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Tech Savvy: MagicBands make trip to Magic Kingdom seem magical

The plastic bracelets allow the wearer to travel lighter and eliminate the need to carry, for example, physical park admission tickets, keys to unlock a Disney Resort hotel room, or cash or cards to purchase food and merchandise at any of the theme parks.

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Nathan Hamilton and his wife Beckie shake hands in 2017 with "Olaf," a fictional character from Disney's "Frozen" franchise, during the Deerwood couple's vacation at Hollywood Studios theme park at Walt Disney World in Florida while wearing Disney's MagicBands. Submitted photo / Nathan Hamilton
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A long-awaited and eagerly planned trip to Walt Disney World in Florida can seem daunting for even the most organized tourists and experienced vacationers.

Nathan Hamilton and his wife are seasoned travelers to Disney World, but the Deerwood resident admitted they could use a helping hand when it came to enjoying its theme parks — even if the help came in the form of not a hand but a Disney wristband called a MagicBand.

“My wife and I went there each separately when we were in high school,” Hamilton said, noting they’d each gone once with school events. “And I had actually planned our honeymoon to Florida, to Disney World, so went there in 2013. And so we’ve made 10 trips there in seven years.”

The 34-year-old and his wife, Beckie, were at the popular tourist attraction and vacation destination the first year Disney’s MagicBands made their debut.

“We were in kind of their test beta system they had been doing,” he said of the colorful wristband, which is actually an all-in-one device that effortlessly connects the wearer to all the vacation choices he or she has made with the My Disney Experience smartphone app.

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The plastic bracelets eliminate the need to carry, for example, physical park admission tickets, keys to unlock a Disney Resort hotel room, or cash or cards to purchase food and merchandise at any of the theme parks or Disney’s PhotoPass Service, an optional photography service.

Located at park entry points, FastPass+ entry points, PhotoPass locations and sales locations are what are called "Touchpoints" where a theme park guest can place their MagicBand against in order to engage the system.

“I think it’s just a spot to get away, where you can just disconnect,” Hamilton said of Disney World’s appeal. “It’s also self-contained. You don’t have to worry about, kind of the real world.”

Real-world concerns did trouble Disney World officials, however, when it temporarily closed due to the pandemic. The Orlando-based attraction reopened July 11 to the general public at a reduced capacity.

Sealed inside the MagicBand are high frequency and ultra-high frequency antennas and a coin cell battery, and on the outside of the circuitry is an outline of Mickey Mouse’s head on the front, according to Federal Communications Commission documentation.

“You get a new one every time you go, so every reservation that you have you get a new MagicBand through that process, so we have a large collection at this point,” he said.

“And at first I was like, ‘OK, well, what can you do with it? What am I getting this for?’” he said upon receiving his first MagicBand. “And they’re like ‘It has your park ticket map, room key and the ability to charge everything.’”

Disney World uses radio frequency technology embedded in the circuitry of the MagicBands to enhance the wearer’s experience. RF technology is found throughout the world in everyday items like credit cards, video game controllers, keyless car entry systems and more.

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MagicBands are always on, but if a person loses a MagicBand, it can be deactivated with the My Disney Experience app, and it will no longer be linked to tickets and other entitlements.

“When we’re at Disney, there’s no need to say, ‘OK, do we have cash to spend, do we have the key card for our room, do we have our tickets’ — you know? Everything’s just right there, you’re wearing it on your wrist,” he said.

MagicBands add a touch of magic to the traveler’s vacation “by unlocking special surprises, personalized” just for the vacationer, throughout the Walt Disney World Resort, according to Disney officials.

“We were walking through the park and all of a sudden our apps thing said, ‘Hey, we see that you’re here. This restaurant has immediate seating,’ and it’s like ‘Oh, that’s kind of creepy,’” Hamilton said of MagicBands, which can be read by short and long-range readers located at Disney World.

A MagicBand is unique to the person who is authorized to access the benefits associated with it, including linked tickets, FastPass+ experiences and touch-to-pay purchases. Once a MagicBand is linked to the person’s Disney account, it cannot be transferred to another person.

MagicBands are available to Walt Disney World annual pass holders and guests staying at Disney Resort hotels, and guests receive a card with the purchase of park admission, according to Disney World officials.

“The nice thing about it is that everything that you want to do, it has a secondary authentication that’s separate, so for entering the parks it is a fingerprint, for charging anything it’s a PIN code that’s not on the band,” Hamilton said of MagicBands.

MagicBands can also be purchased online at select Disney World theme park and Disney Resort hotel retail locations; select Disney Springs retail locations; and at www.shopdisney.com/parks/walt-disney-world .

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Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Disney's Animal Kingdom theme parks recently reopened first, followed by Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios on Wednesday, July 15.

FRANK LEE, county and features reporter, may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .

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This colorful wristband is actually an all-in-one device that effortlessly connects the wearer to all the vacation choices they have made with My Disney Experience. Submitted photo / Brainerd Dispatch

Related Topics: TECHNOLOGY
I cover arts and entertainment, and write feature stories, for the Brainerd Dispatch newspaper. As a professional journalist with years of experience, I have won awards for my fact-based reporting. And my articles have also appeared in other publications, including USA Today. 📰
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