RFID, is coming to a Disney park near you and much like winter is coming, there is nothing anyone can do about it.
For those of you living under the Tree of Life and who don’t know the story, it goes a little like this: Disney is starting to implement RFID chips into practically everything, from drinking mugs to next generation queues. They’re going to be a thing. A big thing. And it will probably change the way you vacation at Walt Disney World.
So, let’s try to look at some of the facts, what’s been done so far, and where is it going next.
For starters, RFID stands for Radio Frequency Identification. It’s basically a small chip that is embedded somewhere that sends and receives signals from another location. One of the biggest issues that arose last summer was when Disney started tested using RFID chips on refillable mugs and single use cups at the All-Star Sports Resort.
When it started, the online community was in an uproar. Limited refills, you say? How dare they! But let’s look at the facts about why that system was implemented and how it worked.
As most of you know, Disney offers refillable mugs to their Guests staying at certain resorts. You can buy one (or you get one for “free” when you get a dining plan), with the stipulation that you only use it during the length of your current stay. Disney puts you on the honor system, trusting its Guests to follow that one easy rule, and hoping everything is right in the world.
But some folks don’t play nice. They bring that mug back again. And again. And then again after that. Soon, the mug they bought in 2006 is looking awfully old school next to the brand spanking new ones from 2012 held by more ethical Guests.
So what does Disney do? Well, like any business, they’re putting a stop to it. Last August, they started testing a system at the All-Star Sports Resort which would limit the number of refills Guests can get using the RFID technology. Each mug will have a RFID chip embedded in it to keep track of your refills. When you get a refill, the drink dispensing machine will read the RFID chip and determine if you are eligible. If not, then no drink for you. Further, if you have gotten a refill with that cup in the last five minutes, then again, no drink for you.
You CAN, however, get water and ice. But that’s it, buddy. No more, no less.
Don’t think you folks buying a single serving cup can get away with it, either. You’re just as bad off. Those cheap Styrofoam cups ALSO have an RFID chip at the bottom, allowing you refills for up to one hour before the cup turns into a useless container (unless you choose to wear it as a cheap fez, which I wear mine as now. Because fezzes are cool).
Like I mentioned earlier, this entire debacle got the online Disney community into an frenzy.
“How DARE they limit my number of refills! I bought this mug back in 1999, and I can’t party like that without some Coca-Cola in my cup!”
Well, OK, maybe that isn’t an ACTUAL quote, but I’m sure someone, somewhere, has said that. Probably. More than likely. But maybe just in my head.
I know what you’re thinking, though. Sure, snagging a free refill with your mug from last year’s trip once or twice may do no harm. What’s a little free soda between old friends, right? But this issue isn’t really about those people. It’s about the folks who abuse the system. Yearly. About 10-12 times a day. In the grand scheme of things, a single refill of soda isn’t going to break the bank. But multiple refills, every year? That’s a lot of revenue lost.
Let’s break it down by price.
A reusable mug costs an average of $12 to $14, depending on where you get it from. Assuming that the average price of a regular, single serving cup is about $3, a mug is the equivalent of 4 drinks. The average family will probably make use of all 4 of those refills, thus paying off the mug. If purchased on the first day of their average, seven day trip, I’d even go so far as to say that they would use that mug at least once a day, getting 3 extra refills for essentially nothing. But that’s a very low cost for Disney to willingly absorb for the upfront price of $12 for the mug itself.
Stick with me now, because we’re about to get all Donald Duck in Mathland up in here.
Looking at attendance rates, the average number of people visiting the Walt Disney World Resort in 2009 was about 1,400,000 a week. Let’s go out on a limb and say that 1/4 of those folks bought reusable mugs. So, if 350,000 mugs were sold at $12 a “pop” (you see what I did there?), that’s $4,200,000 right off the bat. That’s a lot of money.
Now, let’s take it a step further, and say about 1/4 of those mugs sold are brought back for next year’s vacation. So, 87,500 mugs are brought back, which is a loss of $1,050,000 of revenue for Disney. About a million dollars a week. Again, averaging it out, that’s about 52 million dollars a year. That… is more money than I can even begin to fathom.
Taking it even further, let’s talk about the number of folks who CONTINUE to bring that mug back. I’d say about 1/4 of those mugs, which is 21,875, come back to be used again and again, year after year. That’s another $262,500 a week, working out to $13,650,000 a year. Over ten years (which is possible, as I’ve seen lots of people with mugs that old), that’s $136,500,000!
So, again, what if those same mugs keep coming back, year after year? And then year after year after year after that? That money begins to add up quickly, which in turn, is a HUGE loss for Disney. Granted, I’m being VERY liberal with my numbers, and thinking that 20,000 mugs a week come back may be farfetched, but these are the type of numbers that Disney has to be looking at.
Now, some of you may be looking at the above numbers and saying “Who cares? They’ve been nickel and diming us for years, we should get some restitution.” Well, OK. I can’t really disagree with you on that. With recent price increases for tickets, along with everything else, I can definitely see where that frustration comes from, and for the most part, I’d have to agree with you. But you have to remember that, at the end of the day, Disney is still a business, and if they are losing money, they are going to find some way to recoup that cost.
So, in comes the RFID technology. But is it worth the price Disney is paying for it?
RFID isn’t anything new at Disney. In fact, they’ve been using it for years. Recently, however, there has been an influx of RFID through the Disney Company.
Ever been handed one of those lanyards with a red card just before you get on line for an attraction? You know, the ones that help determine the wait time, after you hand it to the Cast Member just before you get on the ride itself? That’s RFID at work right there! Disney’s PhotoPass card works the same way. The photographer takes your photos and scans your card to make sure all your vacation memories wind up in the same place. Aboard the new Disney cruise ships, Disney uses RFID in room keys to allow visitors to open their room doors, make purchases, and tons of other things as well. Recently at Disneyland, RFID chips are being sewn into Cast Member costumes to help organize and sort them.
While the RFID technology is all very similar, Disney does get different types of RFID chips from different companies. In the case of the drink dispensers, they are using ValidFill. According to their website, “ValidFill, LLC uses a patented solution to bring intelligence to beverage dispensing utilizing RFID Technology. By adding intelligence to the beverage transaction we measurably increase Food and Beverage revenue while positively affecting guest satisfaction, register throughput, shrink, and sustainability efforts. With the help of our partners, we are currently working with companies such as Royal Caribbean International, The Dollywood Company, and Osceola County Schools.”
With a little bit of a 1984-like feeling, according to their site, these chips can be used to track the cup type (hot or cold), cup size, location and date of purchase, number of times it has been used, number of refills remaining, and the last time it has been used. Not only is that pretty amazing, but Disney will get some pretty interesting statistics out of the deal.
The ValidFill system will allow you about 70 seconds for each refill before cutting you off. The handy dandy screens on the dispenser inform you when your next refill is available.
While they don’t include any prices on their site, further research shows that the same type of RFID chips that Disney is using for this venture cost about 7-15 cents apiece. Considering that Disney is buying them in bulk, we have to assume they are closer to the cheaper side of that range, if not even below it.
So, in the long run, after their initial investment into the system itself is paid off, Disney is spending very little per mug for RFID technology. They will be able to recoup most of their losses if they decide to implement RFID across all their Parks. Which, of course, they will.
We’re begun to see RFID stations pop up in front of attractions in the Magic Kingdom. We’ve heard about the incoming X-Pass (or whatever they are calling it now), which will allow Guests to schedule ride times months in advance of their actual trip. Heck, even the Sorcerer’s of the Magic Kingdom game uses a form of the RFID technology. Though not officially announced yet, it’s very probable that the new Disney App for iPhones, My Disney Experience, will interface with the RFID technology for the X-Pass.
Of course, people are going to call foul when it all starts rolling out for real. They always do, and already have. In the end, though, we can rightfully assume that this technology is here to stay. Disney is throwing a lot of money into this. Within a few years, this whole thing will be forgotten, and using RFID will be the norm. Instead of your grandparents telling you how they had to use an E-Ticket to get on the Haunted Mansion, you’ll be telling your grandkids how you actually had to stand in a line before getting onto a ride.
“There was no reserving your spot on Space Mountain months in advance…we had to walk barefoot, uphill, in the snow, if we wanted to enjoy Stitch’s Great Escape!”
So, prepare yourselves for RFID. It will be here soon, and it will become part of your everyday Disney life.
What are your thoughts on RFID? I’d love to hear what you guys think about it!
Tickets are now on sale for the
EPCOT 30 YEAR ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION!
Come celebrate EPCOT’s 30th Anniversary in style with a live taping of MiceChat’s Communicore Weekly! Join co-hosts Jeff Heimbuch & George Taylor, along with MiceChat’s Dusty Sage, Kevin Yee, and the Communicore Weekly Orchestra, for a fun-filled night of fandom and frivolity as they tape a special hour long episode of the hit show, Communicore Weekly.
Join us on the evening of Saturday, September 29th 2912 in the Norway Pavilion Special Events Lounge in EPCOT’s World Showcase for this one of a kind event!
Your ticket includes:
- Admission into the live taping of CW in the Norway Pavilion of EPCOT (note: admission into the park is NOT included)!
- Meet special guest, Ron Schneider, the original Dreamfinder!
- Decadent dessert reception!
- Short scavenger hunt hosted by Kevin Yee before the show will be available to those who would like to participate (prizes will be awarded)!
- Prizes, giveaways and more!
- The chance to be a part of EPCOT and Communicore Weekly history!
- Endless Five Legged Goats and perhaps even a real life Bathroom Break!
- Exclusive late night ride after park closing on a selected EPCOT attraction to cap off the evening!
For more tickets and more information, be sure to visit MiceChat.com/store!
by Jeff Heimbuch
If you have a tip, questions, comments, or gripes, please feel free email me at [email protected] or leave a comment below. I’d love to hear from you!
You can read past columns of The 626 by clicking here!
Jeff can help you plan your perfect Disney vacation with Fairy Godmother Travel! Call him at 732-278-7404 or email him at [email protected] for a free, no-obligation quote for Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise Line, Aulani or Adventures By Disney.
Jeff also writes another column called From The Mouth Of The Mouse. We invite you to check it out.
Jeff co-hosts the weekly VidCast Communicore Weekly as well!