MagicBand Observations and Suggestions for Improvement
MagicBands are finally rolling out in full at Walt Disney World. After a long testing process that started back in spring of this year, it looks like WDW and their guests will be getting these as an early Christmas present! If you’re not familiar with these, be sure to check out Disney’s page for the scoop. Basically, these are the result of the not-so secret project that Disney has been working on for the last few years under the broad project name “Next Generation Experience”. They’re RFID enabled bands designed to fit on your wrist and contain your park tickets, fastpass reservations, photopass id, and purchasing capabilities.
Update: 11/18/13 – The Orlando Sentinel has reported that the project is behind schedule and being delayed for several months to resolve some of the issues found in testing. Not a lot of detail was provided on how the delay will effect guests. More information and the full article can be found here.
My family and I experienced the “magic” of using these recently, on our 19th trip to WDW in October. We arrived on Thursday, October 17th and checked in at POP century without any issues or real delay. Oddly, when we checked in, they also gave us the Key to the World cards, and told us they were to be used just in case the MagicBands failed. Fortunately, we didn’t need them, as the trip went without issue the entire time we were there. We were able to enter our rooms, make purchases, pay for meals, enter the parks and use them for fastpass reservations we had made online before arrival as well as photopass pictures. Overall, the experience of using the MagicBands was pleasant and uneventful, which made for a great vacation, but I can’t say they added anything spectacular to the trip.
Anecdotally, I found myself frequently looking at my band to see what time it was, in spite of the fact that I haven’t worn a watch in almost 7 years. It’s kind of ironic too, considering that I decided to stop wearing watches on a previous vacation to WDW and feeling like I was somewhat slave to the time and just wanted to enjoy myself and NOT worry about the time.
Now that I have my general review and comments out of the way, I would like to point out some observations, and suggestions of how I think Disney could improve MagicBands.
We didn’t have any specific issues with making purchases using the bands, but something peculiar we found was in the authentication requirements. When making a purchase for less than $50, they require the guest to enter a PIN that was previously set, which makes sense. However, I found the over $50 requirement a little puzzling. As before, a PIN is required, but there is also a requirement to sign for the purchase. I understand the potential security risk here, and I think it’s a good idea to have a second step, but I think the signature requirement just feels a bit out-dated if not maybe pointless. Perhaps they’ve implemented it this way to verify authenticity if a purchase is questioned or maybe fraudulently made. Or, maybe it’s a hold over from the old way. Regardless, it just seems a bit more cumbersome especially in comparison to the way it used to work with the Key to the World (KTTW) cards or a credit card (one step), and I think there might be a better way.
Purchasing Improvement Suggestion: Instead of requiring a signature on purchases over $50, use a different PIN, or ask for the guest’s room number to be entered for verification.
Usage Tip: The scanner (pictured above) is actually removable. It sits on a magnetic stand and can be picked up by either the CM or the guest to be positioned better with the MB which might help reduce the awkward wrist twist that’s usually needed.
During our short trip, we witnessed on several occasions, long lines at the entrance of the FastPass return queue. Several times these lines extended out into the normal flow of traffic in the area, creating a bit of congestion. The backups occurred on most all of what would be considered “E-ticket” or popular attractions like Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Rail Road, etc. For the most part, the lines all moved pretty steadily, not fast, but at least steady. I attribute this issue mostly, but not entirely, to the newness of the Magicbands and guests adjusting to using them. I have no way to confirm, but, it also seems like may be a lot more people utilizing FP than before which could be adding to the longer lines.
I noticed that there are some scanners that you have to press the flat part of the band (with Mickey on it), directly up against the scanner, but others are a little different, and you just have to pass the band right in front, either that, or some may just be faster than others. Of course, this could also be a network communications issue where the network or servers were busy and it took longer.
On a related note, we had a CM at the FP entry point of the queue at Kilimanjaro Safaris, tell us that only one member of our group needed to swipe our band for entry. No other FP queue CMs did this during our time.
Here’s a general list of things that seem to slow people down at FastPass return, some observed on my own, others were comments from a discussion thread on WDWMagic:
- Incorrect placement of the band on the receiver (Mickey Head). This could be adults who can’t seem to get it to align properly, or kids who can’t reach the receiver and need assistance.
- Slow response from receiver/system. Sometimes after reading your band the light will circle on the receiver (white) two or three times before turning green, indicating you’re FP time is within the window and you’re clear to proceed.
- Un-informed/trained guests who don’t understand how to use them. Some guests seem to think that just because they have a band, it means they automatically get to use the Fastpass entrance to the ride.
- Guests not wearing their bands on their wrist, or who don’t have them readily accessible for scanning.
- Family or group whose times don’t all align with each other, but they try to all enter together.
- Wrong times, or times that maybe shifted from what they were originally?
None of these issues are show-stoppers really, they just slow things down unnecessarily. Some of them are easily corrected by additional training and education for both CMs and guests, and some of these are just the newness of the bands and will ease over time. However, there are still a couple of areas here where I think they could improve.
One other comment I heard was that the paper Fastpass, while wasteful and problematic in itself sometimes, seemed like it was faster for both the guests and Cast members. A CM could quickly look at a bunch of FPs and see their times were all together or at least close enough and let them go in. But, with the electronic version, there is no visual, until each person swipes their bands, which takes a few seconds more. And, since the times are now being checked by a computer, it’s likely a bit more strict with early or late arrivers, although, this should be easily adjusted. Again, some of this is just the newness, and most of these issues will be worked out, but I have to wonder too if this might be a case where the old way could have a slight advantage.
Improvement Ideas for MagicBand and Fastpass efficiency:
1) As you can see in the picture above, the scanner/reader is at the the top of a 4 foot tall (estimated) pole that is usually themed to the area or attraction. Enhance the readers and expand the scanning zone. Instead of having a small scanning circle that is set at a fixed height, change the readers and use a vertical scanning sensor that runs from 18″ to the top of the pole. So, no matter the guest’s height or how/where the guest holds their band, the sensor should be able to read it. Obviously, these should also be added at the front gates of the parks as well.
2) Replace the Mickey/circle head with a screen or digital display that would show the guest’s names, party size and FP return time in a way that is visible to both them and the CM. Optionally, add an audio cue, either a voice or different sound that would identify the situation.
I think these changes, would greatly improve the situation as well as make it easier for both the CMs and guests in understanding and hopefully resolving some of the aforementioned problems that can happen.
I’ve heard there are kiosks around the parks where guests can swipe their bands and make or change FP times, but either I wasn’t looking for them, or they’re MIA in the parks. Regardless, it seems there should be more of these scattered around and perhaps more visible.
Just look at my pictures above. I’m not necessarily saying one is better than the other, but… one of them might be easier for some people, like me.
General Improvement Suggestion: One thing that seemed pretty obvious in all of our usage of the bands, whether at purchasing, gate entrances, Fastpass or room entry was the very strict requirement of having to physically touch the Mickey head on the band to receiver. I don’t know if it’s possible using the system they have, but the radio signals could be turned up in power to allow for quicker/easier scanning. I don’t know if it’s possible using the system they have implemented, but the radio signals could be turned up in power to allow for quicker/easier scanning. We use a system like this where I work, and it’s proximity based which doesn’t require physically touching. The reader and device can detect each others’ signal just by passing within close proximity, which is usually about an inch. If this were possible, it would make the system a bit more user-friendly and possibly even quicker.
If I can offer an honest critical review, I would say that overall, the MagicBand “experience” seems almost negligible. For the average guest staying on-property, the added benefit would seem almost insignificant, except for the added ability to pre-select or reserve fastpass times, which for some is huge. Admittedly this is a nice feature that is easy to use and comes in handy at times, but for me at least, it’s not a game changer. Aside from this new “feature”, I don’t really see a huge value for the guest, and it’s certainly not enough when comparing WDW to their competition.
I fully understand this is version 1, and there are going to be problems and adjustments that need to be made. By writing this, I’m hoping that someone at Disney will see it and consider some of my suggestions for improvement when the time comes. Perhaps you’ve used it and had your own ideas on how they can improve, if so, please add them.