What It Took to Bring MyMagic+ and Magic Bands to the Walt Disney World Resort

It's a story filled with drama, intrigue, cast changes, and outrageous budgets. Think we're talking about the latest blockbuster film from Disney? Not even close. We're talking about the story behind MyMagic+ and Magic Bands and how the way we all experience Walt Disney World Resort has changed in the past few years.

The road to MyMagic+ wasn't an easy oneThe road to MyMagic+ wasn't an easy one

Back in the early 2000s the execs at The Walt Disney Company were worried that the Walt Disney World Resort was faltering due to the high price of tickets, long lines, and a lack of returning guests. Families were coming to Disney World once and not coming back. It was too much money for too little return. Add in a dose of social media and it seemed the House of Mouse might not be relevant for much longer. The powers that be knew something had to change.

According to a recent article in Fast Company, that change was a new plan called MyMagic+. The idea was to completely reinvent how Disney operated the theme parks and in turn how they connected with guests. The key to this new project was the MagicBand, that nifty colorful wristband that we all wear now every time we're at Disney World.

Getting the MagicBand and MyMagic+ to where it is today was no easy feat for Disney. The project would cost at least $1 billion and would cause rifts within the company.

The project started out as the "Next Generation Experience" in 2008 and the exploratory team on the project was led by Jay Rasulo (who was at the time the chairman of the Parks division), Al Weiss (Parks president), and Meg Crofton who was president of the Walt Disney World Resort in addition to other key players from IT, Imagineering, and business development.

The project team set up shop in the old Body Wars building in Epcot's Future World. They built a prototype MagicBand out of plastic, Velcro, and an RFID tag. The plan for the MagicBand was that the RFID sensors would allow Disney to manage traffic around the theme parks better, thereby alleviating the hours-long waits at certain attractions. Guests would also be able to use the Bands as tickets, room keys, and a method to pay for meals and merchandise.

MagicBands adorned with BanditsMagicBands adorned with Bandits

The technology involved in the project led to constant battles about security, the digital access points for the MagicBands, whether Mickey Mouse's head should be on every access point and whether that would take away from the authenticity of a particular area in the theme parks. Disney Imagineers were often at the forefront of those battles.

Throughout the MyMagic+ and MagicBand development process there were some "cast changes" at Disney too, including in 2010 when Tom Staggs and Jay Rasulo switched jobs. Staggs was suddenly in charge of the Parks division and Rasulo was the CFO. And now Staggs is the chief operating officer for The Walt Disney Company.

By 2011 the Board of Directors had approved $1 billion for the MyMagic+ project. The debut of the MyMagic+ system and the MagicBands was rumored to be sometime in 2012.

In order to roll out MyMagic+ and the MagicBands, Disney needed to change the locks on 28,000 hotel room doors when the resorts were regularly at 80 percent capacity. This process took eight months at 120 doors a day. Six thousand mobile devices were introduced at the theme parks to support MyMagic+, and more than 70,000 cast members had to be trained.

And let's not forget the access points (283 in all) that needed to be installed or upgraded at the theme parks in addition to the necessary installation of 30 million square feet of Wi-Fi coverage so that guests could actually access the My Disney Experience app on their smartphones and tablets while in the parks.

Using the My Disney Experience app in the theme parksUsing the My Disney Experience app in the theme parks

The rollout of MyMagic+ happened throughout 2013 and it wasn't completed until 2014. And now every time you're headed to Disney World you have a MagicBand on your wrist and the kids want Bandits to decorate the bands, and you're paying for your meals with a swipe of your wrist.

How times have changed.

The old paper tickets and paper FastPasses are history. And according to Disney the addition of MyMagic+ and the MagicBands has increased park capacity and guest spending. As for whether or not the MagicBand will make it to the other Disney properties around the world, rumors say yes, but it seems that only time will tell.

What are your thoughts about MyMagic+ and the MagicBands? Do you think the system has changed the way you visit Disney World for better or for worse? Let us know in the comments.


Madeline wrote on Wed, 04/22/2015 - 19:36:

Madeline's picture

Our family have been Disney fans since 1977, we have had annual or seasonal passes since 1983 and go at least five times a year for at least one night but more often for longer. We love the Magic bands and everything they do for us.
The only thing we are not real pleased with is the fact that every time we make reservations they have a new band ready for us. Of course we decline them and use the ones we have had since the first time. We know these bands are recyled but it just seems like such a waste. Not sure if that means they are just passed on to the next guest, or if they have been programed and have to be melted down and remade. In any case, our family really like them and find it saves so much time for just about everything. Just a little side note, I have a cousin who was one of the Imagineers for the fast pass part of the Magic Band, his last name is Morwick and is now out in California.

Clara Christensen wrote on Wed, 04/22/2015 - 20:41:

Clara Christensen's picture

I LOVE Magic Bands!!! Since I live in Florida and am a DVC member I have quite a collection. As a small, but possibly significant cost saver you might think about adding a question to the "customize your Magic Band" area: "Do you have a current Magic Band? Do you need an additional one?"

I now have two in each color.

The concept of using the band for everything is phenomenal! I am now a "No Bag Line" person.

The convenience of using it for everything adds so much to the magic. I have only ever had one problem with charges going to the wrong member of my party and that was easily corrected.

Thank you. Now my California friends are jealous and eager for theirs.

John Ferrari wrote on Thu, 04/23/2015 - 13:48:

John Ferrari's picture

The Magic Bands are great! It would be wonderful if other Disney info could be put on the bands such as, Tables in Wonderland and DVC Membership.

Disneyjulie wrote on Thu, 04/23/2015 - 15:26:

Disneyjulie's picture

I absolutely love the freedom and the ease of the magic bands. They make life so much easier.

Linda Miller wrote on Thu, 04/23/2015 - 19:17:

Linda Miller's picture

We have been DVC members since 1994 and this we find the Magic Bands to be the best change at Disney. We were a little apprehensive when they started and felt as though we would have to plan every second of the day and not be spontaneous, however after our first visit using the bands, we LOVE them. We find that we have much more time to do different things around the parks that we NEVER had time to do!!! Disney is our favorite!!!!

Kristen K. wrote on Thu, 04/23/2015 - 23:59:

Kristen K.'s picture

John - I hear you on the need for them to hold our DVC information on them. I lost my DVC member card, so missed out on a lot of discounts that we could have used while we were there. If I had had the information on my MagicBand it would have been awesome! Let's hope that's in the works.

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