The Vacation Kingdom of the World: My Magic Plus - First Impressions

by Tom Richards, contributing writer

Full disclosure: I cringe when I think of the funds the Walt Disney Company has poured into the My Magic Plus initiative. Disney has invested somewhere between $1.5 billion to $2 billion on this program, a truly staggering number. Think of the attractions that might have been renovated and improved; think of the new attractions that might have been built; think of the trees that might have been planted; the cast members who might have earned a living wage; the creative dreams that might have reached fruition with that money.

Pushing aside my intuitive concerns about this program and the possibility that all spontaneity will be sucked right out of our next Walt Disney World vacation, I will try to offer some objective observations about our recent foray in Disney's Brave New World of technology.

You've Got Mail

A package—from Walt Disney World—waiting in the mailbox has to be a good thing, right? We received an attractive gray box embossed with the soon-to-be-familiar circled Mickey logo found on all My Magic Plus-related materials. There's a nice personalized booklet, complete with our family name, several pages of photos and information about our resort for this visit (Disney's Beach Club Resort), and suggested activities geared for our particular family members. Nice. Really nice.

Kudos to the Disney team for this personalized booklet. The best part, however, is the personalized magnet (complete with an adorable depiction of Dumbo) that lists "Important Dates" for out upcoming vacation: dates for dining reservations, dates for Fastpass Plus, dates for on-line check-in, and dates of our "wonderful" vacation. A helpful, cute, pretty little addition to our refrigerator art gallery.

Under the booklet and magnet, there is a flash drive—complete with the ubiquitous My Magic Plus Mickey logo—to plug into your home computer to start the "magic" of planning your vacation.

But First, Some Training

My kids gathered around my laptop—a rarity as I strictly limit "screen time"—to watch as we opened the flash drive. The device holds several short video introductions to the My Magic Plus program, hosted by Edna Mode from Pixar's 2004 film The Incredibles. (Note that these introductions are also available on the "My Disney Experience" website.)

We were initially disappointed. The Incredibles is by no means one of our favorite films, and the digital environments of this video, and the character design of the hostess, didn't impress. Could Disney have chosen a colder, less appealing hostess for these videos? Edna Mode is a one-note joke, so her "clever" banter and darlings got old fast. Nevertheless, we did get the general gist of the whole wristband thing, although we did tire of being told how "magical" it would make our upcoming vacation.

Registering Our Passes

Our vacation reservations were already linked to the My Disney Experience site, so our first step was registering our annual passes in order to be eligible to make dining reservations and Fastpass reservations. This was a simple process for us because of the annual pass. For my parents who are accompanying us on this vacation, it was not so simple. They are not annual passholders and had yet to purchase their admission media; therefore, we were unable to make reservations for them. This meant a trip to our "local" Disney Store (which is, sadly, not so local anymore) to purchase tickets for them before we could begin the registration process for our entire group. This was an unexpected hurdle and one that Disney might want to rethink as they continue to tweak the process.

Choosing Wristbands

The next step was the most fun for the kids—choosing character photos and colors for their wristbands. While we would love to see a wider range of characters represented, everyone found someone they loved to include as their icon. This process was simple and expedient, and we are checking the mail everyday in the hopes that our bands have arrived.

Making Dining Reservations

While this feature is available as part of the My Disney Experience program, I must admit that we made our dining reservations the old fashioned way—via the telephone. If any of my readers have used this feature, I would love to hear from you!

Selecting Fastpass+ Choices

Choosing attractions for out Fastpass+ was the one aspect of the whole My Disney Experience that interested us the most. We found, however, that it is a somewhat complicated process.

For some parks, attractions are grouped into categories or levels. At Epcot, for example, the three attractions we most wanted to book (namely Soarin', Test Track, and Maelstrom) all fall into the same category, so we were able to choose only one of these (as much as I hate to use a Fastpass for Maelstrom, my kids absolutely love it!). The timing of the Fastpass choices we received at first were problematic for several reasons; they did not sync with our dining reservations or with our general approach to visiting Epcot.

At the Magic Kingdom, our frustrations were compounded because we had to completely rethink how we use Fastpass. We typically avoid using Fastpass on attractions like Pirates of the Caribbean or the Haunted Mansion because those lines move so quickly. With the new system, however, we've read that the stand-by lines tend to move much slower. Should we use our valuable Fastpass+ allotment for these attractions, or save them for other experiences that traditionally have long lines?

At Disney's Animal Kingdom, we encountered another roadblock imbedded in the new system. We had hoped to make reservations for Finding Nemo: The Musical and the Kilimanjaro Safari, stay for the afternoon parade, and then spend the evening in another park. With the new system, however, we discovered that making Fastpass reservations in more than one park on one day is not allowed.

At Disney's Hollywood Studios, we found that because so many of the experiences are "shows" with specific times, the Fastpass process was a bit more cumbersome than we first thought it would be. There was the added impediment of a lunch reservation that really complicated things for us, as did the idea of crisscrossing the park to get to and from the attractions we most wanted to enjoy. At one point the whole process became so confusing that we had to resort to calling the Disney helpline. The cast member we spoke with was very patient and understanding, but even he experienced problems trying to sync our choices in a way that flowed. At one point, he inadvertently erased all our reservations for the day, including the dining one. He never could book that preferred time for us, but did manage to rearrange things so that our day would be well planned and manageable.

The actual selection process is very cumbersome, requiring much clicking back and forth between pages, long loading times, repetitive selection making ("Which members in your group?" "Experience or dining?"), and a truly time-consuming final itinerary page. We were offered several options for our requests—different times or different schedules. After selecting one of the offered possibilities, we were able to change or rearrange the times and attractions. However, this process was tedious and time consuming. It felt like, well, like work. It seems no matter what our profession, screen time is a major component of our workday. Do I really want to spend an extended amount of time online prior to a vacation to plan so many aspects of that vacation? I'm not so sure.

Final Thoughts

Many frontline cast members say that the idea behind the new My Magic Plus is to evenly distribute crowds at the most popular parks, like the Magic Kingdom, and to reduce overall wait times. That may be true to an extent, but adding attractions would also help reduce wait times and evenly distribute people. Would Maelstrom have such a long, long line if the Switzerland pavilion would have been built, complete with its own Matterhorn Bobsleds? Or if the Mt. Fuji indoor rollercoaster in Japan were built? Would a Test Track or Soarin' Fastpass be in such high demand if they had been built while keeping Horizons and World of Motion part of the Future World experience?

I will wait to pass final judgment on the new program until after our spring visit. In the meantime, it's difficult not to contemplate all that might have been had the mind-boggling sums spent on My Magic Plus been allocated to other areas of the Vacation Kingdom of the World.



  1. By DwarfPlanet

    "While we would love to see a wider range of characters represented, everyone found someone they loved to include as their icon."

    We haven't seen it yet could you give us a list of the characters available?

    "That may be true to an extent, but adding attractions would also help reduce wait times and evenly distribute people."

    I'm entirely in agreement with you there. My biggest gripe is they have no trouble in adding resorts or rooms to resorts or DVC but very little attention in more attractions for folks to see. I know they just did Fantasyland in MK and plan on Avatar land (ugh!) but thats very little compared to the extra beds that have been added in th resorts.

  2. By Maus

    Tom, rather than a trip to our local Disney Store I simply purchased passes online and entered the voucher numbers. When we received our Magic Bands everthing was loaded and we were able to pass directly thru the "turnstile" last week in time for our early morning dining reservation. No other action was needed although I did stop at Guest Relations the night before to be told, "Yes, you should just be able to walk in." Should? Not helpful.

    As for the icons--they only appear on My Disney Experience, not on the bands themselves. Of course, Disney will sell you trinkets to decorate your bands.

  3. By stan4d_steph

    Quote Originally Posted by DwarfPlanet View Post
    "While we would love to see a wider range of characters represented, everyone found someone they loved to include as their icon."

    We haven't seen it yet could you give us a list of the characters available?

    They've added a lot more since I picked mine. The current list includes:

    Alice, Ariel, Belle, Bruce (the shark), Buzz Lightyear, Carl (UP), Cheshire Cat, Cinderella, Crush, Dash, Donald Duck, Goofy, Green Alien, Hamm, Jack Skellington, Jack Jack, Jiminy Cricket, Kermit, Lady, Lightning McQueen, Merida, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Mr. Incredible, Mrs. Incredible, Mulan, Nemo, Pluto, Pocahontas, Princess Aurora, Princess Jasmine, Princess Tiana, Rex, Russell, Snow White, Sorcerer Mickey, Sparky, Tinker Bell, Tramp, Violet, Wall-E, Zero

  4. By jimthedj

    First, I am always suspicious when a company says they invest that much money into something and says it so often. It is an inflated number to make everything thing it is valuable. While I can see in the long run Disney spending that kind of money on running the servers for the next 20 years and the infrastructure & man-hours, there is no way they spend that much money as a system that is so rudimentary. I work in this kind of technology field and it did not cost as much as they are saying.

    With that, you are not the first I have heard with a "not so great" experience with My Magic Plus.

    Local Annual Pass holders are being screwed the worst. This system isn't even available to them yet unless you stay at a hotel.

    The "Magic" of being an annual pass holder is to go whenever you want and at a drop of a hat. You have to plan sometimes months in advance to get the popular times that you could have gotten by simply being dedicated and going early. Then you can only choose one from all the "E-Ticket" attractions and the others you can choose rarely have a line anyway.

    If Disney really spent that kind of money on this system, it should have been used to overall many of the Magic Kingdom and Epcot attractions that are in bad need of a technology update (all the ones using film to diagonal projection for one example. Most people have better 3D and projection quality at their homes that Disney does at their attractions and pavilions) which would have been a fraction of that number.

  5. By DisneyGator

    Your review, as well as nearly every other review of FastpassMinus, leads me to the same conclusion that 95% of WDW regulars think: it stinks. It sounds like a WDW trip is a big pain the back side. It sounds like Disney spent their money poorly. It sounds like I'll be going to Disneyland this year.

  6. By MajorMickey

    I'm glad to be in the 5%. I love the new system and have had no problems with it. And frankly, I don't see why many of you bother going to WDW as it seems to be such a pain for you to go.

  7. By indyjones

    The only part of the system we found really useful was the park entry. It certainly made lines to get in nearly non-existent. One person with an issue no longer holds up the queue. Our experience with FastPass was not great. The lines to enter an attraction now stretch back from the entrance because it takes longer for people to put their band to the mickey and enter the line. The old "just glance at the pass" was much faster. We found relatively long lines of FP+ folks waiting to get in. The inability to book FP+ in more than 1 park has to change. We ALWAYS park hop. We had to use the kiosks inside the park to setup or FP+ because we had not purchased our park entry through Disney and OMG was that a poor system to use. I design web interfaces for a living and had to get help from the person standing there because I could not scroll or figure out how to do anything. It really needs to be redesigned for sure. Also, when the FP+ system is down, FastPass is down EVERYWHERE. We ran into that on multiple occasions. It was nice to get a text when an attraction we had a FP for went down so you don't waste time hiking across the park to it. However the My Magic Experience application for the phone (both Android and iPhone) was so hard to use and was never in sync. Sometimes a FP would show for part of our group and not the other. Dining reservations would come and go. I actually had to go into City Hall to have them change my name from lower case to capital because apparently the system is case sensitive and two people in our group added me under different cases (scott vs Scott). Lot's of work before I'm a believer.

  8. By olegc

    it will probably take up to 2 years to get the system right. With so many variables (4 parks, all the attractions, experiences, dining reservations, etc) - and usually large groups visiting WDW - it seems that the system can't possibly be flexible enough for all in advance. I have read another review of in park changes for FP+ during a visit seemed to flow smoothly but that was obviously a reduced-audience test and not a full-park try. I had not planned a visit to WDW anytime soon and I am now thankful that this is the case.

  9. By yedliw

    We didn't have any problems when we went in January. We aren't much for the thrill rides (and my wife is expecting, so even if she was, she couldn't..) so picking the attractions wasn't too bad. We went during an off peak time, so lines weren't bad.. so that may have played into it.

    I did make a diner (breakfast really..) reservation with my the MDE app on my phone, it was very smooth. I picked the restaurant, and time, and it emailed me confirmation within seconds.

    I am currently in the camp of 'it works pretty well'. Sure there are thing that I would tweak if I were king of the World.. but I think that the kinks will get worked out over time. (allowing for FP+ in multiple parks.. FP+ for the same ride 2x a day rather than 1.. etc..)

    I am not as much of a Disney Vacation Commando as some people are. I don't plan things down to the minute and if things don't go exactly to plan, than the trip is ruined.. I plan out the major events, and fill the rest in as we go..

    Last year we had breakfast at Crystal Palace, there was a group in a nearby table that had what appeared to be a multi-generation family vacation, (grandparents, parents, kids and probably cousins) the mom looked like she was going to make sure her kids had a good time, whether they liked it or not.. they had autograph books and t-shirts, and markers in different colors to get autographs from Pooh and friends, in the color of the costumes.. she made sure they all got signed, even if the kids had gone to the buffet for more food.. For me.. that takes the fun out of a vacation.. for others, that is what makes a vacation.

    To each, their own..

    They will never be able to please everyone.. some changes, some people will love.. while others will 'never vacation there again'.

  10. By bams50

    Quote Originally Posted by MajorMickey View Post
    I'm glad to be in the 5%. I love the new system and have had no problems with it. And frankly, I don't see why many of you bother going to WDW as it seems to be such a pain for you to go.

    Exactly. It amazes me how many people come to a FAN site then look for ways to complain.

    As an adult, I realize nothing is perfect. But I also know that Disney does everything First Class and Industry Leading- and if something new misses that, they continually look to improve it until it is. Also, I realize life is too short to always endeavour to look for the negative. But I also realize that some folks go to the 'net and run everything down as a way of medicating the unhappiness in their lives.

    I am a member here since 2002 and don't post very often because I am almost always happy with WDW, and when some little detail isn't perfect I don't feel a need to attack. The unhappy are always a minority, but are much more happy to speak out. That's why FP+ appears to have a LOT more problems than it really has.

    We have done two trips now with FP+ and the bands and found it to be amazingly well sorted already, very little problems. So we will join you in the 5% (as far as forum posters go)

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