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Requiem for Walt Disney World's MagicBands

July 6, 2020, 4:46 PM · So Disney's dumping free MagicBands for hotel guests? Count me among those who won't miss them.

As much as I respect the effort that Disney made with its billion-dollar-plus NextGen project, MyMagic+, MagicBands never delivered the intended care-free experience for me. First, the things just fell off my wrist too easily.

I almost always bring a backpack into the park, and many times when I went to put on or take off my pack, my MagicBand would fall off when my wrist inevitably bumped the backpack straps. Sometimes I would notice and pick it up, but I've also lost several MagicBands this way. If Disney had used a magnetic band or a buckle, maybe MagicBands might have worked for me.

But that probably would not have mattered. Because I never once considered using a MagicBand as a replacement for my wallet, much less for my phone. Even if you're not driving or buying a drink in the parks (for which you would need ID), there's no way that I am leaving my wallet back in my hotel room. Now it would be nice just to leave it in my pocket and not have to pull it out to get my ticket and credit cards, but I've got a more accessible and useful device that can cover my need for those.

My phone.

Phone or MagicBand?

We first broke down the cell phones vs. MagicBands question six years ago. And in the meantime, it's become clear that mobile phones remain people's preferred personal tech when visiting the parks.

Sure, a MagicBand works as your hotel room key, your theme park ticket, your Fastpasses, your payment method, and even a way to get your in-park photos. And it's way cheaper to replace than a phone, should you lose it.

But if you do lose a MagicBand, what's the quickest and easiest way to cancel or reassign it, so that someone else isn't racking up charges to your room? That would be Disney's My Disney Experience app... on your phone.

You can't use a MagicBand to call your friends and family elsewhere in the park. You can't use it to change or add a Fastpass+ or restaurant reservation without visiting a kiosk. Heck, you can't even use it to see what times you booked those reservations, either.

For me, the biggest technical drawback to Disney's MagicBand system was its lack of a display. The only possible way I could see using it as a wallet or phone replacement would be if it had worked more like Universal Orlando's TapuTapu, which has a display to let you know when and where you're supposed to head to next. But that wearable works only at Universal's Volcano Bay water park, which is probably the only environment in which waterproof wearable tech truly appeals as a wallet and phone replacement.

If I'm going to be carrying my phone and wallet around the park anyway, a MagicBand becomes an additional thing for me to take care of during the day. It's one more hassle - not one less.

All this said, MyMagic+ was much, much more than MagicBands. Disney dropped all that money not just to develop a plastic wristband with an RFID chip, but to redesign and reform its information technology management systems. For MagicBands to work, Disney's hotel reservation, theme park ticketing, Fastpass, restaurant reservation, Photopass, and customer account management systems all had to work together. That wasn't the case before MyMagic+, as each of those systems was developed mostly independently of the others.

The Walt Disney Resort could not just shut down for winter and switch to an all-new, built-from-scratch system when the parks reopened in the spring. Disney needed to switch from its legacy systems to a new, integrated "My Disney Experience" on the fly - and that costs a lot of money to pull off on this scale.

So as much as I didn't care for the plastic wristbands themselves, I am so happy that Disney made the investment to support them. It's just that I want to harness the amazing power of Disney's customer service systems through the My Disney Experience app on my phone, rather than by tapping a MagicBand at a glowing Mickey-head stanchion.

Now, if you love MagicBands, they won't go away. Your old bands will continue to work (if you keep them associated with an active account), and Disney even will sell new bands to anyone who wants them. (MagicBands are gonna be the new collectible pins, aren't they?) All Disney is killing here is its practice of giving complimentary bands to its hotel guests.

But even that marks the end of an era at Walt Disney World. So good-bye, Disney's MagicBand. Maybe I'll see you around the resort sometime. If you want to keep in touch, have your friends call.

'Cause I'll have my phone with me.

Replies (19)

July 6, 2020 at 6:30 PM

They will need network improvements and a better IT department. One device is better then two but slow response time on MD+ and dead spots in the park give me concern.

July 6, 2020 at 7:01 PM

The IT department was H-1B visa'd 5 years ago, from what I have tried to understand, they source most of there new development and innovations. Current staff just runs in place.

July 6, 2020 at 7:16 PM

Another unexpected side affect of this IT Dept change (path-planning algorithms for transit)

July 6, 2020 at 9:55 PM

Hold on a minute... Those fast pass return gadgets that you put your bands up to, what will be done with them as these phase out? Will they work with a phone? Oh my how I hope for a sea change at WDW. I actually liked the bands (even though I almost lost mine a time or two), I just do not like the pre-planning for attractions and the limitations that brings. Another huge concern is even after the app being in place for a while, it still glitches and is not user friendly. Often times going to a kiosk to get return passes is the only solution. I have found it works fine for a lone guest, but when you have a family linked together you might as well kiss any respectable additional passes goodbye. I have long suspected they put FP+ in place without ever fully testing it, and then they had so much money in the pot they had to go all in regardless of the cards they had (which were complaining guests). They now have the time to go back to the drawing board and a new administration at WDW. Please focus on what is fun for the guests. I would prefer the DL version that costs more or nothing at all to what they do now.

July 6, 2020 at 10:47 PM

As my last WDW trip was 2012, never used them but my mom insists they were good on her visits.

July 6, 2020 at 11:05 PM

Last visit was in 2017 and I didn't mind them. No issues with keeping it on but I also don't carry a backpack. I left my wallet in the room and only brought my ID for drinks. Everything else was accomplished from the band which,to me, was more convenient than reaching into my pocket to pull put my wallet and then CC.

I will say that because of the Magic Band I did not attempt to use my phone as I could have. Perhaps with a lack of band I would realize how much more convenient the phone can be.

July 7, 2020 at 1:37 AM

Frankly something you can wear on your wrist is a damn site more convenient than a phone that you have to be able to store in a pocket somewhere, especially given the size of phones these days...

July 7, 2020 at 7:02 AM

Whilst cynical at first to the magic bands we actually found them incredibly convenient on our stay at WDW last year. I agree that they could do with a slight redesign to help the band stay attached to your wrist!

What's the plan when your phone battery runs out?
How do you get into your room, pay for things and redeem fastpass+ ?
With the reliance on MyMagic+ to plan and edit your vacation what happens when you don't have access to a phone? I would want to avoid public touchscreens during these times.

July 7, 2020 at 7:45 AM

I prefer the magic band to my phone. You don't have to worry about the battery. Its much easier to replace if lost then your phone.

July 7, 2020 at 8:21 AM

I prefer magic bands to phones. They're not perfect, but walking around the parks the past several years and seeing soooo many people's eyes glued to their phones is depressing. Part of the immersion of being at WDW is disconnecting from reality, and when most people look at their phones - they're not just going into the MDE app...they're compulsively checking social media too.

I absolutely get magic bands' shortcomings, and how in some instances phones are practically required right now (new FP+, restaurant reservations), but I still see them as a net negative in the parks.

July 7, 2020 at 8:34 AM

To me a phone isn't an adequate replacement since my phone is usually dead by the end of the day and it would suck to not be able to get back into my room. That being said, It would be awesome if they could get it to work with my apple watch and I could just touch that to the sensors instead.

Who knows, though. Seems like the fired most of the people who implemented the magic bands as soon as that project was finished and hired cheaper overseas labor to keep it going.

July 7, 2020 at 10:25 AM

And to Tracy's point, and as I've said before the watch is a better option now than even the iPhone. Now that we are all wearing masks, you ARE wearing your mask, aren't you? Unlocking your current iPhone is a bit of a pain if it uses facial recognition. Once an Apple watch is on your wrist, and unlocked once, you can do must everything without needing to unlock it again.
I've begun using it a LOT more than ever to use Apple Pay becasue with the mask on, you have to unlock the phone, then approve the purchase by entering a pass code. Not so with the watch.

July 7, 2020 at 10:31 AM

As a reminder .... the only magic bands they are discontinuing are the free ones for hotel guests.

The 'pay-for' magic bands will still be readily available. And they're pretty cheap anyway. It's only when you get the limited edition versions the cost can reach $30+.

The life expectancy of any magic band is only as good as the battery anyway ..... as I have found with my Stitch one.

I only ever used my magic band when trying to get on-ride photos. Other than that, I always use my hard-card.

July 7, 2020 at 11:01 AM

I think Robert is looking at this the wrong way. In the end, MagicBand is just a tracking/identification system, not a smart device capable of performing complex interfaces. Also, if you look at when the system was developed, there was no way for Disney to predict how fast cell phones and broadband capabilities would advance, so the idea of carrying around an electronic ID tag was an appealing proposition making MagicBand a touch and go way to navigate numerous complex transactions. However, Disney spent over a $1 billion on MagicBand (and associated systems), which is where I think people become underwhelmed with the result. As Robert notes, Disney couldn't simply migrate all of their electronic systems over an off-season (like many regional park could do). They had to slowly transition systems to be compatible with MagicBand, with each system bringing its own level of complexity because it was originally developed independently. As Disney approached this transition, it became increasingly clear that the pie in the sky promises from Imagineers and growing expectations from guests were never going to be met. MagicBand ultimately became an extension of "Keys to the World" that integrated hotel rooms, resorts, parks, FP+, photopass, and other ancillary systems under one umbrella. In fact, as Mako has noted, guests can navigate WDW and perform all of the functions of MagicBand by instead using a plastic card (or now their cell phone). Obviously, there's some increased convenience to being able to perform functions with a device strapped to your wrist (I'm totally with you Rob on integrating smart watches into the system) versus a card (or a cell phone), but in the end the money spent to make this transition was not about the MagicBands, it was about the integration of different systems, so let's not view MagicBand as a $1+ billion failure simply because Disney is discontinuing free devices.

Ultimately, MagicBand was never going to fulfill all of the expectations that were heaped upon it, and some of the changes made to various systems that came about through the development of MagicBand have not been great (FP+!!!). However, there's something to be said for the simplicity of the device, what it can do, and the integration it brought to WDW. As we've seen across the theme park industry, there's nothing that parks will be able to give to guests (or charge a nominal fee for) that will out-perform a marginally obsolete cell phone. I won't be surprised if Disney spends another $1 billion on continuing to integrate and develop new systems based on the foundation laid by MagicBand, we just won't hear about it or the amount of money spent on those additions/upgrades. In the end, I think the real failure of MagicBand came with the way Disney marketed it and oversold what it can do.

July 7, 2020 at 11:57 AM

For the applications Disney uses them for, MagicBands work fine and, quite frankly, are better suited to those purposes than a phone would be. Do I feel they're a necessary component of the visit that significantly enhances the experience? No, not really, and it's hard to get the full use out of them without carrying a phone as well. However, as long as Disney decides to keep all the elements of MyMagic+ active, a tool the system was designed around is likely to remain the easiest interface to use.

July 7, 2020 at 1:40 PM

I always liked the MagicBands. I have several collected over a number of years. They did have some glitches from time to time. For instance, we stayed at the Yacht Club while they were being transitioned in. We had room cards as well as the MagicBands - double Fastpasses! I have also heard that Fastpasses are available for use even if you have not scanned in to the park. The combination of MagicBand and phone generally works very well. And I don't have to pull my phone out of my pocket every time I check into a ride.

July 7, 2020 at 2:40 PM

I had my first experience with MagicBand this spring -- as it happens, in the shape of the generic grey version, free to Disney Resort guests -- and I quite enjoyed the convenience. Park-entry and FP+ pillars, photos, payments, unlocking my room when my hands are full (too much stuff) or when returning from the pool (with a minimum of stuff).

An NFC card would not be equivalent (it has to be fumbled out of a pocket); nor, in my case, a smartphone, since mine is too old to run the My Disney Experience app. (For that matter, it's effectively a PDA because it doesn't have a SIM; admittedly, my luddite preferences vis-a-vis mobile devices definitely make me a minority.)

July 8, 2020 at 4:56 PM

So. While I guess it's inevitable that all functionality will shift to our phones (since we have them on us at all times anyway) - that's still kind of a bummer. While they have their flaws, I much prefer the magic bands.

Having your key card, park ticket, fast pass reservation check-in, touchless payment system all in one thing on your wrist in a lightweight, waterproof device is so convenient. I NEVER had an issue with them falling off.

I don't want to have to fish out my phone to check into a ride or get into my hotel room. And what if my battery drains by the end of the day? What a drag! Guess I have no choice but to lug around a battery pack.

Not only that -- but receiving that shipment of free magic bands really kicks off the vacation. It meant your trip was right around the corner. A great feeling! Unfortunate that this will end.

Of course, we can still buy magic bands. And while the battery life is only about 2 years -- that's only for the part that transmits. The touch-to-touch functionality should remain intact indefinitely on old magic bands.

July 9, 2020 at 5:26 AM

I am sad to hear that they won't be a standard part of a WDW vacation, and I think it's worth acknowledging the emotional contribution that they make to the whole experience. So much of Disney is about the emotional connection and not just the functionality, and an app on a phone is not a substitute in that regard no matter how well it works. I know me and my kids really enjoyed picking out our colours beforehand, and even though we're overseas and had to wait until check in to receive them, the moment of strapping them all onto our wrists was really special, and the kids really enjoyed using them to access the room, check themselves in at FP and so on. I wonder if the change isn't driven more by wanting to upsell and extract more money from guests than it is about any practical considerations.

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