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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  • Klutch

    A lot of people still don’t understand the current FastPass system. This new technology will serve only to completely baffle the average park visitor.

  • HeeHee

    Anyone thinking that this will give you “the perfect Disney vacation” is nuts. This is so much to manage its funny, its hard enough to manage the kids you bring. You’ll need charts and graphs to get through your day and stress out if things don’t go as planned (Yay mom and dad are freaking out and po’d, should be fun!) running to kiosks to electronically change your “experiences” or times (btw, you’ll no doubt be waiting in line at the kiosk). All the while, if its hot or humid out, there is no MyMagic+ to fix that, if an attraction is closed FP+ cannot help you. You’ll still wait in line-period. There will still be crying babies and rude people all the things you get when you go on ANY vacation where there are masses of people…so you will be paying more for all those things lol, oh and by all means give your 10 year old the power to purchase-by merely using a wristband (this just HAS to be a joke).

    This is a bad idea. Do we really want to have “experiences” down to the minute? Or does Disney want to manipulate their parks and “experiences” to get even more $ from you-in a timely manner that is outright offensive (as I see it you are really nothing more than a number with a wallet in this scenario to them). I think this has sucker written all over it. It is not use of more technology that folks have asked for or a glaring loss of privacy-folks have asked for clean and friendly parks, well managed and well rounded. Not to become part of a weird and yes, Orwellian system where they might know what you ate, when you ate it, when you got rid of what you ate and what you’ll eat next. I hope the glaring bad parts of this fail on a mass scale and go away. Of course they won’t because no one can beat Disney at selling (they merely have to say its for YOU the guest and people jump right in). This is not for the guest-it is for profit, the efficiency of which they can get your hard earned money (as if Disney would dump millions into this and not expect a larger return for it). As far as the interactive touches, the guy who doesn’t have the magicband standing next to the guy that does will see the effects too lol, so not sure I’d hinge paying extra for that and personally I don’t need Mickey to address me personally, I’d find that creepy. But I do get that small children might like it…is that enough though? Maybe it will serve a few people-but, it will never be me. Lastly, I agree with horizonsfan, this serves to create “classes” within the park, and there is nothing “magical” about that…

    • Wedbliss

      I think that when you say that Disney wants to manage their parks and “experiences” to get even more money, I think you are correct. People sitting around thinking about what to do next aren’t spending money. If Disney can use +MyMagic to “keep it moving” they can practically predict where you will open your wallet and how much you will spend. Let’s say we are playing a game of SimWaltDisneyWorld. Then this kind of data would be very valuble, and that’s exactly what Disney is doing. Is it a terrible thing to do? It’s terrible to the extent that Disney needs to do what Wall Street expects it to do. That, to me, is the devil’s bargain that’s been made.

    • danielz6

      Ya I agree it is kinda creepy. When I visit a park I don’t need any special interactivity. I really just want to be left alone and enjoy the park at my own pace and relax. Its not like if Micky addressed me by name, I’m going to say” ohhhhh Micky that was so magical”. Really? You know its because of that wristband you’re wearing so any magicness that might have is void to the average intelligent adult. Now truly spontaneous interractivity, I.e. one time on monsters Inc at DCA the lady alien at the end of the ride made a comment to me and my girlfriend, or the Mr potato head on midway mania or the security robot on Star tours. All those use impressive computer programs to identify guests and interact with them. That impresses the heck out of me and is truly surprising when it happens and you think “Did that just talk to me?” But with this stinking wristband now I’m expecting that interactivity and it is actually less magical imo. Maybe children will love it, like visiting Santa Claus, but to the average adult I think its not impressive at all.

    • WesternMouse

      As far as eating goes, just wait until trays have RFID to determine how much you throw away so they can make portions smaller.

      Also, just wait until they release the 1984/Animal Farm-Disney-Magic-Plus Dashboard so you can manage all your reservations on one screen.

      Man, who is working for whom here? Disney guests will become far more valuable than any Cast Member Disney will employee. CMs cost Disney money while guests are paying Disney PLUS allowing Disney to data mine them to take even more money. This system is bad, bad, bad.

  • CoreneD

    As a Canadian Westcoaster, I have only been to WDW once (back in 1996), but have been to DL 2x in the past year & a bit, with a couple upcoming trips in the works. Because my son is only 9, we’ve decided not to take him to WDW til he’s 12 or so, since it’s so big & spread out. But I must say that all this talk is putting me off ever going back to WDW. As someone who does have to save & travel to make my trip to DL, I do some planning in advance, but I certainly don’t want to have to prebook what ride/land I need to be in at any given moment. I made a reservation for the Blue Bayou Restaurant once & it was tricky to make it on time & turned out not to be a convenient time in the end. We went & experienced it, but it was a little bit stressful making it fit into our day. So I can’t imagine having to schedule ride times – especially with a spontaneous 9 year old! I only want to preplan my hotel & flights, but not the fine details of each day within the parks! Given that it’s much harder to park hop at WDW, maybe it’ll work there, but I’m very glad that I can leave it to others to test it out, and they can tweak it before we decide to visit WDW again in a few years. Or we can decide not to bother if it doesn’t sound like it’s working. I will reserve judgement until we see if you really are limited to the few fastpasses per day & not able to access the old fastpass system, etc. Also, did I read that right – there is a fee for restaurant reservations at WDW?! That is shocking, as I’ve never ever paid a reservation fee at any restaurant anywhere ever! Never even heard of such a thing. At this point I agree with those who hope this system doesn’t come to California. I am very happy with my DL experience the way it currently works, thanks very much. But I look forward to the reports from those who experience the new system & those who opt out of it too!

  • martinjbell1986

    I will re-iterate what someone said earlier. “Keep it out of California”

  • Wedbliss

    I have seen people nearly lose their minds stressing out over a Walt Disney World vacation. As a person who goes there frequently, I tend to forget how daunting it is to be faced with such a bewilderingly large set of options, and therefore choices, one confronts on a trip to the World. People can work themselves into an ongoing state of anxiety over whether or not they will get in all their must-do items in the amount of time they have.

    And this comes out when Disney does customer surveys. I don’t think that Disney would have ever invested so much money in this project unless they were sure that the are giving the guests what they want, what they have asked for.

    But I ask this: do people really know what they want? Yes, I know how that sounds, but this could easily be a case of being careful what you wish for ’cause you just might get it. MyMagic+ is going to have all kinds of unintended consequences for the entire resort. I know that Disney is phasing this in and will be tweaking things as needed, but I don’t see this rather complicated program doing much to relieve the stress guests feel when the Magical Express Bus drops them off at their resort. Now guests simply have a new set of problems to deal with.

    I have to admit then when I read the numerous details of how this program works I get a little bit of a stomach ache.

    Managed Friends? Connected Friends? What happens if I accept an activity from a connected friend? I lose what?

    I know that RFID is taking over the world and there’s really no getting away from it. Perhaps Disney is smart to set up this infrastructure now to stay ahead of the curve. But I am really flat lining over MyMagic+. I don’t like it and, to be truthful, I don’t need it. I tour the resort at my own pace and find that the secret of a WDW vacation is to not worry so much about you will do as enjoy the things you are actually doing. For me the key to relieving the stress of a WDW vacation involved letting go of that nagging feeling that, despite whatever I might be doing, I was missing out on something even better. Putting that kind of thinking out of my mind went further in increasing my enjoyment that all the reservations in the world ever could.

    I really don’t understand how severely limiting spontaneity creates a better vacation. I see this program as just another convolution in an already complex environment. Are guests going to love this program? Is personal interactivity on attractions going send pixie-dust levels off the charts? Hmmm. I’ve been surprised more than once, but I think I’ll pass on the wristband for the time being.

  • brian11811

    Sounds like its a big sh** sandwich, and we’ve all gotta take a bit.

  • brian11811

    I mean bite.

  • Justonedream

    Gosh, this system is so mind-boggling complicated that I’m still confused after this 15 paragraph article. How is the public to understand this? Heck, people have difficulty understanding the concept of open seating on Southwest Airlines, let alone this!

    I understand that the system is voluntary, but it speaks to how society is becoming more comfortable with privacy invasion. We are allowing it to happen in little steps, and gradually accepting it. The line has to be drawn somewhere, and soon. It is an argument about humanity, about what separates us from the machines that we have created.

    The last sentence of this article hits the nail on the head, and at the same time disturbs me. “There will be two types of people at the parks.” I think this undermines the democratization of the theme park experience that was the reason Disneyland was founded.

  • JiminyCricketFan

    I have been a Disney guy for a long time. But this MyFastpass+ has now convinced me that Universal Studios is really the resort to hit. They are catering to guests and providing immersive, high quality experience. Disney is bringing you 1984. They will track your movements all day long and dictate to you every minute of your day. Heaven help you if there is a long line at the bathroom! YOU will have missed your fastpass+ return time.

    • JiminyCricketFan

      Of course, the solution to long lines at the restrooms is to schedule your bathroom breaks three months ahead.

      • Country Bear

        Well stated!

      • Country Bear

        Speaking of 1984, I just compared attraction listings at the MK from 1984 to 2013. Main street vehicles were collectively counted as 1 in both cases. Both list character meet and greets as attractions, so it’s a fair balance in my opinion.
        1984 – 38 attractions – roughly 13 million attendance
        2013 – 34 attractions – nearly 18 million attendance
        Now one can argue that the quantity of attractions (E-Tickets) is larger now so there are less C & D rides, creating a better balance. However, there appears to only be 1 new ones since 1984 (Splash Mountain) and it came at the cost of 1 E-Ticket (20,0000 Leagues) so again, this is a wash. There are now approximately 5 million more people in the park every year and 4 less attractions to serve them.
        You have ridiculous line-ups not because there are more people, but because you have less for each of them to do while they’re there. Say what you will about the Orwellian plan (I don’t personally like it); it appears to more about crowd control and less about guest experience. If you want to increase my guest experience then give me something to do, not something to analyze.

  • brianpinsky

    I think that Next Gen so cause this big two teir system will grow wider. They have at DL the reservation areas and that is the best spot among the whole crowd. Next Gen will just make it obvious to those standing in line and they get watch Next Gen after Next Gen pass them. This would only be a fair expirence to AP if they put an RFID card in their in their pass and allowed them to make reservation as well.

    • Kandace Sparkles

      Annual Passholders will get the opportunity to participate in something. What exactly it will look like and when it will be rolled out leads to be a different story all together.

  • BigBobxxx

    Disney has now lost me as a customer.

    This FastPass+/NextGen/wristband nonsense is the final nail in the coffin.

    One can only hope that enough Disney visitors feel the same way, and stay away in droves.
    Which, by the way, is the only way Disney will get the message that this is a fail of epic proportions.

    Even then, Disney’s first response will surely be to raise prices, cut hours and lay-off employees to make up for the lower attendance and revenues.

    I’m not going to put up with it — and you shouldn’t either!

    This is all about corporate greed and how to wring blood from a stone.
    Transparently so.
    They should be ashamed of themselves.

  • Wreckless Abrandon

    All I can say is that I hope this isn’t adopted in DLR. I prefer spontaneity at DLR… yes I know it’s a different park, but part of the fun for me is being flexible. Yes, I know it’s optional, but I like the current Fastpass compared to this program.

  • JediPrincess

    This sounds terrible…

  • Sperry205

    Honestly, I can’t help but laugh at the posters stating this will create a class system in the parks and Walt would roll over in his grave, harumph, harumph, harumph. Most of you realize there is already an established class system in the parks on both coasts correct?

  • Suppin Falls

    To me, this article worries too much about the “connected friends” feature. Doesn’t this just allow a parent to make reservations for the entire family at once?