House of Mouse: Magic Band Addition

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). 

15 comments

  1. Love your explanation of the bands! I get that the technology can sound creepy at first, but it must come in handy when kids are running all over the place and parents lose track of them. I also like that you discussed why these bands are only used in Disney World, because I could see how important global adoption must be. You would think that Americans are further ahead with tech advances, but surprisingly they are not always. I think it will be very interesting to see how this tech evolves so that it can be used outside of the park and I am sure that kids would love to carry the magic with them at home. Great blog post!

  2. While I haven’t used the magic bands myself (I went to Disney long before they came into play) I have a good friend that visits the park every year. She absolutely loves the bands. Not only are they customized for every member of her family, but she re-uses them from year to year and loves the fact that she doesn’t need to carry her wallet (or phone, theoretically) around the park. I’m really interested to see if they step up the technology of these in future iterations, maybe by adding a screen to obtain notifications (similar to what we saw the waterpark do in one of the presentations).

  3. I am so impressed by the band idea. I can only imagine the data output of these things and the potential they hold for retail, park layout, etc. Think about the A/B testing potential! Move a concession stand 10 feet closer to a given ride, is there a high correlation between the certain ride and M&M consumption? Okay dumb example but you get the point. Is there any other company out there with the built in customer base and environment to do anything close to this?

  4. Nice followup to a great presentation!

  5. The part where you mentioned the habits of Americans versus the habits of those in other countries really resonated with me. When I was abroad in London last semester, you would not believe the crazy looks I received upon pulling out a physical credit card from my wallet and asking to swipe rather than simply opting for Apple Pay. Since then, I have realized the time and efficiency benefits of using mobile payment methods, and have become a true proponent of the technology. But that is beside the point. I think another element of the Disney magic bands that is often appreciated by park visitors is the opportunity to have a keepsake to take home at the end of the day. In this way, the magic bands have more sentimental meaning than a mobile ticket, app, or credit card ever could. They constitute strong material representations of the memories that have been had at the parks and could potentially come in the future when the band will be able to return. Whether Americans will always care about this idea of a memento, however, I think only time will tell.

    1. dilillomelissa · · Reply

      Thanks for sharing your experience with payments in London! I’m currently doing a project on e-commerce and mobile payments are a part of that. Use of mobile wallets worldwide is averaging 37% while the USA is only at 28%. Also, in countries like Korea for instance, 55% of the population use mobile wallets!

  6. Great post! I think it’s mind-blowing how the cost to make one band is less than $5… that’s insane! I actually went to Walt Disney World this past January for the first time since I was in the fourth grade (it was amazing), and I remember being super impressed with these Magic Bands. It’s super convenient, being able to tap to go in/out of the park, to store photos from rides, to pay with your credit card, etc. It’s your go-to tool to ensure a maximized experience. I actually also made a 2-year old friend who was separated from his parents at the security checkpoint. He clung onto my legs with so much fear and confusion in his eyes. I can’t imagine how many kids get lost in this MASSIVE park. I think if I were a parent, the feature to track a lost child would be more than enough of a reason to get me on board with the Magic Bands, regardless of how “creepy” it is. You also brought up a lot of interesting points about the rough implementation process, as well as the reason why Magic Bands are only used in Orlando. I had no idea that Americans have a lower mobile wallet adoption rate than in other global regions. It’s time for us to catch up!

    1. dilillomelissa · · Reply

      Sounds like you’ve had some very similar experiences to me at the parks! I’m glad you find them so useful as well. I truly appreciate what they’ve done for the Disney experience. I’m happy to chat anytime!

  7. I thought this post was a really great followup to your presentation. Unfortunately, I haven’t been to Disney World since the Magic Bands were introduced, but I think that they’re a great addition to the park. Based on friends that have been and used them, to your presentation, they seem like they’re of great value to everyone involved. I’ve been to a few music festivals where instead of receiving tickets they utilize RFID wrist bands which act as a much more basic version of a Magic Band. These wristbands gain you access into the grounds and can be used to make purchases while on the site, which makes it so much easier while you’re there.

    1. dilillomelissa · · Reply

      Yes, I have also been to festivals/concerts with the more simplified version of a Magic Band. The wristbands really do make a difference, especially with regards to payments in my opinion. I don’t feel stressed about losing my credit cards at these events.

  8. Loved your presentation, and this follow up post. So happy you touched on why they haven’t adopted them outside of the US, but that being said, to Jim’s point I think the data captured by the bands would be extremely interesting to dig through. I wonder, do they have a mobile app to go with the bands (you might have mentioned this in your presentation – sorry if you did !) A mobile app with a native payments system would likely be used by a lot of the OUS customers and I think would be highly useful for also gathering the data that they need. Last question – do you think they will ever change the design of the band? It doesn’t feel as stylish as I think it probably could be, but maybe there is a design limit on why that is !

    1. dilillomelissa · · Reply

      Yes, the app already exists. It’s part of the MyMagic+ initiative. This includes the Magic Bands and the My Disney Experience app. This is definitely a way they gather data!

  9. I visited Disney for the first time two summers ago with my mom and two younger sisters and each of us chose our own magic band before we went. I can’t imagine trying to navigate through any of the parks without them. I understand why magic bands work particularly well in Orlando, but I don’t think I understand how they would lead to a decrease in customers at other parks? I feel like it would streamline the organization of the park regardless.

  10. Great post & presentation. I haven’t been to Disney in years, but I really appreciated the post. Going off the other post, I believe a mobile app would be great. Additionally, the band personalization is a great idea as well, definitely targeting the child demographic.

    1. dilillomelissa · · Reply

      Thank you! I replied to Miriam above as well, but yes, the app already exists! It’s part of the MyMagic+ initiative. This includes the Magic Bands and the My Disney Experience app. Data collection is much easier through the app in addition to the touchpoints around the park for the bands.

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