I have seen them on the wrists of other visitors for many weeks now, but I finally got a chance this past weekend to try MagicBands for myself (courtesy of a stay at Pop Century). My subjective verdict: most people are going to like them, especially if they don’t know the full scope of what was once promised to them via MyMagic+.

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I’m not going to explain how MagicBands work in detail. That’s been done many times online already, perhaps most exhaustively by my friend Paul at his site. Seriously, he’s got all the ins and outs of what works, what doesn’t, what loopholes exist, and so on, so have a look.

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I’ll restrict myself to saying the absolute basics: we used MagicBands for room keys, for room charging (replacement credit card), for PhotoPass, and for FASTPASS+ but not for gate admission (our annual passes were never connected up to the account). I’m reading reports online of some folks having trouble and technical glitches. While we had a glitch with the kids’ accounts, it got sorted out eventually, and so far I’m operating under the assumption that even if there are a lot of technical problems, they will get dealt with eventually.

That said, I’ve heard more than once that major portions of MyMagic+ are behind schedule (just look at Disney’s own announcements for evidence that they expected it to be up and running by now), so maybe there are elements here we don’t see. Without knowing more, I’m going to restrict my comments to what I saw and experienced first-hand.

The room key part was fine, even fun for the kids. The FASTPASS+ part, perhaps the most visible integration, was also fine. It was pleasant to not have to keep track of paper tickets, or to worry about the kids losing theirs, since they always want to hold them. I would also venture to say that having ride reservations already done by the time we arrived at the park DID, in fact, lead to some ineffable feeling of relaxation. I’m tempted to try to pin down more of this “IFR” but fear it may be too, er, ineffable to put my finger on what it is exactly. Maybe a feeling of satisfaction? I don’t know… there’s a reason I called it ineffable. It’s a bit like trying to explain what the taste of umami is. These rubber ride reservations simply did create a minor amount of relaxation.

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Did I find that FASTPASS+ made my day too planned out, too regimented? Oddly, I didn’t. I expected that to happen, but instead I found that aforementioned measure of relaxation in the lack of need to dart around and collect paper tickets. I suspect that those who come less frequently than we do might have a different reaction. After all, we didn’t have a to-do list in the park of rides we had to experience on this one day; we can always come back next week, and that made our pace unhurried. But speaking as someone who doesn’t like reservations at all, this experience wasn’t as bad as feared. While I would prefer a park that had no reservations of any kind (restaurants OR rides), at this point I realize there are only two choices: complain bitterly (probably leading eventually to a cessation of visits!) or accept the reality of the change and see if it works. Maybe I was in that mood to try it gamely for reasons I don’t understand (I tried to just live the experience, not overthink it–at least not until later!), but whatever the reason, I was not disturbed by the preplanned nature of FASTPASS+ reservations.

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The thing fits just slightly awkwardly on my wrist (and usually defaults to an off-kilter rakish angle, with the Mickey head not square on my wrist, but off to one side). Since the MagicBand is rubber, it’s waterproof, but it’s also sweat-inducing. My earlier tongue-in-cheek question about tan lines aside, the sweat issue might become a major problem in the summer. Loosening the band by a few notches lets it breathe more, but I’m not normally a fan of wristbands or watches that slide around and dangle so loosely. I never really felt the MagicBand recede into complete background sensation. Maybe if I wore it for seven days straight I would forget it was there, the way I *do* forget my (metal) watchband is there, but the MagicBand was always a sensation on my wrist, which was slightly distracting.

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Did we save any time with the MagicBands? I’m not sure that we did. It takes a fraction of a section longer to scan your wristband than to have a CM eyeball your paper ticket, so no savings there. And when making purchases, the scanning part is quicker than a credit card, but the typing of the PIN code brings it all back to parity, maybe even a touch slower than a credit card when no signature is needed.

And now for the million dollar question (or rather, the $1.2 billion question): did the MagicBand encourage me to spend more? Heaven help me, I think it did. I went into this about as savvy as you could be, knowing full well that the system is designed to get me to spend more, and darned if it didn’t work. I spent $80 on a single afternoon/evening at the Magic Kingdom, which includes one counter-service meal for everyone in the family (that part is normal), two snack opportunities (one of which we would have avoided without the band), one spontaneous drink purchase (again: likely to have avoided without the band), and purchasing BandIts (MagicBand accessories) for my kids because they have huge anime eyes and are irresistible sometimes. The BandIts purchases are a direct result of the MagicBand itself, but the extra food purchases are, I recognize in retrospect, the “casino effect.”

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Las Vegas has known for decades that playing with perceived fake-money makes people more likely to part with it; it seems like a game rather than actual cash you are spending. Credit cards do induce similar additional spending, but not on the same scale as casino chips. I didn’t even see myself doing it at the time, but in hindsight I can see that, even as prepared as I was for this MagicBand, there were moments of weakness when I said “sure, go ahead” when I might have demurred if we were paying in cash, or even with credit cards (which is our usual modus operandi).

So we spent an extra $20 for my little family of four, maybe $25. If everyone’s spending increased that much per capita, Disney would earn back its investment quickly. I suspect we might have been a little more eager than most to do extra spending because we don’t normally have room charge available; the Las Vegas effect might have more to do with the room than the method. If so, those accustomed to staying on property might not see the jump in spending we did. But those who don’t normally stay on property might.

Overall I was pleased with the MagicBand experience and think others will be as well. It’s really a series of small wins more than any one “killer app” from this thing. People will like the ability to choose a color, to have your name stamped on the back, to customize with accessories, to have FP+ reservations chosen well in advance for the “crucial” rides, to make the neat-o gizmo light up that satisfying green color when you pay or scan in for your FP+ reservation, to keep cards and cash in the wallet, and to take home a “free” souvenir. A series of small conveniences DOES add up to something if the series is long enough, and I think in this case it is.

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While I’m positive on the “series of small conveniences,” as always I’d love to hear from you. Do you feel that even these gains in satisfaction/relaxation (“theme park umami”) are worth the investment? Let us know in the comments.

WDW Clicks #5

This week’s show shows off the new Fantasyland DVC booth and Talking Mickey meet and greet (both new to me), then SeaWorld Christmas, and finally some of the topics mentioned below (IAAPA and Nickelodeon Hotel)

Direct link to the video: http://youtu.be/0eFhr_3gmP0

IAAPA 2013 Recap

If you’re a theme park fanatic, you’ve likely heard of IAAPA before (or perhaps dreamed of visiting?) It’s the amusement park industry annual trade show and convention, and it took place last weekend. It’s the sort of place where you can see new stuff, sample some upcoming food items, ride a few simulators, preview new park movies, learn about arcade machines, plush toys, wheels for roller-coasters, or giant inflatable bounce houses. It’s a lot wrapped up into one place – and it’s open to the general public! (but it’s a touch expensive).

Here are a few photos of the event, but you’ll want to watch the Clicks episode for a full rundown of what we saw and what’s intriguing.

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Let It Snow

The off-site resort Nickelodeon Hotel has brought back its seasonal decorations, included in the cost of the hotel stay (which also includes access to their famous waterparks). In addition to the pretty lights and the nightly “snow” from above, there’s a large inflatable (dry) slide at night, and a new show. Called Celebrate Nickmas, it provides a chance for audiences to interact with Nick characters such as Spongebob Squarepants, Dora, and others.

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Margaritaville’s Refreshed Menu

We were invited recently to try the new menu at Margaritaville, the restaurant in CityWalk right next to IOA. We found the food to be excellent, the atmosphere boisterous, and the desserts fantastic. Standouts for us were the jerk shrimp appetizer and the buttermilk fried chicken breasts, as well as a dessert-for-sharing that puts the Kitchen Sink from Beaches ‘n Cream to shame (reason: the “chocolate hurricane” is not just sweet; it’s got lots of contrasts like soft/crunchy, sugar/toffee, and more interesting flavors). Read my full review here.

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