Unclouded Look at Magic Kingdom Future

The “Motley Food” did not need a crystal ball. And it was not fooling or joking, either.

The popular Internet site was predicting how the Magic Kingdom might look like in 44 years.

Wait a minute: 44 years?

For most of us, thinking beyond next Tuesday is something of an effort.

But that time frame of almost half a century had a meaning.

Because the Magic Kingdom is now 44 years old.

And in that time, it has become the most visited gated attraction anywhere on earth.

Quite impressive.

And you don’t need to read about the x number of millions who now visit the place.

And while the Fool predicted the next 44 years could be mind-blowing, you don’t actually have to think that far ahead to wonder what’s next at the Magic Kingdom.

Crystal ball not necessary

In other words, no crystal ball needed.

Some of this we already can foresee.

No magic involved in Disney’s recent announcement of new future projects in the short-term of your next vacation time.

Such as the announced opening of a new park, Star Wars, only a couple of years down the road.

But perhaps a more significant development (even in the shorter term) is a one-word future prediction by everyone, including the Fool:


Disney may be known for entertainment.

But it should be equally recognized for its technology.

“There are a lot of companies that focus on content and lot of companies that focus on technology, but I think Disney is one of a few companies that do both equally,” said Sheryl Sandberg, a former CEO of Facebook known for her Internet experience.

Disney himself was well known for his interest and use of technology.

Just look at EPCOT, for one example.

It’s often said that Walt Disney himself was never happier than when he was in Epcot or Tomorrowland. They have been called his “sandbox.”

“You will find yourself in the land of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy,” he said. “Nothing of the present exists.”

Information is everything, the Fool and others agree.

One clear example that is both obvious but has longer-term implications:

The MagicBands.

The magic of technology

For now, they are relatively simple.

They store admission media information. A turnstiles-less way to get into the parks.

Rides reserved ahead of time through the FastPass system can be scanned using the bracelet.

Guests staying at resort hotels use the bands to pay for food and merchandise at the park.

Starting with reservations last month, most Guests booked on a Walt Disney Travel Company package at a Walt Disney World Resort hotel began receiving their luggage tags in the same box as MagicBands.

But that, as they say, is just the beginning.

Remember the old saying that information is king?

Disney collects guests’ information.

That includes when diners want to make reservations, for example.

So it’s just a matter of time when that information will have much larger implications.

They look very simple

These have already started but they have far more potential uses.

If you have not seen them, the MagicBands look like simple, stylish rubber wristbands.

They are offered in cheery shades of grey, blue, green, pink, yellow, orange and red. Inside each is an RFID chip and a radio like those in a 2.4-GHz cordless phone.

But their impact is vast.

News reports point out how the bands have essentially engineered away a lot of friction for park visitors. You have no need to carry cash, for one example, because the band is linked to your credit card.

What’s next for MagicBand?

They include some obvious potential uses:

—Disney now knows what guests choose to ride and where they dined on earlier visits. So when you visit, Disney suggests new rides, restaurants and menu changes based on what you did in the past. Customer convenience, at its best.

—Some rides (one example: Epcot’s Spaceship Earth) offer chances for personalized narratives based on what Disney knows about you, the guests.’ Wouldn’t your ride narrator addressing you personally sway you to return again and again? Probably yes. No, for sure, yes.

—Can those long-waiting ride lines be made friendlier? There are lots of efforts here, but real-time games played on smartphones by guests standing in line makes the sugar go down a lot easier.

You don’t have to read much about the subject to know that Disney is looking at many more uses of technology such as the bands.

Disney raised the bar on technology in recent times. In fact, trace it to the year 2013, if you need a date.

That’s when they introduced MyMagic+, the platform that finds guests wearing the RFID-bracelets or MagicBands.

Millions of them already out there

In just a couple of years, Disney has given out more than 9 million MagicBands.

Disney says 75% of MagicBand users engage with the “experience.”

Disney conjures up the word magic everywhere, but the use of the MagicBand conjures up another image, says the writer of a Toronto Sun article.

”This is cutting-edge technology, a behind-the-scenes revamp that’s making Walt Disney World astonishingly cyber-savvy,” says the reporter.

“And in a way, it’s almost as impressive as actual magic,” he adds.

In addition to tons of information on attractions, shows, restaurants and the like, the My Disney Experience app also functions as an interactive park map. It essentially pinpoints your exact location and shows the current wait times at every attraction.

Combined with the free and fast wi-fi available throughout all four theme parks and the resort hotels, it’s a truly connected experience, points out the Sun.

Disney was one of the first media companies to develop apps for iPhones and iPads. Apple Pay, the device maker’s new mobile-payment system, recently rolled out across Disney stores, and a Mickey Mouse–branded Apple “smart” watch is about to launch.

Other technology uses: endless

People sometimes forget or simply gloss over Disney’s pioneering use of technology.

You undoubtedly associate drones with the military. But wait.

Disney has filed patent applications for various uses.

Just one: flying them over football games with high-resolution cameras.

Coming next

Wearable versions of the key cards.

Yes, being developed.

The key is addressing individual users.

One example: theme park fans years ago glimpsed that possibility when the E.T. ride began began saying riders’ names near the end of the Universal Studios attraction.

A cute novelty, but just a beginning.

The potential of MagicBands is that they can react to their wearer’s presence without the guest having to do anything but show up.

Rewards might range from repeating their names to someday completely changing the behavior of animatronics or show scenes based on wearer’s ages, interests or even past experiences

From a business sense, all the brands—from the TV side to the parks to movies—are now encouraged to “beg, borrow, and steal” when it comes to technologies.

But the band is not the only example of how technology is influencing the park today and into tomorrow.

A recent Forbes Magazine story looked at Disney technology in a story headlined “Empire of Tech.”

Tiki Room was an inspiration

Disney’s Imagineering labs in Burbank, Calif. Story pointed out Disney’s early use of robots and the Enchanted Tiki Room, which features electromechanical singing birds.

It’s a concept that Disney pioneered a startlingly-long six decades ago.

The only major disadvantage to the Magic Bands is the battery. At least one blogger points out that one of the two chips operating the device has a life of only two to three years.

There are all sorts of good reasons for Disney to make a MagicBand that is nearly impervious to the hazards of a theme park. Wear in the pool, run it over with a stroller, leave in your hot car and your MagicBand will still work.

But no warnings and nothing indicates that limited life.

But the good news is that Annual Passholder get a new generic MagicBand every time they renew.

Since the band is cutting edge, a closer look at how it happened will help point out its potential.

Bands not similar to rides

The creative process behind the bands has not been widely publicized. “The company doesn’t want its magic tainted by the messy realities behind the curtain,” says one account.

And that’s particularly true of the bands.

Unlike putting up a new ride, the wearables initiative was a gradual process.

Internet accounts reveal that more than 28,000 door locks throughout Disney World’s resorts had to be changed to accommodate the move. Hundreds of access points had to be configured across the park to enable wireless communication with the devices.

But even after that, Disney is only beginning to discover what MagicBands can do to bring richer customer data to the company—starting with the straightforward fact that it can now better track visitors’ purchases, according to various accounts of its development.

But the impact has already been positive.

At least from Disney’s own standpoint.

The $1 billion+ plan has no limits

Some facts from the Internet:

—Disney’s efforts here can be traced to 2008 when Meg Crofton, then president of Walt Disney World, said the company needed to weed out any friction involved in the Disney experience.

—More than 1,000 people have worked on them.

—But they started simply with a five people jokingly called the “Fab Five”– a comical reference to Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto, as detailed in an account in Wired.

The Fab Five were not just Imagineers, but included high-level veterans of the company, according to the Wired account.

—Among issues: They ranged from trying to make sure parents could be reunited with lost kids to preventing scammers from getting free admission to the parks.

—The creative team was influenced by the then-new existence of “wearables,” Companies such as Nike SportBand, among other technology-rich pedometers that displayed heart rates and miles walked. The inventive crew wondered: What if Disney could supply its own version?

—They assembled Frankenstein-like mock-ups using spare parts cribbed from hardware catalogs and torn-down gadgets. The team debated whether visitors would unlock the experience with a band, a lanyard, or even a Mickey Mouse hat, Wired said in its story.

—In addition to being user friendly, the new concept’s goal was to help cast members. It was designed to free them from messing with tickets and payment to spend more personal time with guests.

Was it all easy? No

A core group of 30 designers and engineers working at makeshift desks, were so stressed, and at times frustrated, that “at the end of the day, they only thing to do was drink with the team,” according to Wired.

The entire process took two years of grueling work. And almost two years more of “dress rehearsals” to introduce the concept.

But engineers said they were proud that Disney himself would have approved.

Ultimately, the new system would shorten lines, among other accomplishments.

And mom and dad under the new system could no longer tell children they might meet characters at “It’s a Small World,” but promise them Elsa would be there to sign their autograph books.

The creators of the Band came up with a vision of the Magic Kingdom “without turnstiles.”

Not all of this was greeted with open arms, either.

“Within the company, this cascade of new technologies, and the dream of overhauling the park, thrilled some and threatened others, who fretted over the sheer complexity of it all,” Wired said.

Expansion plans in the works

Disney says, MagicBands have led to increased spending at the park. And the plan is to expand to other locations, including the company’s line of cruise ships.

Disney has already spent $1 billion on the MyMagic+ program. But that’s only the beginning.

Finding ways to leverage it for other uses is still being studied, Disney officials say.

“The folks who are saying the MyMagic+ experience is excellent is the vast, vast majority of folks who are using it, and that, we know, is good for our business,” said Disney Company’s Tom Staggs.

Any down side to all of this?

Fool cites privacy concerns.

But those have been issues for all types of new technology. And generally have been easily resolved.

Magic and technology?

They go together.

As science fiction icon Arthur C. Clarke famously said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Nobody knows that better than Disney. ###