Disney Gets Geeky: Disney’s NextGen Technology, iPad/iPhone Apps, RFID Cards and Readers, and Magic Bands, Oh My!

Editor’s Note: Today, contributing writer Cari Keebaugh is offering a great look into some fun new technology coming to Disney Parks.  Take it away, Cari!


Image of What is Assumed to Be a Disney Magic Band. Image on FCC Website.

For those of you who don’t speak techno-jargon, the above string of zeros and ones is binary code for the word HELLO. Technology has advanced beyond binary, of course, and Disney has most certainly been keeping up with the technological times.

First, everyone has been hearing a lot lately about NextGen technology. Disney has already begun implementing several NextGen features, such as mobile apps that keep guests up-to-date on park news, even while guests are in the parks. The My Disney Experience app for Walt Disney World has been available since this past August and will replace the My Mobile Magic app in early 2013. Meanwhile, Disney has also recently launched the DCA Today social media tools (on Facebook and Twitter), which allow guests at Disney California Adventure to keep up on daily show times, character meet-and-greet times, and FASTPASS availability.

Image Copyright DisZine

In addition, this week Disney implemented numerous RFID (radio frequency identification) wireless data readers across the Walt Disney World parks. “Key to the World” cards can already be used at the resorts; just wave your card like a magic wand in front of your hotel room door, and poof, access is granted! The same technology is now available at the entrances to the parks, as well as in various stores throughout the parks. All a guest needs to do is wave his or her magic wand…er, card… and park entrance is granted. The RFID cards will still use fingerprint scanners to ensure that the tickets remain non-transferable, but the new cards will allow guests to skip the turnstiles. (Turnstiles will still be available for traditional entrance until the conversion over to RFID cards has been completely implemented.)

Want that gorgeous Mickey watch but forgot your wallet in your hotel room? Never fear! A wave of your “Key to the World” card will magically make that watch yours! Just hold your card in front of the special RFID scanners, and off you go on your next great adventure wearing a spiffy new Mickey watch! (Of course, the store will charge that item directly to your hotel bill, so you WILL have to pay for it eventually. Even magic has its limits.) At this point, purchases under $50 can be made by using the RFID scanners located in the park stores; while the scanners can be used for purchases over $50, guests must also input a special PIN, which guests can set during the check-in process at their hotel.

Current locations that use the new RFID readers are:
Polynesian Resort
Contemporary Resort
Yacht & Beach Resort
BoardWalk Resort
Art of Animation Resort
Winter Summerland Mini Golf
Fantasia Gardens Mini Golf
Hollywood Studios
Magic Kingdom
Animal Kingdom

Rumor has it that by mid-January 2013, all locations across Disney property  that require payment will contain RFID scanners.

Disney Refillable Mugs. Photo Courtesy Disney Food Blog

Disney actually began testing the use of RFID chips at the All-Star Sports Resort. RFID chips were embedded in all cups, allowing the drink dispensers to determine who was allowed refills (those who had just purchased a new cup) and those who were not (such as those who brought back refillable mugs from years past to try to avoid paying for a new refillable mug). Disney’s PHOTOPass cards also make use of RFID technology, and rumors have it that in Disneyland, RFID chips are sewn directly into Cast Member costumes to help with the organization and sorting process.

Disney is even working towards “Magic Bands,” which they filed with the government FCC in October. (The full report can be read here.) This device, a wristband, would act as a park guest’s room key, park admission “ticket,” a ticketless FASTPass system, and also take the place of “Key to the World” cards. Rumors are they they will also serve to make guest experiences of attractions more personalized; perhaps they will help Star Tours decide which scenarios to use based on the information provided to the ride by the guests’ Magic Bands – who knows?At this point, the possibilities are endless.

The Magic Bands, like all Disney park tickets, would be non-transferable. At this point, it looks like the wristbands would feature the guest’s name and the NextGen Mickey logo. Currently, they are designed to be disposable.

Many Disney fans are already taking sides: do you think this new technology will make your next Disney vacation more or less magical? Personally, yours truly can’t wait to try it out!






3 responses to “Disney Gets Geeky: Disney’s NextGen Technology, iPad/iPhone Apps, RFID Cards and Readers, and Magic Bands, Oh My!

  • I worked as an intern at Animal Kingdom this past spring and I know all of my costume pieces had RFID chips in them. As a guest, I cannot say I am that excited about the RFID system. Seems like a more expensive and more difficult thing to replace.

  • Kim – thanks so much for the “insider” point of view. It will be interesting to see if the public embraces the changes.

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