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January 7, 2013

Will Big Mickey be watching you?

Well - the day has arrived. Disney has formally exposed the public face of its $1 Billion+ "NextGen" initiative, both in press releases and in an article in the New York Times.  I was planning to tackle this topic today anyway due to some information that came my way this weekend.

First the basics, Disney says "MyMagic+", as it is now called, will revolutionize your trips to Disney World's theme parks and resorts. The NY Times article talks about having the Scuttle animatronic in "The Little Mermaid" ride talk to you directly while you wait in line. I hear one idea that may be in the works is letting your child design a "Small World" doll of themselves that will appear in the ride at some point.  All of that sounds neat.

Last year there were tests with Mickey Mouse able to greet children by name when meeting them on Main St. NextGen would make that a lot easier and "more magical."

At its heart, the system requires you to wear a bracelet Disney calls a "MagicBand" -- and will even let you pay extra to theme your band to your favorite princess, for example.  We first showed you pictures of this band when Disney applied for patents and approval, but now they are finally being rolled out.

"MyMagic+" also brings some convenience, allowing you to pay for your food and souvenirs with a swipe of that bracelet. That same bracelet will let you into theme parks by waving it and entering without going through an old-fangled turnstile. That's a plus for people with strollers.

But the system will do a lot more than that. As envisioned, and being tested, there will be thousands of sensors all over the 40-square mile resort.

 Don't forget. Disney is a business, and I certainly don't begrudge the company trying to make more money and to learn more about making its customers happier. But you have to ask yourself HOW Disney thinks it can recoup the costs of a program many unofficial sources tell me has skyrocketed to at least $1.5 Billion. It's going to take more than little Suzie asking mom for a Princess Jasmine wristband instead of a plain one.

A lot of that was left out of the press release (which I will reprint below). But think what Disney can do with all of those sensors I mentioned.

While your wristband itself contains no personal data, only a unique ID number, that ID number is linked to a profile in Disney's database. As part of the personalization program, parents will get to pick how much or how little information to share over a web site or smart app that will also let you pick FastPass+ attractions (more on that in a moment). You can tell Disney if it is your little princess's birthday -- or your anniversary, for example, and theoretically cast members (and that talking Scuttle) can wish you a Happy (Fill in the blank special occasion).

Again -- That can be cool. But Disney admitted to the NY Times the system can also tell if you bought a balloon, for example, what attractions you rode and in what order; which ones you used a FastPass for; how long you spent in a section of the park; How long it took you to order food and eat; what shops you went in or which characters you met (and which ones you skipped).  

In short, it's a mountain of information on every moment of your trip that  Disney can use, for example, to offer you a discount on a certain type of souvenir, or a discount to encourage you to go to a less-popular dining spot.

But it can also be used to figure out better which attractions to open later and close earlier; which characters to trot out, and which to retire.  And that's the tip of the iceberg.

Then there's FastPass. Since 1999, it has operated the same way. Want to ride Thunder Mountain without a wait in line? Stick your ticket into the FastPass machine, get a ticket -- and come back in the hour time period printed on it. Easy. But also a hassle. FastPass is soon to give way to FastPass+ -- which is a key part of NextGen. Guests, especially Disney Resort guests, will be able to plan out a whole day of FastPasses at once -- linked automatically to your MagicBand.

No more rushing to Toy Story Mania at park open to get a FastPass good for 4pm. For the first time you'll also get to use FastPass+ to reserve a spot for the fireworks show, or the parades.

That's all great for people who plan days, weeks, & months in advance. What about locals? Annual & Seasonal Passholders? Still being worked out. But expect announcements soon.

I also hear Disney is toying with the idea that people at deluxe resorts may get more FastPass+ tickets in a single day than guests at value resorts (i.e. pay for the Polynesian -- get 5 FastPass+ reservations vs 3 at Pop Century). That has not been announced -- and that is not part of the current tests underway, but I hear it is being strongly looked at.

I mentioned in my last update that Disney admits attendance at the Florida parks was down in 2012. Well, several insiders claim so was hotel occupancy. Though the average occupancy is reportedly still an admirable 78%, imagine if Disney offers more FastPass+ tickets to those staying at its resorts. It might be an easy way to boost heads in beds.

We'll have to wait and see.

Some of this will change as testing continues and Disney sees what is viable and what is not.   Whatever comes of this is destined to change your visits to the Disney parks.

Count on Local 6 and the Theme World Blog to keep you informed.

Disney's press release is below:

At Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, we continually push the boundaries of creativity and innovation to deliver the best possible experience for our guests. We’re always looking for ways to take what we do and do it even better. Over the past few years, we’ve devoted considerable time and resources to create a more immersive, more seamless and more personal experience for each and every guest who spends time with us. I know there’s been significant speculation about these efforts among our fans, so we’re pleased to give you a glimpse into the work we are doing to take the entire Disney guest experience to the next level. 

Some of these initiatives are more apparent and can already be seen by our guests – like our interactive queues at Walt Disney World Resort and the Enchanted Art on our cruise ships – while others are more behind-the-scenes and are focused on “how” visitors plan, access and enjoy their experiences with us. Over the next several months, we’ll be rolling out a collection of tools at the Walt Disney World Resort called MyMagic+ that will give guests more opportunities to customize and personalize their entire visit. 

Like most people who visit Walt Disney World Resort, my family and I have our “must-do” attractions, and as the father of three boys, those attractions often end with the word “mountain.” Now, rather than dashing as a group, or even splitting up to gather FastPasses, imagine booking guaranteed ride times for your favorite shows and attractions even before setting foot in the park. With MyMagic+, guests will be able to do that and more, enabling them to spend more time together and creating an experience that’s better for everyone. 

A major component of MyMagic+ is the new My Disney Experience website and mobile app, which gives guests planning their trip the latest information on all Walt Disney World Resort has to offer. We know that some people like to plan every aspect of their Disney vacation in advance while others like to plan very little, letting their day unfold spontaneously. No matter where guests fall in that spectrum, My Disney Experience gives them the flexibility to plan as much or as little as they’d like to create the exact Disney experience they want. They can book dining and other experiences and reserve times for their favorite attractions, shows and more through an enhanced FastPass system, FastPass+. Once they arrive, they can use their smart phones to spontaneously change their plans in the moment, exploring our parks at their own pace and getting the most out of their visit. 

Linking the entire MyMagic+ experience together is an innovative piece of technology we developed called the MagicBand. Worn on the wrist, it will serve as a guest’s room key, theme park ticket, access to FastPass+ selections, PhotoPass card and optional payment account all rolled into one. We’ve began testing certain aspects of MyMagic+ in Florida last month and the early reactions we’ve gotten have been fantastic. 

This collection of tools is another step forward in the ongoing evolution of our guest experience, giving us even more ways to help friends and family create the unforgettable Disney memories that they want most. We’ll be testing, adjusting and adding features to MyMagic+ and My Disney Experience over time and will continue to make improvements based on our guests’ feedback. We look forward to sharing more with you in the months ahead!


January 4, 2013