By Sarah Sekula; Published in USA TODAY
ORLANDO — Turnstiles, who needs ’em? In fact, at the Magic Kingdom’s entrance, they no longer exist. And soon, you won’t even need a paper ticket to enter the Happiest Place on Earth. Instead, with a touch of the fingertip and a tap of your wristband, you’re in.
It’s all thanks to a vacation-planning system called MyMagic+, which has been in the “test and adjust” phase since early summer of 2013. Part of this massive rollout includes wristbands, dubbed MagicBands, which are outfitted with radio-frequency identification chips that interact with scanners throughout the park.
But there’s much more to it than that.
For starters, if your 4-year-old is dying to meet Cinderella, you can lock that in and relax. The MM+ system allows guests to log onto MyDisneyExperience.com, sign up for a wristband and book their top three attractions, character meet-and greets and VIP seatings for parades and fireworks ahead of time.
You’ll get three FastPass+ virtual reservations, each giving you an hour time frame in which to arrive. And if you want to switch up scheduled rides on the fly, there’s an app for that. Gone will be the days of the FastPass dash, when you scurry to wait in line for paper tickets that give you line-skipping privileges.
Don’t rush to the computer just yet, though. Currently, MyMagic+ is available only to guests staying at Walt Disney World resort hotels, Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground and eight Disney Vacation Clubs, who receive complimentary Bands as part of their visit.
MyMagic+ will be available for everyone else “relatively soon,” says Tom Staggs, chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts. Once that happens, non-resort guests will get a MyMagic+ RF card as their ticket, which serves as a MagicBand but in card form.
When they become available at the park, MagicBands can still be purchased separately and will cost less than $15.
“Because it is a reservation system, it is a game changer,” says Duncan Dickson, who teaches theme-park management at the University of Central Florida. “Now you can plan your vacation and your ride sequence well ahead of your trip.”
Guests can also use it as a Disney resort hotel key or to purchase souvenirs and food and drinks. If lost, the bands can be deactivated remotely.
“The system was easy to use and no learning curve was necessary,” says St. Cloud resident Kelly Rodgers, who recently tested MM+ because her husband is a Disney employee.
Guests voluntarily provide information. The more you share, however, the more personalized the experience can be. For example, a Disney employee greeted Rodgers’ daughter by name when she boarded the Journey of the Little Mermaid ride. But, what if Ariel herself had done that and said happy sixth birthday to boot?
Then it becomes “just a little bit more magical,” says Staggs. “By doing MyMagic+ we’re implicitly upping our promise to our guests. To the extent that we can have everyone who goes to the parks feel like a VIP, then I think we’ve hit a home run.”
For the folks worried about Disney watching over them, Staggs, says: “These bands don’t track people through the park; they are not GPS bands.”
However, Disney will have “some very robust data to use in understanding guest behavior and desires,” says Dickson.
Including which rides are not popular, how many giant turkey legs you buy and when you like to eat them.
“It is a marketing dream,” he says.
“Disney could theoretically tailor the visitor’s experience more effectively,” says James Crompton, industry analyst at IBISWorld. “MM+ is not solely for the benefit of Disney. It’s intention is to simplify and enhance the visitor’s experience. So while technology of this sort certainly benefits the business side, ultimately the consumer is the intended beneficiary.”
Rodgers, for one, is certainly a big fan. The only disadvantage, she says, is that the MagicBands make it “very easy to spend money.” That is, if guests choose to include their credit card information in the MyMagic+ system.
So the question is: Will MM+ be embraced by parkgoers?
“They (Disney parkgoers) balked at going from A,B, C, D, E coupons to Passports and at FastPass initially, but came to cherish those,” Dickson says. “I doubt if anyone wants to go back to coupons.”
“Data security is going to be paramount in its success,” says Crompton.
“We designed this with privacy in mind from the get go,” says Staggs. “Walt Disney World Parks and Resort’s vision is simple, it’s to be the most trusted provider of shared family travel and leisure experiences throughout the world. The key word there is trusted. We won’t betray that trust.”