If you have yet to go to any of the Disney Parks and Resorts, I strongly suggest you integrate it into your future vacation plans. While kids clearly love Disney, I’d argue that Disney is just as much for adults, if not more (you’ll usually find me in the Tequila Cave in the Mexico Pavilion in Epcot). Disney always has a way of surprising me, which is hard to do after vacationing there frequently and spending three years of my life working for the mouse. Once upon a time, I was a host at the Turtle Talk with Crush show at Epcot, World Famous Jungle Cruise Skipper at the Magic Kingdom, and Disney Education Team Cast Member. During the time I spent my days driving a boat in circles as a Jungle Cruise Skipper, I also got the opportunity to be part of the pilot operation for today’s trendy Magic Bands.
Magic Bands were part of the $1.5 billion-dollar initiative called MyMagic+. Disney wanted a way to better understand the customer and give them an even more magical experience. Magic Bands use certain technology that incorporates an RFID chip and a two-way radio that operates on a 2.4 gigahertz band. This band is pretty incredible, especially now that the cost to make each one is less than $5. These bands make your vacation hassle-free and are a one-stop-shop for all your needs, including park entrance, room key, fast pass, credit card payments and personalized greetings throughout the parks and resorts. Since 2013, Disney has used two different versions of Magic Bands. The originals were plain grey bands in operation from 2013-2016, while the current MagicBand2 allows for color and graphics personalization.
The implementation process of the bands didn’t always go so smoothly, however. As with any initiative, there are hiccups along the way. While I was working at the Jungle Cruise, guests’ bands many times flat out didn’t work. They’d tap their bands to the touchpoints at the front entrance of the park or before getting on my ride and get stuck because their bands weren’t being read properly. Guests also were many times confused with other members of their family in their personalized greetings. For example, little Jane was wished a “Happy Birthday” when it was really her dad’s special day. While this may not seem like a huge deal, anything on a large scale can cause significant issues, especially with efficiency. Imagine spoiling an engagement before the question was popped (this actually happened).
The long and short-term readers that are located throughout the Walt Disney Parks and Resorts have trackers in them as well. Not everyone is fond of Disney “watching” your every move, but it honestly can come in handy. I cannot tell you how many lost children there are running around the parks. I made many new 3-year-old friends while waiting for their parents to return in a panic-stricken state. The Magic Bands can now track you (or your lost child) and cuts out the ambiguity altogether. Think about your “Find your iPhone” app. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t turn this feature on in case of emergency. Your bands are always operational, so unless the battery runs out, it’s functional. If you are worried about Disney tracking you from your house (even though this is not possible), you can deactivate your band on the My Disney Experience app. You may be interested to see how the data is used from the Magic Bands. Disney has a whole FAQ section devoted to this on their website which you can check out here: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com
So, why are Magic Bands only used in Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL you may ask? It comes down to the habits of Americans versus those in other countries. Most Americans have still not adopted payment methods that are directly from their phone. Global adoption is very different from U.S. adoption. According to Hootsuite, the use of mobile wallets in the U.S. is 28% while the worldwide average is at 37%. If you look at the locations of other Disney Parks and Resorts such as Hong Kong and China specifically, they are at 40% and 48% respectively. The use of Magic Bands was also not considered for Disneyland Resort in California because it’s not known for being a tourist attraction. It’s popular among the locals and would lose appeal with the Magic Bands present.
As far as Magic Bands being used at Walt Disney World, the technology makes perfect sense. Not only do bands cost a lot less to replace than phones, but they are not nearly as heavy to pull out for every interaction. Bands are flexible, waterproof, and plastic and can be dropped and thrown around without being broken. Phones, of course, do not have this luxury.
It’ll be interesting to follow the trends of technology and where Disney decides to go from here. Who knows how long the Magic Bands will retain their magic. It might be an exciting turn to somehow make the bands interactive from your own home per Disney’s new content platform rolling out in late 2019. This would encourage Disney fans all over the globe to use the bands whether or not they were visiting Walt Disney World and give Disney the opportunity to once again monetize on these now famous bands.
At Disney’s Jungle Cruise we have a saying, “Once a skipper, always a skipper.” As tradition, I’ll leave you with wise words from the jungle. Watch your step, but don’t step on your watch (Magic Band). That would be a terrible waste of… time. And, a perfectly good watch (Magic Band).