Innovate or die - Disney's next level park tech

I’m just back from a trip to Disney World, Orlando, a twice rolled over holiday from 2020, and to say that the family were excited and ready for it would be a bit of an understatement.

My last visit there had been in 2007 and the world was a different place back then. I had just started my career in software in a digital agency which was entirely developed for websites viewed on desktops and laptops and it wasn’t as intrinsically woven into our lives as it is today.

In the 15 years since my last visit, Disney has continued to embrace technology and tastefully blended it into experiences within the parks. When you initially receive your tickets Disney set up customers with a single sign on (SSO) login for their website and the app. The main features of this are:

  • A personalised itinerary, based on your interests and favourites
  • Time-saving access to popular attractions and dining
  • Your own tip board, to track the wait times for your top experiences

Prior to arriving in Orlando I’d had some experience with the web on the desktop. The site is ok but it’s a little crowded at times with the large amount of small print that’s required on the pages. I booked a highly anticipated lightsaber building workshop months in advance for my Star Wars obsessed boys and it was a little more complicated than necessary. However, the site is typically Disney and has a quality, professional feel to it.

I have fond memories of the magic I felt visiting the parks and was looking forward to feeling it all again but with the new added tech I’d heard good things about. I was keen to see how the rides had developed, knowing that Disney has an eye for detail and their core value of always exceeding expectations. This was going to be fun!

On arrival at Disney’s iconic park, Magic Kingdom, it was special. There were classic rides that had been enhanced by tech and new rides that used cutting edge tech for next level storytelling & user experience, but what really stood out to me was the way they had integrated their My Disney Experience App to the parks. Like anyone else in their field, when you are on the receiving end of a service and you’re the customer you assess the experience in more detail than others might. And the experience was actually really good!

The rides are incredible by the way, Rise of the Resistance is a dream for anyone remotely interested in Star Wars, that’s if you can get booked in on it.

For the newer, popular rides Disney has introduced Lightning Lanes as well as the traditional standard queuing. The Lightning lane is just that, it lets you rapidly get on the ride but this comes at a cost. You can use your Genie+ option, which is a paid extra and enables you to book a slot on a lightning lane. Genie+ also includes unlimited PhotoPass digital photo downloads. The most popular attractions in each park feature an Individual Lightning Lane option where times are purchased a la carte and are not included with the Disney Genie+ service.

The My Disney Experience App is a delight to use and the more I used it, the better the experience got. You have screens in the app that you would expect such as a summary landing page, the ability to see ride queue times and a park map but it’s the way it all works together that’s really impressive.

App Features

Photopass

Some of the older rides still had screens at the end of them showing the all important ride shot but there’s a new way to get on-ride photos which automatically link to the My Disney Experience account through the use of RFID technology, so they appear in your app within minutes.

Booking

Booking any experience, restaurant reservations or passes  is made very easy using the app, you can search across all of the parks including Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot, Typhoon Lagoon, Disney Springs – the list goes on.

Future Plans

View your upcoming bookings across the entire Disney ecosystem which includes theme parks, rides, restaurants, experiences and more. It’s all in date order and it’s very clear to see what exciting things you have happening over your stay.

Map of Parks

Beautifully illustrated maps of the parks with markers on the rides and the all important ride time information. Clicking any of the markers shows further information with an option to link to the ride specific screen and a button to direct you from your current location.

Parking 

The car parks in the theme parks are vast and bigger than anything I’ve seen in comparison to anything in the UK. It’s therefore easy to lose your motor. We found out the hard way a couple of times which is no fun in the Florida heat. This feature lets you lock in your location at the parks so you can easily find your way back. We had apple carplay which automatically logs where you pack but the Disney app’s parking option is a nice feature all the same.

The app is feature packed and the above is just a snapshot of what’s available. Disney isn’t afraid to add, test, keep, remove whatever works and what doesn’t, which is what innovation is all about because the unavoidable truth is that if you want innovation – and you should, always – you need to give permission to fail.

Magic Bands

Magic Bands are provided for all customers and are adjustable, waterproof wristbands that have a small radio frequency (RF) chip inside. RF is a common technology found in everything from video game controllers to keyless car entry.

Contrary to its name, the MagicBand isn’t powered by hocus pocus, but rather by short- and long-range RFID chips that can transmit data up to 40 feet away. The short-range signal allows a MagicBand user to tap the wristband on a sensor, like a door lock or a payment terminal. The long-range signal allows Disney staff to monitor a guest’s movement around the park or resort. For instance, a restaurant host can match a guest to their reservation immediately when they walk in the door, without having to ask for the guest’s name. Disney installed thousands of RFID sensors in parks and resorts to collect and read the MagicBand data, which allows Disney’s systems to connect the tap of a MagicBand to that specific guest’s profile.

  • When you are at Disney World, you can use your Magic Band to:
  • Unlock your resort hotel room
  • Enter theme parks (as long as you’ve purchased a ticket, of course)
  • Access your Lightning Lane reservations
  • Charge purchases and dining back to your resort hotel
  • Redeem Disney Dining Plan credits
  • Add Disney PhotoPass pictures to your account

Summary and future

The Disney Magic band is the Disney Imagineering team’s latest innovation in driving guest experience. This is the quintessential example of using technology to eliminate poor user experiences, improve efficiency and create consistent surprise and delight for customers.

Disney embraces cutting edge technology across the entire company. The Disney-owned VFX company Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) has established itself at the forefront of the virtual production movement which is used on their newest rides such as Rise of the Resistance to create screen-based intergalactic battles that take place in the space windows of the Star Destroyer. In one Rise of the Resistance scene, physical turbo gun props fire thundering blasts into outer space as a digital battle unfolds between X-Wings and TIE Fighters. This same technology, known as StageCraft, is used in productions such as the interstellar Disney+ series, Mandalorian. 

Bob Igor, CEO of Disney for 15 years said “Innovate or die, and there’s no innovation if you operate out of fear of the new or untested.” He’s had his fair share of challenges over the past few years, navigating Disney through some of the stormiest of seas with them reportedly losing £24m per day. However, their ability to adapt with acquisitions of brands such as Marvel and Star Wars as well as their Disney+ streaming service is the reason they are one of the World’s Most Admired Companies.

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