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Putting Disney MagicBands to the test

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A Walt Disney World Resort guest uses a MagicBand to enter Magic Kingdom theme park in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (The Walt Disney Company)

All that Walt Disney World has to offer, conveniently located on your wrist. 

Say hello to the MagicBand, which Disney describes as “an all-in-one device that effortlessly connects you to all the vacation choices."

“In the Be Our Guest Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, you can select your meal and prepay before you even arrive.”

- Phil Holmes, the Magic Kingdom vice president at Walt Disney

The colorful bands have an embedded microchip that allows the wearer to use them as admission tickets, room key and wallet. They help keep track of FastPass+ reservations, which allow visitors to pre-book popular rides and attractions. They help create quick and easy payments at restaurants and shops. They sync the photos Disney takes of you at the park. They can even help select character meet-and-greets or save you a spot on a parade route.

Disney has been testing the bands for months, allowing guests staying at the park’s hotels to give them a try. Now they’re being offered to Disney World's annual passholders. All this is creating quite a buzz with fans who want to get their hands on them.

Sounds great, especially for families entering the parks with small children. But what about the adults who go to Disney World for the top dining establishments and luxury hotels? 

On a recent trip, I put these MagicBands to the test to see if they were worth the fuss. 

My mother, father and I spent two days in the park. Our mission was to head to our favorite restaurants and shops and try to get on a few rides if time permitted.

We had bought our tickets at home and made reservations for some key attractions, and then we linked them up with the band when it arrived in the mail. Now we were in Orlando, and it was time to put them to use.

After putting on my green band, we were prompted to use our Magic Bands to initiate our free shuttle service to the hotel.  This was a quick and simple process that could only mean good things to come. 

We checked in with ease. The concierge linked our credit card information to each of our bands, as well as our park tickets.   But we ran into trouble when we tried to use the bands to enter our room. The way you had to twist your wrist and maneuver your arm was not a successful process the first time or the last.  

On our first night, we headed to California Grill in Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Checking in for our reservation was painless: You put your wrist up to the machine and your information pops up. It was a cool effect, though we thought it was just as simple to tell the hostess our name. What I didn’t know is that at some restaurants, the bands do more.

“In the Be Our Guest Restaurant in the Magic Kingdom, you can select your meal and prepay before you even arrive,” Phil Holmes, the Magic Kingdom vice president at Walt Disney, told us.  

While the speed and ease of this would be an excellent option for parents looking to get in and out of a restaurant.  But on this night, we just wanted to sit down and relax after a long day.

During our day in the Magic Kingdom Park, we went shopping on Main Street for gifts for our nieces and, of course, for ourselves. 

We found the MagicBand to be very convenient to pay for the many things in the park you may want to buy. Your credit card information is on file, so to buy something you simply swipe your band, enter your pin number for verification and you’re done.  There is no need to carry your wallet or fumble around with cash or credit cards.

For those worried about security, Holmes said that personal information does not sit on the band, so if your band is misplaced or lost, it would be hard for someone else to use it. If you’re worried about Big Brother, Disney bands cannot "track" the location of a visitor as they stroll through the theme park.

But most of all, the MagicBands were great at streamlining the whole park experience, down to what we carried around.

As someone who works out while on vacation, I always run into the problem of having to carry a room key, money and water.  Looking for a safe place to stash these things becomes quite tiresome. But with the bands, you have the room key and money linked to your wrist, which really brings simplicity to the process.  For me, this was a saving grace.      

My final small nugget of advice is to do all the work before you head to Disney. With new technology come customers who do not adapt easily.  My mother especially was lost in setting up the bands through our phones and over the Internet.  I can safely assume she is not the only one who has this issue. 

But Disney is set on accommodating people like my mother. “For any age,” Holmes said, “there is some level of assistance and additional support throughout the parks.” I can vouch that customer service was set up throughout all parks at different kiosks, and you never got the feeling that you couldn’t find someone for help.  But if you wait to set up the wristband system in the parks, be prepared to stand on long lines. 

All in all, our experience was positive.  I believe the MagicBands are not flawless, and more testing and tweaking the system are needed before it becomes available to everyone.  But once we were able to really understand the MagicBands and how they work, our vacation was hassle free.  We look forward to our next Disney adventure with the whole family, nieces included!