This is my second trip to Disney since the introduction of the Magic Bands. Last time, I got a nondescript gray one when I checked into the Wilderness Lodge, a disney resort. Your name is printed inside and the outside features the Mickey outline where all the magic is delivered. The band is worn on your wrist and is pretty comfortable. The size adjustment seems endless, so no worries there for the big or small. The magic band serves as your hotel key, charge card (linked to the credit card you gave the resort), park ticket (linked in before your arrival), photo pass card (to claim photos taken by cast members), magical express pass, and fast pass ticket.
This time I was determined to get one of the colorful bands you can select if you book early and register your request on mydisneyexperience.com (more on the website below). This time the green and orange ones Rocky and I selected came in the mail before our trip. We put them on when we landed in Orlando and used them first for direct access on the Magical Express.
If you have never used the Magical Express, this is the FREE bus service to and from the Orlando airport for guests staying at Disney resorts (all levels). You save money and the hassle of renting a car and Disney has captured all of your dollars by keeping you on their property. Unless you are able to drive to the resort from home or plan to go a lot of different places off-property while in Orlando, Magical Express is great for disney resort guests. Luggage service is also included. Your luggage is picked up at the airport and taken directly to your room. Upon departure, you can check your luggage (to most airlines) at the resort and not worry about it until you arrive home. Rocky and I usually carry aboard the plane and there is plenty of room for that under the bus. They will also check you in, print your boarding passes, and deliver your boarding passes to your hotel room before departure. Awesome!
Rocky and I were arriving mid day, so we detoured by the food court at the airport and grabbed something for lunch. If the lines for the bus are long, you can eat in in line while waiting for your Magical Express bus. We had a short wait and ate our lunch on board on the ride to Walt Disney World (WDW). No one ever bothered us about bringing or eating food aboard. (On a previous trip, I picked up a box of crispy creme donuts for Emma and transported them to the hotel via the Magical Express; the box was not quite as full when it arrived at the resort.)
The benefits of the magic bands are multiplied if you register on-line at mydisneyexperience.com before you go. You can link together your room reservation with dining reservations and fast pass selections-that can now be done in advance. Rocky and I have some places we really like to eat while in WDW. Back in the day, you had to call for reservations, wait forever on hold, and hope for an opening when you finally got through to an operator. On-line reservations have been available for a while now, but the mydisneyexperience site made it even easier to see all our options. We tried the long-celebrated Hoop-de-doo Revue, now in its 41st year, for the first time on this trip all because we spotted an opening when booking reservations on-line.
You can also prebook your fast passes, perhaps the most important benefit of the on-line registration. If your magic bands are linked in on-line, you just walk up to the FP entrance, place the Mickey outline on the outside of your band against the similar figure on the silver ball and when it lights up green you are good to go.
Almost all attractions, and even some dining options like Be Our Guest in the Magic Kingdom, have a fast pass option. With a fast pass, you skip the regular line and in most cases almost immediately get to ride, watch, eat, etc. Your priority is good for an one-hour window during the park’s regular operating times. Under the new system, you now select that window rather than getting the next available one.
You are allowed to make three fast pass selections for each day of your visit. All the FPs have to be at the same park on a single day. Once you have used all your FPs for the day, you can get more (if available) from the FP kiosks located around the park. Guests who have not preselected can make all their fast pass selection at a single kiosk stop upon their arrival. At some parks, attractions are grouped into categories and you can only select one attraction in that category. This used to be the case at the Magic Kingdom, but now all the attractions are available for combinations of your choice (a welcome refinement to the system). Not sure if they will update the other parks, which have fewer “rides”, to allow this option.
For example, Rocky and I wanted to go to the Hollywood Studios and ride the Rock N Roller coaster and Toy Story. Those attractions are grouped together, so you had to choose which one to get a fast pass for. If you want to ride Toy Story, ALWAYS get a fast pass. The queue area is well done, but only if you are very lucky will your wait be 30 minutes or less. It is not unusual for the standby (regular) line to be 90-120 minutes long. It can be longer. Until these changes (now called Fast Pass +) you could only get a fast pass when you arrived at the park. That means if you slept in and came late or transferred from another park, you would arrive to find that all the fast passes for the day were gone or if available were for very late in the day, long after you were ready to leave.
The pre-booking is intended to level the playing field. That is, if you have a ticket to WDW. In order to pre-book the fast passes, you have to link it to a ticket. If you know when you are going, make your ticket selection and purchase on-line while linked into your mydisneyexperience account.
This visit I determined that it made sense to buy Rocky an annual pass. Since the year begins from the date of purchase, I waited until the day before we left to purchase the annual pass. We pre-booked fast passes the day before we flew to Orlando. We booked for each day of our stay and then adjusted via the APP on our cell phones (or you could do it from a kiosk) if we wanted to change attractions or times while we were there. If you purchase multi-day passes (as opposed to the annual pass), you can buy those early and immediately make the FP reservations; the number of days on your passes won’t activate until the first day of use. Note: Even though you can purchase an annual pass on line and prebook your fast passes, you still have to stop by a ticket booth or guest services to activate the pass upon your arrival; this can not be done at the resort.
Do I like the new system? Well it requires planning and sometimes we want to go with the flow. Since our favorite rides were sometimes grouped together, we could no longer get fast passes for everything we wanted. If you knew how to use the system (as we did), there are definitely some disadvantages to Fast Pass +. If you need to save those fast passes for the busy afternoon time slots, you have to go all morning and early afternoon in the standby lines, where as before we could use a FP. Under either system, you have a definite advantage if you know when and for what rides you need a FP.