Sam Examines the Small Print Behind the My Disney Experience Program

Written by Sam Gennawey. Posted in Disney, Samland, Walt Disney World

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Published on January 17, 2013 at 4:02 am with 60 Comments

As the battles between Disney and the other theme park operators is notched up another level with the introduction of the My Disney Experience program (MyMagic+), it is instructive to see how two of the biggest players are going in opposite directions. While Universal is trying to replicate the way Walt’s generation of Imagineers thought by focusing on building ride capacity, immersive theming, combined with novel merchandise, the Walt Disney Company’s new approach seems to be about rationing experiences using cutting edge software and technology.

To understand Disney’s new program a bit better, I decided to read through the Terms and Conditions. I figure Disney spends a lot of money on lawyers and there might be something to be learned.

Give us your info, get a Fastpass for Mermaid


I know there has been a lot of talk about a potential invasion of privacy. The fact is, if you want to play and benefit from the program you are going to have to give up something more than money. Right up front you are told that “we need to collect information from you through our Site/App, and through your experience at our Resorts.” This includes location information when you use one of their applications. And yes, it does include anyone in your family that secures “Park Experience benefits.”

To get started, you will need to sign on at the Park Experience portal. Guests 18 and over have full access while younger guests will be blocked from some of the functions. Those under 13 are not invited to play unless they are with somebody older.

One of the features of the program is Family and Friends. In this case, you have either Managed Friends (the people who will be control by the schedule you create) and Connected Friends (anybody else that you want to hook up with).

Be nice to your Managed Friends because they are the ones that must live with the schedule you create. The primary objective of this feature is “to assign Experience benefits you’ve purchased to your Friends (such as ticket entitlements) and plan activities for them (such as Disney FastPass+ selections and dining reservations).”

You have control over what your Connected friends can see. They can even invite you to join them. However, be careful. If they invite you to an activity and you accept, that activity “will count against the number of Fastpass+ selections you may hold.” By accepting them “you authorize your Connected Friends to plan activities for you, including making FastPass+ selection for you without notice to you.” If you are using the Connected Friends feature be sure to review your itinerary frequently because when they make reservations for you, the only way to tell is when you log in. Choose your (Connected) friends wisely.

The Radio Frequency (RFID) wristband (Magic Band) is a critical component to the experience. It is your entry ticket, your room key, your way to get and use your FastPass+ selections, even paying for dining and merchandise. Now that you are part of the grid, you could almost go without your wallet. If they need further identification they can use “additional authentication information” via “biometric read or PIN.” Your RFID device will also enable other readers placed throughout the parks. Everybody over 10 will be given charging privileges. If you don’t trust junior, you can make adjustments at the front desk.

Some of the current benefits, such as vacation notices, online dining reservations and online check in service remain. In fact, you don’t have a choice: “You will be required to accept the Online Check-in Service.”

The FastPass+ service is an expansion of what we know today as FastPass. This program includes “certain park attractions, character meet and greets, and quick-service restaurants, and to arrange a viewing location for certain entertainment such as fireworks, parades and shows.” As part of the rationing, “the number of experiences you may select and arrival windows are limited and vary based on factors such as the theme park you are visiting, the attraction or entertainment experience, the time of year and the day of the week, and prior demand.” As you can see, this is not necessarily all about you.

Image courtesy Werner Weiss,

When trying to think of how to describe the program I kept coming back to the old days at Disneyland when we used tickets. This new program is kind of the same. At the beginning of your trip, you are handed a limited number of tickets. Those tickets are only good for that one park you choose many months before. If you use the tickets or passes at times reserved, Disney takes all of your tickets away for that day. You cannot use your tickets at another park unless you trade in all your tickets first thing in the morning and hope that there are some left overs at the park you want to visit. If you are a big fan of park-hopping, you may need to learn new habits. Don’t use a ticket by the end of the day? Too bad. It does not carry over to the next day.

Since the window for making reservations begins 60 days before your trip, you will need to have figured out which parks on which days you want to visit. Line up all of the FastPass+ reservations and hope that you are quick enough to get your prime times. Latecomers will be rationed to times more convenient for the Park. And remember, you are restricted to one park per day when you make your FastPass+ reservations. For those who used to pile up on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad FastPasses, those days are over as well since you can only secure one FastPass+ for any given attraction each day.

The dining reservation fee stays in place. One interesting new twist is the ability to make a reservation for certain quick service locations. You can order your food selection up to 60 days in advance.

Once the FastPass+ system is up and running fully, there will be two types of folks, those who have wristbands and those who don’t.

Al Lutz, Dusty Sage and Doug Barnes discuss the pros and cons of Disney’s MyMagic+, My Disney Experience, Fastpass+ and MagicBand on the latest MiceChat Podcast. give it a listen.

That is the program from the legal eagles point of view. What do you think? Excited or dreading the changes?

The holidays are here. Are you looking for the perfect gift for that Disney fan in your life? If you enjoy reading SAMLAND, you’ll love my book. Walt and the Promise of Progress City is a detailed look into how Walt Disney envisioned the future of communities. Along the way, we explore many facets of a fascinating man. Plus, buying the book helps ensure that I’ll be able to continue bringing you more Samland. It’s a win/win situation.

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About Sam Gennawey

Sam Gennawey is an urban planner who has collaborated with communities throughout California over the course of more than 100 projects to create a great, big, beautiful tomorrow. Sam is a member of the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Regional Planning History Group, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving municipal, county, and private sector planning documents from throughout Los Angeles County. Sam is the author of Walt and the Promise of Progress City which you can find on Amazon.

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  • Wagi

    As an American currently living in Brazil, we’ve usually visited WDW as part of a tour package – a real savings overall even if we have to follow the tour groups schedule. In the past our tour guides would handle things like obtaining Fast Passes for us. Dining was usually on our own and we were never sure at what time we would eat, or when we would have free time at the park, or even which park we visit on which day.

    I’m wondering how this new system is going to work with organized tour groups?

  • Retrolane

    Nothing about this sounds good. How do I know what I want to go on or eat for lunch 3 months ahead of time.
    Walt designed the park to flow and experience it as you walked down main street or down a small path that lead you into a new time and place.
    Who know, maybe it will work in WDW where most people visiting are tourist who want to plan out there entire vacation but I don’t see this working in Walt’s original park.
    Please leave this mess out of Disneyland.

    • Notyad

      Keep in mind it is your option to participate in this program or not. You opt in to the features you wish to participate in and ignore those that you do not want. The most common misconception about this program is that many people believe that regular FastPass is going away and that is not true. The FastPass+ passes should be looked at as your “guaranteed” FastPasses. You can still use the regular FastPass system to acquire additional FastPasses in whatever park(s) you are in that day. Right now if you want a FastPass for Toy Story Mania at DHS you better be at the FastPass distribution before noon, because all FastPasses for the day are usually gone by then (same story for Soar’in at Epcot). So if you want to ride Toy Story in early to mid-afternoon you need to be picking up your FastPass within the first hour the park is open. FastPass+ allows you to guarantee that you will experience specific attractions that you and your family/traveling party do not want to miss at the time of day you want to experience them.

      The MyMagic+/FastPass+ does allow you to call an audible if your plans change. Either by using the touch-screen kiosks in the parks or Disney’s new smartphone app you will be able to make changes to your FastPass+ attraction and/or time (based on availability). I believe this new program will enhance the overall experience of a Disney vacation. But you have to think of this as a tool to help you maximize your time in the parks and resorts, not as a mindless pre-planned death march. Utilize the features that appeal tou you, ignore the ones that don’t and I’m sure you’ll like the experience.

      • flynnibus

        >The most common misconception about this program is that many
        > people believe that regular FastPass is going away and that is not true

        No? You should read the ToS yourself. Once you sign up for MyMagic+ – you are excluded from the legacy FP machines. Once you convert to RFID enabled ticket media, you are excluded from the legacy FP machines.

        The writing is on the wall.. legacy FP is only there for the transition.. and then everything is FP+

        What people misconstrue is that everything must be booked in advanced. They will have terminals and means to make FP+ choices ‘day of’ and on the fly. And the concept of ‘if you don’t book early, there will be none’ is a concept held over from ADRs – and doesn’t necessarily apply to FP+. There are a lot of ways Disney can manipulate all this. Until they show their hand.. we don’t know which experience they will protect.

  • ParkerMonroe

    “Assign experience benefits you’ve purchased to your Friends and plan activities for them”.

    Mmmm, sounds fun and relaxing in a project steering committee sort of way.

  • DisneySam

    All I have to say is, what in the heck were they thinking when they came up with this concept? Are there really that many people out there that want to plan their vacations in such a manner as to suck all the spontaneity (and fun) out of them? I know that when I go on vacation to locales other than Disney I like to plan a few things in advance but the overwhelmingly enjoyable part of a vacation is the chance to explore things at my own pace. Even when my wife and I ventured to CA for our first Disneyland experience the only thing we planned in advance was booking a morning tour of the park (and the hotel of course). It boggles my mind that this is something Disney thought people would want.

    • danielz6

      Its not something the people want its something they want because they have rediculous long lines for certain attractions. And instead of increasing park capacity or adding new attractions to even out the lines and spread the crowds around they’re treating the rides like restaurant reservations! The first paragraph of the article is brilliant and says all you need to know.

  • Monorail Man

    The more that I hear about MyMagic+ and Fastpass+ the more I like it. I’m a Technology geek, so it’s the appeal of what this will do for overall operations in 10+ years is exciting to me.

    There’s some real innovation going on here, and while yes – I would like to see the WDW experience freshened up with new rides and attractions (ala Universal’s current massive amount of projects), I think the technology behind MyMagic+ is sound – but they still should have backed it up with more attractions.

    Personally, I love the flexibility of a weekly trip to Disneyland or an annual trip to WDW. I can’t see how MyMagic+ will make this any worse. You already can’t get dining reservations last minute, or if you arrive late Fastpasses for popular attractions are gone. However, there’s a built in flexibility to these digital reservations that don’t exist with today’s reservation systems. Today’s reservation systems are hard-and-fast. Get a fastpass for an attraction? Great, I only have said hour to use them. Get a 5:30 dining reservation for Le Cellier? Great, what if I decide I don’t want to eat at that time. However, with MyMagic+, there’s a flexibility of being able to shuffle reservations and Fastpasses on the spot, right there in the park with OTHER people who want to shuffle their times as well. Right now, there are limits, just like when they rolled out Fastpass initially (remember, when it first rolled out in 1999, the time between Fastpasses in WDW used to be 4 hours – now it’s only the return time or two hours). Some of the obscure rules only may exist because they still don’t know how it will impact the park.

    Also, I think as the friend system is tweaked and expanded, there’s also a powerful option to have a little more flexibility as well. No longer do you have to worry about jockeying Fastpasses for people that want/don’t want to go on attractions. I like the idea of connected, managed. Especially if there’s limits. Imagine a big MiceChat meet up – “Let me connect you to the group so we all can ride Big Thunder”, etc. Concept sounds neat.

    The payment, and other stuff sounds like a cruise ship, but I like the idea that it’s a single thing for everything.

    Personally, I’m excited to try it out. Don’t get me wrong, it’s no excuse that WDW still doesn’t have enough attractions right now, I think that the Billion would have been better spent on more unique attractions, but this concept seems super interesting to me, and I think it will revolutionize the way that an average visitor comes to WDW. Will it want to keep them coming back? I doubt it, but what the system could do long term is fairly exciting. But I think this was one of the WORST times to implement it.

  • WesternMouse

    We are the Borg. You’re biological and technological distinctiveness will be added to our own. Prepare to be assimilated. Resistance is futile.

  • WesternMouse

    Seriously people. This is about as messed up as you can get. I listened to the recent podcast and I agree that this concept is quite Orwellian. What’s worse is that there are so many addicted Disney fans that will buy into this. Nowhere else in the US would this concept fly. The closest I can think of are Apple fans who like paying for stuff over and over via ITunes and Apple knowing everything they play. That’s a far cry from what Disney is trying to pull off.

    What’s this about 10 year olds allowed to charge? I don’t care that you can change this. Disney is trying to bring the cruise ship mentality to the parks, but on cruise ships, the food is already included. This is an attempt to get kids to steal money for Disney by bypassing mom and dad. This thing stinks to high heaven and if it expands I, and my family, will swear off Disney forever.

    • Monorail Man

      “Nowhere else in the US would this concept fly.”

      Except ski lifts:
      and Water Parks:
      Oh, and Hospitals, Concerts, and other examples:

      Even the hotel I’m at this week uses RFID for elevator, room, charge, mini bar, and parking access. Essentially, anything I do here at the hotel uses the one card. Same concept, larger scale.

      • DLFan1995

        I don’t believe that the concept he’s referring to was the RFID tags. I get the impression that it’s the overall constraints that the program puts you under.

      • WesternMouse

        Mobil gas used the same tech 15 years ago. One of my sentences taken out of context reads quite vaguely. I have no problem with RFID.

        Disney is taking RFID and perverting it. It is not the same concept as another method to pay. Allow me to draw a comparison to make my point better. There was a recent Weekend Update discussing Vegas buffets. You pay a small fortune for one meal at a top buffet–say $40 for dinner. With Disney’s program in place at the buffet, you have to reserve the time you go to the drink bar, then another time for the dessert bar, then another for the entree line, and so on. If you connect with friends, you discover you can’t get dessert because they took your time away from you. Your kids, also eating with you, use their wristbands to buy drinks not included with your dinner unbeknownst to you because you didn’t read the print and opt out.

        When I go to Disney, I pay a small fortune and they take information from me to fine tune their operations to get more money for me. If I don’t comply, Disney punishes me with the dreaded standby line.

        That’s what I’m talking about. Disney is not trying to improve the guest experience at all. They do what Orlando has done since I worked their back in 1995–throw a cutesie, guest-friendly name on a program designed to mine your wallet that has nothing to do with your experience.

        Uni does it best I think. You want a front of the line pass? Just pay up at the beginning and you’ve got it. Disney is creating classes within it’s kingdom walls, but hey, isn’t that why we called medieval times the dark ages?

      • WesternMouse

        Monorail Man–

        Another point I want to make is that Disney has used the room key/credit card tie in for years. That makes sense. Use of RFID for a single pay method is a great next step in the evolution of a cashless society.

        Again, RFID is not the issue, it’s the overall tracking and use of information against you and other guests that’s the issue here.

    • Justonedream

      I could not agree more, WesternMouse.

  • LeonardKinsey

    This sounds terrible. Just reading about it stresses me out. Do people really want to plan their vacation hour-by-hour 60 days in advance?

    Sure, you can “opt out” of using it, but then you’re stuck waiting in the Standby lines. And ever since FastPass came out, Standby has been synonymous with huge wait times.

  • Claybob

    As in a previous post, I said my wife and I are heading to WDW in late April, so this Fastpass+ thing will be a new experience for us. Parts of this I sort of like and others, well, it may be too early to tell without actually experiencing it. I like the idea of not having to drag my wallet out every time I wish to buy a soda or even anything for that matter. That is one reason we like to go on cruises. Sure, we “plan” our vacation as to the dining spots we want to hit way in advance…so that will stay the same for us. But, as DisneySam mentioned, we also like to just “explore” and take the whole WDW experience at a leisurely pace. To us, that is part of what going on vacation means.

  • horizonsfan

    I’m really dreading these changes. It’s not like the current Fastpass system doesn’t have its flaws, but Disney has made all the wrong conclusions from the issues. Even if they keep the current Fastpass system along with Fastpass+, there will be even fewer regular Fastpasses available. It’s going to be even crazier at popular attractions like Toy Story Mania and Soarin’ for anyone who hasn’t bought into the system. Also, what I’ve read is that 60 days is the timing for some visitors, but it’s much earlier for resort guests. Disney is essentially creating different classes of visitors, which goes against what they’ve always done. At least the original Fastpass program gives everyone a chance if they’re willing to arrive early and use the benefits widely. I also don’t expect that the regular Fastpass program will remain for that much longer. There will be a transition period for a few years, then they’ll fully move to Fastpass+. Prices will continue to increase, while service declines. It’s really sad to see.

    What bugs me more than this program is the general trends of the way Disney is going like Sam mentions at the start of the article. Instead of investing in great attractions and working to update worn-down older ones, they’ve spent a billion dollars (if not more) on ways that limit the guest experience. It’s reflective of the thinking of the company on the whole, who who’ve taken that whole “magical place on Earth” idea to the extreme and believe their own hype. Disneyland and Disney World became huge based on wonderful attractions, and straying too far from that model is not wise. Most visitors care nothing about NextGen and new technologies for reserving counter service way in advance. They want to see amazing attractions and shows and have fun with their family. This doesn’t serve any of those purposes.

    • Monorail Man

      “Most visitors care nothing about NextGen and new technologies for reserving counter service way in advance. They want to see amazing attractions and shows and have fun with their family. This doesn’t serve any of those purposes.”

      I think people DO care about new technology. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t see the rise of smartphones and other new technology gadgets.

      However, I think you’re right on the attraction front. This concept should have been launched with at least 4 big attractions that really sold the entire Nextgen concept, driving people to want to go to the four parks and check it out. There’s a neat system, with nothing to really show it off.

  • Sperry205

    Here is what I don’t understand, people complaining about “planning their Disney vacation 60/120/180 days in advance”. Going on vacation, ANY vacation takes a proper amount of planning. If you go on a cruise you have to decide what you want to do on the boat, the sites you want to see at the ports, etc. If you are going to a destination, for example Hawaii, you plan to do certain things on certain days, do you not? So why when “Disney” is tossed into the equation, it suddenly becomes…. “who wants to plan their vacation 60 days in advance”. I’m all for it. Especially for the families that save up for years to be able to provide their kids with the ultimate Disney trip. This gives them the opportunity to make sure they see and do everything that they want, thus getting the most bang for their buck.

    • DLFan1995

      Cruises are totally different than visiting parks as you HAVE to plan, schedule, and book in advance. Park vacations can be made on the spur of the moment without ANY planning.

      Those who have the wherewithal to plan park vacations in that depth can do so as they please. However, I don’t see this plan being of much benefit for the majority of park guests.

      It’s one thing to book a restaurant seating or get fast passes, but it’s something different entirely to have all the elements of the visit pre-set and linked with everyone else your visit may be associated with.

      • Sperry205

        Park vacations for Disneyphiles that go on the regular can be made spur of the moment. But for the family that can only afford to go once every ten years needs to plan all the details.

    • StevenW

      I’m planning on going in September, which is when schools normally start and the parks are practically empty while still having summer-like weather. You don’t have to worry about fastpass at all. Off season traveling is highly recommended.

  • Sperry205

    I think people are also just focusing on the FastPass, purchasing, meal planning aspect and not looking at the bigger picture of what the future holds for this technology. From what I have heard from some working in Operations is that there will be more interactivity all linked to your magic band. Imagine a poster or painting “coming to life” and interacting with you, imagine getting some type of recognition in the Haunted Mansion because you’ve listed it is a favorite attraction, imagine Mickey addressing you by name when he meets you…. all through the information contained within the band. I can only imagine the face of a child when Mickey greets them personally.

    • DLFan1995

      Most children are so enthralled by being greeted by Mickey that they probably wouldn’t even be aware if they were addressed by name. As for attraction recognition, I would have a problem when certain people are called out during the experience. The show is the show, not the guests.

      • Sperry205

        So what are your feelings on the new interactive queue setups?

    • Notyad

      Sperry205 – Congratulations my friend. You really do see the “Big Picture”.

      DLFan1995 – I can see that if you live within a short traveling distance from the parks that they can be done spur of the moment, but when you are plunking down money for airfare, Disney resort hotel, tickets, dining and everything else for a week-long vacation you had better do some planning. I agree with Sperry205, ANY vacation deserves a proper amount of planning. You don’t have to map out every minute of every day, but you do need an idea of what you are doing. I could not have imagined taking my kids to WDW for the first time and just “winging it”. For some families that may be their only trip ever to WDW and they deserve to get the most out of it.

      • DLFan1995

        There’s a big difference between planning for a vacation and scheduling every aspect of the visit. Some people may prefer to have every minute planned in advance, all their meals and rides scheduled, and everyone tied together electronically. Haven’t seen a poll that indicates how many would accept what level of pre-planning for their vacations.

  • eicarr

    Court cases will use visitor data to prove visitors went on space mountain while on workers comp or a man went on a ride the same time as his mistress. Visitors getting higher prices and longer lines for not letting disney and government collect data about your movements and habits sounds like a lawsuit ready to happen in California.

    I’m happy that some friends in Southern California (who aren’t DL regulars) are telling me about all the bad press they’ve already heard about wrist bands. I have full confidence in Governor Jerry Brown, LA lawyers, and San Francisco Federal courts.

    For now I can only protest by not visiting WDW and its new bowling alley.

  • ttintagel

    Kris Kristoffersen on a cracker, this sounds like the most harebrained idea since New Coke. Who comes up with this stuff, a committee of bored middle managers from the HR department?

  • Eric Davis

    Great article Sam, but WOW…. I must say my biggest fear isn’t my access to FP or Disney tracking my every move… it is more about the infrastructure of the physical park, and how it will be impacted. My personal opinion is that since FP has been introduced it has had a negative impact, and I feel that will accelerate with FP+