As a native Floridian who spent half her childhood at Walt Disney World, I reacted to the recent announcement of MyMagic+, an RFID-enabled system that lets visitors interact with (and pay for) nearly anything in the Disney village, with a sense of cautious excitement—thrilled by all the possibilities this offers travelers, though wary of the privacy concerns that come with it.
Disney has been in need of a high-tech refresh—something that both respects the legacy of the Imagineers and brings their magic into the 21st century. MyMagic+, available to guests staying at Disney hotels, certainly delivers. By its end-of-year rollout, it will touch every facet of a Disney vacation, from trip planning to check-in to the rides themselves. A new “My Disney Experience” website will allow users to make hotel, dinner, and even show reservations. The biggest perk is that it allows you to book appointment times for your favorite rides. Once you’ve arrived, an RFID-enabled bracelet stores these reservations along with payment info, while a mobile app lets you make changes to your schedule as your day unfolds. The fun or creepy part, depending on how you see it (or how old you are, perhaps): if you opt to pre-load your digital profile with personal details, interactive touchpoints throughout the park can engage you directly. Perhaps an animated gargoyle knows your name or Snow White wishes you a happy birthday.
Privacy, of course, is a big question, and it’s especially relevant where so many children are concerned. But RFID technology is hardly new to the travel industry. Vail’s EpicMix lift passes (which also track where you are on the mountain—and how much vertical drop you’ve skied each day) are powered by RFID technology, while music festivals like SXSW and Coachella have long used RFID wristbands to let guests pay for drinks, keep track of tickets, and share updates on social media. Even in Disney’s backyard, Orlando waterpark Wet 'n Wild has been using RFID bracelets since 2006, all with a double purpose of learning customers' habits and buying patterns. Technology aside, we’d be naïve to think that hotels aren’t already collecting tons of personal information about each and every one of us—with or without our knowledge—as contributor Peter Jon Lindberg pointed out in our February issue.
So is the skittishness simply because no company as conspicuous as Disney has employed this technology in such a visible way with so many different applications? To this Disney fan, it seems MyMagic+’s interactive elements are poised to bring back the much-needed “How do they do it?” wonder that I once associated with Disney parks, while reducing the amount of time wide-eyed children will now have to wait in line for Space Mountain. It’s always been Disney’s job to harness technology to wow us. And if you disagree, you still have the choice to not sign up. Me? I’m ready to book a trip—the new Fantasyland beckons, after all.
UPDATE 1/25: This morning, Congressman Markey (D-Mass), co-chair of the congressional privacy caucus, has called on Disneyto provide more details on what info it'll collect with its MyMagic+ system and how it'll use this data. According to The Hill, Angela Bliss, a Disney spokeswoman, promptly responded, saying, "Disney’s privacy policies and practices are fully transparent and guests can choose whether or not to participate in MyMagic+. In addition, guests control whether their personal information is used for promotional purposes and no data collected is ever used to market to children."
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Nikki Ekstein is an Editorial Assistant at Travel + Leisure and part of the Trip Doctor news team. Find her at on Twitter at @nikkiekstein.