The Vacation Kingdom of the World: A MagicBand Report

by Tom Richards, contributing writer
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A few weeks ago, I reflected on my experience using the new MyMagic+ as a planning tool for my family's upcoming visit to the Walt Disney World Resort in March. Today, I'd like to share some reflections on our experiences actually using the system throughout the Vacation Kingdom of the World. I am happily surprised to report that there are many things to like about MyMagic+ (I say surprised because so much of the reporting on MyMagic+ has been very, very negative). While I still cringe at the amount of money Disney spent on this system—funds that could have been used to build new attractions—I am glad that there are some very positive aspects to the whole "MagicBand" concept. There are, however, some frustrating aspects to MyMagic+ as well, things that Disney can certainly address as the program continues its massive rollout.

The Good

We registered our annual passes prior to departure, so our MagicBands arrived in our mailbox weeks before our visit. This saved us time once we arrived at Disney's Beach Club Resort. We also checked-in electronically—a first for me—and that also helped make our check-in quick and painless. The MagicBands are incredibly convenient at the resort for charging food and for opening the room door. It might sound like a little thing, but the fact that I no longer had to get the room key out of my wallet was great. Juggling backpacks, strollers, luggage, or bags no longer complicated the whole "getting into the room" routine. The ease of the MagicBand is a definite plus here. Because the Beach Club Resort has strict pool-use rules, the MagicBands also helped identify us as resort guests and put an end to the "show your resort key to get into the pool" routine. This was also a big plus.

MyMagic+ also made getting into the theme parks much easier. While I miss the turnstiles and the old paper/plastic tickets, nostalgia only goes so far. With a simple swipe of the MagicBand and a quick fingerprint identification swipe (for adults, not kids), we were able to breeze into the parks even during the extremely busy spring break season. The lack of turnstiles was wonderful for those of us who are still pushing strollers as well. I know it sounds silly, but there was a special kind of thrill waiting for the MyMagic+ Mickey light to turn green to signal our entrance into each Disney park.

Another positive aspect of the MagicBand is that when an attraction is down—as Maelstrom was for most of our day at Epcot—the system adjusts and allowed us to use our Fastpass at any time later in the day once the attraction was up and running. In addition to this perk, we appreciated the fact that we didn't have to start our Future World visit with mad dashes to Test Track or Soarin' to get Fastpass tickets before they were gone for the day. Securing our times for these high-demand attractions ahead of time enhanced our enjoyment of the park.

The Bad

There are, however, some bothersome drawbacks to the MyMagic+ system. Some of the problems, no doubt, will be resolved either by Disney as the testing process continues or by guests as they become more familiar with the way the new Fastpass system works. One issue we encountered was a lack of flexibility. When the forecast called for rain, we considered changing our itinerary by switching a planned day at Disney's Animal Kingdom to a day at Disney's Hollywood Studios because so many of the attractions at the Studios are indoor experiences. Because we had already booked a block of Fastpass tickets for Animal Kingdom, however, we hesitated. The official Disney response would be that all we had to do was simply change all our Fastpass tickets; the problem is that takes time, a lot of time, on tedious tasks that feel more like work than vacation. While "playing on the computer" or playing with technology may be fun for some, for many of us, our careers demand that we spend an increasingly large part of each day in front of a screen of some sort. I don't know that I want to spend more time "on-line" while on vacation.

This leads to another issue: the necessity of access to email during vacation. While I dearly love my career, I value the time away from the pesky interruptions of email. The last thing I need on a vacation, especially a vacation spent in one of Disney's worlds, is an interruption that might break the carefully constructed and artfully crafted "scene" created by Disney Imagineers. In creating Disneyland, Walt Disney instructed his artists to remember that he didn't want guests to see the outside world. Email, and text messages, and planning on an iPad all smack of the "outside" world that many of us want to avoid while on vacation.

Another frustration for us was partly our own doing. We "wasted" many of our three Fastpass tickets on attractions that would not have needed them at the times we selected. For example, the kids love the Finding Nemo attraction at Epcot's Living Seas as well as the accompanying Turtle Talk with Crush. On previous visits, we found that the lines for both of these attractions could be very long indeed. As a result, we used two of our three Fastpass tickets on these attractions only to find that at the time of day we had selected, there were virtually no lines. Again, we could choose not to use the passes and use them for other attractions later in the day—but that necessitated a break in the "flow" of our day, would take time and attention away from the kids, and would depend on the availability of Fastpass tickets for other attractions. As we become more familiar with the system and as Disney hopefully listens to guest feedback, these sorts of issues will be sorted out and addressed.

The Ugly

One major problem with the system is the amount of cast members needed to man the many MyMagic+ kiosks scattered across property. Theses kiosks not only clutter pathways and take over entire shops—like Sid Cahuenga's One of a Kind Shop and the Heritage House—but they waste valuable vacation time waiting in a line for help to avoid lines. It's really sort of crazy.

The worst part of the MyMagic+ system, however, is one that is difficult to articulate. As we looked around the parks, theaters, restaurants, busses, monorails, even attractions themselves, we continuously observed guests looking down at their devices, be they phones or tablets. So many guests, I would estimate up to a third of them, seemed more engrossed in their electronic devices than the beauty of the theme park around them. It is, of course, difficult to assign a cause for this phenomenon. Is it a reflection of our culture or is it due to the new MyMagic+ dependence on technology? More than likely, it's a cultural trend. But the MyMagic+ concept almost demands, and at times requires, guests to consult with their phone continuously throughout the day. It seems to me that with this technological intrusion, many of the simpler pleasures of vacationing are irrevocably damaged almost beyond recognition. Surely experiencing the Disney parks is more stimulating than checking wait times or reading trivia on an electronic device. Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but I would much rather sit on one of the many inviting porches scattered throughout the Disney World property and visit with family, people watch, or enjoy the view than look down at my phone.

Final Thoughts

I must admit that despite all the stories of doom and gloom I've read online, the MyMagic+ system does have its merits. Nonetheless, the basic philosophy behind it all, and the dubious corporate motives for the system in the first place, continue to bother me. Thus far, however, MyMagic+ has not tainted our enjoyment of the Vacation Kingdom of the World. As of April 2, 2014, Disney announced that improvements to the system - including more than three Fastpass tickets a day as well as the ability to Park Hop and make reservations at multiple parks - are in the works. Let's hope that as Disney continues to refine the system, it might eventually add to the enjoyment of the experience of Walt Disney World.

Comments

  1. By napamaninsocal

    Ok so Im going in August as a passholder. I got my passholder bands and Im able to get another band because we booked a hotel. Is there any point for having two bands? Can we get more fastpasses?

  2. By vampireanneke

    A problem I ran into was if you do want to switch your FP+ tickets to another park at the last minute, the 'best' times for various rides were already taken.

  3. By DisneyGator

    Based on what I read, it seems we are giving up much to gain a little. WDW is going backwards. Waaaaayyyyy to much planning. Can't just get to the parks and decide what to do. And if you do decide to wait until you're there, then you end up staring at that infernal iPhone all day long. Sounds pretty stupid to me. Yet more reason for my decision to skip Orlando this year.

  4. By davidgra

    Quote Originally Posted by DisneyGator View Post
    Based on what I read, it seems we are giving up much to gain a little. WDW is going backwards. Waaaaayyyyy to much planning. Can't just get to the parks and decide what to do. And if you do decide to wait until you're there, then you end up staring at that infernal iPhone all day long. Sounds pretty stupid to me. Yet more reason for my decision to skip Orlando this year.

    Pretty much everything about your statement is based on false assumptions and biased prejudices. You don't want to like the new system, so you're going to find reasons not to like it.

    First, there's actually not a lot of planning involved. You can only select three FastPass+ reservations a day. It takes a couple of minutes -- 30 or 60 days in advance, if you want -- and then you're done. Not hours of planning and work.

    Second, there's no staring at a mobile device "all day long" unless you want to do that. You can make your reservations in advance or at a kiosk, then you show up at the appointed times. No iPhone needed. Yes, on our most recent trip, we did check our reservation times once or twice a day. It took 30 seconds out of our day each time.

    Most importantly, the system is different -- but not worse -- than the old FastPass system. No longer do you have to walk all the way over to Soarin', get into the building, and work your way downstairs to get your FastPasses, only to then have to come back four or six hours later. No longer do you have to wait two or more hours before you can walk over to another FastPass machine to get a FastPass for something else, to which you'll have to return hours later.

    No one is forced to use FastPass+. You can still be just as spontaneous as you could before; it's not as if you'll be prevented from riding anything unless you have a FastPass+. But hey, if you want to stay away because of a change in the way FastPass works, that's great for the rest of us.

  5. By duke68012

    I did some of the testing for My Magic+ back in October. At the time I was actually surprised at the lack of people I saw on their mobile devices, this wasn't because of MM+ but was because of the culture we live in and having free wi-fi in the parks I expected it to be quite high but at the time it wasn't. Maybe this has changed somewhat now the system has been rolled out for everyone.

    I also agree that although I thoroughly enjoyed MM+ and love the thrill of seeing the magical mickey mouse heads light up one downside to it was the fact I had to be highly organised and plan further with the fast pass. So much so that for a week before my vacation I was monitoring attraction wait times to get the best use out of my fast pass. I think it needs to be more spontaneous. But with that exception I thoroughly enjoy the MM+, I think it made my trip so much easier being able to use my band for the usual stuff like paying, entry to the parks and room entry but even more unusual things like instead of using a sorcer's of the magic kingdom key card (which i kept losing) I opted to be able to use my magic band instead. I think there is more magic possible and in the works with MM+

  6. By cyeoh

    We enjoyed using our Magic Bands and FastPass+. The only inconvenience was that on the day of, if we got to the rides early and didn't require those FastPasses we reserved, it was sometimes difficult to change it to other rides that we were interested in because most FastPasses were probably already reserved for those rides for that day. As for the comments about smart devices, I used my iPhone occasionally to look for attractions/bathrooms/etc in my WDW park maps apps, check wait times, and change FP+ reservations. That didn't take a lot of time and the apps were very helpful and needed.

    With the huge crowds, long lines and long wait times for many rides and attractions, I understand that seasoned WDW visitors and AP holders are not too happy about losing that advantage of having a pocketful of FastPasses. But the 3 Fast Passes per visitor per park would be helpful in leveling the playing field for the non-seasoned/first-time visitors and give them a more enjoyable time and better memories at the park. No doubt, Disney has heard the complaints and partly why this is happening.

    Also, it sounds harsh but it's true. If someone is averse to preplanning their WDW vacation and want it spontaneous and unplanned, then FastPasses shouldn't be in consideration. They should be content and willing to wait in standby lines all day. After all, with the previous system, going to the park when it opens and making a mad dash for Fast Pass machines takes a lot of planning.

  7. By Jimbo996

    The article has some good insights, but some criticism was unwarranted.

    While complaining about email, phones, and iPads, you also complained about the long lines at the MyMagic+ kiosks. The best way to alleviate congestion at the MyMagic+ kiosks is for every customer to use their phones and iPads to make changes to their Fastpass reservations.

    You should avoid using the phones if you wish, but by design, the new MyMagic+ requires the user to have a device to check on their reservations. Going paperless is the present and future. The admonishment of what others do with their vacation time is not appreciated.

    You also complain about wasted Fasspass+ reservations at EPCOT. This is also by design since EPCOT's most popular attractions like Soarin', Test Track, and Maelstorm cannot be reserved simulateously. The user must pick three, when the user might like to only pick two or one. This lack of flexibility is limiting. This omission of fact makes the criticism less useful.

  8. By TWISTEDMICKEY99

    Sorry - this whole project has put a very bitter taste in my mouth. I am a frequent Disney "Customer" and I did not get what I paid for( 4/5-4/11). Yes I have stayed at all of the Disney hotels- nice but very over priced.
    I have paid for tickets and should get the same whether I stay at a Disney hotel or not! This time I took 15 people (yes and I paid for each and every one)-4319.00 just in park tickets- for 5 days. To spend countless 1000s on food and trinkets- not that I mind if I get a quality show, but the path taken now is all about money! This Magic band is not about "Customer" ease it is about return on investment or they would not do it! End of Story

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