For our annual vacation this year we decided to visit Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida for a week. This trip report contains entries on why we’re going, how we got there, where we stayed and what we did at the Mouse House.
Review: WDW Magic Bands-A new way to stay, play and pay
Review: Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
Well the test of Disney Magic Bands is now no longer a test as of April 30th it is now available to anyone that goes to any of the Walt Disney World Parks. They have been testing it for almost a year for hotel guests and annual pass holders, but now any guest that wants to fork over the $12.95 for a Magic Band can do so and take advantage of the perks.
My family was at the WDW for eight nights in early May and because we had booked a room at the Animal Kingdom Lodge we had the opportunity to pre-order the bands and have them sent to our home or directly to the hotel, and because we were a guest the bands were free. The perk itself is pretty cool. It allows you to do several things from open your room door, pay for meals and souvenirs, get into the park (if you link your park ticket to your My Magic account) and also make Fast Pass reservations up to 60 days in advance.
The concept is to allow families to easily reserve rides and attractions in advance of their trip and hopefully better experience the Kingdom. In theory this is a really great perk and I imagine over time it will become even easier and better to use, but in our experience we had some quirky issues that at this moment makes me sit on the fence about the band. Why do I feel this way? Well, first off it was quirky to use. There’s a Mickey image on the top of the band and you have to match it to a Mickey image at the place or attraction you want to use it at, which means you need to usually contort your arm. For example when opening your room door, it was just easier to take the band off to swipe it to enter the room unless you are triple jointed. At most quick service restaurants they had a keypad with the image to scan on and again it was easier to pick up the pin pad and move it around to get it to lite up the Mickey to process the order. Additionally our group of six had to make three separate visits to the concierge to reset our pin (which is used in conjunction with any meal plan purchase or merchandise over $50) to authorize the payment. Well in our case three times the pin stopped working, and in two cases the rooms would not open with the band. Since there was no other way to open the room you had to trek back to the lobby to fix. Again minor inconveniences but again if you have this tool you need a better way to make it work.
Additionally as I mentioned earlier you could make Fast Pass reservations 60 days in advance, really great concept, but they have to be at one park per day. So you can’t make two at Magic Kingdom and one at Animal Kingdom, even if you space them out hours apart. Additionally you MUST use all three before you can book more. So if for example you have two booked for the morning and the third for the afternoon, before you can book number four you must use all three. Skipping the attraction only means you can shift to a different time or attraction, but still at the same park. So in our case with two kids under three nap time was critical and that meant everyday only getting in two reservations and then just wasting the third (which you MUST book) even if you won’t use it. And then just never book a fourth FP or go back to the park you booked them at and use it for something. I get that they are trying to keep people from hogging reservations, but forcing people to make all three reservations at one park, sort of eliminated the benefit of a park hopper ticket. It also makes it harder for savvy park goers to get more and use more FP’s. Like we always have done. The other challenge we had and many others had, is if they didn’t or couldn’t make reservations prior to their visit. You can make all of your FP reservations at designated spots in the park, and that as a whole was cool, but again if you didn’t make them in advance the change of getting in your desired attractions or even getting rides in a timely fashion was impossible. For example we could never get a pass for Test Track, Space Mountain or Soarin amongst many other E Ticket rides. Many people are not aware of the perk and if you don’t stay on property you have to get into the park first to make them, so thusly shutting out people who can’t afford staying on property, or just don’t know about this brand new feature. When you spend $134 per day of $400 for a week per ticket that’s a tough pill to swallow. In many cases we’d get two attractions for the AM and then then third would be some 5-6 hour later. Which meant trying to find something to do , or waiting in 30-85 minute lines. Again this is easily eliminated by planning in advance and also staying on property, or being an annual pass holder. So there is hope. In our case we were very lucky to have complimentary tickets and their system can’t link those to a reservation, so we had to enter the park to make reservations. That being said I can’t complain that we couldn’t book 60 days in advance, we got in for free and that saved us almost $1000 dollars for a week, so definitely no complaints there. Just thoughtful criticism.
The other challenge I noticed, was the linking of FP’s to one reservation. In our case we had two families and two hotel reservations, so when we went to a kiosk to book we had to have one Magic Band per family to book. Not really that big of a deal, but definitely easier in the old process. Additionally if you do have linked reservations you can even make the reservations on the My Disney AP, which was cool if you could use it.
The band also could be used to charge food and souvenirs so effectively you could almost not bring your wallet. This was a neat function but did make it easier to spend your money. Not a bad idea if you work for the Mouse House or are a stock holder, extra revenue is good business right? That being said as a consumer, you can easily just spend spend spend because you don’t ever have to open your wallet. I think in the grand scheme of things, collecting this big data will make Disney more able to customize your experience. They can send you customized deals, provide you with FP reservations based on your patterns and also track people who really bend the system. For example when you have extra magic hours you have to use the band to prevent non-hotel goes from entering the parks or when they have late Extra Magic Hours they made everyone scan their band at each ride, this way they can prevent people who don’t have EMH’s from using rides. Pretty cool in my opinion, but kind of crazy. Also on the occasion that we took a taxi to one of the hotels for dinner we had to scan our badge to get on property, which immediately let the guard know when and where we were dining. Lastly on my big data rant they now require you to use a fingerprint and ticket or Band to enter the park. What they do with your finger print worries me, or if they have a data breach, someone now has my fingerprint linked to a name and who knows what else. I sort of understand that they are trying to prevent fraud, but there has to be a better way.
In any event I was happy to get a band, and when we go back to WDW knowing I can use it again is pretty cool. And with the minor inconveniences knowing it’ll get better, but I must say it’s sad to see the old kiosks slowly disappear. EBAY anyone? What will these spaces become? More Disney Vacation Club kiosks, I jest. Let’s hope not.