Last fall, my family and I went to Disney World for the first time. We decided at the last minute to go, so we opted to stay in a timeshare and rent a car off Disney property. The experience was great (of course, because it's the Happiest Place on Earth), but we noticed we were the only people at the park without these awesome looking wristbands.
Once we got back home, I began searching to find out more about these so-called "MagicBands". The Walt Disney Company took a massive bet on them. After reading that article, I felt slightly cheated that we didn't get to experience Disney the same way as the other patrons. Instead, we had these passcards that allowed us to get into the park, forcing me to carry four different ones inside my wallet, which is already much like a Costanza wallet.
So upon planning for our trip back to Orlando this year, we decided to stay on property at the Art of Animation Resort (which is awesome, especially for a designer like me), take buses to the parks, and hopefully get to be one of the cool kids who wear awesome MagicBands.
Let me share with you my experience with Disney and its MagicBand, starting with the initial excitement.
Initial Welcome Kit
After paying Mickey Mouse a ton of money so we could come visit him, we received some mail a few days later. It was a "secret message for (our) eyes only" from The Incredibles. Inside was a URL to visit to watch a video. And while I know it was a link they sent to everyone who booked a trip, it seemed very tailored. I believe that was due to the mailer we received, but I can honestly say it got me, my wife and the kids very excited.
Preparing for Our Trip
The next piece of mail we received were the instructions for how to properly tag our luggage for its destination. Since we had to take a Disney bus from the airport to the hotel, they take the bags on a separate truck.
The amazing part about it all is that you don't have to wait for your bags to arrive in Orlando, much less drag them around with you in the crowded airport.
Box of MagicBands
The day came when we received our MagicBands in the mail. The box was opened, and inside were four MagicBands, each with the color we selected and printed with it our names to make sure we didn't get them mixed up.
The kids immediately thought they were the coolest thing, and wanted to wear them everywhere. But we convinced them that they needed their rest for our upcoming trip, especially so we didn't misplace them.
Our bags were checked and accounted for. The MagicBands covered our wrists. And we arrived in Orlando. Immediately, you get scanned to board the right bus to your resort. While the lines are long, it was rather simple to pull all of our information, and easily get us moving along.
Upon arriving at the hotel, we were told we'd be able to go directly to our hotel room. Unfortunately for us, we hadn't eaten lunch yet, and the kids (me) were getting hangry - hungry and angry you get it. So we opted to eat at the cafeteria inside the resort.
This was the experience with the MagicBand as a payment method.
Before going to Disney World, you have an account online. You're able to save a credit card to your account so you can easily pay for items, book reservations, and more. With this, if you opted for the meal plan (like we did), all of that information is stored on this tiny wristband.
We went to the cafeteria, picked out our food, and went to the register. At each one, they have these readers that you scan your MagicBand on to retrieve the information.
While it's an amazing accomplishment, the placement of the readers in relation to the MagicBand is slightly annoying. The top of the MagicBand has an embossed Mickey Mouse head. Below that, I'm assuming is the guts of the technology, which has to directly line up to the reader. As the cashier said, "Touch Mickey to Mickey". However, that requires the flip of the wrist and an awkward arm twist to get it just right. By the end of the vacation, I realized if I just flipped my wristband around, I could get it on the first try, thus getting to eat my food much faster.
The most amazing part of the MagicBand being used as a payment method was the fact that I could leave my wallet at the hotel if I wanted. Granted, I would feel naked without it, so I didn't, but it was nice to know that I could have. Because it's tied to our entire family too, I was able to declare who could use that credit card on their MagicBand to pay for anything within the parks. This meant my son and I could go ride the rides while my wife and daughter could shop and enjoy the shows, and I didn't have to worry about not having money to buy things along the way.
The one thing they don't tell you in the welcome packet is that there's a limit you can spend, which is set by the front desk of your resort. Let's just say we found that out the hard way a few times on our trip. However, it was just a matter of talking with the front-desk staff and getting it adjusted.
Unlike the previous year, I didn't have to carry a ton of cards in my wallet to get into the park either. And there's no extra set of keys for your hotel room either.
Room Key & Park Admission
The MagicBand serves as your room key, park tickets, and everything in between. Again, the placement of the door reader in relation to the wristband wasn't ideal, but it worked 75% of the time.
While most hotels have gotten rid of physical keys for their rooms, it was amazing not to have to get out my wallet, find the key card, and swipe again and again just to get into my room. Especially after an average of 9.5 miles walking during our 12-hour days at the park.
Getting into the park is fairly simple too. With the scan of the MagicBand and a fingerprint, it made getting into the parks much easier. And of course when you get into the parks, you get stopped to get your picture taken at almost every corner. Making those memories were really easy, considering they'd take the picture, then scan my wrist. Within minutes, we could check the Disney Experience app and see them on their to share with family, etc.
Overall, it was pretty amazing and made life much easier (or at least it felt that way), which is ideal as a designer.
Design of the MagicBand
I bought a FitBit wristband a while back. I've worn it here and there, but never really all the time. It's fairly comfortable, and the MagicBand is very much in the same realm as it.
The one thing we didn't notice right away is that while it looks like "one-size fits all", it's actually a small MagicBand wrapped in a bigger one so you can downsize for small children. While a small touch, it was awesome and much needed for tiny wrists.
At each gift shop and store in the parks, resorts, etc., they sell additional designs. My kids wanted to get MagicBands with their favorite characters. And while the bands you receive in the mail aren't "technically free", the ones sold in the stores are quite pricey. Just another marketing genius move by the mouse.
It was also waterproof, which was a big deal considering we went swimming, that I constantly sweat from the hot October weather (yeah, Orlando is hot in the fall at least for this Midwest boy), and it rained for a few days at the parks.
I can say, without a doubt, that Disney nailed it. As a designer, I'm constantly looking at how to improve the experience of a website, mobile app, or other projects. The gamble they took to make this their all-inclusive everything was well worth it, and proved to impress at least me.
And while there are a few minor issues with the MagicBand, they're incredibly minuscule for being able to be one of the cool kids.