For those of you who are regulars, you may recall that about a month or so ago I got Magic Bands for my upcoming trip (two weeks ago) and promised to update on how they worked. And now the time has come to update!
This is not my picture, it’s a Disney-issued one. However this is not that far off what it’s like using the bands.
Here’s the ending first: I actually really liked them. I found them very useful. 🙂
Ordering and customizing them was pretty simple. I got a notice that I would be participating in the testing phase, with instructions on where to login to order the bands. I did so, got to customize them (which basically just means picking out colours for everyone, not much else to do) and they arrived two days later. Right now there is a limited number of colours available, but Disney is already selling accessories like covers and little knickknacks to stick into the peg holes so there is plenty you can do with them.
Now, this is the testing phase, and I’ve heard from a few people who have run into trouble with the Magic Bands. I’m here to say that I didn’t. Pretty much all of it worked out the way it is supposed to, and better than I expected. I’ll give a reasonably quick run-down of what I liked, and then mention any negatives at the end. There aren’t many. Ready? Here we go!
1) This is my favourite part. In the past one of the things that got me was all the stuff I ended up carrying around: Key to the World cards, paper FastPasses, dining reservation confirmation numbers, PhotoPass cards, and potentially even more. With the Magic Bands, all of that is on your wrist. Since you can get charging privileges to your room, you can even charge your dining and shopping expenses with your Magic Band. Seriously, I could leave EVERYTHING behind and travel without my wallet if I wanted to.
This is huge for me. Especially because I don’t let my kids carry their tickets/FastPasses by themselves in case they lose them. So I keep them, hand them over to enter the parks or get FastPasses, and then take them back and store them again and inevitably get them confused with my own. Now that they are WEARING their park passes (and by extension, their FastPass+ reservations), I don’t have to worry about THAT, either.
On this particular trip, the Magic Band was a blessing for just this reason. We were resort-hopping and stayed each night on a different reservation – Ft. Wilderness campsite, then Animal Kingdom Lodge, then a different Ft. Wilderness campsite. I got a new Key to the World card with each check-in. However, since the Magic Band was activated with our AK Lodge stay, I only had to use the first set of KttW cards and after that I didn’t need any. Which is a real relief, because here is what I was travelling with:
2 sets of room keys, Halloween party tickets, and a PhotoPass card. And actually there were two other room cards that I let myself “misplace” in the car somewhere.
Since the first set was still active the entire time and had the tickets on them, I kept them with us. We did end up using them for extra FastPasses (this will not continue to work once FastPass+ completely takes over). But I have to tell you, it was a relief not to be pawing through my wallet constantly for everything. (I did not charge to the MagicBands b/c I had everything either cash or on gift cards. But having the option was even more convenient, and next time I come and actually use my credit card, I’ll MagicBand it.)
2) FastPass+. I have heard the very real complaint that this removes spontaneity from your trip, and this is true. But it also gives you the option to decide in advance what you absolutely cannot miss, and make SURE you don’t miss it. Our first day, Magic Bands were not active yet so I couldn’t do FastPass for Hollywood Studios. We got to the park at 11am and Toy Story Mania FastPasses were already for return times of 6pm. Over Columbus Day weekend, though, they were gone by 10:30am! Meanwhile, I was able to get FP+ reservations for most of the rides I wanted – at times of the day I wanted – at Epcot, Magic Kingdom, and Animal Kingdom. Yes, there is something about being able to check a line first to see if you NEED a FastPass for it, and making a decision based on that, but… I didn’t really miss that. Instead I had peace of mind in knowing that I would DEFINITELY be able to get onto the rides I had picked out, and since I knew the time windows in advance, I was able to plan my day around them.
3) The fit was better than I thought it would be. You may remember from my earlier review that the plastic was harder than I thought it would be, and I was having a hard time getting a fit I liked. Well, I played around with it and I did end up getting it more comfortable… still not ideal, but OK. Then I got used to it. Meanwhile, my daughter wore hers the ENTIRE TRIP.
D wore her Magic Band the entire time, from the moment I showed it to her. Even though we wouldn’t use it for two days.
Plus it was kind of stylish. 😉 I felt all punk rock, in a kind of weird “slave to the system” kind of way.
A few minor negatives:
1) The small inconvenience of not being able to get FastPass+ for our first day. Since the Magic Bands were assigned to our Animal Kingdom Lodge stay, they were not activated until then, even though I had all my reservations linked on the My Disney Experience page and my tickets were from a Magic Your Way package starting the day before. I had 4 days’ worth of tickets I could choose FastPass+ for – but that was starting on 10/2, no earlier, and we officially arrived on 10/1. 😛 That was OK and obviously will not be a problem when ALL resort and park media is Magic Band oriented, but it was a hiccup for me this time. That’s OK though.
2) FastPass+. I know I said I liked it, but it gets a little mention here anyway, for the reason that it will be tricky for people who don’t research their trips in advance but want to use FP+. You have a few options to do this: You can do it well in advance on your My Disney Experience, or you can do it via the MDE app either at home or even in the parks, or you can do it from a kiosk in the parks. Let’s say that you don’t know to go to My Disney Experience before you get there, and you don’t have a smartphone so you can’t use the apps (don’t say “Everyone has a smartphone!” because I don’t.). But you get there and you see a tip about getting FastPasses and that they’re free and everyone can get them… what do you do? You have to track down one of the kiosks and do them from there. If you’re in the park and you want to make changes to your FP+ selections – which you can do right up until the time it becomes active – you’ll have to use the app or the kiosk, too.
I just feel like it was easier and more accessible for everyone to get the paper FPs – sure, some people didn’t bother/didn’t know about them, but at least if you did find out about them it was relatively easy to get them. FP+, it’s a bit more complicated and if you’re not tech savvy you might end up confused. I only saw one kiosk and it didn’t seem obviously marked to me, nor did it seem clearly to be staffed with a CM to answer questions (though it might have been – I will admit that since I didn’t need it, I wasn’t looking for any).
You will also want to write down your times for your FastPass+ reservations, because I’ve heard a few people say that the My Disney Experience app can be buggy and slow. Have that info with you with old-fashioned paper to make sure you don’t miss it, just in case!
3) There IS room for confusion. I’m not speaking about myself personally since things went smoothly for us, but just like anything where you are relying on technology there are opportunities for mistakes, glitches, and just plain confusion. Things can be reset, things can still be lost, it’ll happen. This isn’t a negative so much as a reality.
4) The procedure to use the Magic Bands is very, very precise.
Here’s the thing: there is a Mickey Mouse head on the flat front part of each Band. In order to “check in” with the Bands, you have to hold them to the round Mickey sensors. Once they connect, the sensor lights up and then the light spins in a green circle. (For adults entering the park, you still ahve to do the finger sensor as well, but it’s only a second; kids don’t have to do this.)
Anyway, it’s really easy. EXCEPT that you have to do it just the right way, with the Mickey on the Band flat up against the Mickey on the sensor. If it’s not flat, the sensor won’t read it. This is not so hard for adults, but it’s tricky for kids. I kept telling my daughter “You have to make the Mickeys kiss”, which made her giggle, but I was trying to make her remember that they had to be flat together. She held up a few lines getting through – not a problem, not really, but if you don’t know what the problem is, it could go on for a while. It did take her 2 or 3 tries sometimes, especially checking in on the FPs.
Now here is the single biggest negative for pretty much everyone I’ve spoken to: You can only get FastPass+ reservations in one single park, per day. You get up to 3 but they are ONLY eligible in one park. If you’ve got park-hopper tickets, right now at least, you have to pick which park you’re going to use FP+ in. This may change – most people hope that it will, because if you’re parkhopping it’s a major drawback! I will say, we were NOT parkhopping, so it was not an issue for us. But it’s undeniably an issue for anyone who does.
The other part of this is the limited number you can get. Under the old system it was possible to get more than 3 without bending any rules; it just depended on your timing, what crowds were like, what rides you picked, etc. Having a solid limit of 3 per day can be a letdown. Adding the single park rule makes it downright inconvenient at times. There are probably some ways around it, and we are still in the testing phase (this is optimism, folks!) so expect tweaks and alterations as we go. I’m crossing my fingers that these two restrictions will lift sometime within the next year, at least. Does anyone remember how many bumps Magical Express used to have? It always takes a little while to get a system working perfectly, tests or no tests.
I think that covers everything! All in all, I give my experience a high rating, and I hope it continues to get smoother for everyone. If there are things you don’t understand, I’ll be happy to take questions! 🙂