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My Family’s Disney Magic Bands as we embark on our Disney vacation.


Disneyland, the inspired place Walt Disney created in the 1950s, was only the beginning of a new type of family entertainment. Soon after Disneyland’s opening, Walt began to design and construct the 40-square-mile, swamp-turned-utopia that is Walt Disney World. It is home to 34 hotels, 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, the most trafficked shopping center in the world and an endless array of activities. The amount of options available for crafting one’s special getaway are staggering. So, to further streamline both the logistic and emotional experience of the guests, Walt Disney Imagineering created a revolutionary product for each guest to use throughout the Happiest Place on Earth: The Disney Magic Band.

The Magic Band is a small, personalized, RF-enabled, wristband that is simply the only thing that a guest needs to access the entirety of Walt Disney World. Upon booking their Disney vacation, a party will receive a box containing their magic bands before they even leave for Florida. Each band is customized with a unique color and Disney-inspired signature, allowing even the smallest of children to have something unique to call their own. Once a party has arrived at the resort, the Magic Band can be used to enter the parks, make purchases, charge meals, save their photos, enter their hotel room, and redeem their Fast Passes all simply by using their Magic Band.

The entirety of Walt Disney World is fitted with “touch points” in the shape of Mickey Mouse; all guests have to do is “touch Mickey to Mickey”, an incredibly intuitive and simple action, even for the youngest of guests. The bands do not have an on/off switch, are perpetually exposed, and are individual for each guest. This allows for an exciting personal experience every time a guest has the opportunity to use it.

Yet apart from eliminating the clutter of a wallet, credit card, park ticket, and Fast Pass, the Magic Band creates an invaluable emotional bond between the guest and the magical kingdom in which they have arrived.

Becoming Part of the Magic

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A guest entering Magic Kingdom with the use of their Magic Band. Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

Due to the plethora of options available, it is very overwhelming to plan and successfully execute a day at Walt Disney World. There are so many places to go, shows to see, rides to wait for, and treats to eat. One of the Magic Band’s triumphs is that it helps guests make sense of the resort and optimize the amount of enjoyment they get out of their Disney vacation. Magic Bands, along with the My Disney Experience website and mobile app, allow guests to plan their tickets, fast passes, and dining reservations ahead of time, reducing stress and time. Everything is then accessible via the guest’s Magic Bands throughout the resort.

In addition to this drastic simplification of the Disney experience, the Magic Band represents something far more emotionally important: it serves as an emotional stimulus to coax guests into the magical mindset that Walt had envisioned for them. Walt Disney World is a place where tens of thousands of people congregate daily from all parts of the globe and all walks of life. But what unites all of the travelers is the happy and exciting aura that exists in the parks which makes okay to say “Have a Magical Day too!” The Magic Band serves as a personal talisman that gives guests the confidence to feel a part of Walt’s world.

Though in essence a ‘silly’ plastic wristband, it creates a subtle camaraderie amongst the guests because the act of wearing one indicates that they believe in what makes the Disney park experience special.

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A guest exploring the Magic Kingdom with their Magic Band. Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

Disney understands the value of quality above all else. They understand that there is more value in their emotional brand than in any one slightly over-budget item on its financial menu. It is the small but personal touches that make the difference and that connects so deeply with the guests. When a party receives their Magic Bands in the mail prior to the vacation, they are caught off guard because they are not used to being so welcomed. Guests are surprised when they pull up to the hotel and the Cast Members say “Welcome Home!” because nobody does it when they are back at their own residence. The Magic Band extends this experience by engendering a safe atmosphere that allows the guests to relax and focus on making their vacation as magical as it is possible.

Tapping the Magic of the Mind

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A family using their Magic Bands at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

Disney undoubtedly embarked on the massive infrastructural challenge of implementing the Magic Band experience because there was also a serious financial incentive to do so. All entry gates, attraction entrances, hotel rooms, vendors, and restaurants had to be retrofitted with the Mickey-plated touch points that read the Magic Bands. Disney knew that this new form of interaction with the Disney Parks would spur guests to spend more money, something critical to justifying such a large capital investment. There is little public financial information available but the Magic Bands do dramatically increase a guest’s spending to the tune of tens of dollars a day.

The reason this occurs is fascinating. In the non-magical world, we are accustomed to typical methods of payment: cash and credit cards. However, Disney introduces a new experience which has interesting psychological implications. Since consumers are not accustomed to pressing a wristband to a Mickey Mouse Pad everyday, guests will not approach it with the same emotional perspective and caution that they would with a process that they are familiar with. As a result, it is easy for guests (and their hyper-excited children) to greatly exceed their planned expenditure.

Unlike many theme parks, Disney has a flat-rate policy when it comes to its tickets: one park ticket gives you access to everything throughout the park. This allows the guests to enjoy themselves without worrying about money every time they want to go on another ride. The Magic Band is an extension of this concept. By taking the physical and constant stream of money out of the equation, Disney allows the guests to enjoy their experience more.

The brilliance of the Magic Band is that it achieves financial success, creates a more simplified experience, and emotionally connects with the guests all at the same time. All products should strive for this.

Living the Magic

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A guest claiming their FastPass+ at a Disney attraction. Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

What makes a product magical? The secret is that it must be designed in such a way that it can not be easily explained but also that nobody even wants to try — they just want to enjoy its magic. How does the server at Be Our Guest restaurant know where a guest’s table is? How does Cinderella know a child’s name before they even meet? Just like everything else at Disney, guests do not know how everything works and most do not want to because it is all part of the magic. Disney has achieved the effect that the famous science-fiction writer Arthur Clarke described: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

The Magic Band is the first part of the Disney vacation experience and it stays with the guests throughout their vacation. But, more importantly, it welcomes guests into an emotional cohort of fellow Disney visitors and Cast Members. A guest belongs to the world because they can not only experience the magic, but they can live it. It is their key to the kingdom. Walt iconically stated at the opening of his first Magic Kingdom that, “Disneyland is your land,” and with the Magic Band, it can feel like it too.

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Photo courtesy of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

Written by

Cross-disciplinary engineer and creative designer.

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