MagicBands are RFID bracelets for families to wear at Disney parks.

They’ll enable all sorts of Disney "magic"--like characters knowing the names of the children they meet.

They’ll also allow Disney to track users around the park, to better understand their behavior.

Of course, the simplest benefit will be that MagicBands can replace your ticket and wallet, allowing families to walk right in the park and even make purchases without cash or credit cards.

In fact, these bands will even serve as hotel room keys and sync with a larger cloud platform that feeds information to smartphones. It’s neat stuff.

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A $1 Billion Project To Remake The Disney World Experience, Using RFID

Disney has a new plan for how users can pay for experiences in their parks—no cash or credit cards required.

I’ll never forget going to Disney World as a child. As we stood in line to enter the park, a simple cash register—one like I’d see at the local donut shop or gas station—rang up a bill close to $1,000. While my parents were no doubt prepped for the sticker shock—or just very cool about the whole thing—I felt a blow of guilt right in my gut. I was just a kid, but I knew that was a whole lot of money being spent just for me to feel like a kid.

It’s just one of many reasons that Disney’s MagicBands are a great idea. They’re RFID wristbands that are at the heart of a collection of services Disney is dubbing MyMagic+. It’s all part of an estimated $1 billion makeover for the parks, aimed at making the experience of being at Disney a bit more magical.

A family of four can put MagicBands on after registering for the cloud-based service, then instead of digging through cash or (the unmaxed) credit cards, they can use their wrists to enter the park, buy lunch, and even unlock their hotel room. A skeptic would point out that such an interaction will disassociate people with spending money, and that’s entirely true: Families will be able to enjoy Disney without the constant reminder that the magic comes at a price.

But the cashflow aspect is only one aspect of Disney’s new service. When you begin to consider the potential of wearing a wireless ID around your wrist, all sorts of natural, customized interactions will become possible. Imagine a child meeting Mickey Mouse, and after sharing a warm hug, Mickey actually wishing them a happy birthday by name. There’s a digital handshake going on here, of course, but it’s totally imperceptible. All a child is left wondering is, "How did Mickey know me … and that it was my birthday?!?" Animatronics will see a similar personalization, so the otherwise obtuse talking robots can specifically acknowledge the people standing in front of them.

At the same time, MagicBands enable a deeper level of data collection for Disney. They’ll be able to track someone through the entire park—to see their kingdom as a complex interaction model—finding trends in preferences and habits that can no doubt be monetized. Do people who meet Cinderella buy more princess apparel? Do those who eat the cheese fries for lunch go back to the hotel to take naps?

There will be some level of privacy options, especially for children, whose parents can do things like opt out of characters knowing their names. No personal data is kept on the band itself, and any purchase over $50 will require the user to also enter a PIN (which is actually a buzzkill that destroys the illusion at work—I hope users can opt out of that, too).

The question becomes, how deeply will Disney integrate their mobile phone app into this model? Because MyMagic+ will enable users to delve deeper into reservations, getting text message updates when a ride is open, and reserving specific seats for the parade. This much information will require some level of feedback that the wristband can’t provide. Hopefully, Disney has some other tricks up its sleeve for tackling these logistics without fueling our smartphone obsession. Because however much profit lurks underneath the surface, MagicBands are a brilliant ploy to get us all looking at the world around us again.

See more here or at The New York Times.

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  • Jonathan Huo

    RFID chips send out radio signals. The radio signals are not good for health. And in the future the government will be using these to track everyone. They are acclimating children to this by the idea that it is magical. it is not magical it is bad for your health and bad for your privacy. Not enough people really care to understand these things or take the time to find out about all the bad things in the world. Freedom is knowledge and in this day of age most people do not care about knowledge therefor giving up their freedom. Most do not know what goes on with the government because they do not want to take the time to know. If you take the time to know and understand it you will know that the government is taking away freedom and America is changing for the worst.

  • Kelvin

    A really uninformed and frivolous assertion against RFID.

    If radio signals are bad for your health, please stop using WiFi on your computer, throw away your mobile phone and wear a tin foil hat everywhere you go, because radio signals are everywhere. There has been zero documented evidence on adverse heath effects contributed by RFID.

    Regarding the big brother theory - check the facts. This is near field technology operating at 13.56 MHz - there are clear physical limits to the read distance of this technology (less than couple of meters), even if reader power are cranked up to unrealistic and illegal levels.

    Full disclaimer - I am an RFID professional.

  • Michael Durwin

    How is having a wristband instead of a ticket reinventing the Disney experience? By making it easier to spend money? That may be reinventing the Disney experience for the park's accountants but what is it doing for visitor besides making it harder to keep track of their spending?

  • Vickie


    This is a fantastic move on Disney's part!
     Really I am in the business of date collection as well as observation to
    improve the experience of the user!  This is not a sugar coated scheme to
    drain amusement goers of their money.  Has it occurred to anyone to
    tie the wristband to a form of prepaid currency- such as a prepaid visa debit
    or set a limit of Expenditures prior to sending your
    children on a free for all?  As consumers- we literally DO have the ball
    in our court.

  • Awe&Wonder

    I believe many of the concerns in today's society are linked to everyone not realizing the full impact of their actions.  Whether it is where water comes from, where our trash goes, where are food comes from, who makes our smartphones to who found our diamonds.  Each of these seemingly "magically" actions have great ramifications on us and the world we live in.  

    Understanding the interconnection of my choices with the world around me does not take away the magic.  In fact, the more I learn how I'm connected to dinosaurs through fossil fuels at Epcot or how the food muppets taught me good eating means healthy body...the more magic I discover in the world that stays with me even after I leave Disney.

    Let us not cower behind naiveté and ignorance as magic by disconnecting money from my actions.  These are the actions of charlatans.  Show me the true magic of the world I live in by showcasing the wonder in every action I make and how it affects the whole world.  

  • skyhart

    Disney knows that consumers spend less money when they have cash versus card. When someone sees money physically leaving them, they notice a decrease in value and choose to keep their remaining balance rather than spend it (there are case studies done on this).

    This RFID band, although great in concept, would seem to suppress the consumers awareness of how much they are actually spending. If I'm thinking of this now, Disney had to have already weighed the affects this would have on consumers. Not only will they be making money they wouldn't otherwise make, when families realize how much they spent at the end of the trip to Disneyland, anxiety may set in; "I only planned on spending $400.00 but now I've spent $600.00. I don't know how I'm going to pay insurance this month."

    Of course it's the consumers job to watch what we spend, but giant corporations know exactly how they can play off of the consumer's laziness. Are there any plans for receipts, physical or digital? Will there be an app that shows you what you've spent and where you've been (e.g. At such and such a time so and so spent x amount, etc) as a digital mapping system?

  • Phillip Barlow

    I recently used a RFID wristband at the Blue Lagoon in Iceland. Through it, I could buy drinks, order lunch, and open/close my locker. I then payed through one transaction upon leaving. While it did make money easier to spend, the entire process was seemless and more enjoyable. If given the option to use something like this in the future, i would totally opt-in.

    As for the gathered analytical data, I see that as a plus. If a company wants to track my movement/spending habits, to make for a beter experience, Why not?

  • Adam Hopkins

    So many negative comments - I can't understand why!

    Raving about privacy? Oh god Disney can see how I negotiate their park, in turn they can analyse customer flow through the park, work out busiest areas in peak time... all this information could go toward improving the experience.

    It says they don't keep personal information. You're a nobody once you've paid up for what you owe. Which is fair enough.

    It's very clever on Disney's part as it does make payment easier, which may make people spend more. A company trying to make money - who'd have thunk it? I personally think it's a nice touch and I don't have to hassle myself and can get on with enjoying the park. The places are hot and busy, I don't want to mess around with my money.

  • Graeme Kilshaw

    Disney should invest in friendship cube games. The new Friendship Cubes are made of soft silicon and have an RFID chip so that you can name your cube.  It makes for an entertaining and educational interactive experience, full of magic. 

  • original hipster

    Has anyone considered the safety of this? What's to stop the government from adapting a device similar to this wristband and forcing everyone to wear it? Not being paranoid here, just concerned. We are already being watched. Satellites tracking us on our cell phones, cameras at traffic intersections and on street corners. Are you aware that the FBI can listen in on your conversations via your cell phone even if it's turned off? The only way you can prevent this is to remove the battery. Our Internet usage is being tracked constantly and the more we use sights like Facebook, the more everyone knows about us. Did you know that the FBI can access your email? It's true. The Disney wristbands is just the beginning. Think about it.

  • JamesSU

    I'm sorry but this is ridiculous. I see literally no benefit to Disney customers other than maybe the slightly added convenience not having to pull a credit card out of their wallet "OH the agony!!", which is completely negated by the fact you'll end up paying for things you didn't know about at prices you don't know and become even less aware of how much money you spend. Technology is great for certain things, I'm an engineer, I make my living on developing technology, but sometimes its just shoved down consumers and society's throats with no actual benefit. I want to know how much I'm spending, I damn well want to know when I'm spending more than $50 (not knowing now there's a buzz kill), and I want to have fun at Disney with my family and not spend the entire time flipping through smart phone apps and text messages to see what rides are open and restaurants have discounts just so Disney can learn my spending habits. This is all stupid, and I hope the one option they do include, is to opt out of it all so we can just have some fun.

  • Doug

    These services are entirely voluntary. You may not choose to use them, but others will certainly see the benefits. I suppose Disney should have consulted with you first, since you are such an authority on consumer habits at theme parks.

  • Ashish Ekbote

    Hah! I wish all the kids feel like you when they see their parents spending money!

  • DisneyFan

    Except for the fact that the guest is wearing it, how is this different from the "key card" they offer now? All the same options and opportunities work with the existing program.

  • Dawnzencka

    Sounds a lot like what Vail Resorts is doing with their EpicMix and ski pass RFID technology. A great case study of tying smart marketing with technology

  • Marcy Holderman

    I wonder if anyone's considered the safety benefits, as well. One of a parent's biggest fears is getting separated from his or her child at a busy place. But if kid's wander off, or if  an older child is allowed to separate from parents for a short period of time, parents could see the last place the child checked into (or last character they talked to and where, etc.). I don't much like the idea of invasions on my privacy, but it's not like they're selling that data to third-party advertisers. The experience and convenience, in my mind, outweigh the negatives. And, as long as they don't require the bands in order to make purchases at the park, then they've allowed more private visitors the opportunity to opt out and still have a good experience.

  • Mark Rojas

    I am very interested in the data collection aspect of this, would it act similar to the Nike+, Fitbit or Jawbone UP? I think it would be cool if this type of data would be updated live on the cloud based service for example: 
    Wait time in ride lines. 
    Average miles walked throughout the day at the park.
    Alerts on show times

    It would also help out the park managers find solutions for the more high traffic areas.

    Plus what if they added some sort of feature inspired by Foursquare, in which you would earn Disney themed badges such as:
    "To Infinity and Beyond!" - Earned while riding 5 attractions in Tomorrow land 
    "Adventure is out there!" - Earned while riding 5 attractions in Adventure land
    "Mad Tea Party" - This place is swarming

  • JamesSU

    But does that make your time are Disney more enjoyable? Who wants to spend the day in Epcot looking at their smartphone the whole time being bombarded with ads and text messages. I spend enough time during the work week looking for convenience and rushing around place to place. I just want to unplug and have fun at Disney and as a consumer, makes no sense to me why the idea of more data collection on you make you excited. Nor does the fact its almost impossible to track your spending. I think we need to take a deep look at what makes things more fun sometimes and stop worrying about how to shove tons of "technology", which is really just internet smartphone garble, into every aspect of our lives without worrying about whether there's any actual benefit to be seen.

  • Ben

    Everyone is gonna love this until the CC bill comes in the mail later that month. No matter how you spin it, it's going to make most people lose perspective of what they are spending - and on what - until it's too late. This is a bad enough issue when most  people openly pull out a CC... imagine removing that physical barrier/reminder? Trouble with a capital-T. I'm sure Disney won't mind though!