A few years ago, during the “Year of a Million Dreams” celebration, Walt Disney World guests were told to expect random moments of magic and surprises. Now, the pendulum has swung the other way. Guests can completely plan their Disney trip in advance, leaving little to chance and maximizing precious vacation time (though still with great flexibility, Disney points out).
According to Tom Staggs, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman, the company’s investment in MyMagic+ technology has been huge (see InPark’s recent story on how ticketing and access technology is changing attractions): changing out turnstiles at all park entrances, retrofitting 28,000 hotel room door locks, increasing FastPass attractions from 28 to over 60 property wide, and installing stationary and mobile readers at countless retail locations.
At the heart of the experience is the Magic Band, a semi-rigid plastic wristband containing RFID technology encoded with guest information, hotel reservations, park tickets, Fast Pass reservations and more. WDW resort guests now receive a Magic Band for their visit, while visitors staying off-property receive an RFID-embedded ticket card that functions similarly. Those guests are also able to purchase a Magic Band for $12.95. All guests can adorn their bands with covers, attachments and decorations, available at multiple retail locations around the parks and resorts. The technology inside the band (referred to as “magic” by Disney staff) has an anticipated lifespan of several years, although it depends on usage.
Staggs says already 40% more park visitors are using the Magic Band’s FastPass+ system than the old ticket-based FastPass. And the program has been designed from the start to allow cast members to be more involved with guest interactions than with guest transactions.
Guests see the first change at the park entrance. Turnstiles are gone and guest simply wave their Magic Band (or ticket card) in front of the Mickey post, use their finger for biometric verification, Mickey turns green, and the guest enters the park. Disney has moved their guest relations staff to the entrance area, armed with iPads, standing ready to handle problems that arise on the spot. Approximately the same number of staff are required for the new system as was needed for the old turnstiles.
For $149 in advance ($199 at the parks) guests can add Memory Maker, a photo collection service that accumulates photos from rides, PhotoPass attendants, character experiences, and other activities on a single website that gives the guest all the digital rights to the photos to reprint, distribute, or post online. Photos are added to the account with a simple wave of the Magic Band. Plans call for on-ride photos to be captured automatically by near-field band readers.
FastPass+ is completely integrated into the Magic Bands now, and can be set up in advance via the My Disney Experience website and smartphone app. Each guest is allowed three pre-reserved FastPass attractions per day and can then set up additional passes via in-park via kiosks (plans call for this functionality to move from kiosks onto guests’ phones in the future). When it is time to go on the attraction, guests wave the band by the Mickey post (similar to the front entrance) and a green light indicates it is ok to continue in the FastPass+ line. Each Mickey post also makes a welcoming sound upon entrance that, while hard to hear, is themed to each attraction.
Guests can also use their bands to pay for virtually anything in the parks and resorts, including a special lunch at the Be Our Guest restaurant in Fantasyland. There, guests can pre-reserve a meal and dining time online. As they show up to the restaurant, RFID readers indicate to a cast member who they are. Once they enter the restaurant doors, their food order is transmitted to the kitchen. The guests choose their own table and within minutes their meal is “magically” delivered to them. According to food and beverage staff, the technology has been effective at increasing guest throughput, and will likely be unveiled at other facilities.
The system is designed to evolve, and the capabilities are nearly endless. “[Our] vision is simple: To be the most trusted provider of shared family travel and leisure experiences throughout the world,” explains Staggs. “And with MyMagic+ we are taking that experience to a new level.”