MagicBands and More – Kevin’s Review

Written by Kevin Yee. Posted in Kevin Yee, Walt Disney World

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Published on November 26, 2013 at 2:20 am with 16 Comments

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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About Kevin Yee

Kevin Yee is an author and blogger writing about travel, tourism, and theme parks in Central Florida. He spent more than a decade working at Disneyland and cultivating a never-ending fascination with that park’s rich traditions and history. Now relocated to Orlando, Kevin enjoys the Disney offerings on both sides of the country. Kevin is the author of numerous independent Disney books, including the popular Walt Disney World Earbook series and Walt Disney World Hidden History. Readers are invited to connect with him online and face to face at the following locations: UltimateOrlando.com – Kevin’s personal blog for daily WDW updates Public Facebook page – or friend his personal Facebook account, Twitter feed (user UltOrlando), Google+ account (user cafeorleans), Email at [email protected], Weekly Walt Disney World, a Facebook group of regulars who visit Disney World each weekend. Visitors from out of town are encouraged to come and say hello when in Orlando! Join the FB group to learn when/where the next meet is. Kevin’s books on Amazon

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16 Comments

Comments for MagicBands and More – Kevin’s Review are now closed.

  1. Just wanted to say this was an awesome group of articles…thanks!

  2. I’m not sure I’m as patient as you when it comes to resolving technical problems. If I’ve paid thousands of dollars and used my precious vacation time for a WDW trip, I don’t want to spend 30-45 minutes at guest relations to discuss the issues and have them resolved “eventually”. My time is valuable to me (especially on vacation), and it seems like all of the minor inconveniences add up

    I had a Magic Band a couple weeks ago during the Wine & Dine Half Marathon that I used for room entry only (it was a quick trip). From my experience, it was neat, but no more convenient than keeping the (backup) key card in my wallet and tapping that on the door. As you said, the wristband was mildly awkward to wear, and I had no real incentive to use it, so I usually just left it in the room

  3. In our case, the ‘eventually’ part was resolved on the phone before we left our home, days before our trip (it had to do with our kids somehow being duplicated in the system, so they had two accounts). We had wanted it all cleared up for FastPass+ reservations, so we dealt with it by phone. I can see your point that if it happened while on vacation, that would be much less tolerable.

    • That sounds mildly inconvenient, but not so bad overall. When I was in Epcot, I saw the line spilling out of Guest Relations, with what appeared to be people with MM+ issues. I’ve never seen the line out there door there, and there were probably 30-40 people waiting outside, so this was impacting more than a few people

  4. Kevin, I felt much the same as you did on our Magic Band experience in October. I do not wear a watch or jewelry at all but wasn’t uncomfortable wearing the bands. My 14 year old did tire of wearing hers at the end of the day though and she tends to wear rubber wrist bands often. Mine also sat off to the side unless I loosed the band, but I had no issues with wearing it all day.

    I don’t recall making any impulse purchases by wearing the bands but I was happy to have charging privileges available on my daughter’s band as well in just in case the situation came up for her to need to make a purchase if it wasn’t convenient for me to do so. She also really enjoyed “paying” for meals and purchases too.

    Planning out 3 FP+ each day was a big benefit. On our HS day we already had out FP+ for Midway Mania!
    The down side at this time was not FP+ option when park hoping and we had no way to obtain FP other than our bands since we weren’t given a KTTK card as a back up.
    I wish we could use them next summer at Disneyland!

    Now the question…are the Mrs Indredible boxes going to be a collectible piece of Disneyana?

  5. Is there a difference between paying with a room key or my magic band? I don’t understand how a band makes you want to buy something vs a room key which is just as easy?

  6. I meant to make a bigger point of this, but forgot to: the bands are new to those of us who normally don’t have room charges (either because we are local or because we stay off-site), so the “casino effect” Disney already gets from room key card wasn’t part of our lives before.

    I agree that effect is already part of the experience for those who usually stay on site. One way to think of it is: Disney will now get that effect out of more audiences.

  7. Hilarious! Did anybody else pick up on the “in-your-face” name of another way for Disney to turn your pockets out for your money? BandIts? I would hope that somebody in the ivory towers sees this glaring poke at the public’s naivete’ and comes up with a not so felonious term. I for one, realizing that it is indeed only a name to be played off the bands, kind of take offense to Disney’s continual squeezing of our wallets and the reference the term can have. Call me too sensitive? okay.

  8. My retirement goal being an AP for Disneyland, I am hoping that technology improves one more step so that I can be microchipped like the dog…CMs can scan the back of my neck and…

    Should a child get separated from her parents, wouldn’t the Magic Band let Guest Relations contact the hotel and get a cell phone number for the frantic adults?

  9. I kept looking down to see what time it was.

    Sam

  10. The only person covering Disney whose opinions I trust is Kevin Yee. I think this article was excellent, and I want to hear more from him about these so called magic bands.

  11. Used the MagicBands last week, with a Cast Member admission, for several days. Getting into the park has never been easier. Loved that. CMs are not fully up on all the ins and outs. We found out after a day that we could activate our bands once inside the park and then reserve 3 FP+ for the day. We did that once or twice, but honestly didn’t find it to be that much better than going around to get “Legacy” FP tickets (which we did). You are now planning “3″ parts of your day when you get a FP and that, to use, seemed more intrusive. in fact we didn’t use a lot of the reservations we made.
    Worked great for room keys, never used it to charge anything. The design of the band itself is awkward. It’s clearly made for small wrists (kids). You would think they would make multiple sizes. I think I have a fairly avg. wrist size and and the angled, unforgiving part would not sit correctly on anything other than the side of my wrist.
    Disney says the battery should last about 2 years, at which time you will have to “purchase” another MagicBand. Don’t like that. They say you can still just use a paper ticket and not take advantage of any of the MBs things, but we’ll see.
    The biggest problem is the My Disney Experience application on your phone. HORRIBLE. While we were able to make a dining reservation or two and could see our FPs once we reserved them, that was only part of the time and part of our group. WHat a mess that application is to navigate around, and it would never be in sync with everyone in our group. Mine would show dining tonight, but someone else’s would not, etc. etc. We had several Web App. Designers in our group (myself included) and the app is designed so so poorly. Hopefully they fix that sooner rather than later.

  12. Thanks for the great article Kevin. Lots of awesome information in this one.

    I was pleased to hear that your Magic Band experience was positive and you shared some great insights as well. As you know, not everyone’s experience has gone that way so it was nice to see that it also worked for some people.

    I would be an International traveler and when I have visited WDW we have always stayed onsite and had a plastic card that covered everything you mentioned in much the same way. While I agree that removing the cash from the equation does allow you to be less frugal, the reality is that you will face those charges when you check out, and you will NEVER forget what you spent if you went beyond your planned budget. That will work to Disney’s disadvantage on your next visit, as you are likely to be more aware ( and frugal) of what you’re buying each step of the way. The magic bands do allow for more convenience than a card I guess – though it is ever so slight. From my family’s perspective, what you have described in this article is no different than what every trip to WDW is for us…..with one exception: only 3 Fastpasses.

    We travel thousands of miles to visit these parks and the idea of being accommodated with just 1, 2 or 3 opportunities to have a ride on a favorite attraction (and limited access to those attractions as per your previous article on this subject) doesn’t sit well for us. It is less of an incentive for us than it was before this Magic band program showed up. At least then I could decide what I wanted to ride and get FastPasses for those attractions (the same ride all day long if that was my taste). Now I am told that I can’t do that anymore. They will give me options and my options will be limited to certain attractions and certain “tiers” of attractions. I’m not trying to be unpleasant; that just doesn’t work for us.

    I am the core market that Disney wants. I earn a good wage, travel from out of country, stay in their hotels, eat in their expensive restaurants and buy their souvenirs. I attend their dinner shows and take several special tours. All of these things cost money and I don’t mind spending it if I feel good about it. I do not feel good about what they are doing to FastPasses though. The wait lines at WDW are already crazy (even in slower seasons) and this appears to only exasperate that problem. So far I have seen no benefit or “special experience” that makes this desirable for me and my family.

    Based on what I have read and heard from people who have tested the system so far, I am not impressed at all, as it offers me nothing new, but sacrifices something I cherish greatly: the ability to chose what I want to do at my own pace. I don’t see a win here for anyone like me at this point. Perhaps a future article will change my mind.

  13. I just got back and was not happy about having to make fastpass+ reservations months in advance. Turns out my fears were all for naught. Mostly. If we wanted to change our times or even parks the night before or mornign of we had no problem until Saturday when Thanksgiving week started. At that point you couldnt get a fastpass the night before for midway mania, Test Track or Soarin for example. We had already been there a week so we didn’t care too much but at a busy time of year you would be pooched. Having said that showing up to Hollywood Studios on the weekend and finding 70 minute waits and walking on to rides was great. One thing we noticed the past few days was the fastpass return lines going out the door. I know this week is a busy one but I was surprised since I thought FP’s were limited. We had some longer waits but nothing too bad. I impulse buy every day at disney world so the bands didn’t affect me at all. Wearing the band was fine. It sat to the side mostly and yes I checked it about 100 times to see what the time was only to find it wasn’t a watch. I will say I was positively shocked by the experience because I wasn’t looking forward to being forced to a specific park. However we were able to move. Due to the way our reservation worked we ended up with 18 key cards and brought along 6 old ones from past trips and pillaged the FP machines for extra FP’s. This feature will be missed in the future when they are gone.

    As for issues we encountered there were few. My band wouldn’t open one of our rooms but by the time i noticed we were on the move the next day. there were 7 of us so it didn’t matter. My mom had a problem getting into a park once but that was fixed in 30 seconds or less by a girl with an ipad and scanner. And that was it. I had a good experience with them.

    The app is terrible as are all of Disneys websites. Complete garbage, slow and cumbersome. I wish they would spend a billion dollars or so on those sites. How are they always slow and crashing?

    On a final note the staff we dealt with were great, except for two people in Guest Relations at Epcot. We went in and asked for the 2013 magic band sliders that were free and got an attitude. We were a group of 7 and asked for 7. They gave my cousins wife a hard time about them and said they would check in the back and came out with 6 and said that was all she could have. So my wife walked in 2 minutes later and asked for 1 and they said is that all because we don’t have many and she said yes. They came out and said here and walked away. I guess they haven’t noticed the year is up in 4 weeks or something. But a couple grumps won’t ruin it for us because we had some of the best people I have ever met around us from characters with my kids, to one lady helping my mom who was having a bit of a medical issue, to the people at the hotels. Top notch service all around. Felt more like friends then service workers. cudos.

    • That is such a sweet report. Sounds like a great time.

  14. So we were at the vet today and it reminded me that I really do want to have an AP account with reservations connected to my credit card info on a microchip so CM’s can just scan me like vets do the dog.

    Of course the doggie scan just reveals a brand and number; the vet still has to contact another company to ID the dog. But technology marches on…