Dispatch, Walt Disney World: The MagicBand


Managing Editor Rebecca Tobin spent three days at Walt Disney World, checking out the Polynesian Village Resort and the four parks. Her third report follows. Click to read Rebecca's first and second dispatches.

My daughter pointed at the mouse ears etched on her MagicBand. "THAT is where the magic is," she announced.

Since preschoolers have an uncanny knack of being right, she was, in one sense, correct. She didn't know that an RFID chip was hidden behind the shiny, smooth Mickey emblem on her pink rubber bracelet. But even before she boarded our JetBlue flight to Orlando, she knew the band somehow doubled as a set of keys to the kingdom.

For many families, Walt Disney World is not a spur-of-the-moment decision. There's much, much planning on the part of the family (and, hopefully, the Disney specialist they're using) to get the dates, the in-park character meals and regular meals and FastPasses and park lineup and transportation to line up in celestial harmony.

The MyMagic+ program is now very much a part and parcel of the whole experience. The My Disney Experience, in capital letters, since that's the name of the website and app where some of the planning can be done.

The app is the practical companion to the band. It displays the ticket and resort information, the FastPass lineup, the approximate wait times and brief explanation of all the attractions in each park and the locations and times of character meet-and-greets. There's a tremendous map option that enables the user to see attractions, restrooms, dining and events. A "you are here" icon not only pinpointed my location with accuracy, but also indicated which direction I was facing, enabling me to use the phone like a divining rod, sussing out the exact nearest restroom.

The band is the magic: Touch it to the FastPass reader, and as soon as the reader glowed green --we're in! -- my small party was heading up to the front of the line, cutting a 50 minute wait down to just a few minutes. No need to rush around the park grabbing multiple FastPass tickets, or hold onto multiple pieces of FastPass paperwork.

It was amazing how fast our daughter picked up on how the band worked with the FastPass readers; it was fun for her, like a game. The park entrance readers also require a fingerprint identification in addition to a tap of the band, which was something she had more trouble with (she forgot which finger she used on her first entry). But Disney had a solution, which was to match her band to my husband's fingerprint.

We did away with paper and plastic altogether. We entered the park with the bands, we entered our hotel room with the bands, we bought souvenirs with the bands. I bought milk, ice cream and coffee with my band, though sometimes it can be tricky to line up the Mickey icon on the band just-so with the register's reader. Folks staying at Disney resorts on-property receive the brightly-colored bands as part of their reservation. I saw park-goers in MagicBands of all colors.

I didn't see as many people face-down in their phones as I expected, but I also saw very few people with paper maps. And so, perhaps, there were more people on their phones and it's just become so ubiquitous that I didn't even notice.

The band color is customizable, and it arrived at my house embedded in a branded box, like a watch. As soon as my husband opened the box, out came the iPhone for photos and the subsequent social media post (there are about 29,000 posts on Instagram with the hashtag #magicbands).

Further customization of the band is possible, in order to display the wearer's Disney tribal preferences. On our first monorail ride, our daughter made friends with a woman who had a pin-sized, rubber icon of a character stuck onto her band. And in our first foray into a gift shop, I saw the little accessories, which pop into the unused holes in the bands.

Very quickly, our Magic Bands were festooned with these so-called MagicBandits. I bought a box of the four main Disney characters (Minnie, Mickey, Donald, Goofy) and, of course, a box of "Frozen" Bandits. Every morning, like pin-trading, we would decide which of us would wear which image. It became a fun little ritual in the overall magic ritual of a Disney vacation.

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