Next month, I’ll be at Walt Disney World for a few days to celebrate my 45th birthday. I figure if I have to turn 45 (that’s only five years from 50!), I may as well do so in one of my favorite places. That’s how I justified it to my wife at least. We’re staying on resort as we usually do, this time at Animal Kingdom Lodge. What will be different about this trip from all the others, however, is this is our first time using Disney’s new MagicBands. Ours arrived yesterday, and I have some pictures, but first, some background about the MagicBand (or you can just skip to the photos).
MagicBands are bracelets you wear on your wrist that use RFID to serve a number of functions. As Disney describes in their FAQ:
Each MagicBand contains an HF Radio Frequency device and a transmitter which sends and receives RF signals through a small antenna inside the MagicBand and enables it to be detected at short-range touch points throughout Walt Disney World Resort. MagicBands can also be read by long-range readers located at Walt Disney World Resort used to deliver personalized experiences, as well as provide information that helps us improve the overall experience in our parks.
What exactly can you do with the MagicBand? Currently you can use them to:
- Unlock the door to your hotel room at the Walt Disney World resorts.
- Enter the theme parks (assuming you have Park passes associated with your account).
- Check in for your FastPass+ reservations. (You can book rides and experiences before your vacation starts)
- Connect Disney PhotoPass pictures taken in the parks to your account
Disney also plans additional ways for guests to make use of the bands as the program matures. A key enabler of Disney’s new MyMagic+ initiative, the MagicBands are still in testing mode, but are rapidly expanding,. Guests staying at any of the Walt Disney World resorts should now be automatically enrolled in the test when they make a reservation. I won’t go into all the details about MyMagic+, what was previously referred to as their “Next Generation Experience” (a.k.a NexGen) but you can read more if you’re interested.
I’m excited to give this a try. In the first days of the test, people had very mixed experiences as they started working out the bugs, but most of the reviews I see online lately are positive. Not having to carry a card or tickets or keys or a wallet, all sound like a great improvement. The MagicBands are waterproof as well so they’re safe to use at the Disney water parks (eliminates much of the need for locker rentals – unless you bring a camera) and out in the rain that so often pop up in Orlando.
If you lose your MagicBand, you don’t have to worry about someone using it to charge to your credit card or use your park admissions. Whenever you use your MagicBand at a touch point, you have to scan a finger (which you enroll on your first use) or enter a PIN code (for credit card charges). If you’ve ever stayed at Walt Disney World in the last several years, you’ve experienced the finger scanners at the theme parks already. If you have children, you can let your kids charge on the account up to spending limits you set, or you can prevent them from charging at all.
I’d like to see them expand the MagicBand to other properties, especially their cruise ships. Cruising now requires that you carry your cruise card with you. If you can replace that with something you wear, that would be ideal. I expect that will be one of the first places beyond Walt Disney World to receive the MagicBand upgrades.
Some people have raised concerns about privacy and the MagicBands, and its true that Disney is collecting information during your stay. For me personally, it isn’t a concern. I’m more than happy to give Disney information about me to enhance and improve my experience in the parks and at the resorts. I’m a Disneyphile, however, so my comfort levels may not be the same as yours. Disney is a company I trust, and the fact that they now have a way to identify when I’m in certain locations in the parks doesn’t bother me. If you’re one of those people who do have concerns about the long-range reading of MagicBands, you can opt for the RFID cards which use passive RF tags and can only be read at touch points.
As I said, our MagicBands arrived yesterday. I customized them on Disney’s My Disney Experience website. That’s where you can see all aspects of your reservations including hotels, dining reservations, FastPass+ reservations, and more. The customization is limited, just a matter of picking of colors and assigning a name to the band. The name is printed on the backside of the band so you differentiate bands if you have people using the same color band in your party. Disney also offers MagicBand accessories at the resorts so you can add some bling and personalize your MagicBand. If anyone knows how to merchandize anything, it’s Disney.
Here’s the box the MagicBands arrive in, about one month before your arrival. Disney has been using The Incredibles characters to promote and educate guests about the program.
Opening the box reveals the MagicBands for your party. I selected red, and Kristin went with pink. Currently you receive a new MagicBand with every reservation, so feel free to pick a different color next time. MagicBands are estimated to last two years, so it is possible that Disney may offer guests the option to not receive a new set for future reservations and use the bands they already have.
Here’s my MagicBand on my wrist just like it will be a month from now. It is pretty comfortable, more so than a FitBit Flex or Force in my opinion. We’ll see how it feels after four days of wearing it in the parks. I’m curious how it will be during the hot and humid months in the summer. You’re probably going to want to wear it a bit loose to keep from sweating like mad under the band. Thankfully, the weather is much nicer in December so that shouldn’t be a concern.
If you have any questions, let me know. I’ll report back after I get back and let you know how it worked in practice.