Can 'Magic' scale? That's Disney's billion-dollar question

November 26, 2013, 10:59 AM · Disney's MyMagic+ system isn't working as the company planned, and that's beginning to affect to Disney theme parks' plans for the next few years.

Walt Disney World

The company is spending more than a billion dollars on its NextGen initiatives in the theme parks, the largest of which is MyMagic+, a new system for visitors to manage their Walt Disney World vacations. Under the system, visitors are supposed to use Disney's website and mobile apps to book reservations times for restaurants, rides, and shows, while they'll use RFID-enabled "MagicBand" wristbands as their admission media, hotel room key and "credit card" during their stay at the resort.

MyMagic+ has led Disney to create a new ride reservation system, Fastpass+, to run in parallel with its existing Fastpass system. In addition, Diseny's had to merge this new Fastpass+ system with its existing restaurant reservation system to create MyMagic+ profiles for all participating visitors. The system also has to hook in with Disney's hotel reservation system, including managing charging privileges to visitors' resort bills from the MagicBands.

Disney's had all the pieces of this puzzle before, with Fastpass, ADRs, and Keys to the World cards. But MyMagic+ puts them all together and expands the system to all Disney World hotel visitors, some of whom might not have used all those systems together in the past. Eventually, MyMagic+ is supposed to accommodate all Walt Disney World visitors, including local annual passholders and even visitors staying off site.

As it stands now, MyMagic+ represents a massive increase in scale for Disney's vacation management and reservations systems, with another massive increase in scale to come as annual passholders and "day" visitors come into the system. And, as Disney is learning, scale is the natural enemy of information technology applications.

The federal government illustrated this lesson with its system, which was intended as a federal back-up in case a few states declined to create their own health care insurance marketplaces, but instead became the primary exchange for the majority of Americans as most states elected not to develop those marketplaces. In addition, had to service millions of low-income Americans who were supposed to have gotten health insurance through an expansion of Medicaid, but who were left without coverage when their states declined to accept federal money to pay for that coverage. (A general rule of IT is that as your audience's age gets older or its income gets lower, your user interface must get simpler.) A system that was designed for a relative handful of middle-income consumers instead had to serve millions more users across a wider economic spectrum.

That's a massive change in scale. Throw in a DDOS attack at launch and the system crumbled, forcing the government to scramble its private contractors to recode it. Fortunately, that seems to have worked, and the federal website now is enrolling people at an ever-increasing rate.

Disney would be fortunate to turn around MyMagic+ as quickly. Before MyMagic+, Disney World theme park visitors used a couple of Fastpasses a day, on average. In practice, many visitors used many more Fastpasses than that, but they were balanced by individuals who didn't use the system at all. Under MyMagic+, everyone gets three Fastpass+ reservations a day, which are assigned by the system if the visitor doesn't choose his or her own selections.

Fastpass+ also covers every attraction in the park, including parades and even some counter-service restaurants — locations that never had anything to do with Fastpass before. The old Fastpass system also didn't account for families. You stuck a ticket into a Fastpass machine, and got a return time back. Every once in a long while, you'd put, say, four tickets in a Fastpass machine and get three passes for a 3:10 return, then one for a 3:20, as the 3:10 return time "sold out" while you were submitting your ticket cards. The system didn't know that you were trying to get four times together.

MyMagic+ tries to associate multiple visitors' profiles, to help families traveling together to stay together. This starts with ensuring that people can all get into their hotel room. But it extends to managing control of kids' charging privileges and Fastpass+ times, as well. From visitors' reports, Disney's Guest Relations staff has had to accommodate thousands of park guests who've had problems with MyMagic+ not being able to manage properly the various selections and profiles of families and groups visiting the resort. It's just another layer of complexity that Disney's IT systems haven't had to manage before.

Add up all the flaws, flubs, and bugs, and Disney's not been able to expand the system on the schedule it had planned. In addition, Disney's still spending money on fixes and implementation, instead of earning money from the increased guest spending it had anticipated with a full roll-out by now. That means the Disney Parks have to make up the difference somewhere else in its budget.

MiceAge reported thais morning that's happening as Disney delays, cuts back, or cancels almost all upcoming capital expansion projects at its theme parks in the United States, Paris and Hong Kong. (Remember, the Tokyo parks are owned and operated by Oriental Land Company, which has its own budget.) That means no Monstropolis at California Adventure, and delayed Star Wars lands at Disneyland and Disney's Hollywood Studios. It's worth noting that Disney's dealing with two issues simultaneously: a reduction in planned profits due to the MyMagic+ scale issues, and a rapidly approaching deadline to get Shanghai Disneyland completed.

If MyMagic+ had been delivering the cash the company had anticipated, Disney could have dealt with Shanghai by staffing up to get that project completed on time. But under a budget crunch, the numbers work better by diverting existing staff to Shanghai instead. That means a delay in their current projects. It's not a given, however, that even if MyMagic+ had been an undisputed success that Disney would have spent that money to staff up to overcome Shanghai delays. It could have chosen to bank that cash and reassign existing staff to those projects anyway.

Of course, plans and budgets change constantly, especially in companies the size of Disney. But with more than a billion dollars on the line, Disney's facing some tough choices the longer that MyMagic+ takes to get running smoothly.

Replies (45)

November 26, 2013 at 11:15 AM · If the planned expansion delays are true.... there will some very unhappy mouse fans.
November 26, 2013 at 11:27 AM · This is definitely not good news. If the changes in park visits from Fastpass Plus weren't enough, the rollback of expansions makes it even worse. What a mess! I hope that all the rumors aren't true.
November 26, 2013 at 11:29 AM · I take delay/cancellation reports with a large block of salt, until I hear from my own Imagineering/Disney Parks sources. Also, remember that we were looking at 2018 at the earliest for Star Wars land, given a 2017 launch for Avatar.
November 26, 2013 at 11:32 AM · The comparison is perfect! I feel there are many parallels between the two. I think the issue is that if my family, who are both Tech and Disney savvy, has slight problems, the brand new Disney guests are going to have a nightmare. My family actually liked the fastpass+ as it's an expansion including shows. I think Disney should stick with it!
November 26, 2013 at 11:33 AM · Can someone explain to me the benefits of the Fastpass system? What is the benefit of allowing guests to get a pass to skip a ride's line at a later time, therefore creating a regular line that take twice as long to go through?

This has become a common practice amongst the world's biggest parks, and while I have taken advantage of the system many times over, I have to say that I don't like it. I have stood in lines where I could see the end, but due to a constant influx of Fastpass guests what would otherwise be a 15-minute wait end up being over an hour.

Universal's model makes more sense to me, where guests have to pay for the right to skip lines. A higher price for a premium experience (whether through staying at an on-site hotel or paying a fee outright for the right) seems practical, since a guest paying the regular price understands the benefit that is being paid for by those skipping them in line. I believe that Universal used to use the Fastpass model but moved away from it a couple years ago or so.

So is there something I just don't understand about the Fasspass model??

November 26, 2013 at 11:45 AM · I completely agree, Nick!! I can't help but think the line would move more efficiently for all without the constant glut of Fastpass users. Plus the stress it adds to get the pass, to make your assigned time, etc. etc.

I also agree that Universal's system seems to work better. Yes, it's an upgrade you pay for (either as an add-on or via your hotel stay), but that keeps the number of users reasonable and, in my experience, never backs the regular line past a sane wait time. I love Universal's express system and use it on my frequent stays there, but I've also visited the park just for the day without it and I think Uni's staff does a great job of letting in express pass people without holding up the line forever for regular folks. Versus the regular line stopping dead for several minutes at a time to usher in FP users at Disney.

I would throw out the idea that the Disney experience would be more relaxing and enjoyable for everyone if they scrapped the FP system altogether and went back to one line, one wait.

November 26, 2013 at 11:55 AM · As others have written, if (and that is a big IF) these rumors are true, then it is time for Disney to scale back MyMagic+ (for now, at least) and refocus on upgrading the customer experience through new attractions. I was all in for NextGen when it was moving forward concurrently with rumored park expansion, but if that progress is no longer happening, then NextGen should be halted, not attraction development.

One should point out that none of the rumored attraction development mentioned in the MiceAge article has been confirmed or announced by Disney. So, there is no evidence that any expansion rumored to be canceled or put on hold was even in the pipeline. Technically speaking, Disney has not changed any of their plans - because they haven't announced any of their plans!

Furthermore, from a strictly financial standpoint I question the entire MiceAge report when recent business reports have indicated that money is rolling into Disney at an unfathomable (for me, anyway) rate. Flush with so much profit, I have a hard time believing Disney is worried about money. But, then again, greed knows no bounds.

We shall see what we shall see....

November 26, 2013 at 12:14 PM · We used the MyMagic wristbands a couple of weeks ago and for the most part they worked well. The phone app was my biggest issue as I found it clunky to get to where I wanted to be at on it. The other issue was that if I park hopped and used it at MK then went to DHS, it was a real pain to get the current wait times at DHS as the app still thought we were at MK.
November 26, 2013 at 12:21 PM · "Fortunately, that seems to have worked, and the federal website now is enrolling people at an ever-increasing rate."

You make it seems like the Federal exchanges are now working as promised. The fix was announced to be completed by the end of November. It is now expected that this new deadline will not be met. The Federal exchanges is a failure. It will not enroll people at the greater rate that people received cancellations of their individual policies. You see, the problem is uninsured people and people in the individual policy market must both be served. Millions of people is expected to lose health insurance coverage due to Obamacare.

As for Disney, could this be Iger-care?

November 26, 2013 at 12:31 PM · "Technically speaking, Disney has not changed any of their plans - because they haven't announced any of their plans!"

Iger did say Star Wars and Marvel is coming. The only thing is he didn't say when.

So it isn't an outright cancellation. Perhaps a delay.

"Flush with so much profit, I have a hard time believing Disney is worried about money. But, then again, greed knows no bounds."

If you read the Miceage article, this isn't about greed, but a concern about the MagicBand project that will cost much more money to fix, which will affect the bottomline when coupled with the other projects in the pipeline. Thus the focus on MagicBands to prevent a catastrophe!!!

November 26, 2013 at 1:23 PM · ^Disney just reported profits of $6.1B in 2013. That amount is above and beyond bonuses and all the other greedy wonderful things corporate folks do when a company is flush with cash. My question remains, what is Disney doing with that money? If MyMagic+ needs a few more million, or even a 100 million, so what? That paltry amount is like urinating in an ocean of cash. Furthermore, why would MyMagic+ cost overruns or revenue shortcomings have any impact on budgets for other planned work? Aren't those budgets kept separate like other companies? Or is MiceAge suggesting Disney needs to rob Peter to pay Paul? With $6.1B in profits sitting around collecting dust my question continues to be, "why?" The only answer I can extrapolate from this line of thinking is related to greed. Thus my initial post.

However, I continue to question the validity of this article just as I question the validity of most of the rumors I read on the various fansites. Sure, Disney may have some concerns over the progress of the MyMagic+ program, but probably not to the point of bringing the entire company to a standstill. In other words, I believe the article is wildly speculative - at best.

November 26, 2013 at 1:22 PM · All these recent articles about Magic Plus ruining Disney plan theme park attractions just enforces that Universal Studios theme parks are the place to be. Universal is building rides, hotels, more rides, expansion lands, more attractions, 3rd gate rumors, Lord of the rings & Star Trek rides rumors, Water Park rumors, more rides again. Starting to see the pattern there. Where Disney got a magic band accessory for the whole family for $100 a piece. Which would you recommend, unless you one of those puff-piece Disney fans that prefer to look at a paint job as part of an attraction show. Ha!
November 26, 2013 at 1:23 PM · @RN I really have to wonder if the company's resources are such that they are interchangeable. The whole "we'll take some out of Star Wars and move 'em to China" seems a bit simplistic.
November 26, 2013 at 1:54 PM · Nick and Melanie:

Disney's Fastpass system is not a cast system, which is what virtually every other queue avoidance system is. Other parks create different tiers of guests based on how much they're willing to spend on their visit. At Disney, everyone is equal. It is a system that allows guests to perceive the advantage of avoiding a line without actually cutting the line. You see, when a guest gets a Fastpass, they are essentially standing in line at that point until their designated return time. The only difference is that guests holding Fastpasses have the freedom to do other things instead of being confined to a queue during their wait. Guests can wait in another standby line, watch a show, eat lunch, or virtually anything else aside from getting another Fastpass. Once their return time is up, they merge with the standby line and get on the ride. The Fastpass users do not "slow" the standby line because if there was no Fastpass, those guests would be lengthening the standby line. In my experience, standby wait times are extremely accurate (CMs send timecards through the line at regular intervals that update the standby wait time in real time), and the presence of Fastpass guests is automatically taken into account when posting those wait times. Perhaps you have had difference experiences, but in general, those posted wait times are some of the most accurate and reliable in the industry.

Those who complain about the Fastpass system do so probably because they are not willing to invest the time and intellect into understanding how the system works and how to use it. I would much rather have a system that rewards hard work and intelligence (Fastpass) than one that rewards the thickness of your wallet (Universal Express, Quick Queue, Flash Pass, etc...).

Now, Fastpass+ adds a new wrinkle to the system because it deliberately reduces the number of regular Fastpasses available for attractions regardless of whether or not guests redeem their Fastpass+'s. If someone doesn't use their regular Fastpass, it doesn't negatively impact the standby wait time. Also, it's rumored that the MyMagic+ system will eventually be used to give extra perks (Fastpass+'s) to guests staying at deluxe resorts, which will turn the system into a cast system like everywhere else, just not as obvious.

November 26, 2013 at 1:51 PM · "I really have to wonder if the company's resources are such that they are interchangeable. The whole "we'll take some out of Star Wars and move 'em to China" seems a bit simplistic."

That is what MiceAge is reporting though. Do you have sources to indicate otherwise? I think its conceivable to think that if a project is spiraling out of control and additional resources are necessary to get the project back on track, then the company has a choice to axe the project, delay the rollout, or spend more money. Many people here probably think that Disney has infinite resources and price to them is irrelevant, but the reality is that even with a $6 billion profit (a profit mind you that would be earmarked for far more than just theme park investments), resources are not infinite. Businesses make decisions like this all the time, and as a publicly traded company, Disney must answer to their shareholders. If MyMagic+ needed some serious retooling that required additional investment, and they didn't just want to can the project, that money has to come from somewhere, which means either taking on debt, shifting existing resources, or spending profits earmarked for other projects.

November 26, 2013 at 1:58 PM · TH: I don't know how fungible WDI resources are. But I imagine that there are some people who could be moved around from far-off projects to help bring an impending project to completion. I also have little doubt that such moving around happens all the time, at some level. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if such resource shuffling were "baked in" to project life-cycle estimations. For a large-scale enterprise, it seems inefficient to do it any other way.

Ultimately, Disney is just trying to eat its cake and have it, too. The company, especially the parks division, remains wildly profitable, even with MyMagic+ delays. So this isn't a question of finding money to complete MyMagic+. It's a question of juggling resources to complete MyMagic+ while preserving a growing profit margin.

If I were betting money, I'd wager they'll find a way to do both.

November 26, 2013 at 2:01 PM · I'm not sure whether what is said in that article is true or not, but one thing I am reasonably confident of is this: If Disney goes with MyMagic+ over new attractions, in 10 years Universal Orlando will be Florida's premier theme park destination and Disneyland will no longer have a passholder problem. I've never been the biggest fan of the NextGen technology, and nothing I've read since has changed my mind. As the system is delayed and overbudget, plus the reviews I've read of it so far seem to be mixed, perhaps it is time for Disney to put it on hold and focus on new attractions that are guaranteed to pull in more visitors than continue to sink money into something that might increase profits.
November 26, 2013 at 2:08 PM · Russell, I guess my main problem with FP is that it takes all the relaxation out of a theme park visit for me. I’m borderline OCD and a planner by both nature and profession. A theme park is one of the few places I can let all that go and just enjoy myself. But if I were to get drawn into the rush to get Fastpasses, standing in line for that when I could be on a ride, then I would just obsess on strategizing FP acquisition vs ride location and on being back at a certain place at a certain time to ride the ride before my time ran out. I wouldn’t enjoy myself in the slightest. The FP+ idea just gives me nightmares -- I sure as heck don’t want to have to decide when I might want to ride a ride when I’m not even in the park yet.

(Seriously, talking about lining up for Fastpasses when you could be riding something -- shortly after Everest opened, I visited AK and went straight back to Everest first thing. Got in line and walked right on. Came out and got in line again, only to find that the line for the FP was LONGER than the line for the ride itself. That just made no sense to me…)

Anyway, I guess I miss the old days at Disney when a savvy visitor could pick the ride they most wanted to do, hustle back to it first thing upon park opening, get in a good ride or two, then leisurely work the rest of the park in a general circle, saving the more crowded areas, like Fantasyland, for times when there was a parade or fireworks. I never had any problem with this method. And while I know there are just more people in the parks than when I was a kid, there are also two more parks than there were then too.

I think FP wouldn’t bother me so much if, again, it was managed more like Universal’s Express (on most rides) where the main line is held up for only a certain number of pass holders, then it moves again, then a new batch of pass holders are let through. Even if you had to wait 10 minutes after getting to a ride at your assigned FP time, it’s still a shorter wait than it would have been, and it would seem the main line would move faster too (or at least give the appearance of moving faster -- i.e., actually moving vs. standing still for 15 minutes). Oh, and I’d really, really like it if Disney would add single-rider lines to some of its major attractions, but I guess that’s a different argument…..

Anyway, I guess for me it’s just a combination of missing the “old days” at Disney and being completely adverse to having to do ANYTHING that involves paying attention to a clock when I’m in a theme park. I admit I’m an odd duck ;-).

November 26, 2013 at 2:30 PM · Russell,

I understand that Disney is trying to create a system that treats all guests as equals, but I do not believe that the actual result is mutually beneficial. I am also aware that the wait times posted are extremely accurate, as I myself have taken a time card from the front to the end of the line.

It is an illusion that Fastpass users would slow the standby line because you would see the wait time posted before you enter the line and know what you're getting into. The line itself would move more efficiently because there is only one line, and you are investing the same amount of time to wait as everyone else. Because of the large number of Fastpasses given out, the standby line moves at a crawl, and when the Fastpass line itself becomes too long than the standby line does not move at all to accommodate the extra load (DHS's Rock 'n Roller Coaster comes to mind).

In addition you can only skip so many lines during your visit, so everyone at some point will have to stand in the regular line for a ride and experience the frustration of waiting for so many others to go in front. Paying for the privilege of skipping lines keeps the overall numbers down of those that choose this option, and makes ride queues operate more effectively, such as with Universal. I believe that the Fastpass+ system is a recognition that the current system is ineffective.

November 26, 2013 at 2:20 PM · I have a hard time understanding that article from MiceAge. The MagicBands have not even really been rolled I don't know how they can be "not generating enough revenue" yet. That makes no sense to me.
November 26, 2013 at 2:22 PM · Right off the bat, I was saying that this was a high tech boondoggle, a waste of money compared to new attractions and refurbs. I, and many others, said that this is not what we want. We want great new rides and plussing of existing attractions, and a billion dollars would buy a lot of that. Did Disney listen? Of course not.
November 26, 2013 at 2:40 PM · I would agree with you both...I do find using Fastpass a bit frantic, and requires some serious dedication, along with the occasional perception from standby guests that Fastpass guests are being treated differently. However, where would Disney be without Fastpass? The reason it was developed was to curtail some of the horror stories from guests that waited hours on end for attractions. Parents dreaded going to Disney in the 80's because of the interminidable lines, and Fastpass was the answer. Clearly that still happens today on high crowd days, but the Fastpass system at least gives everyone a ligitimate shot at experiencing their favorite rides and attractions during each visit. Disney could very easily have developed a profit-based system like just about everywhere else, but they instead chose one that every single guest can use regardless of their financial means (assuming they can afford a ticket into the park).

I'm not sure where you're seeing Fastpass guests flooding load platforms and preshow theaters in favor of standby guests. In my experience, and the way the system is supposed to work, is that a certain percentage of Fastpass guests are allowed past the merge alternating with standby guests. At some attractions, Fastpass guests even have their own load platform or preshow theater to avoid the merge prior to the unofficial start of the attraction. Certainly there are times when it seems that CMs are just letting Fastpass guests stream by while standby guests are gridlocked, but most times that is by design. Since Disney changed the Fastpass rules a couple of years ago to enforce the return times (in preparation for Fastpass+), the infinite stream of Fastpass guests slowing the standby line just doesn't happen anymore. There are a limited number of guests that can redeem Fastpasses in any given hour, so standby guests cannot be usurped forever. With Fastpass+, those guests replace regular Fastpass users in the line, so the total throughput of standby guests is unaffected.

Universal has to be more controlled with their merge because they don't use the same level of technology to control their queues. They don't give out Fastpasses, and guests with Universal Express have unfettered front-of-the-line access, so those lines must be carefully managed at the merge point to avoid backing up the standby line. UE is a great system from the perspective of a guest that can afford it (and from the park's perspecitve, because they make money off something that costs them virtually nothing to manage), but from the perspective of a guest who's not willing or able to pay for the perk, it's far more frustrating than Fastpass.

November 26, 2013 at 3:00 PM · Disney does have quite a few single rider lines, but it's a little tricky not only to manager, but can be difficult from a sociological level. Because many Disney rides are accessible by most younger children, there's a high probability that a single rider might get paired with a small child. We ran into this problem a few years ago on Toy Story Midway Mania at DCA. The single rider line was great (I don't even know if they use it anymore), but CMs had to constantly be aware if they were pairing a single rider with a small child since you sit back to back, and a single parent sitting next to one child would not be able to see their other child sitting with the single rider.

The only attractions that don't have single rider lines that should are the Big Thunders (I think when it reopens at DL it will have one) and Towers of Terror. Every other Disney ride it's either impractical or unnecessary to have single rider lines, plus Disney CMs are some of the best at filling ride vehicles quickly and efficiently, especially Space Mountain and Splash Mountain. Do you have any specific examples of Disney rides that need single rider that don't? The only one I can think of is Toy Story Mania at DHS, but I already mentioned why they likely eliminated that in the queue design when it was cloned in Florida.

November 26, 2013 at 3:56 PM · I just don't get it. You can go on 3 rides with no waiting time but the rest of the rides/shows have an extended waiting time due to created demand. What's the use for that? The problem is Disney only got (at best) 3 desirable rides per park but you can only choose 1 (at best) the others need to be lesser desirable rides/shows.
Take Epcot. Everyone would like to have fastpasses for Test Track and (god knows why) Sourin. But you can only choose 1 ride with the new system creating longer lines on other rides and make the 2 mayor rides almost impossible to get into, just like the hand full of ok restaurants that need to be reserved 6 months in advance. What is next, a 10$ penalty if you aren't showing up at the ride that was booked for you?
I hate the new system not because it isn't good but there aren't enough desirable rides at WDW. That Billion dollar could have gone a long way to fix that problem. But it's clear that is something Disney doesn't want to do. They just want to get you around on their old/classic rides and have you forget about money so spending will rise and they can squeeze more money from their guests without adding new rides every year.
November 26, 2013 at 4:04 PM · I just think that the new systems are just wrong. I don't agree with the whole bundle everything in one ticket or wristband thing. I prefer the old paper tickets, not these plastic things. I think the whole thing has been terribly thought up from the get-go. Bring back the old fastpass system!
November 26, 2013 at 4:10 PM · Two things:
First, I agree with several commenters here who feel that if MyMagic+ is having such a poor roll-out that it should be scrapped in favor of attractions. I suspect, though, that at this point the initiative is too big to fail (to borrow from the language of the bank bailouts a few years ago!)

Second (and partly contradictory), Universal is also attempting to scale-up its theme parks in a literal way (building massive amounts of hotel room capacity). Universal has, up until now, so surprised and surpassed expectations on its recent growth that the result has been all up-side for guests. But once Universal is truly competing with Disney in attendance (a real possibility, at least in comparison to DHS and AK), they will be judged on a new higher plane, and will be dealing with similar issues to Disney, who at that point will have the nextgen stuff working more smoothly. The end-game, in other words, is hard to predict.

November 26, 2013 at 5:14 PM · Russell, specifically I was thinking of Space Mountain (and, honestly, I've never noticed them anywhere else.....). The last time I rode SM the line was awful, but I figured it would better once I got inside the building and could find the single rider line. But there wasn't one. I asked a CM and was told the ride didn't have one. Is there one now?? I'm going there next week, so I'd love to know to look for it :-).
November 26, 2013 at 5:34 PM · I give credit that the NextGen system had a lot of merit. It had potential. But it had a clear directive: sell more stuff. Not make stuff better, not make more stuff, but selling more of it. Between that transparency to the public and the technological glitches, it's really no surprise.

Walt Disney himself never had interest in doing things to make money. His company was in debt for over thirty years before he began making a steady profit. He did things in the park and on screen because they were fun and for the public. I am quite tired of hearing the main directive of the company more concerned about making money than providing a better Disney experience. If you make a better Disney experience, the money will come naturally. One could easily argue that that's what the Magic Band did, in fact, make the system easier for guests (glitches notwithstanding.), but the news reports didn't shy away from explicitly stating that Disney was looking to exploit your wallet/pocketbook more. So is it any wonder why the system is tanking as quickly as it is?

Never once did I hear, "I'm going to come back in the future because it's now easier to get my Fastpass and get into my room!". Frankly, Disney is the place where you're supposed to return to ride the great rides, meet the characters, and eat the food. Imagine you have a park down the road. Why do you visit it? Well, it's fun, timeless, and a great place for the kids, right? And yeah, there's a few potholes in the road to the park, but it's well worth the trip overall. Disney's NextGen system is the equivalent to paving the road, adding flashing lights, a sign that says, "This way, Johnson family!", adding overhead lighting, and Mickey walking alongside you for a billion dollars. It was a system that was never really broken. A hassle, but not broken. The park down the road never changed, just the road to get there. And there seems to be some extra-deep potholes here and there, but that always comes with progress.


We want more rides in the future. Better rides, cleaned up rides. Better written shows, a piece that's growing and evolving, not a gimmick to sell merchandise. And because this brainchild is plunging out of the sky, it's taking all the great possibilities of new rides in the future away. It's like your brother, the favorite son, his grades are slipping! Time to revoke your college tuition to save him, while you, WDI, go, "Hey, WHAT?!"

November 26, 2013 at 6:36 PM · I can guarantee you that Universal/SeaWorld/etc. eventually will have a MyMagic+-style vacation management system for their guests, using NFC chips embedded in visitors' cell phones, and run by software programmed by ex-Disney developers, hired only after Disney's perfected its system.
November 26, 2013 at 9:01 PM · I still don't see how a billion dollars could be spend on something like this.
November 26, 2013 at 10:18 PM · I hate Fastpass, Fastpass+, MyMagic+, NextGen, and all this billion dollar plus initiative which is doing nothing but creating a have and have not day at a Disney theme park.
November 27, 2013 at 1:31 AM · I have been a massive Disney fan for years and defended them here and on other forums against the 'Universal is the new God' arguments. I like Disney's pace, I like their style, I like the attention to detail and the gentleness of much of it - the opportunity to relax into a landscape or world and simply enjoy being there...

But the latest MyMagic+ developments are seriously affecting that love. I can see almost no advantages to me in the system but many disadvantages. It appears to threaten the spontaneous vacation I have previously taken with one that has to be micro-planned and locked into a fixed pattern months before we even arrive. The old FastPass system rewarded a degree of planning and research but was egalitarian in its delivery. Anyone could grab a pass if they played the system right on the day. And it allowed for the luxury of spontaneity - grab a pass for X and return after riding Y, thus making the most of the day.

Now I'm faced with having to select which attractions I want to ride months in advance if I want to experience the popular attractions and spending way longer in lines for others with no option to FastPass at all... Frankly it makes the whole experience less appealing. Add to that the rumour that new attractions will be delayed or sacrificed to pay for this 'improvement' and I begin to see why Universal is getting the love...

My problem is that I don't like Universal that much. I find their Express system deeply unfair as it has no hourly limit on how many people can push to the front. I have experienced a 5 minute line become in reality a 30 minute one simply because so many people kept turning up for the Express line and they all simply went to the front....

FastPass was a brilliant, fair, simple system and Disney are in the process of making me far less eager to pay them vast amounts of money.... That should worry them. It sure as hell worries me.... I can't help but wonder what if they had spent that $1 Billion on attractions what that would have done to Disney's profits instead....

November 27, 2013 at 1:43 AM · Not so much a "source" but more anecdotal. The two or three people I know who have gone to Shanghai were sent because they were waiting for their assigned domestic projects to commence and the company had wanted them to see construction management methods in China -- and not so much to contribute over the long term. And they were only in China few a week or so.
November 27, 2013 at 5:04 AM · What an incredible waste of money. Instead of spending all this cash on a problem that didn't exist and wasn't already being addressed fairly well by other systems, Disney could have built more interactive queues to keep waiting guests placated and/or entertained, and new attractions. This psychological addiction to technopolic 'solutions' (i.e. Neil Postman) unfortunately is not specific to Disney but can be seen in fields, sectors and industries around the world. The era of big data does not necessarily mean a better life, or more profits. The human element is still key.
November 27, 2013 at 6:28 AM · Optimization can be a great thing. The massive amounts of big data that can be collected automatically presents tremendous opportunities to do this optimization.

The problem with optimization is that every optimization decision means you are optimizing towards a specific goal. Disney seems to target having people spend less time in line to allow them more time to spend money. This target sounds great for Disney.

However, this optimization pushes one approach that fits one specific type of visitor, the hard core planner that seeks to extract as much out of a short visit as possible. Interestingly. These are less likely to be the people looking to spend the incremental money Disney is seeking. Instead it primarily targets the people that are just cooperating with the optimization to ride more. Optimization carried too far dilutes the experience Disney seeks and leaves frustration. Finally, the more targeted the optimization, the more expensive it is to deliver, while benefitting fewer people.

November 27, 2013 at 6:53 AM · I think that the best part about the theme park experience, as has been mentioned earlier, is the spontaneity that is possible with a day to a park. Of course everybody puts in a certain amount of planning into a trip or dedicates a certain number of hours of a day to one or more parks, but at some point there is a level of excitement in not knowing what the day has in store.

Growing up next to Busch Gardens Tampa, it was always fun to enter the park and have no idea what rides I would end up on by the end of the day. Some visits I would spend mostly in exhibits, and other times I would ride Kumba 10 times. The theme park experience is supposed to be a way for ordinary people in their tightly-scheduled lives to let go a little bit and give in to their fun-loving, schedule-free side. Of course, it takes some forethought to be sure to catch a show or two and to avoid predictable crowds at certain times of the day, but who wants to know exactly how their day is going to play out before they get to a park? That's what my job is for.

There are certain benefits that could come out of the NextGen design. I can imagine that for someone who has only one chance to visit a park in their lifetime wants to have the guarantee that they will be able to visit their favorite attractions. But even with this planning there is no guarantee (i.e. broken down rides, weather delays, etc.). The intent is good, but it seems to only muddle the system.

For me personally, visiting a park is my one chance out of the year to experience complete freedom in my day's schedule and to just go with the flow to an extent and see what happens. I would hate to see that go away as a park attempts to create more stringent demands on park guests.

November 27, 2013 at 7:42 AM · Space Mountain at Disneyland does have a single rider queue, but it's not well marked. Space Mountain at Magic Kingdom is not practical to have a single rider queue because of the tobogan-style trains. It's difficult for CMs to match single riders to appropriate groups in the short amount of time needed before boarding. The Matterhorn, with the same style trains, does have a single rider queue, but I think that is a bit of a relic, and doesn't take up much space in the queue. A single rider line at MK Space Mountain would take up valuable queue space inside.
November 27, 2013 at 8:00 AM · "Now I'm faced with having to select which attractions I want to ride months in advance if I want to experience the popular attractions and spending way longer in lines for others with no option to FastPass at all"

This is the perception that is going to take Disney a long time to overcome. Many people think that changes to the system are going to create longer lines. That is simply not the case. The MyMagic+ system is not going to put any more people in the park on a given day, so the total park capacity will remain relatively unchanged.

So if you don't have any more people in the park, how are lines going to be "way longer"? Are more people going to be waiting in line instead of eating or watching shows? Are the attractions going to magically get better encouraging more people to ride and re-ride them? Fastpass+ looks to actually reduce those lines by giving guests the option to pre-reserve rides up to 30 days in advance (not months and months as many seem to think). The system is virtually invisible to the average standby guest, and it's biggest impact will be felt by guests who are dedicated regular Fastpass users, because it reduces the number of regular Fastpasses available per hour (and replaces those with Fastpass+ reservations). The traditional standby guest is not negatively affected, and the theory would be that a certain percentage of Fastpass+ users will probably not even be waiting in a standby line (unlike dedicated regular Fastpass users), making the overall number of people standing in a standby line less.

The biggest concern (and there's some emperical evidence to support it) is that regular Fastpasses will be running out much sooner than they did before MyMagic+. However, at the end of the day, with ride capacities remaining relatively unchanged, and the number of guests in the park at any one time relatively unchanged, the chances of "way longer" lines as a direct result of this system is highly unlikely. I'm not a huge fan of change, and the way I typically use Fastpass, the new system will affect me dramatically, but I understand the need for change and constant updating to make guests' experiences more customized and special. Ultimately that is what MyMagic+ is seeking to do.

November 27, 2013 at 8:04 AM · "I hate Fastpass, Fastpass+, MyMagic+, NextGen, and all this billion dollar plus initiative which is doing nothing but creating a have and have not day at a Disney theme park."

You liked it better when every single guest stood in line for hours to ride a single ride? The only way to effectively reduce lines is to increase the number of attractions (ongoing), increase the capacity of the attractions (difficult with older rides), or limit the total number of guests in the park. Disney is seeking to better manage its queues without going to the extremes of the other 3 options.

November 27, 2013 at 8:22 AM · Russell, I don't think Space Mountain at Disneyland has a Single Rider Line. There's a Fastpass & Rider Switch, but no single rider line.
November 27, 2013 at 9:31 AM · There was one when I was there in March, down the hall by the restooms. It was one of those double-sided signs that noted disabled access on the reverse, so it may not be in use at all times, like the one at Toy Story Mania at DCA.
November 27, 2013 at 3:45 PM · Well MK is now turnstile free.

Magic Kingdom Park Makes Disney History As All Walt Disney World Parks Go Turnstile Free via

November 28, 2013 at 12:28 AM · I'm a WDW local and the turnstile free conversion has been in progress for a number of months. While it's intended to eventually be used for Magic Bands & FP+, the new entrance technology works for anyone with a plastic park admission ticket currently; Annual Passholders, those buying a room & Park package, those staying off site, etc. While I'm not a fan of most of the Magic Bands "features" I like the new park entrance portion as each "station" allows 2 people at a time to enter. If there's a problem with one person admission, it doesn't hold up the entire line until resolved.

My concerns with Magic Bands is more a privacy/theft issue. I'm leery of linking a credit card to any park admission media, possibility of losing the park admission card/band & having someone else use it to charge. I also don't like the idea of WDW being able to directly track when & where I spend $$ in the parks. With Magic Bands, they can track where you are & when. How long you spend in a store, if you're walking from Point A to Point B, they can provide suggestions for dining, etc. Even though I don't have one yet, I've already purchased an RFID blocking pouch to block my Magic Band so Disney can't track me while I'm in the parks. Just a bit to Big Brother for my taste....

November 28, 2013 at 8:02 AM · Here is the advantage of Fastpass+ that I have found.

Imagine that you have been saving for 5 years for a trip to Disney World and your 6 year old son who loves planes really really wants to go on Soarin. Fastpass+ gives you the piece of mind knowing that you will be able to get that fastpass without having to show up at EPCOT before it opens.

Remember, there is a catch with Fastpass+. You have to pick three attractions, whether you want to or not. This "forces" you to be in different parts of the park to spread the crowds.

I know my reviews were a little mixed, but using Fastpass+ to get a seat in Fantasmic is worth it.

This Universal "building things faster" thing has got to stop too. It is a soundbite that Universal is feeding to newspapers and websites like this. Do not be gullible and fall into their trap.

Also, when it comes down to it, people are coming down to FL to go to Disney, not Universal. Even if people are staying at Universal, there is at least a day or two spent at a Disney Park. After experiencing both of them in May, they don't really compete with each other since they tend to cater to different age groups.

November 29, 2013 at 10:27 AM · I agree with you Robert, Universal has to be taking notes of the MyMagic and Fastpass+ rollout by Disney and what the glitches are. I wouldn't be surprised if Universal pays for some of it's people to "experience" a Disney World vacation using the MyMagic and Fastpass+ systems to get first hand knowledge of problems or what works within the system and parks.
Then I believe Universal could decide to join the fray with a similar type guest and ride management system to accommodate the expansion of hotel guests(on site and off), annual passholders, and day trippers with an improved "out of the box" launch. How smart is that to let Disney invest a billion and you take notes and decide if you should follow along.

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