Guests at the Walt Disney World (WDW) Resort in Orlando, Florida, have the ability to skip traditional room key cards and paper passes through the use of MagicBands. MagicBands utilize radio frequency (RF) technology to open hotel room doors, get into the parks, reserve FastPass+ experiences, and more. As a guest at WDW in the summer of 2014, my extended family and I had the opportunity to use the newest tech rolled out by Disney.
How to Get MagicBands
There are three ways to get MagicBands. The first is to book a Walt Disney World vacation and stay at one of the on-site properties. The second is to purchase (or upgrade) the bands in the parks themselves. The final way is to be an annual Disney World passholder.
Book a Disney World Resort Stay
When you book a vacation to Disney World and stay at one of the 20-plus resorts on Disney property, you will receive free MagicBands. Once you've reserved your vacation, you'll log into My Disney Experience (MDE). Once you have linked your vacation and/or hotel reservations to MDE, you'll be able to select one of the seven band colors (gray is sent automatically unless you choose another option) and add a name. As long as you log in and select your bands by ten days from your trip's start date, the bands will be shipped to the address associated with your reservations.
My family and I received the bands approximately one month before our trip in the colors we selected. Our names were printed on the inside and the boxes were sturdy and festive. The bands were plain, with the small Mickey ear icon over the RF transmitter. We had a non-ticketed child with us and were pleasantly surprised to find he received a band as well. However, he was issued the standard gray, as we were unaware we could choose a band for him. The bands can be adjusted to fit children and smaller wrists by taking the outer gray band off and just using the smaller colored inner portion.
If you don't book your vacation early enough to be mailed the bands, you'll receive them upon check-in at your resort.
Purchase in the Parks or Online
Even if you don't stay on-site, you can still use the MagicBand technology, although you will have to pay for it. Bands purchased without booking a resort stay will still need a MDE account that can then be linked to the bands.
Traditional bands can be purchased at multiple locations inside any of the four parks. Special edition bands are sometimes released, such as those available for Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party. You can also purchase character and movie-related bands at DisneyStore.com. Prices start around $13 for traditional bands and go up for limited edition and customized options.
Customized bands can be purchased at the MagicBands on Demand storefront at Magic Kingdom. Sarah Graffam at TouringPlans.com discussed her experience making a custom band, noting the fast design process and multiple options available. However, Graffam did mention the printing time was longer than expected and names were not printed on the inside of the band, a potential downfall for family or group members with similar bands.
Be a Passholder
Annual passholders to the Walt Disney World Resort are given MagicBands as part of their benefits. Once you link your passes and select your bands they will be mailed to you. This must be done prior to ten days before your next trip.
Using the Bands
The MagicBands function in a variety of ways that can make your entire experience run a little more magically.
Hotel Room Key
To use the MagicBand as a room key, simply hold the ear icon in front of the door and wait to hear it unlock. Only one person in my group experienced issues with using the band as a room key, and I personally suspect it was because he did not wait quite long enough before moving his wrist away from the door. Other WDW guests have noted occasional issues with regard to using the bands as room keys, but they can be solved by visiting your hotel's guest service desk in the lobby.
Our party had to use the bands to enter the pool areas at our resort. MagicBands are waterproof, so there's no need to worry about ruining them in pool or during one of Florida's frequent rain showers.
MagicBands are used as your theme and water park tickets. When you arrive at the gates and have gone through security, you'll need to scan the Mickey icon against the scanner. It should light up green if you hold it properly. You will also need to choose a finger to scan as well. You must use the same finger each time you enter the park; otherwise, your band will not be granted a pass and the scanner will light up red.
One person in my party did have difficulty with this, forgetting which finger she used in conjunction with the band during the first day's visit. However, cast members did allow her to retry, and she used the proper finger with no trouble the second time.
FastPass+, the system Disney uses to help guests avoid long lines by 'reserving' a time to visit a ride or entertainment venue, is also linked to the bands. When you enter the FastPass+ line, you will need to hold your band in front of a scanner similar to those used at the park entrance. As long as you enter during the designated times, you will be pushed through. The scanner will light up red if you are outside the designated time. We did have this occur, as we had a bit of difficulty timing multiple people's FastPass+ selections at the same time.
Additionally, while your original FastPass+ selections are made using the MDE website and linked to your bands, you cannot update on the fly if you are park hopping and have used all of your previous FastPasses. Unfortunately, as Undercover Tourist mentions, you still need to get into a FastPass line at the new park to add a new pass regardless of whether you have a band.
Dining reservations are also linked to the MagicBands. Nick at Coaster101.com reported that the bands were helpful with his pre-park opening reservations at Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom, noting he scanned his bands twice before being seated. My group made two dining reservations using the MDE website, but we did not need to use the bands to check in or be seated at our table.
WDW offers plenty of photo opportunities, from character meet-and-greets to group photos in front of the Tree of Life and Cinderella's castle to action-packed ride images. If you do not purchase a Disney photo package (called Memory Maker) in advance, your images from the vacation can still be linked if you buy the package after you've taken a PhotoPass photograph. Even if you don't purchase a package, your images will still be linked to your account if you utilize any rides, attractions, or Disney Park photographers. Rides and attractions have sensors that capture your image and use the information to link them to your account and photographers will scan your band.
Charge Purchases to Your Room
When you sign up for the MDE and choose your bands, you'll also have the option to link your bands to a credit card. Along with a personalized PIN, this will allow guests to make purchases throughout the park. Purchases can be for meals, snacks, beverages, and souvenirs. However, as Lauren Repei at DisneyDining.com reminds readers, purchases could be made "a little too easily!" For this reason, my party and I decided not to utilize this option as we wanted to keep our budget in check.
Overall Experience With MagicBands
Overall, our experience with MagicBands was a positive one. My group and I found they made planning our trip easy. We didn't have any problems wearing or using them outside a minor blip or two. AllEars.net reviewers report a mostly positive experience with the bands, noting their convenience and "ease of use." Common problems revolved around irritations with the band itself and occasional glitches or problems with the chip not working. Disney is sure to continue tweaking and improving the bands, so keep an eye on their official blog for news and updates on the technology.