7 Techno-Magical Experiences at Walt Disney World!

Jeffrey Poe

By Jeffrey Poe, Jul 28, 2016

WDWMAGIC Contributor

A vacation to Walt Disney World is nothing short of magical. No other place on earth has the ability to capture the imagination and surprise guests.

While some may say magic has nothing to do with it, there are in fact a lot of magical technologies that make it all come together.

Everywhere you look technology plays a major role in this bring dreams to reality. Walt Disney was a true believer in technology and progress. His legacy is a testament to Walt Disney World’s record success. 

Here is a list of seven techno-magical experiences you should look out for during your next trip to the land-of-the-mouse.

7. Toy Story Midway Mania

Take a walk through Andy’s room, past giant crayons and a Barrel-of-Monkeys to play along with your favorite characters at Toy Story Mania!

Toy Story Mania

TSM is one of the most popular attractions in all of Walt Disney World, and for good reason. It’s outrageously fun, and full of Disney technology! What seems like a simple mobile shooting gallery is really a myriad of technologies brought together to make you smile ear-to-ear, (pun intended). This attraction incorporates Disney’s 4D effects, and infrared technology to make it feel like you are really in the game. The idea of creating a mobile 4D platform is mind blowing. The level of complexity to synchronize so many systems is a testament to the technological prowess of Disney’s Imagineers. Here is a tip if you are looking to rack up the points, look to the top of the screen for high-value objects. One hit could yield you 10,000 points, but you should still let your kid win.

6. Interactive Games

Interactive Queue at Soarin' Around the World
There are all kinds of examples of interactive games and attractions at Walt Disney World. From Animal Kingdom to Hollywood Studios, Disney has learned to implement these systems to entertain adults and children alike, even help time fly by, keeping guests entertained while waiting in line for rides like Space Mountain, Winnie the Pooh, 7 Dwarfs Mine train and Test Track. These are usually made up of a screen or projector with an infrared overlay or IR camera, which allows for guest interactions. Most of all, they are just plain fun!

Test track is one of the best examples of Disney’s interactive capabilities where they have linked near-field RFID cards to the experience. Here guests enter a design room where they create their own car. Once completed, guests take their car with them on a Test Track card where they can “load” their cars parameters into the computer to test everything from fuel efficiency to performance.

Dollar for dollar, Disney has invested some big bucks to impress and entertain. Of course, nothing makes my daughter happier than putting her hand in the virtual-honey while waiting to ride her favorite attraction, Winnie the Pooh. So next time you are standing in line, go ahead and play around with these interactive gems. It not only helps pass the time, it’ll put a smile on your face.

5. My Disney Experience App

My Disney Experience App
My Disney Experience app is one of the most powerful and robust apps on the market, period.

You can do everything from make room reservations to finding up-to-the-minute wait times and everything in-between. It truly is a one-stop tool to plan, stay, and play (and eat), all in the palm of your hand.This app is a must for the Disney professional and novice alike.

When it was introduced in 2013 it quickly became the centerpiece of Disney’s new vacation experience. Disney had an app called Mobile Magic, which was a pretty good start, though My Disney Experience has expanded beyond wait times and maps.

Disney has set the benchmark for others to follow throughout the hospitality industry. We love to checkout the restaurant menus on the app as we walk through the park and plan our next dinning adventure.

The recent updates to the My Disney Experience app has made it faster and added some much needed flexibility for FastPass+ selections.

New functionality added earlier this summer gives turn-by-turn navigation in the parks.

4. Turtle Talk and Monsters Laugh Floor

If you have ever dreamed of talking to Crush or laughing at Mike Wazowski’s jokes, Walt Disney World is the place to go. Both of these attractions feature a little piece of move-making magic, allowing you to talk to your favorite characters from Finding Nemo and Monster’s Inc. There is no doubt that it’s really awesome, but how do they do it?

Well you probably already guessed that a character actor/impersonator is sitting behind the stage somewhere. Now, let me pull back the curtain a little more duuuude.

Disney is using some pretty sophisticated software and hardware to track the character actors face as they talk directly to the audience. Cameras placed in the rooms allow the character actors to pick out guests to speak with. Think of it like any virtual meeting software, like Skype of Go-To-Meeting, it’s just that instead of seeing the other person, the audience see’s a computer generated avatar in the form of your favorite little one-eye’d monster or totally tubular turtle! When the actor talks, the expressions are translated to the characters on screen.

The shows revolve around a pre-determined script with room for improvisation. Isn’t that Righteous?!

Turtle Talk with Crush

3. MagicBand

MagicBand
Elegant design meets hi-tech wonder. This simple bracelet is your key to magical surprises and endless fun.

Disney spent a lot of time designing and perfecting the MagicBand not only to enhance your dream vacation, but also to perfect it! Each band contains a set of RFID microchips that allows you to pay for meals, open your room door and shop till you drop.

What you may not know is that Disney is spinning a little magic of their own. That’s because every time you use your MagicBand to buy a Mickey Bar or check-in to Peter Pan’s Flight, Disney is tracking your every step. Actually, you don’t even need to do that, the magic band is always transmitting to hidden RFID readers scattered around the parks and properties, much like a turnpike e-pass, letting Disney know every step you make, every attraction you visit and every Mickey Ice Cream Bar you eat.

Now before you get to excited about big-mouse tracking your every move, keep in mind that this helps Disney plan and spend, giving them statistical data and insights into how people move about the parks and which attractions are the most popular, thus helping them craft the perfect vacation for millions of guests. You get your name on the screen at the end of It’s a Small World and they get to see how long you actually waited to ride Big Thunder Mountain. Pretty cool, right?

2. 3D Projection Mapping

From Haunted Mansion to Enchanted Tales with Belle to Cinderella’s Castle, Walt Disney World brings objects and characters to life through the use of 3D projection mapping.

Projection mapping is a technique that is used to add motion and animation to an otherwise static three-dimensional object. Celebrate the Magic is the largest example of this technology.

Each night Cinderella's Castle comes to life, seemingly taking on new shapes and colors. The whole show is a wonder of imagination and technology, seamlessly blended together with Disney magic.

The new Tree of Life Awakenings and the Star Wars: A Galactic Spectaular take this technology in a new direction that is sure to amaze and delight.

Smaller examples projection mapping can be seen all over the parks; Lumière's face or Madam Leota’s head utilize fiber optic projection mapping to give the characters a life-like look.

One of my favorites is the transition scene from Enchanted Tales with Belle where guests move from Belle’s cottage to the Beast’s castle. What looks like a simple mirror on the wall magically transforms and stretches to become a doorway, which guests walkthrough. The room darkens as the mirror becomes surrounded by magical enchantments. A scene of the castle appears in the mirror making it feel as if you are flying into the scene. The mirror then transforms into a doorway to walk through. The real trick here is Disney has done an excellent job hiding the projectors and technology, further enhancing the effect of the shows and stories. Now, you can be a smarty-pants and tell everyone how it’s done. BTW, if you ever get a chance to go to Disneyland, check out the projection show at night on It’s a Small World. It’s WOW!

1. Talking Mickey Mouse

It’s a wonder of imagination that truly captures the magic of Disney, the chance to actually talk with Mickey Mouse! As a child I used to wonder what it would be like to actually talk with Mickey Mouse. I finally had a chance when I was 37 with my wife and 9-month-old daughter. I’ll admit it, I got a little teary eyed as Mickey started to talk to us. Watching him act and move his mouth was, well…Magical. The mix of technologies at play here are mind-boggling. Pay close attention to Mickey’s handler, they help Mickey know exactly what to do next. Each time Mickey talks a pre-recorded “event” is triggered telling the mouth to open in sync with an audio file that plays Mickey’s response or greeting. And, this experience is about to take on a new face with the addition of MagicBands and RFID technology. Imagine Mickey will know you or your child’s name “magically.” Can you imagine being 6 years old again and hearing Mickey actually say hello to you?!

Walt Disney World is brimming with exciting uses of technology. Even some honorable mentions like animatronics, horticulture and, yes, Magic Ears are still mind-blowing. And, with the opening of Disney’s newest park in Shanghai, Pandora - The World of AVATAR coming in 2017 and the much anticipated Star Wars Land and Toy Story Land, we are in for more immersive attractions with wildly sophisticated technologies at play. Mickey Mouse may be the iconic character everyone loves to see but technology plays a pretty big supporting role. Thanks for reading and please do let me know what kinds of awesome WDW technology you’d like to hear more about. 

Jeffrey Poe

Jeffrey Poe

Jeffrey is an industry leading Creative Director working with various types of visual and interactive technologies. Growing up in Ohio he moved to South Florida where he met his wife. She introduced him to the world of Disney and he became mesmerized by the vast technological wonders that lay within. He visits WDW monthly with his family and is always on the look out for imaginative experiences. His favorite attraction is Carousel of Progress, go figure.
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