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My Disney Experience [REVIEW]

Disney Magic BandsI recently had the privilege of visiting the happiest place on earth, Disney World in Orlando, FL.  It was the first time I was back since 2006 and aside from the obvious theme park renovations Disney makes to keep their parks current, they had made a major change as well.

Disney had implemented FastPass+ which works in conjunction with their app, My Disney Experience, and these fancy new wristbands called MagicBands.

The newly implemented MagicBands are very cool as they control pretty much everything.  Your meal plan, purchases, park admission, your room key (if you stay on resort) and of course FastPass+ entry are all controlled with just a swipe of the wrist.  But honestly the wristbands aren’t even the coolest new enhancement at Disney, it’s the My Disney Experience app which is a must have for anyone visiting Disney!

The My Disney Experience app offers users the ability to see the entire resort map, things to do, current wait times, park hours and even what characters are where and when in each of the theme parks.  But even more importantly the app allows users to setup FastPass+ times, dining reservations and setup an itinerary for each day to ensure that you don’t miss anything you want to do.

Maps

My Disney Experience Map

As you would expect with the mapping features, they utilize the GPS functionality of your smartphone to pinpoint exactly where you are on the Disney resort.  This feature is immediately available when you open the app and are greeted with the option of “Here & Now” which will use your GPS to show you what is happening currently where you are on the resort. 

Aside from the “Here & Now” function, the app kicks it up a notch by allowing sub-sections to be mapped as well.  For example, if I go to the “Things to Do” or “Wait Times” listings, I can select “Map” in either of these lists and it will convert the list to points on a map.  This makes it incredibly easy to find activities that are already close to you since traveling throughout the resort can be very time consuming.

Explore

Throughout the app you have the ability to filter, sort or explore to easily find the information you’re looking for.  An example would be in the “Characters Today” section of the app.  You can sort by name of the character, schedule times or location to easily find what you’re looking for.

Or you can filter to only show characters in a particular location or at a particular time.  Also from this screen you can change the theme park and/or activity at the top of the screen.  Doing so easily lets you toggle between attractions, characters, dining, entertainment, events & tours, restrooms, etc. at any of the parks.

Reservations/FastPass+

Probably the most important feature I found in the app was the ability to make restaurant reservations and FastPass+ selections.  Disney can be an incredibly busy place and it really pays to take the time to make reservations and FastPass+ selections ahead of time.  However, plans can change on the fly and the app makes it easy to facilitate those changes.

Throughout the day I often found myself re-scheduling my FastPass+ times or even changing the rides themselves.  You can manage each of your parties’ bands individually as well, so if your teenagers wanted to ride a coaster at the same time you wanted to visit “it’s a small world,” it’s easy to give everyone their own plans.

For dinner, a majority of the reservations I made were made on the fly by checking in the app what restaurants had availability at the time we expected to eat.  With that said, I really do recommend making your reservations in advance and trying to stick to them.  Occasionally you will find yourself without a place to eat if you expect to dictate your dinnertime at the last minute.

My Disney Experience ToDo

Additional Features

The My Disney Experience App really takes vacation planning/management to a whole new level.  As you’re surfing through the app you can tap on rides and/or shows and see additional information about the height requirements, thrill factor and who it may be fun for.

You can even tap the little heart icon and it will add the ride to your wishlist for easy tracking of what you want to do during your trip.  Additionally you can add friends to a “friends list” so that you can coordinate ride times and/or dinnertimes with people outside your party.  You can manage payment methods linked to your band or deactivate a band or report it as lost.

Overall this app absolutely rocks.  It made navigating Disney so much easier.  It looks like Disney really spent the time to develop an app that could let you manage any aspect of your trip on the fly.  My only real gripe is the load times when going in-between screens and the occasional partial load (where the screen loads the framework, but not the content).

Typically if you exit the app and immediately re-open it these bugs will go away.  These small bugs aside, I would recommend this app as a must have for anyone planning a trip to Walt Disney World (or Disneyland).

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  • Dave Nay

    We were just there in Oct. and there were a few FP+ issues that I noted. Other than the software bugs that you noted (which I found far more annoying than you seem to have), it is also worth noting that you can’t make FP reservations at multiple parks in one day. For instance we were at Epcot where we made a reservation and then wanted to make a reservation at Magic Kingdom in the afternoon. Instead of informing me that this was not supported, the app simply said that it was “unable to complete the action”. After receiving the same cryptic answer at a kiosk, I asked for help from a cast member who told me it couldn’t be done.

    The absolute fatal flaw I found with the system though was that every single one of the RFID terminals has a keypad that is far FAR tool small for old and/or arthritic hands. Given the demographic of a large number of customers (grandparents!), this was a severe downfall. My MIL was with us and she gave up trying to enter her PIN after the first time and had a family member or even an employee enter it for her. I talked with a few cast members and they said that it is VERY common for older people to verbally tell them the PIN and they have to enter it for them.

    • Michael Link

      Great feedback as well. We didn’t utilize the park-hopper option, so I didn’t run into that problem, but that is dumb that it can’t facilitate multi-park reservations. We didn’t have any PIN problems, but I know what you’re talking about with the keypads being so small though. Hopefully they’ll fix that problem with the expanded release of terminals/hardware.

      These flaws aside, having this app/system is a lot better than the last time I was down and I didn’t have it.

    • samagon

      And the finger scan to enter the parks is bad, we did park hopper as well, and my mom, who is 73, after walking for hours, her hands (and fingers) swell, which made using the finger scanner fail.

      • Dave Nay

        Funny story about the finger scanners at the gate….

        When we first got to the park my wife does the finger thing, then as we are walking away she asks me “Did I just give Disney Corp a copy of my finger print?” One of the attendants heard her and replied “No ma’am it’s not a fingerprint scan, it’s just a picture of the tip of your finger.” D’oh!

        • Michael Link

          LOL. I totally thought the same thing. Does Disney Corp now have my fingerprint? I didn’t understand why either…so it’s for the park hopper feature? Interesting.

          • Chris

            The first time you do it your ticket is associated with your finger print. After that, they verify that when you use the ticket it matches the finger print supplied initially.

  • TimTheK

    We just took our 3 kids to Disney world back in November. My review wouldn’t be quite so positive.

    First of all, the app is almost unusable….not because of a lack of features or usefulness, rather the fact that load times are ridiculously long. Switching screens takes at least 30 seconds. OK maybe 20. I don’t think I am exaggerating.

    In terms of the actual features, its pretty good. You can schedule your fast passes in advance, change them as needed, find wait times and dining spots. That is all great. But the speed of the app made it not worth pulling out of my pocket unless I needed to make a fast pass change.

    Also, having to enter a pin every time you use the wristband to charge a purchase or meal kind of defeats the purpose of the technology.

    *** Tips from my last trip ***

    1. Get room key cards for every member of your party AND take all of your room key cards to the park with you. You can use your wristbands to register for 3 fast passes per person per day, but most rides still have the old card readers that will also give you printed fast passes if you insert your room keys. This means you can usually get another 3 or more fast passes per day.

    2. You can reschedule fast passes on your wristbands even if you missed the ride. As long as you didn’t use the pass you can choose to get a later fast pass for that ride or switch to a different ride.

    3. If your desired ride isn’t available at a time you want, select a different ride at that time and go back into the app later and choose to switch that ride….sometimes you will be offered a fastpass that wasn’t previously available. It may take 2-3 tries to get it to come up.

    4. If you are traveling with young kids who can’t ride some of the more advanced rides, thus leaving one parent on baby duty… ask for a ride swap ticket. Some attendants don’t even know they exist, some will just hand you one without question, some are sticklers and make both parents come get the ticket so they know that no one is “cheating” the system somehow. Anyway, the ride swap ticket allows your older kids to ride the ride with one parent, and then go right back on with the other parent (assuming both parents have fast passes for that ride).

    5. The system appears to have some flexibility for “late arrivals” on fast passes. If you come 1 minute early and scan your wristband it will deny you, but I scanned in 5 minutes late with no problems. Also, we saw some cases where a ride declared “all fast passes have been distributed” but an hour later they were giving out more. Your mileage may vary.

    • Michael Link

      Excellent feedback. We went back in November as well and I would agree that the load times were ridiculous between screens. However, they’ve update the app at least two or three times since then and when I was running back through it to write the review, the load times had improved. Not 100% better, but definitely improved.

      Great tips though, especially #3. We found that to be true a lot of the time.

    • BulletTooth_Tony

      Android version problem. I was looking around at others with iphones when I was there and they were flying thru the app.

  • Robhimself79

    Fact: Happiest place on earth is Disney Land in CA. Disney world is most magical I think…

    • Michael Link

      Crap! Thanks for the fact-check!

    • Ryan Seifer

      Fact: Disneyland is one word ;)
      and yes, the phrase “happiest place on Earth” is reserved only for Disneyland Park.

  • http://friskychatter.com/ _jsw_

    I just got back from a 10-day visit there a week ago, and I do in general like the Magic Bands and the Disney Experience app, but I like them more for what they promise than for what they delivered this trip. I used the app for a bit over a month ago, just to try it out, and then I used it again during my visit, and I clearly saw improvement (with a lot of room to go). Once they polish it sufficiently, it’ll be the one app I need, instead of like before when there were numerous apps I’d use (wait times, restaurants, etc.).

    The Magic Bands… well, I wish they were Magic Tags that you could hang around your neck or attach to a belt – the bands were a bit uncomfortable in the heat, and I don’t tend to like wearing things like that.

    As far as the PINs go – I agree the buttons are tiny, but the PINs themselves are necessary to help prevent people from picking up a dropped Magic Band and buying tons of merchandise with it. Hopefully Disney will improve the keypads for those who have problems with them.

    • Michael Link

      I was thinking the same thing about a tag rather than a band. I also don’t wear that type of thing normally…it took almost the whole week to get used to it being on my wrist.

  • Jason

    I live in Orlando and I’ve tried this app several times. It stinks on ice. It’s not very intuitive and has a cluttered interface.

  • Liferules

    “I would recommend this app as a must have for anyone planning a trip to Walt Disney World (or Disneyland).”

    I’m not seeing this app helping me with my trip to Disneyland…seems restricted to Disney World…

    • Michael Link

      You are correct, I will update the original post to reflect my error. Sorry for any confusion. You can download the app “Disney Parks” for Disneyland info, but it doesn’t allow online reservations yet (from what I hear).

  • samagon

    I just got back from wdw. Used the app, it is not user friendly at all. Simply horrible. Once I found the section of the app I was looking for, I was at my destination. The only helpful use I got from the app was setting up dinner reservations for my family when they couldn’t set up reservations in person.

    Oh and it completely sucked my battery dry, when your phone is fighting for cell signal in a building that isn’t conducive to cell signal the last thing you need is an app that sucks as much battery as this app does.

    All this said, I expect this app will be improved and will become a helpful app, especially for people who haven’t been to the parks before.

    • Michael Link

      Maybe the article didn’t elaborate enough on how SLOW the load times could be. But once I got used to the interface I kind of hopped around the app relatively quickly. I use a Droid Razr MAXX HD though and my battery life has never been an issue, so I can’t speak to that. I agree though, I see big long-term potential out of this style of app. I would expect that other theme parks will follow suit with a similar apps/reservations.

  • Cliff McQuigg

    Not sure about Disney World, but at Disneyland, the problem with using any app is that the cell towers are so oversaturated that you are lucky to get data at all. This equals a dead battery, and apps being pretty much useless.

    • James Ellis

      The Disney World resorts and parks are blanketed in free WiFi, so I never had to use my cell data during our entire trip last month.