Walt Disney World shifts away from MagicBands to embrace smartphones, more changes expected

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Disney MagicMobile Service will provide MagicBand services via smartphones - IMAGE VIA DISNEY
  • Image via Disney
  • Disney MagicMobile Service will provide MagicBand services via smartphones
Disney has confirmed that it will soon offer MagicBand capabilities via smartphones. The service will roll out on Apple devices first but should be available on multiple smart devices soon after. It will include all MagicBand capabilities, such as theme park admission and in-resort purchases.

MagicBands were first introduced in 2013 as part of a multi-billion-dollar technological upgrade program at Walt Disney World, known as MyMagic+. The program, which also included resort-wide Wi-Fi upgrades, involved adding new ‘tapstiles’ at the entrance to every park and major attraction, adding touchpoints to nearly every register, and updating more than 28,000 hotel room door locks. Early reviews called the program a success, with it winning awards, including Fast Company’s top slot in the Experience Design category of their 2014 Innovation by Design awards.



The following year, Fast Company shifted gears when it published a ‘warts and all’ in-depth look at what it took to implement the program. By that time, the vice president who had overseen it had left Disney, and other departures soon followed, including the one-time assumed heir apparent, Tom Staggs. In the Fast Company piece, longtime Disney Imagineer Joe Rohde shared his disapproval of the program.

Despite years spent developing the new program, Disney CEO Bob Iger acknowledged that MagicBands wouldn’t be rolled out to other resorts. Instead, smartphone-based solutions would be implemented.



Since then, multiple reliable sources have indicated Disney was looking to roll out mobile-based offerings at its Florida resort but needed to ensure it had made back at least some of its investment in the outdated MyMagic+ boondoggle. Disney began transiting away from MagicBands at the start of this year when they stopped offering complimentary ones to onsite guests.

The move away from MagicBands may be indicative of another long-rumored program at Disney; paid Fastpasses. Disney’s two other majority-owned resorts, in California and Paris, both feature a smartphone-based paid Fastpass option. The two programs are slightly different from each other but share many similarities to the program rumored for Walt Disney World.

IMAGE VIA DISNEY
  • Image via Disney
Prior to the pandemic,  there were indications that an overhaul of WDW's FastPass+ program was imminent. Work on that program was reportedly paused just before the pandemic, only a few months after Disney announced its AI-powered real-time vacation planning app, Disney Genie. The pause in the yet-to-be-confirmed Disney World overhaul occurred around the same as major shifts in leadership were taking place across the company, including the former Disney Parks, Experiences and Products leader, Bob Chapek, taking the helm of the company. Those shifts continued throughout 2020

The pandemic has had a dramatic impact on business plans and consumer habits. One major shift seen over the past year has been the quick adoption of mobile-based services and shopping. For its part, Disney World, the only Disney-majority-owned resort to remain consistently open since last summer, has heavily promoted mobile-based solutions, including food ordering and, more recently, scan-and-go mobile-based retail checkouts.

While MyMagic+ allowed for guests to plan nearly every moment of their vacation weeks in advance, Disney Genie and consumer shifts over the past year have given Disney the tools for a more dynamic vacation planning tool that keeps many of the benefits of the former program without the stringent nature of it.

In the nearly seven months since reopening, Disney World has yet to restore FastPass or rollout Disney Genie, originally slated to be introduced in 2020. It’s unclear when, or if, they will return. But when they do, the new phone-based MagicMobile service should be available wherever MagicBands are used.

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