Even the glitteriest magic wand won't cut it at Walt Disney World these days. But wave a MagicBand and see what happens.
Touch the Mickey icon on your neon-colored wristband to matching Mickey touch-points throughout Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and you can avoid lines to the most popular attractions and character meet-ups.
And there's more your MagicBand can do: open your Disney hotel room, chronicle your digital Disney photos and pay for souvenirs and meals (once you put in a four-digit pin). Most important, with the new MyMagic+ technology -- on the Web, the free mobile app and MagicBands -- the kids can lead the way.
Walt Disney Parks and Resorts chairman Tom Staggs found that to be the case when he gave the new technology a "test run" with his sons aged 16, 14 and 9. "They said, 'We've got this!' and were in charge," Staggs told me in Orlando; we were there for the MyMagic+ program unveiling. It has been years in the making, and outsiders suggest it cost an estimated $1 billion. No date has yet been announced for the program to be introduced at Disney's California parks, but it will be, Staggs said.
LINK EVERYONE WHO'S TRAVELING
The new technology may sound complicated and like a lot of work, but it really can enhance your trip. If you're heading to Disney World, the first thing you need to do -- once you've booked hotels and bought your park tickets -- is set up an account at mydisneyexperience.com so you can plan and manage your visit. Link everyone who is traveling with you so that you can book experiences and rides together and share photos. (Book the MemoryMaker package for $149 before your arrival, and everyone in your travel group gets access to all the photos taken by Disney photographers.)
If you are staying at a Disney resort -- or if you're an annual pass holder (from $634) -- you can start pre-booking rides and "experiences" 60 days in advance. You'll get your personalized MagicBands free in the mail. If you are staying off-property, as long as you've booked your tickets you can start scheduling experiences 30 days out. You won't receive a MagicBand, but you can purchase one for $12.95. Regardless, your ticket will work at all of the touch-points.
IMPROVEMENT OVER FASTPASS
It's a huge improvement over the old FastPass system, which allowed you to get a specific time to visit certain popular attractions to avoid the line. However, FastPasses would often be exhausted by midmorning, and you could only get one every few hours.
Now, with the new FastPass+ you can book three in advance and three more once you've used those. And you can change your plans as you go on your mobile app or at the designated kiosks in the park.
The good news: The number of experiences you can pre-book has doubled to more than 60. The bad news: The experiences are "tiered," so you might not be able to pre-book your top picks in each park. If you have a park-hopper ticket, you can't book additional experiences until you get to the next park on your agenda.
Guests are already embracing the system big time, with 40 percent more FastPasses being used, according to Disney executives.
The MagicBands de-stress the experience for kids, too, said 12-year-old Ethan Morrison, at the park with his family from Toronto. He's not worried about his parents getting angry if he loses his room key or paper FastPass, he explained.
His older brother Gavin, 14, added, "It saves a lot of time you spent waiting on line."
LESS WAITING, MORE EXPERIENCES
Not only can you personalize your family's experience, but you'll have time to do things you wouldn't have otherwise, said Gary Daniels, who has been helping shepherd the MyMagic+ team for the past six years.
Your mobile app's interactive map can tell you waiting times for attractions near where you are, where the characters are and where to eat -- and you can peruse the menus, too, and make a reservation, if you like.
Of course, you're bound to forget something -- like that all-important visit with Cinderella, said Michael Chandler, on vacation from South Carolina with his wife, Heather, and 3-year-old daughter, Lillie.
They were still hoping to make that Magic Moment happen before heading home.