Thursday, March 7, 2024

Do You Still Need Magic Bands At Walt Disney World?

 


As we're preparing for our (getting closer every day) next trip to Walt Disney World, we recently ordered and received new Magic Bands for our family.  They are technically Magic Band+ (because Disney needs a "+" for every occasion), and we'll get into some of the differences below.  Magic Bands have been a traditional part of our family trips for years now, but given the new technology being implemented by Disney (as well as the reality that these cute trip add-ons aren't free anymore), I began to think about this question - do we still need Magic Bands?


I wanted to discuss a little history of the Magic Band, then discuss how they have evolved, where they stand today and what other options are available.  The ultimate answer to the question in the post title here will be (say it with me) "it depends" (I figured I'd just spoil the end of this post now).  As I'm writing this post AFTER we got our recent MB+'s, I think you can probably tell what side we fall on.



Magic Bands were originally developed as part of Disney's "Next Gen" technology initiative, which began the planning stages all the way back in 2008.  As usual with these things, there were a lot of ideas thrown around at the time, but ultimately this project became known as MyMagic+ (there's that plus again!), which itself had four major features that were rolled out to the consumer - FastPass+, the My Disney Experience app, Photo Pass and Magic Bands.


It's beyond the scope of this post to discuss all of these in detail, but I suspect if you're reading this, you are probably familiar with them.  FastPass+ was the big one, allowing for attractions to be booked ahead of time and electronically, doing away with the paper tickets and park running strategy of years past.  FP+ coincided with My Disney Experience (MDE), so that it gave guests the ability to book these attractions and see all of their daily plans.  And PhotoPass (and the related Memory Maker product) allowed guests to have all of their photos collected in one place (the MDE app) without having to view and purchase ride photos separately, for example.


The common link here is MDE, and while there are often some rocky points related to that app, it has certainly changed the park going experience for everyone in the last ten or more years (MyMagic+ officially launched in early 2013).  It's hard to remember a time before smart phones, but the early 2010's was a time in which they were not omnipresent (I for one didn't get my first iPhone until 2011, if I recall correctly).  Now it would seem ridiculous if they DIDN'T have this technology available for use in the parks but it was pretty forward thinking at the time.


The fourth component of MyMagic+ was the Magic Bands.  They were designed as wearable technology that would link up with your MDE account and allow guests to tap them against designated turnstiles for park tickets, FastPass+ attractions, hotel room keys, Magical Express access and more.  This was a big step forward, and worked well in tandem with FP+ especially, as it streamlined the guest experience - instead of taking out paper tickets or cards at every attraction, they just tapped their Magic Bands and entered the line.


I know when it came to our family, the kids were big fans.  It gave them a sense of control over their experience in the parks, as they could tap in to a ride and not rely on their parents to show their tickets.  The Magic Bands came in various designs over the years, though we often had the basic solid color ones.  That in and of itself became a fashion choice for the kids though, as they could choose which they liked best.


One of the great features of Magic Bands (and Magic Band 2, which changed the design and came out in 2016) was that they were free to resort guests and annual passholders.  Yes, there were "upgraded" designs that you had to pay for, and if you wanted to purchase one as a non-resort guest, they cost money.  But for many, it was just another perk that Disney included with your stay.


Of course, much like the OTHER free things Disney offered guests (FP+, Magical Express), eventually Magic Bands weren't offered as a courtesy ahead of your trip.  You could still purchase them (and to be fair, a lot of the solid color designs were still only a small fee) but taking them away as an automatic perk led many to believe that the technology was on the way out in favor of something else.



That "something else" became MagicMobile, which launched in early 2021 and allowed guests to use their phones in place of the Magic Bands to perform the same functions.  In a way, this made a lot of sense - guests would always have their phones on them and they wouldn't need to wear a separate piece of technology to perform the same task.  Plus, it was free, since Disney can't charge you for a phone that you already own (though I'm sure they would if they could).  Plus MagicMobile works with another bit of wearable technology that more people have already - the Apple watch.


If all of this technology is too much for you, the other option to replace Magic Bands is the Key to the World card.  This is a credit card sized plastic card that can perform many of the same functions as Magic Bands or MagicMobile - it can be your park ticket, hotel room key, redeem Lightning Lanes and link to your account for PhotoPass.  Disney doesn't send these out automatically, so they can be requested at the front desk of your resort or any guest relations kiosk in the parks.


While I like the Key to the World card because of the different designs (the same way I like Disney gift cards), the biggest issue with these is the that they are easily lost.  If you have to take a card out of your pocket or wallet every time you need to tap in somewhere, this isn't nearly as safe as your phone (less likely to drop, I hope) or something you are wearing.


As for MagicMobile, I understand why people would want to go this route - as I said, you will have your phone on you at all times anyway.  And between booking Lightning Lanes and confirming your daily plans, you're probably looking at your phone a lot while you're in the parks.  And I guess this is part of the problem - if you're already doing that, do you really want to have to use it at every tapstile as well?  At least the Magic Band is already on your wrist!


Before I fully endorse the Magic Band, I should mention one recent wrinkle, which is the advent of Magic Band+.  Essentially, the new version has all of the same features as the original Magic Band, but the Plus version has a redesigned look, has customizable light displays and haptic vibrations.  It would also interact with certain park experiences (notably the 50th Anniversary gold statues, which have since been phased out) and light up during Fantasmic and Happily Ever After (with more to come, I'm sure).  They are also rechargeable, which is both good and bad - good that they can last "forever", and bad that it's another thing to have to constantly charge while on vacation.  


Of course, with all these new "features", the price of the MB+ has gone up.  When pre-ordering, there are precious few of the original Magic Bands available at this point, so it's either the MB+ or nothing.  This was another $100+ for our family of four, for something that used to be free.  We considered not doing it, but I still contend that the bands are a more fun and convenient way to get around the parks and resorts.  We like having new bands for each trip as a commemorative thing.


Your mileage may vary here, which gets back to my original answer to this question from above.  Is it worth it?  That's up to you.  I wouldn't blame you for saying enough is enough here, as this is another way Disney has taken to charging you for something that used to be included.  But if you can decide to get past that, the Magic Band is still a useful and unique part of your Disney vacation.




 

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