James’ Take: MyMagic+ or Minus?

Some people like to wing it when they’re on vacation; no rules, no plans, just get dressed and get out there and see what happens.  Other people like to meticulously plan their trips down to the bathroom breaks, treating vacation more like a well-oiled machine of war than a fun family trip.  If you fall into the latter category, you will probably want to marry Disney’s new MyMagic+ system.  Even if you’re more of a “wing it” kind of vacationer, you may find some of its functionality intriguing.  The question is, what’s going to happen once it’s fully unleashed on the public?

The New York Times ran a story on Monday morning about MyMagic+ which revealed some new details and information from Tom Staggs, chairman of Disney Parks and Resorts, and Bruce Vaughn, chief creative executive for Walt Disney Imagineering.  It’s been no secret that Disney has been testing radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology in the parks for a while, but the exact nature of its use has been murky.  The new report says that RFID will be embedded in “MagicBands” bracelets that will be worn by guests and contain pretty much all of the information about their vacation.  For example, the band will function as a “Key to the World” card, combining room key and credit card, as well as park tickets, FastPasses, and even personal information such as names and special events like birthdays, honeymoons, etc.

The end result of carrying all of your digital vacation information inside a funky-looking wristband?  The success or failure of the program will ultimately come down to whether guests want to plan their FastPasses and parade viewing spots before leaving home.  Because really, that is the most significant change to the Disney Parks experience that this program will bring to those who decide to try it out.

Sure, the princesses might be able to call you by name, and maybe some of the newer rides that implement the technology can interact with you directly, but there is no guarantee that every user of the program will experience those interactions.  As far as the band replacing your paper ticket and your room key, all I have to say is that I usually wear pants with pockets.  Ladies (or gentlemen) wearing clothes with no pockets may appreciate the convenience of wearing your digital life on a clunky bracelet, but as my wife, Estelle, pointed out, what if it doesn’t match your outfit, or ruins your tan line?

My take?

We’re not going to know exactly how this thing works, or how it changes the overall park experience for all guests, until it’s out there and lots of people are using it.  Until then, all we have are a few people testing it out and some comments from the Disney powers.

That’s just not enough info to make a solid decision about the pros and cons of the program.

For example, how will this change the currently deplorable situation over at Toy Story Mania, where it seems nigh impossible to get a reasonable FastPass if you’re not in the park around rope drop?  The problems at Toy Story are a microcosm of Disney’s crowd problems as a whole, i.e., the stand-by lines for popular attractions are insanely long and made longer by excessive demand for FastPasses and the inherent stand-by slowdown that comes from having the FastPassers skip to the front.  If a friend or family member of mine was planning their first trip to Disney World right now and asked my advice, one of the first things I’d say is to get to DHS for rope drop and the hope of getting a ride on Toy Story before the wait grows to 100 minutes at 11 AM and the FastPasses for 8 PM are gone by noon.

Can MyMagic+ do something to prove me wrong?

Similarly, anyone doing research on Disney World can figure out when the busiest times of the year are, i.e., Easter, the Christmas holiday season, spring break, etc.  Perhaps Disney is hoping that MyMagic+ might entice an otherwise uncommitted traveler to visit during busy season with the electronic promise of a reservation for rides and parades?

Another potential issue raised is the specter of classification.  By creating VIP viewing areas for parade-watchers with MyMagic+ reservations, is Disney going to create segregated groups of “haves” and “have-nots”? Enter this way if you’re special and have a wristband; the rest of you plebes have to enter on this other side.  The FastPass system creates the same problem on a smaller, ride-by-ride basis, but what happens if everything in the park is split into band people on one side and non-band people on the other?

These questions and many more will have to remain unanswered until the system debuts completely “in the coming months.”  For now, I am reserving judgement; I think that if it remains an optional system available to those who want it and who are free to use some or all of it as they wish, it could be very beneficial   However, I would be afraid of having Disney eventually foist it upon all guests and require them to share certain details and information, or use certain services in order to be attain basic park amenities, just to be opted into Disney’s data collection system.  I have serious doubts that Disney would ever do that, but it’s a concern nonetheless.

How do you think these changes will affect YOUR trip planning?

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A book publicist who loves writing about Disney and books, and sometimes Disney books.

One thought on “James’ Take: MyMagic+ or Minus?

  1. James, this is a great, clear-eyed perspective. I agree about taking a wait & see approach, and I’m really looking forward to watching what happens.

    Over in CA, my family and I visit Disneyland in super-casual mode. Aside from arriving for rope drop and hitting big rides early, we rarely plan anything…because nothing ever goes as planned anyway! 🙂

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