots. Disney will be able to tell when there are more people than a bus could carry and send in another one, or when people are waiting more than 20 minutes.

    Amen to this! How many times have I waited for 30 minutes for a bus back to French Quarter, and watched 3 buses pick up no one for Coronado.

    As for AB saying that most guests don't like to utilize getting fast passes before the trip begins, I find that hard to swallow. That's like saying people don't make ADRs because they like to choose once they're in the park. If there's something available, I'm going to use it. Not because I want to plan out what rides I'm going on 60 days in advance, but because others will be booking rides and if I don't book them, I'll be left in the cold. For me, three fast passes in advance seems a bit excessive. How about 1. That gives you something to work around, but doesn' dominate your day. Nor does it consume all the fastpases for the best attractions before you even enter the gate.

  8. By Cory Gross

    My eyebrows were raised by the issue of how long these wristbands last. It's good to hear that they shut down if you're not in the resort, but having a 1-year lifespan under constant use vs. a 10-year lifespan for the cards, and with the wristbands being more energy and resource-intensive to make, would be very environmentally wasteful. Eventually you're going to be making - and throwing away - millions of these things each year. Are there any plans for a recycling program (that would HAVE to include the ability to mail them in)?

  9. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by Cory Gross View Post
    My eyebrows were raised by the issue of how long these wristbands last. It's good to hear that they shut down if you're not in the resort, but having a 1-year lifespan under constant use vs. a 10-year lifespan for the cards, and with the wristbands being more energy and resource-intensive to make, would be very environmentally wasteful. Eventually you're going to be making - and throwing away - millions of these things each year. Are there any plans for a recycling program (that would HAVE to include the ability to mail them in)?

    I would expect that most would fall into the multi-year usage area - or very few would have daily usage for a one-year lifetime. That said, I really can't answer your question but I'll try to get an response.

  10. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by Cory Gross View Post
    My eyebrows were raised by the issue of how long these wristbands last. It's good to hear that they shut down if you're not in the resort, but having a 1-year lifespan under constant use vs. a 10-year lifespan for the cards, and with the wristbands being more energy and resource-intensive to make, would be very environmentally wasteful. Eventually you're going to be making - and throwing away - millions of these things each year. Are there any plans for a recycling program (that would HAVE to include the ability to mail them in)?

    From the Admiral...

    "We are experimenting with several types of wristbands - and at this point, these are really only experimental. What the bands will look like when we finally settle on a style and technology is anyone's guess. We do have a green-plan in place for these as well, that will probably be rolled out next summer. As you might imagine, we already have such a plan in place for all electronic equipment recycled internally.

    It might end up being cost effective to support the use of rechargeable wristbands, extending their life. It might end up that we remove most of the added hardware from the wristbands, extending their life that way. In the end it is my guess that you could draw a parallel between the wristbands and today's cell phones, in terms of both quality and lifetime."

  11. By Cory Gross

    Thanks for digging that up!

  12. By relaaxedwheniamthere

    as a couple of other posters mentioned about busses wow wouldn't that be MAGICAL . WE WILL SEE . THE FUEL THAT HAS TO BE WASTED NOT TO MENTION GUEST ANGER AT STANDING IN LINE ON THEIR FEET AFTER LEAVING THE PARKS . OR GETTING TO THE PARKS TO SPEND HUNDREDS OF $$$$ NAW THAT WOULD BE TO EASY " BUT WE WILL SEE & HOPE "

  13. By m1ckeymouse

    Another great article Steve

    I have been using the Magicbands for some time now (they send you a new one with each stay, i think i now have 6 ) I must say they are very good. Because we tend to go to the parks in the evening, we are able to make our FP) picks way in advance. This is especially convenient for attractions like TSMM, Space mountain, Soarin and any of the attractions that run out of FP earlier in the day.

    They are practically indestructible ( I ran one over with my car) they are waterproof as well. The only thing they don't survive so far is dogs chewing them up On the down side all of your FP+ picks must be in the same park for any given day. The very first one I was issued just failed to work last week, so it lasted about 6 months, not sure why it failed but I still had the other 5 as backup.

    On the My Disney Experience portion of the website you can access all of your wristbands and keys to the world to turn them off and on, this was quite a shock the first time I saw that my key to to world from 4 months ago was still active...Yikes. When you receive your magicband your are still asked to carry your key to the kingdom card with you just in case.

    Overall I have to say I love the ability to plan well in advance and the flexibility to select attractions well in advance, changing attraction FP times or the attractions as we go. This can all be done with the My Disney Experience App and any smart device. As far as the tracking goes..... If i loose my son inside the park and the Magicband can find him, gotta love it. If all my movements are tracked....not so much. Then again the smart phone in mt pocket can be tracked quite easily too

    We are Florida Resident Annual Passholders and DVC Members and were issued Magicbands at Old Key West, using points. Also at Pop Century and All Star Sports using cash ( ran out of points again!!) It seems like every guest at these resorts were issued Magicbands to test.

  14. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by m1ckeymouse View Post
    Another great article Steve

    I have been using the Magicbands for some time now (they send you a new one with each stay, i think i now have 6 ) I must say they are very good. Because we tend to go to the parks in the evening, we are able to make our FP) picks way in advance. This is especially convenient for attractions like TSMM, Space mountain, Soarin and any of the attractions that run out of FP earlier in the day.

    They are practically indestructible ( I ran one over with my car) they are waterproof as well. The only thing they don't survive so far is dogs chewing them up On the down side all of your FP+ picks must be in the same park for any given day. The very first one I was issued just failed to work last week, so it lasted about 6 months, not sure why it failed but I still had the other 5 as backup.

    On the My Disney Experience portion of the website you can access all of your wristbands and keys to the world to turn them off and on, this was quite a shock the first time I saw that my key to to world from 4 months ago was still active...Yikes. When you receive your magicband your are still asked to carry your key to the kingdom card with you just in case.

    Overall I have to say I love the ability to plan well in advance and the flexibility to select attractions well in advance, changing attraction FP times or the attractions as we go. This can all be done with the My Disney Experience App and any smart device. As far as the tracking goes..... If i loose my son inside the park and the Magicband can find him, gotta love it. If all my movements are tracked....not so much. Then again the smart phone in mt pocket can be tracked quite easily too

    We are Florida Resident Annual Passholders and DVC Members and were issued Magicbands at Old Key West, using points. Also at Pop Century and All Star Sports using cash ( ran out of points again!!) It seems like every guest at these resorts were issued Magicbands to test.

    Just got back from a 6-night stay and I'm in total agreement about the MagicBands.

  15. By Drince88

    Did you have the option to just have the KTTW card and not a Magic Band? Room only reservation.

  16. By srusso100

    Quote Originally Posted by Drince88 View Post
    Did you have the option to just have the KTTW card and not a Magic Band? Room only reservation.

    As of now, you always receive the KTTW card. The MagicBand is an option. Mine was a room only reservation and I chose both. They work identically but it's a convenience, in my opinion, to have the MagicBand.

  17. By Drince88

    Thanks. I have an aversion to wrist bands, generally. Glad to know they're not a requirement (yet).

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