Vote of the Week: Apple Pay, MagicBands, cards, or cash?

September 12, 2014, 5:19 PM · Before the Maelstrom news blew up the Disney fan community, the biggest news this week involving the Walt Disney theme parks might have been Apple's iPhone 6 announcement. In case you missed it, part of the new iPhones' (and Apple Watch's) functionality will be the ability to "tap and pay" with the devices at many retailers across the country. And one of the first big retailers to accept the "Apple Pay" system will be the Walt Disney theme parks.

Here's a good description of how the Apple Pay system will work, which uses new NFC [near field communication] tags installed in the devices to interface with tag readers at the retailers' check-out locations. The Apple Pay system charges your selected associated credit card for the purchase, but does not share that card information with store employees. All they see is a device account number and a transaction approval code. The iPhone will require a fingerprint scan on your phone screen to confirm the payment, so no one else can use your phone to make charges. And "Find my Phone" can disable the functionality on lost or stolen phones, too.

Disney's already built the infrastructure to support an NFC-driven tap-and-pay system at Walt Disney World, with its MagicBand system. Guests staying at Walt Disney World hotels can use their MagicBands to make purchases throughout the resort, which will be charged to their room account. Starting next month, other visitors will be able to use the tap-and-pay system, provided they have an iPhone 6 or Apple Watch. (WDW day guests and annual passholders with MagicBands cannot use the tap-and-pay system. At least not yet.)

Cellphone vs. MagicBand

Other providers have tried to launch tap-and-pay systems in the past, perhaps starting with Mobil's Speedpass, which worked with its credit cards at its gas stations. Broader alternatives, such as Google Wallet, haven't captured much market share, but Apple's bringing its huge Apple account customer base to the table here, so perhaps the iPhone might be the device that makes tap-and-pay popular in the United States.

The big question is, though... do you care? Does anyone really want to pay for stuff with a cellphone, or are people happy to continue using credit and debit cards and cash?

Increased security provides some appeal for the Apple Pay system, at least until more Americans' credit- and debit-card accounts switch to a European-style chip-and-pin system. And there's the potential convenience and security of simply leaving your cards at home. The convenience of having "one band to do it all" led Disney to create the MagicBand, which combines a theme park ticket, room key, charge card, PhotoPass and Fastpass return tickets in one device.

With Disneyland's new app enabling visitors to use their smartphones as theme park tickets, presumably a Disneyland visitor with that app on an iPhone 6 might get some of that MagicBand functionality on the west coast, where Disney has yet to roll out the bands. At this point, Disney's not supporting the use of smartphones to open hotel rooms, though other hotel operators are testing that functionality. Nor will a smartphone trigger on-ride photos when you ride, as a MagicBand can. But, then again, you can't take your own photos and video with a MagicBand, nor can you use it to call or text family and friends or browse the Internet while you wait in line.

The big problem with single devices that do everything is that they become a single point of failure to ruin your day. Lose your MagicBand and you're going to be losing time from your day trying to get it replaced. Lose your smartphone and you're facing an even worse hassle, particularly if it's unlocked and whoever finds it gains access to all your personal information stored or linked on the phone. (Not to mention the cost of replacement.)

Losing a wallet is a huge hassle, too, but you don't have to worry so much about dropping a wallet, or getting it wet. It'll be okay when you pick it up, or once it dries. A smartphone? Maybe not so much.

And then there's cash. Accepted at all restaurants, shops and food carts, there's no security issue with cash. No one can track what you spend. No one can steal your identity if he gets your cash. Sure, if you lose it -- it's gone. But there's no huge credit card billing awaiting you at the end of your vacation when you pay in cash. It's an interest-free way to enjoy yourself. (Just don't get pulled over by the police when you're driving with cash on you, though, as they might just decide to keep it!)

So how would you prefer to pay on your next theme park vacation? Would you like to use a MagicBand-style system? Or your own smartphone? Or would you prefer to stick the more traditional methods of payment -- cards or cash?

Let's break down your personal pros and cons for each system, in the comments.


Replies (11)

September 12, 2014 at 5:24 PM · Having used MagicBands, I felt it was a great alternative to credit cards or cash. With cash, you're constantly fumbling with bills and coins. With credit, you have to worry about security and signing slips of paper. MagicBands is simply about having an account with automatic billing to your credit card.

Apple Pay is another alternative to MagicBands. It will probably work best at Disneyland since it doesn't have MagicBands.

September 12, 2014 at 5:36 PM · You summed it up for me, Robert, in your last few paragraphs. There's a lot less at stake, and a lot less hassle, with credit cards, cash and wallets.

Personally, my husband and I almost always leave our phones in our hotel rooms when going to theme parks. We don't want to have to worry about losing or damaging them on roller coasters or water rides. (And we don't feel the need to be constantly connected to things via apps, texts, etc. etc.)

I'd much rather keep to the old reliable method and not have my theme park experience be dictated by technology.

September 12, 2014 at 5:38 PM · Comment to follow in vote of traditional methods of cash/credit. Didn't realize I wasn't logged in on this computer.... ;-)
September 12, 2014 at 5:52 PM · Using the Magic Bands for my two week trip earlier this year made me a big believer in them. They worked great. Room key, fast pass, or purchase, I loved it. And each person in my group could tie it to their own credit card.
September 12, 2014 at 7:24 PM · I almost never carry much cash (just a small amount of emergency dough) and I like putting everything on a single credit card - I get cash back and I only have one bill to pay each month (remember - you have to pay the FULL bill each month or using credit cards is a losing proposition). Either a Magic Band or a Smartphone is fine with me, but I think I prefer the Smartphone overall since it will work at places outside of WDW as well. Besides, the Magic Band could clash with my Apple Watch when I get one!
September 13, 2014 at 1:40 AM · Since smart phones are vulnerable to theft, breakage, malfunction, getting wet, etc., I have no desire to have any form of payment tied up in them.

The magic band is brilliant for that, but failing that I really can't get worked up about having to use a credit or debit card. It's not like they are a burden to carry round....

September 13, 2014 at 4:37 AM · I already use my phone to pay wherever I can. Google Wallet tap-to-pay may not be super popular, but it's great for those of us who use it. As an annual passholder, I think it'd be great if Disney gave visitors the option. Why not add it to give us one more way to pay? Let the visitor decide how they want to part with their money. I just sincerely hope that if Disney does add Apple Pay, that they support Google Wallet, too. It uses exactly the same system at the terminal, so there's no reason not to...but as an Android user, it would really disappoint if Disney went Apple only.
September 13, 2014 at 4:48 AM · I think Disney made a smart, "low-budget" move. Instead of gutting Norway , they just add a ride with new sets based on Frozen. Some people may not want Frozen to be there instead of Maelstrom , but people knew it would happen eventually.
September 13, 2014 at 6:49 AM · I would like to add another option the the list: smartwatch. I would prefer to use a smartwatch (which I will already be wearing). Then I can leave my cell phone in the hotel room and not need a magic band either!
September 13, 2014 at 7:18 AM · For biggish purchases, Magic Band or card, I would probably use the Band because it is on my wrist rather than in the purse or pocket. I wouldn't use cash for biggish purchases because I've only taken out a certain amount of US cash for my visit and am keeping it for things that require cash. I am also more likely not to lose the credit receipt before I do my accounting for the visit.
For small purchases, I feel awkward about using credit for $2.50 or something. But if your credit card accumulates rewards of any kind, those little purchases add up. However, I would never charge $2.50 on my card. Part of that is conditioning: many businesses have a minimum purchase for using credit. In addition, personally, I would feel like it makes me look indigent, like I can't scrape together the cash, and am running up my debt. Once I receive and pay the bill, I don't have any debt, but I do enjoy the rewards. With Magic Band, problem solved. In addition, I feel like I'm "endorsing" their huge technology investment and they'll inherently appreciate that I am doing that. Advantage Magic Band: for on-property guests, you can pay for small purchases in a way that eventually charges to your credit card (via the hotel bill) without feeling that you look like a person going into debt for an apple or a churro.
I am not sure if the phone payments charge to a credit card or form a new credit account. If they charge to a credit card, that would have some a-peel (sorry for the Apple pun). However, if I have the band on my wrist and the phone in my purse or pocket, I think I still favour the band at WDW at least.
At DLR, phone vs card: for biggish purchases and if it charges to the credit card of my choice, it's hard to say. Phone would consolidate all the DLR purchases to one line item and greatly simplify the credit card bill. But I would still probably pay all the little $2.50's in cash and lose the rewards in those cases.
September 13, 2014 at 6:30 PM · I wasn't a fan of NFC due to the lack of it always being authenticated, but if Apple Pay is gunna scan my print every time to confirm its me, I can get behind that.

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Park tickets

Weekly newsletter

New attraction reviews

News archive