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