The Good, The Okay and the ugly
Before I even go into this post let me just clarify a few things-
1. I was VERY excited to try the new Magic Bands and Fastpass+ at Disney. I have been a big advocate for the new system with my clients and have been praising how it could save time with children.
2. I am somewhat tech savvy, so my issues were not mine. My husband is a total tech geek and he could not the issues resolved so I am going to blame any “glitches” on the Disney side.
3. I did reach out to Disney after our trip to share my thoughts with them (no, I was not seeking any sort of money or compensation). But I am a loyal Disney fan, I sell Disney and I want it be magical for my family and my clients. They were very responsive and I felt they were actually concerned about the issues we had with the system.
4. The glitches and kinks did not ruin my vacation. But they happened. And I am sharing what I learned to help anyone else who might be headed down to Disney anytime soon.
Before you even to head to Disney
So, I fully admit I am a Disney over planner. As soon as I know we are headed to Disney I look at the crowd calendar. I look at extra magic hours. I secretly plot our itinerary. On the 180-day mark I make my dining reservations. I rarely change things around after that. For this particular trip we were headed down to Florida on Thanksgiving Day, staying off-property for a few nights (blasphemy, I know. BUT the Marriott Grande Vista was amazing. More on that in my next post). We were moving to Saratoga Springs the Monday after Thanksgiving, to hopefully avoid some of the holiday crowds.
About 60 days (I don’t think it was exactly 60 days because the system is still in test phase and Saratoga Springs was one of the last resorts to be brought online) ahead of our trip I was able to go to www.mydisneyexperience.com and customize our Magic Bands (which really means letting them know how your name will appear and the color you want) and begin making Fastpass+ reservations. Now, here is where the fun started. I had dining in place already. When you make Fastpass+ reservations you pick the attractions at the park you would like to use your 3 fastpasses (for the day) on. You get three or four choices of the best matches. These include different times and sometimes-different attraction options. For example, at the Magic Kingdom I wanted Peter Pan, Enchanted Tales with Belle and Meet and Greet with Rapunzel. Because I had dining in place long before I made my Fastpass+ reservations the system had trouble finding a combination that did not interfere with my Cinderella’s Royal Table Reservation and had all three things I wanted. (So, to recap I had one dining reservation and I was doing it as soon as the window opened). With the combinations you can use one Fastpass per hour. So, our times would be something like Belle from 4:30-5:30 pm, Rapunzel Meet and Greet 6:00-7:00 pm, and Peter Pan 7:30-8:30. I was able to secure what I wanted at the times I wanted, for the most part. I should have said, I have two small children who are much better in the morning than at night. So, I scheduled all of our Fastpass picks for mornings and very early afternoons. Although the system tried to offer me Soarin’, Nemo and Turtle Talk with Crush for late evenings I chose different options.
After scheduling my fastpass picks I waited for my Magic Bands to arrive, which they did. And I really did not play with my Fastpass+ choices much after the initial choices were made. Also, prior to arrival I downloaded the My Disney Experience App to my phone so I could use it while I was in Disney World.
Just to recap, before I got to Disney I had all our dining, all our Fastpass choices and our Magic Bands ordered.
Up front I am going to admit our check-in was a little more complicated than normal people. We were travelling with my parents. So, I did not utilize online check-in. Mainly because my parents and I wanted to leave two different credit cards on file. In order for this to happen you have to do it at the front desk. It was not a big deal. We each left a credit card on file. We were asked to select pin codes so we could use our Magic Bands for purchases. And voila, we were checked in.
Magic Bands and Fastpass in Action
Remember I said we were in Orlando a few days ahead of our check-in with Disney? This meant that we arrived on property very early our first day. We had a 10:15 reservation for Hollywood and Vine Play and Dine. We went to Hollywood Studios and everyone was able to get into the park with their new Magic Band no problem, even my five year old (who loved having her pink band). We had no problems paying for our meal with the dining plan, which is also done using your magic band (or leaving the tip).
We headed to our first Fastpass pick, Toy Story Midway Mania. We entered with no problem and even secretly loved bypassing the standby line which was something like 90
minutes. We tried to go see Disney Junior Live on Stage before our next fastpass but missed the show. We tooled around and let the kids see the characters before heading into Little Mermaid, our next Fastpass. No problems with entry. BUT after Little Mermaid we had a two-hour gap until our next Fastpass choice, which was Disney Junior Live on Stage. By this time it was also almost 1:30. My almost two year old needed a nap. My five year old wanted to see Disney Junior. My husband and parents wanted a break. So we headed out. I tried repeatedly to reschedule our Disney Junior fastpass but the app (on my phone) kept giving me an error message.
Lesson learned about the Fastpass choices, having dining late pushed our Fastpass choices back so that with my little’s it was too late, or to interfered with naptime too much.
That evening we wanted to take our five year old to the Magic Kingdom to see the parade and fireworks. But the buses were so slow at Saratoga Springs we basically took an Epcot bus after waiting 30 minutes for a Magic Kingdom bus. When we got to Epcot my Magic Band denied me entry. It said my ticket was expired. I was directed to guest services to have the issue taken care of. Now, if you have ever had to go to Guest Services at Disney you will feel my pain. There were two windows open with a rather large line. My husband and daughter were hanging out waiting for me. I told them to go in but my husband had not been there in 15 years and figured I would not be too long, big mistake. I waited at least 30 minutes in line to speak to a person at Guest Services (I am being generous about the wait too). He asked me if I had been to Florida in May, which is when it said my ticket expired. Ummm, no. Everyone else in my party and I had tickets as part of our package. So no, I had not used my ticket in May. He went on to explain that there was some sort of glitch with the system and tickets had been mixed up a few weeks ago. I was one of the lucky ones whose ticket had been mixed up. He issued me a hard ticket and told me to link it to my reservation that evening after I got back from the park. I also had two day tickets left over from our last trip that I had to add to link to our Magic Bands. After quite a wait, probably over an hour, we went into the park. Was this a big deal? No, it was irritating and totally annoying but at that point I was fine with the whole thing.
Oh but the fun continues… We went to Animal Kingdom the next morning, guess whose ticket was denied entry to the park? Mine. I had linked the new ticket to my reservation the previous evening but it still did not work correctly. I was, again, directed to guest services. I sent my family ahead while I waited, again, to have the problem resolved. I was told to carry the hard ticket around to the parks and that would solve the problem. There was no explanation for why my new ticket did not work. Maybe no one knew. But by now I was completely annoyed. But whatever, I am at Disney. And my kids love Animal Kingdom. Nothing a little Kilimanjaro Safari can’t fix. And maybe a cupcake from Kusafiri Bakery.
Now, because we had missed Magic Kingdom Monday night after waiting for the buses we had Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party tickets for Tuesday night. But this meant a late night. I wanted to reschedule our Fastpass choices for the next day at Epcot. I could not. Simply put, I could not get what I wanted for the times I wanted. So I changed plans. I decided we would go to Magic Kingdom on Wednesday morning. But I could not change our Fastpass choices at Magic Kingdom. And when I say I could not I mean- My daughter desperately wanted to go to Enchanted Tales with Belle, but the line has always been enormous, so we have never gone. I was so excited that on this trip I would be able to schedule it with Fastpass+ and problem solved. WRONG. Once I changed plans on Tuesday (I was attempting to make these changes midday Tuesday) I could not get a Fastpass for Belle for any day for the rest of the week. Not Wednesday, Thursday, Friday or Saturday. Now, I was completely annoyed by the system. I am all for over planning Disney. However, if once on property I am not going to be able to make changes to get what I want, I am not overly excited. And to be clear I would have taken any time, any day for the fastpass choice. Nada. Did it ruin the trip? No. Did it make me mad? Yes. It meant that the one thing we wanted to do was going to be standby line only. Fine. Totally no longer a fan.
We went to Epcot on Wednesday; my Magic Band did not work again. I used my hard ticket and the Disney “manager” who works the entrance to deal with magic band issues had to let me in.
I won’t detail every day of our stay. I have probably bored you to death. To wrap it up my Magic Band NEVER worked for entry to the parks after the first day. Even though I linked the re-issued ticket to it, it still did not work. Not. One. Day.
One Final Issue…
Aside from my band not working for entry we really did not have any other Magic Band issues. Until we went to checkout. Usually at Disney they leave a little envelope hanging from your door with your bill. Well, I got an email. And it was wrong. Despite my parents and I setting up separate charge accounts the billing was all mixed up. I am not sure how that can happen since every time you buy something you have to enter your pin, but it was all mixed up. I called the front desk and asked to have straightened out and to send me a new bill. They said yes, but I never got a new bill. I had to call on the Monday after our vacation to see what was going on and to get it straightened out. They finally emailed me a bill 24 hours later. My mother never got a bill. I was on the phone with my group coordinator ten days later and mentioned it. She made a few phone calls for me and my mother finally received a copy of her bill. Anyway, just another way that somehow there was a glitch in the system and it had to be corrected.
Here are the things I learned:
-Magic Bands are great when they work correctly. (I know this is test phase. But Disney still charged me full price, I did not get a discount to be a guinea pig)
-If you are planning on being able to swap fastpasses at some of the major attractions you may not be able to.
-The app works fine for some things, like changing dining, but it never worked for me to switch fastpass choices.
-3 Fastpass choices per day seemed too few. I think we definitely used more with the old system. But fastpass, in the old form, is disappearing as we speak.
-With our fastpass choices in place we did see some attractions we had not done in awhile (like Living with the Land) because we did not have to wait in line for some of the things we always do (Kilimanjaro Safari, Festival of the Lion King).
-I wish Disney would open the fastpass choices at the same time as dining reservations are made. This would make scheduling the fastpass choices easier. Mainly because by the time they open the Fastpass window it is almost impossible to move some dining choices around (i.e. Cinderella’s Royal Table).
-I will always, always check my bill because despite pin codes and magic bands we still had a number of errors on the bill.
Really, seems like a lot of complaining about someplace magical. And maybe I am griping, a little. But many of you know Disney vacations require a lot of planning time and money. And I was willing to put the time and effort in to make this special. Unfortunately this experience was less than “magical.” Am I saying you should not go, of course not? I am trying to share what our experience was so that other people are more informed. Did we still have a great vacation, yes? Will we be back, probably?