I’m going to let you in on a little secret: magic is real. I know it might be hard to believe, but Walt Disney World Resorts and Theme Parks created what can only be described as a magical experience with their aptly named “MagicBands.”
A MagicBand is a rubber bracelet with a radio-frequency identification (RFID) chip inside. The band itself is waterproof, customizable and adjustable to any wrist size. The MagicBand acts as a master key to everything Disney, allowing you to:
- Gain admission into the theme parks
- Unlock your Disney Resort hotel room
- Redeem pre-paid meals or snacks from a Disney dining plan
- Skip long ride wait times with FastPass+
- Make wallet-free purchases in the parks and resort locations with a PIN code
- Save photos taken on rides or by park photographers to the My Disney Experience app
‘My Disney Experience’
Shortly after booking my vacation to Walt Disney World I received an email inviting me to customize my MagicBand by logging into the “My Disney Experience” website. Once logged in I was able to pick a color for my band and fill in the name I wanted printed on the inside. While on the site I also made FastPass+ reservations for the rides I didn’t want to wait in line for and made dinner reservations for every night I would be in the park. After I set everything up on the website I downloaded the My Disney Experience app on my smartphone so I would have all that information at my fingertips while in the park.
My magical vacation experience started before I even arrived on the Walt Disney World property. Since I was staying at the Walt Disney World Resort hotel I had the option to take the “Magical Express” bus service from the Orlando airport to my hotel. When the employees, aka “cast-members,” saw my MagicBand they scanned it, and it automatically pulled up my vacation reservations and hotel information. Since this was a short trip I didn’t have any checked luggage, but if I had, the cast members would have retrieved it from baggage claim for me and, poof, it would have appeared in my room later that day without me lifting a finger.
When I arrived at the hotel the check-in process was quick and easy with a cast member literally waving a smartphone over my MagicBand, like you would wave a magic wand, to connect my band to my hotel room. Walking up to the door, I started having doubts about whether this was actually going to work as promised but, sure enough, with a wave of my wrist the door unlocked, and I was sold on the magic of the MagicBand.
Putting the magic in Magic Kingdom
Magic Kingdom was my first stop and I was ready to use my MagicBand to get into the park. Although my band had been activated at the hotel, I needed to link my fingerprint to the band the first time I used it at a park to make it non-transferable. Again it was quick, easy, and fun to match the Mickey symbol on my band to the stand-alone Mickey scanner. To let you know it scanned your MagicBand correctly, the Mickey scanner lights up green and makes a happy chime sound when it’s done scanning.
After gaining admission to the park I consulted My Disney Experience app on my phone to check my FastPass+ reservation times and walked to the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train rollercoaster ride. Instead of waiting in a 25-minute line, I tapped my MagicBand, and after seeing a green Mickey and hearing a happy chime, I was on my way to the ride—instantly bypassing everyone else waiting.
Not only was this a great rollercoaster ride, but there was more hidden Disney magic waiting for me when I got off the ride. Like most roller coasters, there was a camera set up to capture the perfect moment when, if you’re anything like me, you are screaming like crazy and holding on for dear life. After I got off the ride my MagicBand and the ride communicated using the RFID technology to detect what car I was in on the ride and automatically uploaded my photo into the My Disney Experience app on my phone. It was truly a “wow” moment. The other rides in the parks with similar photo capture moments required you to tap your MagicBand to match the appropriate photo when you walked out of the ride to save your photo to the app. Since the Seven Dwarf Mine Train ride is one of the newer roller coasters in the park I think they were using it to test out this new MagicBand feature.
The MagicBand is so easy and fun to use I saw people of all ages embracing the technology, from small children barely tall enough to reach their band to the scanner to grandparents who probably remember when Magic Kingdom first opened in 1971.
Making the magic possible
Walt Disney once said “There is no magic in magic, it’s all in the details.” Although MagicBands may appear to be real magic for the guests of the parks and resorts, all they really do is take away the pain points of a traditional theme park vacation. The MagicBands did not happen overnight. The research and development of the technology took five years to perfect.
“The goal was, the technology should be invisible,” said Phil Holmes, Disney’s Hollywood Studios Vice President in an interview in 2015. “We never want you to come and think you are looking at technology. We are all about storytelling.” (http://www.freep.com/story/travel/2014/12/14/disney-fastpass-magic-bands/20206481/)
For more details on how MagicBands work and how they were developed I recommend the Wired article: Disney’s $1 Billion Bet on a Magical Wristband.
Although Walt Disney never lived to see Walt Disney World come to fruition or ever dreamed of something as magical as MagicBands, he did say that “It’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”