Theme Park of the Day: Tokyo Disneyland

Make Your Phone a MagicBand with Disney's 'MagicMobile'

March 11, 2021, 5:51 PM · Walt Disney World is making it a touch easier for visitors to use their mobile phones and devices instead of MagicBands for access around the resort.

Disney recently stopped giving its hotel guests free MagicBands to use as theme park tickets and hotel keys on their visits. The resort continues to sell MagicBands that can be linked to visitors' Disney accounts, but more and more fans just have been using Disney World's My Disney Experience mobile app for that functionality.

For example, you can use the app to check in to your hotel, then use the app as a room key during your stay, too. Now Disney is introducing a new Disney MagicMobile feature to the app that will make it easier to use your phone or Apple Watch to tap into the park or (when they return) redeem a Fastpass reservation.

By creating MagicMobile passes and adding them to your device's digital wallet, your can use your device to tap or touch it for access rather than having to scan an image on the device's screen. That might seem like an infinitesimal difference, but tapping is (go on, say it...) a touch faster (sorry), and with thousands of visitors in a queue, those time savings can add up to significant wait-time reductions.

MagicMobile also allows Disney to "see" you via your phone or watch, much like a MagicBand could be read by access points in the parks. Disney hasn't said exactly how it might use that technology, but Disney used MagicBands to link visitors to on-ride photos taken while they were wearing the devices.

It's hardly a surprise that Disney would move away from its proprietary MagicBands as more and more visitors became used to using their phones to accomplish pretty much everything that MagicBands were designed to do. As I mentioned when we wrote about the demise of free MagicBands last year, we've been debating cell phones versus MagicBands since 2014.

The new functionality will be rolled out in phases this year.

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Replies (2)

March 12, 2021 at 6:40 AM

I have never used a safe in a hotel room for valuables. Until my next visit. That kind of makes me nervous.

March 12, 2021 at 10:09 AM

This was inevitible as NFC chips became standard in cell phones and major hotel chains were transitioning to allowing guests to use their smart phones as room keys. However, as with Magic Bands, which became de facto status symbols for on-site guests over off-site guests, this will further segment the "haves" from the "have nots". Even today, millions of tourists don't have smart phones or other devices with NFC chips that will have an inferior experience compared to those that do. Additionally, even international visitors that do have NFC-equipped devices may have difficulty enjoying the same features as domestic guests because of the incompatibility of foreign devices with American networks (or costs to connect to them).

Magic Bands were supposed to be a great equalizer, a cheap, stylish, easy to use, and easy to distribute device that would level the playing field (while giving a slight advantage to on-site guests). They were also advertised as a way to stay connected while not having to be on your smart phone 24/7. With this move away from Magic Bands, Disney has thrown up their hands to the progress of mobile technology, and given in to a survival of the fittest mentality that will have guests staring at their phones in the parks even more than they are now, and forcing Disney to invest even more in technologies to integrate smart phones into the parks.

You could definitely see this coming from a mile away, but I think real theme park fans are disappointed to see this day come so soon. Disney has a lot of work to do to make sure smart phones do not become any more of a distraction than they already are, and given the tepid results of their early attempts (DataPad and MDE), it's going to be an uphill climb that will ultimately leave many guests behind or in the dark.

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