Last time, I told you about Disney’s new “My Disney Experience” website/smartphone app, and how this new technology can enhance your Walt Disney World vacation. If you’re just joining us, check out my previous article here: Disney’s Magic Bands: What are they and how do I get one?
I had the chance to visit Walt Disney World this fall, and get some firsthand experience using the My Disney Experience app, MagicBands and Fast Pass Plus.
Here’s how it worked for me:
First, right after I booked my Disney vacation, I logged into MyDisneyExperience.com to make sure my resort reservation and tickets were linked to my account (if not, you would enter your resort confirmation to link the reservation).
I was able to link existing dining reservations (and make new ones right through the MDE account). I booked a split stay (at two different Disney resorts) for this trip. When I originally booked my vacation, not all Disney resorts were participating in the testing of Magic Bands and Fast Pass Plus, but as our trip got closer, both resorts were.
About 30 days prior to arrival, I was able to order Magic Bands for all members of our travel party.
These colorful wristbands are more than just a bracelet with the iconic mouse ears on it. The bands are an all-in-one-device, designed to allow you to connect several aspects of your vacation, and store them in one easy place.
I chose bands in various colors (we ordered 2 sets, one for each resort stay), and soon they arrived at my doorstep in a fun box featuring characters from Disney’s, The Incredibles.
Now, I was ready to make ride selections utilizing FP+. We have always used the regular FastPass machines in the parks to avoid waiting standby for some of the more popular attractions, so I wasn’t sure how I felt about making ride choices a month prior to arrival!
In the past, we often developed plans for touring the parks, that even included which FastPass machines to visit first, and whether to send a FP “runner” to the other side of the park to obtain the passes. On one hand, it would be nice to know we had secured a ride time before entering the park, even if we didn’t get there early. This would be especially important for some of the more popular rides like Toy Story Midway Mania at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, where FastPasses were often gone for the day soon after the park opened.
On this trip, we were traveling with other families and wanted to schedule ride times together. I was a little worried about how easy it would be to schedule 7-12 people for the same ride at the same time, when we weren’t sure how all of our plans would come together.
We came up with a general idea of which parks we wanted to visit each day. Then we looked at the time frames we expected to be in the park, and targeted those attractions we most wanted to visit. We were allowed to schedule 3 rides/attractions per day, at only one park. We had park hopper tickets, and our friends are Annual Passholders, so being limited to FastPass availability at only one park was a disappointment. We tried to schedule them in the afternoon for the 2nd park we planned to visit, and get to the first park early to avoid long standby lines.
At first, I wasn’t sure how we would be able to coordinate similar ride times for so many different people visiting the parks together. Utilizing the Invite Friends feature in MDE made this a lot easier. We invited each other to share information, and then were able to make FP+ selections for each other as part of the same large party.
When we visited, we were allowed to make all 3 FP+ choices from the list of those rides and attractions participating in FP+. Since then, Epcot and Hollywood Studios have gone to a tiered FP+ system, allowing you to choose only 1 “Tier 1” attraction, and the others from the “Tier 2” group. This means at Epcot, for example, you will only be able to choose a FP+ for either Soarin’ or Test Track, the 2 headliner attractions at this park. To me, this is a real negative.
How it All Worked:
When we arrived at the Orlando International Airport, we were able to use our MagicBands to board Disney’s Magical Express. I loved the convenience of scanning the band, instead of digging for paperwork to scan at the entry point.
Once at our first resort, we used the bands to enter our room (also convenient, rather than digging through my purse for the room key card). While we were there, we occasionally used the bands for purchases in the restaurants as well. This is also convenient, especially if you are using the Disney Dining Plan, so you don’t have to worry about juggling the room key and your tray full of food.
At our second resort, check-in took a little longer since they had to make sure everything was linked to our first set of bands, so they would also work as our room key (and they also had to make sure the 2nd set were activated so we would have a back up).
Once at the parks, the bands worked pretty well. It was definitely quicker and more convenient to scan the bands for park entry. The entry points had multiple readers, but sometimes the lines would back up a little until people figured out more than 1 person could scan in at a time. My band seemed a little more finicky than my kids’ bands. Theirs always seemed to scan on first try, and mine seemed to take 2 or more tries.
So, what about rides? My reviews on using FP+ for rides are mixed. For some rides, it was quick and easy to scan at entry point and again before boarding the ride. At other rides, the FP+ return lines were longer than standby lines, as people learned how and where to scan their bands.
Some ride attendants seemed more adept at using the readers than others. When we arrived at our return time for Kilimanjaro Safaris, for example, the FP+ return line was considerably longer than standby, and we waited nearly 25 minutes to get through the queue, having to scan our bands multiple times. We soon learned that only one member of the party must scan, and the rides with only 2 readers (one at entry and one prior to boarding) seemed to move more efficiently.
We visited the parks in late October, not at a peak time, and found that we did not always need the FP+ reservations we had, as standby lines were often short. FP+ for main attractions like Toy Story Mania at Hollywood Studios, and Soarin’ and Test Track at Epcot, was definitely needed. It was nice to be able to use the My Disney Experience app to make last-minute changes to our FP+ selections, and we did this several times. Note: you can also use kiosks located at various rides around the parks, to access your My Disney Experience account and make FP+ selections in the parks.
For this visit, we did not do many early park mornings, and opted for later start times. Having FP+ already secured for top attractions in the afternoons was great. Some days we did not arrive at the parks until after lunchtime, and likely would not have been able to secure a FP for many rides at all using the traditional FP system.
The day we switched resorts, we got a late start and arrived at Magic Kingdom for lunch and a few rides before hopping to Epcot for our FP+ return times. It was nice to arrive at Epcot in the evening and be able to meet characters, ride Soarin’ and Test Track with FP+ within a few hours of park closing.
So, how would I rate My Disney Experience and Fast Pass Plus?
Cons: requires a lot of advance planning (hard to be spontaneous); only being allowed 3 Fast Pass choices each day, in only one park (disadvantage for those who like to park-hop). *Note: while we were there, resort guests were still being given the old “Keys to the World” cards, as well as MagicBands, which could both be used to make Fast Pass selections. Many resorts are using only the bands now, and Disney is encouraging those with MagicBands to use their bands only, not the cards.
Pros: Guaranteed ride times for favorite attractions, making it easier to arrive later and still visit top rides and attractions without waiting standby; ease and convenience of using bands for room key, park tickets and FP return (less to carry and to lose); having all of your vacation information in one itinerary in My Disney Experience (and being able to access via smartphone).
All in all, I would say Magic Bands and Fast Pass Plus worked well for us. I would love to see the number of FP+ choices expanded, and able to be made and used at multiple parks each day. Some Annual Passholders have been able to get bands already, but it’s also still unclear how Disney will handle those guests staying off property, or just local daily visitors, if and when the regular FastPass system is fully converted to FP+ only.
Disney is working hard to make this new technology the wave of the future for Walt Disney World vacationers. Things are constantly evolving, so stay tuned!
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