My Magic+, Magic Bands, and FastPass+

Mickey Power! To Infinity and Beyond!
 *Disclaimer* This is a LONG post, designed to be in depth to help folks with planning their Disney Vacation! If you are looking for a light read this isn't it!

  In the fall of 2013, Walt Disney World rolled out their much anticipated next-generation technology program called "My Magic +".  It is now the system in place for all guests both on property and off, for park tickets and FastPasses. While it can seem a little overwhelming at first, understanding the basics and using the system is to your advantage.

 There are quite a few new buzzwords for the program, and even if you are an experienced Disney traveler, the large number of new terms and offerings can make things seem more confusing than they need to be.  Here is a rundown of the new lingo:
  • My Magic + is the overall name of the multimillion dollar system Disney has installed throughout the Walt Disney World Resort that is designed to streamline your vacation experience, and it includes all of the following pieces.
  • Magic Bands are nifty wristbands that guests can wear or carry that are encrypted with an RFID (radio frequency identification). These Magic Bands are like an electronic wallet, and the Magic Band is your resort room key, your park ticket, your FastPass ticket, your meal "ticket" if you are using the Disney Dining Plan, your Magical Express ticket, your PhotoPass card, and your method of charging items to your room. Resort guests receive them as part of their room package, but they can be purchased separately by off property day guests.
  • FastPass+ is the new FastPass system where FastPasses (a ticket to wait on a shorter attraction line) can be reserved ahead of time. This has completely replaced the old system of paper FastPasses, and you use either the Magic Band (resort guests and those that purchase a band) or an RFID enabled card (day guests who do not purchase a band) to access the FastPass queue.
  • Memory Maker is the photography program available at the Walt Disney World Resort, where you can purchase all of the photos taken of you on attractions, by PhotoPass photographers, and at select dining experiences.  This is also linked to your Magic Band, and with a simple touch of the Magic Band, the photographer will be able to link your photos to your account. The Memory Maker program has replaced the PhotoPass and PhotoPass+ purchase programs.
  • My Disney Experience is Disney's online computer program you can access via your computer or mobile device that connects all your reservations and activities. If you have a Magic Band, it will be the location to connect everything such as park tickets and FastPasses to the Magic Band. 

While Disney maintains that the program is in testing phase, the test is really a live roll out of the program, with the kinks worked out along the way. This means that although the system for the most part is working well at this point, do pack a little patience, and understand that the program rules and benefits can and do change.

I know it sounds like a lot at first, but if you take it one step at a time, using Disney's new My Magic+ can make your vacation a lot easier, and more fun! And since a lot of the guests are indeed using it, opting out will put you at a distinct disadvantage.

Getting Started

Sign in page for My Disney Experience

The first thing you need to do, is visit the My Disney Experience website and create an account, or sign in if you already have a Disney account. If you have already created an account with either ABC or any Disney website such as Disney Movie Rewards, requested a vacation planning video, or made your vacation reservations with the online system, you should already have an account and you can use that to sign in.

Once you have created an account and signed in, you can then use the program to make vacation magic!  If you made your reservations online, or you gave the Cast Member the same email when you made your reservations, they may appear automatically. If not, or if you made your reservation another way, you will need to link your reservations and ticket media manually.

Use the "My Disney Experience" tab in the upper right corner!
No matter where you are in the program, once you are signed in, you can always go to the "My Disney Experience" tab in the upper right corner. This will open your options to edit your profile, add family and friends, link, view or modify reservations and tickets.

Start by opening the My Disney Experience tab as mentioned above. Then choose My Reservations and Tickets. Sometimes it takes a few minutes for the page to load. If your reservations are already linked, you will see them there. If not, it will state that it does not currently have any reservations for you, and it will give you the link to add them.  This is also the place to link dining reservations and tickets if they are not showing up.

Use this page to link all your resort, dining, photo and FastPass+ reservations!

Magic Bands

Once that is done, you will be able to customize your Magic Bands. There is no additional charge for Disney Resort Hotel guests for Magic Bands. Again in the "My Disney Experience" tab, under the "My Account" heading, choose: Magic Bands and Cards.  Each person listed on the room reservation with a park ticket should have a Magic Band. Be sure to customize your Magic Bands sooner rather than later so you don't forget. It will give you a date that you must customize them by. You get to choose a color and the name or nickname you would like on the back of the band. I believe it only goes up to 9 characters though, sadly "dizkrazkate" would not fit on mine:(

If you do not make personalized selections by the date, you will receive basic gray bands when you check-in to your resort. It is much more fun to receive your Magic Band box in the mail with all the colorful bands, and it helps to keep organized while on vacation if everyone knows their color! At some point either during personalization, or at check-in you will be asked to choose a 4 digit pin number to associate with the band.  This will be used when things are charged to your room via the band.

My family is so big, we need two boxes!
When you travel to Disney, you'll want to keep your Magic Bands in your carry on so you will have them even if luggage is lost and for Magical Express. They will not cause any difficulties at the TSA screening, though if you are wearing them, you may need to remove them so they can go through the x-ray. Once you arrive, if you are utilizing Disney's Magical Express, you'll want to put your bands on! Although Disney still sends out paper ticket books with your luggage tags, your Magical Express data will be linked to your band. When you approach the Cast Members at Magical Express, they will scan one person in your party and it will contain the necessary information!

When you arrive at your Disney Resort, the Cast Member at check-in will need to see one band from your group to activate them and link them to your room.  Once this is done, your Magic Band will be your door key. The only problem we had with this was that we had to institute rules for whose turn it was to open the door, because all the kids wanted to do it!

If you are using the Disney Dining Plan, the credits for the entire party are pooled and will be available to anyone in the party wearing a band, just as they were previously linked to the Key to the World Card. Any person can charge meals or snacks via their band, so you do not have to scan each person's band at the table, only one is needed.

In the parks, you will use your bands as your ticket to enter, and for your FastPasses. If you would like to purchase items and charge them to your room, adult bands will work for that as well, but the pin will be required for purchases greater than $50.

If you are using Magic Maker, or even just want a few PhotoPass photos, the photographer will also link your photos to your Magic Band.  No more lost cards!

My son enjoying his Magic Band in his favorite color!
If you are staying off property, known in Disney lingo as a "Day Guest", you can purchase Magic Bands at the parks. Currently (June 2014) the price is $12.95. If you choose not to purchase bands, your RFID encoded card that is your park ticket will work the same way as the bands, it just isn't as exciting. If you have an older ticket from a prior trip, you will need to have it upgraded (no charge) at Disney to an RFID enabled ticket.

And now...drum roll please....FastPass+

Probably the most talked about, discussed, hashed over, loved and maligned aspects of My Magic+ is the new FastPass+ system.  I was not thrilled when I heard how the new system was going to work. Lets face it, as a Disney expert, I knew how to work the old system to my advantage. We used FastPass as much as we could, and it saved us a lot of time. When I was a teen, visiting Disney meant long lines for things such as Big Thunder and Space Mountain, but since FastPass came on the scene, we almost never waited longer than 20-30 minutes for anything. The new system originally limited the number of FastPasses you can get (and you can still only pre-book three), and it limits you to one park per day. Both of these things were disappointing to me.

By the time our February trip rolled around, the legacy FastPass was just that, a legacy. The machines were removed, and our only option was FastPass+. I like to follow the mantra "Choose Happy", and so I decided that since we had no choice but to use FastPass+ we were going to go into it with an upbeat expectation and make the most of it.  (Okay, so this is what I tried to tell myself, but inwardly... I was skeptical.)  By day two, I was a FastPass+ convert! No, its not perfect, but what is? Overall, we felt that FastPass+ was a good thing.

If you are staying at a Disney Resort, you can make FastPass+ reservations 60 days prior to your check-in date, and you can make up to 7 days worth of FastPass+ reservations. If you are an off-property guest, you can make FastPass+ reservations 30 days in advance of the day you want the FastPasses. You cannot posses more than 7 days worth of FastPasses in a 30 day period. The booking window opens at midnight eastern time, and if you are wanting FastPasses for Anna and Elsa or the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, you'll want to remember that.

When you go to make your FastPass reservations, you'll have to choose which park you are planning to go to that day.  For uberplanners like myself, this is no big deal, since I have always planned this in advance. But for those that like a little spontaneity, or who would play the "we'll go to whichever park a bus pulls up for first" game, this can be a disadvantage.  I use Extra Magic Hours Mornings and Touring Plans to determine the best park for our family each day.
FastPasses in My Disney Experience App

Once you choose which park you will be visiting, you'll be able to select three attractions you want to experience that day. At Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, you can choose any three FastPass+ attractions. At Epcot and Hollywood Studios, you are limited to one FastPass from the top tier of attractions, and two FastPasses from the second tier of attractions.  While this is a small disadvantage to the new system, you can still plan your day to experience all of the major attractions.

Even if you only want two FastPasses, the computer system is set up for three. If you don't pick something, it will pick one for you. You don't have to use it, but you're going to end up with three available no matter what. You may only get one pre-planned FastPass per attraction, so you can't load up on three FastPasses for Space Mountain.

Once you pick your three attractions, the computer will set up several different schedule combinations of those three attractions. Usually, you'll get a set of morning times, a set of afternoon/evening times, and a combination of morning and evening.  Do not worry, if these times do not line up exactly with what you want. Pick the one that best suits you, and you can make changes afterward.  Once you have confirmed your set of FastPasses for the day, you can go back in and change them one by one. You can change either the attraction, or the time.  If you are pre-booking the FastPasses and you have the three attractions you want, but you don't like the times the computer picked for you, now is the time to go back in and change it.

When I booked our FastPasses for Animal Kingdom, I wanted Kilimanjaro Safaris, Everest and Kali River Rapids. No matter what I tried to do, I could NOT get the computer combos to make Kali the last attraction of the day. We always ride Kali last, so that if we are wet, we are then leaving for the day and don't have to spend our entire park day walking around soaked.  I realized the computer was always putting Kali in the middle of the plan because it is geographically in the middle of the other two attractions, and it was trying to save me walking time. Only by going in manually and changing the time was I able to schedule it for our last attraction.

While in the parks, you can use the app on your mobile phone to view your FastPasses and dining reservations for the day. If you change your mind on what attraction or time you want to do, you can even change the FastPass then, as long as other FastPasses are still available. During our trip, we didn't have any difficulty changing our FastPasses on the day of, and there was still good availability through the morning and even into early afternoon.

New Additional Rolling FastPass
Disney does pay attention and respond to guest feedback. Because of this feedback they are already changing FastPass+. You are now able to get additional FastPasses once you have used your first three, or the final time has expired. If you have three FastPasses at the Magic Kingdom, with your third being Buzz Lightyear from 12:05 to 1:05, you'll be able to get another FastPass once you have used the Buzz Lightyear one, or after 1:05, whichever comes first.  To get an additional FastPass you must visit a Cast Member at a FastPass+ Kiosk, but I am hopeful that soon you will be able to do it on the mobile app.

If you do not pre-book the FastPasses, or do not want to use the mobile app in the park, you can visit a FastPass+ kiosk located through the parks.  I do think Disney does leave some FastPass+ availability open for day of reservations, but it really is so much easier to book them ahead of time. And really, who wants to wait on a line, to make a reservation so you won't have to wait on a line?

So what is the best plan for making FastPass+ reservations?  I'm not sure I have the best answer to that, but here are several different schools of thought and tips.

  • Make your FastPass+ times for late morning and early afternoon. This is because most attraction wait times in the mornings are short, and FastPasses aren't needed. Save your FastPasses for when lines will be longer (I think this is the best method).
  • Make your FastPasses all in a row, early in the day. This is so that you can continue to add the rolling FastPass as the day progresses, allowing you the maximum number of FastPasses.
  • Sleep in, or have a day at the pool, and make FastPass reservations for late in the day. This was previously not always doable because with the old system FastPasses would run out by the time you got to a park. This is a good plan with teenagers.
  • At Epcot, make your Tier 1 FastPass for either Soarin' or Test Track, then ride the other one first thing on arrival. I think the lines for Test Track tend to be shorter, so I usually book a Soarin' FastPass.
  • At Hollywood Studios, pick your Tier 1 FastPass for Toy Story Mania. Then, arrive early to make good use of short lines on the other popular Tier 1 attractions.
  • If you want FastPasses for the Anna and Elsa Meet and Greet, get online at midnight eastern time exactly 60 days prior to check-in and pick the latest possible day you will be at Magic Kingdom and cross your fingers!
  • If the attraction you have a FastPass for is down, the system will automatically update your My Disney Experience app and your Magic Band. Look for an email or check the app. Depending on the time of day it will either give you a FastPass for another attraction in the park that day, a FastPass to ride the closed attraction any time after it reopens, or if it is a late day FastPass, it will give you an additional FastPass to use the next day.
  • If when making your FastPass selections on a desktop, you get the "error" page with an angry Donald Duck having a temper tantrum, go ahead and hit the back button on your browser. Even though Donald had a fit, usually the FastPass reservation was made. When you go back, it will sometimes magically be there.

Once we actually started using the system, we really did like it.  It eliminated the running back and forth across the parks to get the paper FastPasses, and it was nice to know we could be guaranteed FastPasses for our favorite rides.  I liked it so much, that on my trip to Disneyland in April, I found myself wishing for FastPass+. While we did have less FastPasses overall that with the old system, in some ways it forced us to slow down. Knowing we had some evening FastPasses also allowed us to enjoy our afternoon breaks at the resort, and took away the feeling we needed to rush back in order to get the last of the available FastPasses.

Magic Bands, a fashionable accessory for all ages!

The system is still new, and Disney is likely to make even more changes. I'm sure park hopping will be coming soon, as well as the ability to make the additional rolling FastPasses on your mobile device. If you have any experience to share with other readers, or any additional tips or tricks, please comment below!

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