How Walt Disney World's future may evolve from MagicBands to smart devices

Jun 25, 2020 in "MyMagic+"

Posted: Thursday June 25, 2020 9:11am ET by WDWMAGIC Staff

Following years of development and more than 1 billion dollars, Disney introduced its groundbreaking NextGen MyMagic+ initiative back in 2013, making the My Disney Experience planning tool and MagicBands the cornerstone of every Walt Disney World vacation.

The MagicBand became the room key, the park entry media, FastPass+ entry, and payment device.

By January 2015, Disney had distributed more than 10 million MagicBands to guests, which was then followed by hundreds of premium MagicBands with unique designs that guests have been buying and collecting ever since.

Beginning January 2021, Disney will be ending complimentary MagicBand distribution to Disney Resort hotel guests and shifting to guests using their own smart devices in place of MagicBands.

Disney’s plan to replace the MagicBand is to use Near Field Communication (NFC) and through a special partnership with Apple, leverage the convenience of Apple Wallet. On Apple devices, the system will allow advanced NFC features including an Express Mode, which allows the device to be used for access without FaceID/TouchID, and the answer to one of the most criticized aspects of guests using their own devices - the ability to work for several hours after the battery is exhausted. Similar functionality will be available on Android devices.

Apple has extensive experience with NFC for mass use, which has been demonstrated though its contactless student ID program, in use by more than 100,000 college students across America. Once added to Apple Wallet, students can use their devices to access rooms, buy lunch, and enter dorms.

As planned, NFC will power the Walt Disney World main entrance touch points, FastPass+ entry, and payments. Disney’s existing hotel room locks based on VingCard are not currently compatible with Disney’s planned NFC system, and would need to rely on the existing My Disney Experience Digital Key feature for unlocking the room. This unfortunately means that it would not be able to leverage the exhausted battery capability of Apple Wallet. This of course may change, but it could be argued than entry to guest rooms with a dead battery at the end of the day could be one of the most desirable features of allowing guests to user their own devices.

It is clear how the move to using guest supplied devices benefits Disney in cost savings, and how it greatly benefits the environment through millions of MagicBands not reaching landfill sites across the world. But what is in it for the guests?

Since Apple Watch became a runaway hit for Apple in 2015, shortly after MagicBands had become the normal, many guests were wondering just why they couldn’t use the watch in place of the band. The watch is part of many people’s everyday wear, and it seems redundant to have to strap on a MagicBand when there is a far more capable device on the other wrist. Even for those that do not wear an Apple Watch or similar, most have access to a phone, which can also be used for NFC communication. So for the guest, it is really about convenience and having one less thing to carry and keep track of.

And if you are wondering about on-ride photos that has previously needed the long-range capability of the MagicBand, that will be done on smart devices with Bluetooth Low Energy.

Despite the high saturation of smart devices among guests, Disney recognizes that some will still want to use MagicBands, and even physical cards, and they will continue to be supported and available for purchase. This is something that might be especially useful for those traveling with kids, who are far less likely to be equipped with an Apple Watch or similar. 

So that is an overview of Disney’s evolution of MagicBands in 2021, let us know your thoughts on the forum.

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nicb88Feb 24, 2021

It is solely a feature lacking on the U.K. site. If you link your reservation to My Disney Experience then use the US site, you can preorder a magicband. This requires use of a VPN now, as they’ve removed the ability to change to the US site from the U.K.

James JFeb 24, 2021

Some phone contracts in the UK now include free data allowance whilst in the US which has been massively beneficial, especially when I'm usually over there twice a year. It's supposedly 'free within reason' but I have no idea what the cut off would be as I've never got close to it, even when we've driven all over SC with Spotify and Google Maps on the whole time.

JoeCamelFeb 24, 2021

I have always been curious if you come over for 21 days why not pick up a cheap phone and some data that works here to use while you are here? I see this from UK visitors on a regular basis and have always wondered why not get a phone?

James JFeb 24, 2021

Same is now happening for me, also in the UK.

NelleBelleFeb 24, 2021

I’m confused because they just released new bands last week. Or is it because you are from the UK? If you’re going to invest in a smart watch aside from using it for MB functions, I’d go for it, otherwise why wouldn’t you just use an old band or get a new one when there (unless like I mentioned you were getting a smart watch anyway). I do think they should give overseas visitors a coupon to get a certain amount off a new MB since it sounds like you can’t get the discounted ones at booking.

LieutLawwFeb 24, 2021

When I went on to MDE to look at MB options the other day they have now been removed completely, last year when I was looking at my booking I could still order a MB but had to pay for it and collect it from the hotel when I checked in (as I am in the UK) now you are taken to an FAQ saying they no longer offer them and you can buy one at your Resort Hotel or in on of the parks. I may have to invest in a smartwatch for my (hopefully) trip later in the year.

Crunchie9Feb 24, 2021

Anyone try the Apple watch with the DME app yet?

dreday3Feb 06, 2021

And it had your room number! I can't remember the room, but it was a parking lot view where we could see Spaceship Earth, so must have been before villas were built! 3rd floor. Okay I was just reminded the key-card we kept was from our trip In 2000. Wow, time flies...

TrainsOfDisneyFeb 06, 2021

Nice! The only one I have is Wilderness Lodge. Such a cool memory of my first trip. In the past they printed your name and length of stay on the front of the cards. That may not be necessary now with mymagic+.

lazyboy97oFeb 05, 2021

Prior cards have had a place to write names so that people know who‘s is who’s and it’s required at least for passholders. Adding names to the cards isn’t difficult. The printers are available in small sizes and could be done right there at the desk.

NelleBelleFeb 05, 2021

I think they're just generic cards to use in place of using your phone or a MB. Why would they go to the trouble of printing your name on it if they're not going to give it to everyone? I'm sure they're hoping for some of those to be "recycled" by being returned to the front desk, just like other room keys at other hotels (not that I'd expect guests to do that...they do make a nice souvenir). Besides, if you lost that, would you want your name on it? Unless you're thinking just first name? I personally wouldn't want any personal info on one of those cards in case I lost it.

dreday3Feb 05, 2021

I still have my Beach Club one somewhere!

aaronmlFeb 05, 2021

Seems like they are no longer printing Guest Name, etc. on the cards?

TrainsOfDisneyFeb 05, 2021

I still prefer the classic character designs but these do look good. I’m for them! Anyone else remember the resort specific key cards? Those were the days!