Last weekend, my wife and I took a short trip to Walt Disney World, and interacted with FastPass+ and MagicBands for the first time. Disney has been testing both services for quite some time now, in order to work out all the concerns before they are officially labeled as launched. For now, they are both in a testing phase, although it seems that we are getting closer to seeing them go live. After the break, read about our experience utilizing them, and find some of my thoughts on why the concepts behind FastPass+ and MagicBands are necessary in this age.
I booked the trip less than three days prior to our arrival, wanting to take advantage of the holiday weekend (but moreseo as a way to celebrate my wife’s birthday). Although that meant less waiting before the start of the trip (who can say that they enjoy the long weeks and months before a planned vacation to a Disney park?), it also meant less time to plan, for both us and for Disney. Due to the last-minute booking, vacation documents and MagicBands, which Disney usually starts sending out approximately one month before your arrival, would be waiting for us at Disney. Normally, once you have booked your trip through Disney, you have the opportunity to go online and customize your MagicBand, choosing a color that you would like to wear on your wrist. If you customized your MagicBand at least 10 days in advance, it is mailed to you; if customized after that but no later than 5 days before arrival, it will be waiting at your resort. After the 5 day mark is missed, though, Disney has no time to customize it, and thus you receive a generic gray-colored MagicBand from the first location you require it. This was our fate, which I cannot say did not sadden me (double negative, I know), but is understandable, given the time Disney requires to manage tens of thousands of them.
In the short two days of planning time that we had, we set out to choose the three experiences at Magic Kingdom where we would be able to use FastPass+. The legacy FastPass system issued paper passes from a kiosk in the vicinity of the attraction, and you were allowed as many as you could gather, obviously depending on the demand of the attractions you wanted to ride and the hours of the park. The more riders that collected FastPass for a certain ride, the earlier they would theoretically all be distributed. FastPass+ allows you to log into the My Disney Experience website and/or app and choose which experiences you would like to book beforehand. At this point, you are limited to three FastPass+ bookings in one day. Where FastPass was limited to just attractions, FastPass+ has kicked down the gates to offer character meets, exclusive spots for parade viewings and fireworks, and more. It was just a couple days before our trip, but there were still plenty of experiences remaining, even with it being a Sunday on a holiday weekend (Martin Luther King Day was the upcoming Monday). You choose which three attractions you would like to do most, and are asked to rank them. Then, you are provided a few options, and are asked to choose one. Although you may not like all the offered times, once you have chosen a set, you can always go back and alter the time for each experience individually, as you will be presented with more time options. It is a mix of ease of use, with the ability for the major planners out there (I’m one of them) to delve deeper and organize their day more meticulously for an effective visiting plan. We chose Peter Pan, Space Mountain, and Pirates of the Caribbean, but I went in and individually adjusted their times to spread them out throughout the day.
We arrived at Orlando International Airport on Saturday afternoon and proceeded to the Magical Express area, where our bus awaited to transport us to the Coronado Springs Resort, where we would be staying for two nights. Since guests boarding the Magical Express buses were required to present their MagicBands, and we did not yet have ours, we received our gray bands at the airport. Once I put it on my wrist, I placed the MagicBand in front of the scanner and waited for it to display a green color, which signifies that you are clear to proceed. There is a small learning curve for understanding which part of the MagicBand you need to place on the scanner. Like on a watch, where the clock sits, there is a Mickey head symbol on the MagicBand, and this is where the technology essentially lives. Learn to aim that at the scanner and moving ahead becomes significantly easier. I had some difficulty aiming the MagicBand at the scanner at times, but I attributed that to my first time using the new tech. Once I had used it a few times, I became rather comfortable using it.
Once we arrived at the resort, our MagicBands were scanned once more at the check-in desk. We headed over to our room, but not before admiring the sheer beauty of Coronado Springs. We had always stayed at value resorts, and while they have their benefits (i.e. being significantly cheaper), it was refreshing to upgrade, even if it was only for a short stay. When your resort rooms are used as simply a hub to spend a few short hours sleeping between trips around the massive property, a value resort could be more inviting. Essentially, which resort you stay at depends on who you are and what you are looking for. Coronado is a magnificent resort, from its beautiful landscapes, its gorgeous lake, to even the hammocks on its beach, and I cannot wait to return.
We arrived at the door to our room and once again held up a MagicBand to enter, a movement that was starting to seem normal. It should, because you can even make purchases by flashing the band. Set up a pin code, connect a credit card to the MagicBand, and you instantly have a simple method to buy your keepsakes, collectibles, and snacks around property. You have the option to do so, of course, but you no longer have to whip out your wallet, dig for a credit card, and swipe it to pay for something. I was less worried of dropping or misplacing my credit card, and was content with being able to turn my wrist to a scanner to make a purchase. This is a peek at the future that Disney is shaping across its Parks.
Utilizing FastPass+ reservations works in the same manner, as we flash forward to our day at Magic Kingdom, which started in the late morning. We scanned our way into the park using our MagicBand and a finger scanner, which prevents park entrances from being passed around to others. After stuffing ourselves with the oh-s0-good buffet breakfast at the stunning Crystal Palace (my wife is a huge Eeyore fan, and if you were not aware, the restaurant includes meets with Winnie The Pooh characters who visit you at your table while you eat), we rushed off to Tomorrowland to await our first reservation of the day, Space Mountain. We had some time before we could enter the ride, so we headed over to the classic rides, Carousel of Progress and PeopleMover. One day, I will write an article about what makes Carousel the best Disney ride, but that is not this day. As soon as we were done with PeopleMover, our time to ride Splash Mountain had arrived. Similar to the legacy FastPass system, you are given a 1-hour window in which to swipe your MagicBand and enter the shortened FastPass+ queue. I placed my MagicBand in front of the scanner, once at the entrance, and then once more prior to riding (in order to deter line jumpers), and I was ready to conquer the ride. Simple.
Once we exited Space Mountain, we had our eyes on the second reservation, Peter Pan, which was located in Fantasyland. Rather than rushing off to gather another FastPass on the other side of the park, which definitely would have been the result of using the old FastPass system, we lazily strolled between Space Mountain and Peter Pan, knocking out rides by waiting in the regular queues before using our FastPass+ reservation for Peter Pan. We were cognizant of the wait times and did not end up waiting for more than 40 minutes at any ride all day, even though we rode most of the attractions (we were on attractions through 2 am after leaving for a dinner at the Grand Floridian’s Citricos restaurant). I am a planner and like to manage wait times – early in the day and late at night, wait times are understandably lower.