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Starting in 2011, the company began introducing technology-fueled innovations that gave a sense of where it was heading in its bid to more personally engage its guests, tailor its one-size-fits-all approach, and make its parks more enchanting. Examples of small, but welcome advances included interactive queues in attractions such as Under the Sea- Journey of the Little Mermaid in New Fantasyland at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. (You can see the Haunted Mansion interactive queue in my Tips for Navigating Disney Park Lines video.) The distractions help reduce the monotony of waiting in long lines, a bane of theme parks.
Disney Imagineers also developed intriguing interactive experiences that let guests explore the parks, cruise ships, and Aulani, its Hawaiian resort. The self-paced adventures, which incorporate sophisticated technology, include the Muppets-themed Midship Detective Agency aboard the Disney Fantasy cruise ship.
Disney Pluses the MagicIn early 2013, the company revealed more details about its NextGen project by announcing MyMagic+. The program is being anchored by the rollout of a new Web site and mobile app, both called My Disney Experience. They are now available with limited functionality. When they are fully operational, which is expected to take place in spring 2013, guests will be able to plan their Disney World vacations and visits in the following ways:
- Make up to three advance reservations of ride times, show performances, character meet-and-greets, and/or preferred seating for fireworks or parades by using the new FastPass+ program. Yup, you read that correctly. You'll be able to book a ride down to the day and hour on, say, Expedition Everest months in advance of your visit. How crazy is that?
- Explore options and get info about the parks and the entire resort.
- In addition to FastPass+, use planning tools to book hotel rooms, make dining reservations, purchase park tickets, and secure other services.
- Coordinate trip planning with family and friends who will be joining you.
- Share trip photos with your posse.
So How Much Will All this Pampering Cost Me?Here is perhaps the most revolutionary part of the new program: It's free. Nada. Zip.
After Disney spent a reported $1 billion on developing the technology, the rampant speculation that it would charge visitors beaucoup bucks for the privilege of pre-arranging their ride times and other vacation itineraries was perhaps understandable. Many feared that a two-tiered system pitting the moneyed elite against the average Joes might evolve.
Instead, the company seems to be hoping that its magical program will help to further distinguish it from its competitors and make Disney World all the more compelling. Additionally, it seems to be banking on fattened coffers from MyMagic+. By making all of its guests' visits so much more seamless and engaging, Disney surely hopes that they will barely notice when they've parted with more of their hard-earned dollars.
How Will It Work at the Parks?OK, you've planned your visit and you've booked your Fastpasses well in advance. Now what? Here's where it gets even more ingenious. Disney has developed radio-frequency identification (RFID)-embedded bracelets it is calling MagicBands. (There sure is a lot of magic going on around here, isn't there?) The rubber bracelets will come pre-loaded with all of your reservations and other info.
The MagicBands, which will be complimentary for Disney World guests staying on property, will be capable of being used as hotel room keys, virtual charge cards to make cashless purchases throughout the resort, park tickets, and Fastpass tickets. In the same way that transponders allow equipped cars to zoom past toll plazas on highways, MagicBand-equipped guests will be able to quickly tap their bracelets and avoid bottlenecked turnstiles at the parks.
Guests not staying at a Disney hotel will be able to purchase MagicBands. Regardless, they will still be able to participate in My Disney Experience by using park tickets with RFID chips.
Would you rather save the appointment you made months earlier with the Expedition Everest's Yeti for another day? No problem. Once guests are at the park, they will be able to make changes on the fly using the My Disney Experience app on their smart phones. The app is sophisticated enough to provide users with real-time info about standby line wait times and Fastpass distribution and return times for attractions.
Possible DownsidesIt all sounds fairly remarkable, especially the fact that the benefits of MyMagic+ are free -- for now. While the company hasn't announced anything, wary Disney watchers still suspect that premium options, which could command premium prices, may be on the way. Instead of three complimentary FastPass+ tickets, what if those willing to pay the price could pre-book all of their rides and the rest of their vacations?
Even if the have/have-not scenarios never materialize, it would seem that Disney is making Fastpasses more readily available. That might make standby lines even longer for visitors who run out of Fastpasses or who don't take full advantage of the My Disney Experience options.
There are also security concerns. Losing a MagicBand, which could contain valuable tickets, credit card data, hotel room access, and other sensitive info could be problematic. Also, there is the 1984 aspect that some may find disconcerting. Disney will be able to track every purchase, every ride guests enter, and virtually every move its RFID-embedded guests make at its resort.
And future iterations of the program will allow users to enter personal information into their My Disney Experience profiles such as anniversary dates and favorite characters. That will allow Disney cast members to add personal touches such as welcoming guests by name and acknowledging their special occasions. Perhaps rides could even be tricked out to respond to passengers. For example, imagine Captain Jack Sparrow whispering conspiratorially to you, by name, in Pirates of the Caribbean.
Personally, I would have no problem sharing personal info with Mickey and the gang. The way I figure it, most of us on the grid gave up any semblance of anonymity years ago. Even so, Disney says that guests will be able to provide as little or as much info as they wish. They need not participate in MyMagic+ My Disney Experience at all if they so choose.