Disney has unveiled plans to roll out a revolutionary new digital reservation system at its four Florida theme parks allowing visitors to pre-book rides, shows, parades, restaurants and character meet-and-greets months before a vacation.
So when will this latest dose of pixie dust spread to Disneyland and other parks in the theme park chain?
Disney officials won't divulge an expansion timeline, but mouse-watchers say the new MyMagic+ vacation management system rolling out this spring at Walt Disney World could debut at Anaheim's two theme parks as early as next year.
How does MyMagic+ work? After signing up online for perks and reservations, visitors will receive a MagicBand radio frequency identification (RFID) bracelet that functions in the Orlando parks as a digital wallet filled with their hotel room key, park ticket, FastPass vouchers, souvenir photos, dinner reservations and credit card information -- all available at the flick of the wrist.
Let's say you want to snap a picture with Cinderella, redeem your FastPass for Space Mountain, purchase some Mickey Mouse ears, chow down on a corn dog, sip on a Dole Whip, hop from one park to another, pop into your hotel room or check in for dinner. Simply wave your MagicBand over a sensor and -- voila -- the transaction is complete. No need to carry cash, credit, tickets or room keys.
On-the-fly changes to FastPass or dinner reservations can be made via a smartphone app, which will also provide real-time ride wait times and FastPass availability at the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom.
The MyMagic+ service and the MagicBand bracelets will be free to Disney hotel guests and annual pass-holders. Day visitors who arrive by car or stay at off-site hotels will be issued an RFID card. Custom MagicBands will be available for purchase.
The MyMagic+/MagicBand initiative is part of a larger $1-billion NextGen project designed to introduce more technology-enabled interactions into the Disney vacation empire.
NextGen enhancements have already turned up in interactive ride queues in Florida (Haunted Mansion, Test Track and Dumbo), the illuminating Glow with the Show ears that work in concert with the "World of Color" show in Anaheim, the enchanted artwork that comes to life aboard Disney cruise ships and the smartphone-enabled treasure hunts at Hawaii's Aulani resort.
The futuristic changes promise to fundamentally transform the theme park experience for both good and bad.
Critics have been quick to point out the MagicBands are nothing more than Orwellian tracking devices loaded with personal data and capable of recording your every movement and purchase.
At the same time, MyMagic+ has the potential to establish a two-tier caste system of haves and have-nots. Will day visitors and annual pass-holders find that deep-pocketed Disney hotel guests have virtually snapped up every FastPass voucher, restaurant reservation and parade seat before the parks open each day?
While the day-to-day realities of the new system remain to be seen, history tells us Disney is meticulous about visitor experience and making adjustments based on customer reactions. Expect Disney World to address any concerns and iron out all the wrinkles during the initial test-and-adjust phase.
Disneyland officials will only say they are waiting to see how MyMagic+ and MagicBands work with Walt Disney World's 47 million annual visitors before deciding whether to implement the system in Anaheim.
"This is rolling out at Walt Disney World and we don't yet know how it will look at other parks," Disneyland spokeswoman Suzi Brown said in a statement. "The way we think about these experiences will vary based on the unique ways guests enjoy each of our parks, resorts and other vacation experiences."
MiceChat columnist Al Lutz, the bane of Disney's existence, reports that Disneyland's MyMagic+/MagicBand will start rolling out in summer 2014 and continue into 2015.
It's a safe bet that Disney has had the foresight to future-proof new attractions like DCA's Cars Land, Disneyland's Fantasy Faire princess village opening this spring and the Shanghai Disneyland park set to debut in late 2015 or early 2016.
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