Travel news

Disney World’s New MagicBand: Pros and Cons

New wristband offers streamlined experience, but has some drawbacks
by Drew Taylor Posted Jun 4th 2014 3:05p.m.
A features editor, critic and columnist for The Playlist/Indiewire, Drew's also a contributor to Moviefone, NBC Universal and MTV. Follow him on Twitter at @DrewTailored.

So we wanted to give you a better idea of what to expect from the MagicBand system—both now and in the future—and illuminate the pros and cons of this ambitious new initiative.

What exactly is a MagicBand?

In purely physical terms, it’s a thick plastic bracelet (shown above) that you wear throughout your stay at the Walt Disney World resort. Previously, these had been exclusive to the deluxe hotel properties. Now, they are everywhere. And, this being Disney, they are customizable and feature a number of accessories you can purchase for your MagicBand. They are, of course, called Bandits.

But what does it do?

Disney’s MagicBand is the centerpiece for Walt Disney World’s expansive, billion dollar NextGen program that it has been working on for the better part of a decade and seeks to drastically alter your experience at the Florida resort. Thanks to cutting-edge technology, this band is your everything: it acts as the key to your hotel room and your ticket into the park. It also helps with your FastPass +, syncs with your Disney PhotoPass account (for all those photos of you looking like a goon on Tower of Terror) and links to your credit card information, so you can make purchases with the flick of a wrist. Cha-ching!

A plastic bracelet in the sticky Florida heat? That sounds uncomfortable.

While MagicBands are made of hypoallergenic, non-latex material, word is that they can get gross and sweaty. Considering the whole idea behind the MagicBand is that you never take it off, well, it could become problematic. Ridges on the inside facilitate air circulation, and there are cloth covers you can buy, but they don’t seem to accomplish much. A sweaty piece of plastic sticking to your wrist is something we’d place under the con section of the MagicBand initiative.

So let’s talk about privacy…

The MagicBand also allows you to become, whether you like it or not, a walking survey for the Walt Disney Corporation. As the park is now able to better monitor traffic and flow, on a person-by-person basis, this could provide great advantages: your favorite ride could get improvements just from you visiting it a lot. The bands do not use GPS, but rather rely on radio frequency (RF).

According to Disney,

Guests’ personal data is not stored in the MagicBand. MagicBands and RF-enabled cards contain only a randomly assigned code that securely links to an encrypted database and associates the guest’s MagicBand or ticket with the experiences they’ve selected. Extensive measures are in place to protect guest information, which is a responsibility Disney takes very seriously.

Of course, even Dopey's probably aware that incidents like security breaches at Target, the Heartbleed bug and NSA snooping show that no company can truly guarantee information you give it is secure.

There’s also the issue of losing your MagicBand. They are purposefully anonymous looking so, say, some creep couldn’t break into your hotel room, at least without knowing exactly where you’re staying. And reporting a lost or stolen band means that Disney will deactivate your current band and give you a new one.

Also, when you sign in at one of Disney’s hotels, you’ll assign a four-digit PIN to your band, which you’ll need when making a purchase. Pro: That step will help keep your money secure. Con: You’re probably going to use the same PIN you use for your ATM card, so now Disney has that info too.

And, at the theme parks entrances, MagicBand wearers are asked to scan an index finger, linking this piece of biometric data to their MagicBand. When re-entering the park, in addition to swiping the band, you're asked to verify your fingerprint by swiping it as well. The video on this page, "Watch the MagicBand in action at Disney World," shows an Epcot guest experiencing this process at the 0:30 mark.

To recap: Your MagicBand is linked to your credit card info, a PIN you probably use elsewhere and your fingerprint. Have a concern about your privacy? Probably best to let it go.

Disney’s MagicBand is the centerpiece for Walt Disney World’s expansive, billion dollar NextGen program that it has been working on for the better part of a decade and seeks to drastically alter your experience at the Florida resort.

Anything else give you pause?

The MagicBand is one leg of a tripod: the other two are the FastPass+ and the My Disney Experience mobile app (part of the NextGen initiative was beefing up Disney World's free WiFi). Together, they are supposed to make a more enjoyable, well-planned Walt Disney World experience, as you can now reserve everything from rides to restaurants in one go.

But there’s something about the spontaneity of going to a park and just kind of finding your way around that was one of the more charming aspects of the experience, with hardened Disney fans having their own philosophy for navigating their day. That was fun. Clicking around on your iPhone? Not so much.

What are the further implications for the MagicBand?

That’s the thing, MagicBand is just in its infancy. And Disney and its hardworking Imagineers have devised some seriously cool stuff for you that should happen down the line. Imagine riding It’s a Small World and having your name flashes as your boat nears the exit. Or, most importantly, imagine your young son or daughter interacting with his or her favorite Disney character and having that character address your child by name and asking him or her personal details.

These features are really going to put the magic into the MagicBand system. And they’re just around the corner. Consider the current MagicBand implementation a beta trial for some very, very big things in its actual rollout. Maybe the change-your-Walt-Disney-World-experience thing will actually happen, and it will be for the better.

Is the MagicBand system coming to Disney's California parks?

That was initially the idea, and why so much money was poured into the project in Florida. But it’s been something of a boondoggle, at least on a corporate level, going over budget and running behind schedule. So it seems unlikely that the two California parks will be outfitted with similar plastic bracelets anytime soon.

Keep in mind that the third gate in California could be constructed for what it cost to get these things off the ground in Florida, and that one of the reasons why so few new attractions have been implemented in Walt Disney World recently is because of the money and resources that have been sucked up by this initiative.

What Bandits would you put on your MagicBand?

"The Incredibles." Obviously.  

Read more

Watch the MagicBand in action at Disney World

MagicBand Testing at Resort Room Door, Epcot Attractions and Food Purchase, MyMagic+, FastPass+

YouTube/MouseSteps / JWL Media

Disney Cruises celebrate Halloween

Disney Cruises celebrate Halloween

MapQuest

Watch the MagicBand in action at Disney World

MagicBand Testing at Resort Room Door, Epcot Attractions and Food Purchase, MyMagic+, FastPass+

YouTube/MouseSteps / JWL Media

Disney Cruises celebrate Halloween

Disney Cruises celebrate Halloween

MapQuest

top