Optimizing the Happiest Place on Earth

How Magic Bands are digitizing Walt Disney World while keeping the magic alive!!

What does Disney World mean to you?

Do you think of Mickey Mouse, Magic Kingdom, throwing up after Space Mountain, and Radio Frequency technology wrapped into wearable devices that improve throughput time, capacity and amusement park data capture? Yeah, me too.

In 2014, Walt Disney World rolled out its $1bn MyMagic+ program, defined by wristbands guests scan on Mickey Mouse-shaped sensors to enter the park, board rides, buy food and more – eliminating the need for paper tickets and even wallets. The bands hook up to a smartphone app and are detectable by scanners throughout the park, resorts and restaurants. [1] [2]

The goal of the Magic Bands was to increase the efficiency of a visit and collect live data— all while being sure not to compromise the magical feeling of Disney World!


Business Model

The value proposition of a Disney theme park is fairly straightforward—provide visitors with rides, attractions and food; send strangers in costume to hug their children; and, generally be the Happiest Place on Earth.

At the time MyMagic+ was designed, Disney World was 25,000 acres large, had 140 attractions, 300 restaurants, 36 resorts and a monorail that carried 150,000 people across 15 miles, a day. The Parks & Resorts segment was not only a large contributor to the parent company’s income, but it was also one of the more stable divisions, especially relative to the hit-or-miss studio and TV segments. [3]

The delivery of this value proposition however – ie the operating model – was becoming more difficult. As lines to enter the park, board rides and buy food got longer, customers were getting more disgruntled and tired. Metrics and surveys showed a significant decrease in visitors’ “intent to return.” Executives worried that modern technology, social media and smartphones would make the parks seem antiquated to newer generations. [4]

MyMagic+ aimed to solve these problems— and though it took a large capital investment, and the pain of re-doing park technology while continuing to operate, the program appears to have succeeded.

Improving the Operating Model

Better Process Flow
Given the simplicity of just scanning one’s Magic Band, the cycle time and variability of lines has decreased, hopefully mitigating guest unhappiness. Early tests showed park entry time shortened by 25%. [5]

Similarly, MyMagic+ removed entire steps from the dining process. A family going out to dinner at a Disney resort, no longer waits to be seated, waits to order or waits for their customized food to be prepared. They simply order in advance on an app, enter the restaurant, and find a table. Sensors in the restaurant identify the family and their order—their food is delivered shortly! [6]

Data: Park to Customer

As sensors around Walt Disney World track tourist locations and feed data to the Park app, visitors can identify longer vs. shorter lines and decide what to queue for. [7]

Data: Customer to Park

Also using the location-tracking, Disney is able to identify busy locations and optimize where it sends employees and delivers more food. [8]


Making Magic: When the Operating Model adds to the Business Model

The Magic Bands first offer a fun way to customize your experience at the park – visitors choose amongst different Disney themes and colors, ranging from $6-35. [9]

Moreover, kids can enter on the app whom they want to meet— meaning Mickey can find and surprise them, and even greet the kid by his/her name!

Finally, Disney can make a whole family feel surprised and special—they create “Story Engine” videos of all the photos taken of your family, and if they notice your bands languished in line longer than average, the Park staff can give you a discount or FastPass to apologize. [10]


The most obvious gripe customers might have is privacy, given Big Brother Mickey is watching everywhere they go. Additionally, operationally, Magic Bands speed up queues but the park could potentially get more crowded with the faster entry rate. This issue is not detrimental, provided the staff and infrastructure is ready to deal with heavy peak traffic.

What’s Next for the Happiest Place on Earth?

The Magic Bands could be integrated with social media to post official end-of-ride photos associated with your ID. They could serve as an easy way for families to communicate amongst themselves—helping parents with young kids and international groups with no cell service. Visitors can use the app to upload real-time feedback and feel involved in their own experiences. The Park could use visitors’ preferences to offer more customized suggestions for attractions, as well as discounts to encourage them to go certain places if they need to distribute park crowds.

Finally, Magic Bands could serve as vacation FitBits – if your Buzz Lightyear-decorated RF plastic band makes you feel healthier, you’re definitely more likely to buy that extra side of fries!


(788 words)

[1]Brooks Barnes . 2014. A Billion-Dollar Bracelet Is the Key to a Disney Park. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/02/business/billion-dollar-bracelet-is-key-to-magical-kingdom.html?_r=0. [Accessed 17 November 2016].

[2]Walt Disney World My Disney Experience. 2016. My Disney Experience – Frequently Asked Questions. [ONLINE] Available at: https://disneyworld.disney.go.com/faq/my-disney-experience/frequency-technology/. [Accessed 17 November 2016].

[3]Austin Carr. 2015. The Messy Business of Reinventing Happiness. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.fastcompany.com/3044283/the-messy-business-of-reinventing-happiness. [Accessed 17 November 2016].

[4] IBID

[5] Barnes, 2014

[6]Cliff Kuang. 2015. Disney’s $1 Billion Bet On A Magical Wristband. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.wired.com/2015/03/disney-magicband/. [Accessed 17 November 2016].

[7] Carr, 2015

[8] IBID

[9]Walt Disney World Disney Store. 2016. MagicBand Learn More. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.disneystore.com/disneystore/product/category?offset=&priceRangeLower=&priceRangeUpper=&sortKey=sortProductsPriceLowToHigh&productDims=1024701. [Accessed 17 November 2016].

[10] Carr, 2015


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Student comments on Optimizing the Happiest Place on Earth

  1. I think this is a genius idea for Disney – there seems to be a lot of wins for them, and the initial investment will be offset by increased revenues in park purchases, increased park ticket sales (if the overall customer experience improves), and sales of the band it self. The “magical-ness” of having a child’s favorite character surprise him/her is also an intangible win.

    My only concern is the operating cost of having maintaining the use of these bands. Aside from the upfront investment, Disney probably will need to create a MagicBand IT Desk at each of the parks to deal with faulty bands or customers not know how to use the bands. I imagine that for a park with so many visitors, this would require a fairly large team of technical experts to troubleshoot issues. In addition, while Disney builds infrastructure accommodate for bands, they must still cater to patrons that do not adopt the band. For instance, restaurants will need to create separate workflows for waiting on customers with and without bands.

  2. Agree – this is a great idea and way to leverage digital technology. While I think the bands appear gimmicky, they serve a purpose to separate the RF function from just building that functionality into an app. I would never consider using this service if it relied on software downloaded to my existing smart phone, and I think that Disney gets that. This is an overt nod to the fact that people don’t want to be tracked outside of the park – and a clever way of increasing uptake.

    I’m curious where else this can be used and what other tasks it can perform. I’d be interested to see this in schools – a model where the child arrives and dons a wristband which is used to pay for lunches (tied to an account that the parent tops off). It can also identify all kids’ locations in the event of a school emergency. Overall – very cool!

  3. This seems like a great idea from Disney – customers happily trade information with the park in order to optimize their visit, and the company can better manage their workforce. In the short term, I can see this paying off huge dividends on both the customer experience and cost reduction fronts.

    In the long run, I do wonder whether the shorter wait times and automated service will simply be built into the customer experience and visitors will now be unhappy if their food isn’t waiting when they arrive. Will families be disappointed that Mickey didn’t in fact surprise them this time? Also, once majority adoption has taken place, some customers may feel that they shouldn’t have to pay more for wristbands that are now part of the mainstay of a Disney experience.

    Overall a really clever way of integrating technology with the value proposition!

  4. Great article Bouncer. It is indeed very interesting. I would be interested to look at what the competition is doing as well. It looks like Universal Orlando has built a wearable that can not only do what the Magic Band does, but also creates a way to have a 2-way interaction between the client and Disney. This interactive wearable could enhance the park experience by a lot. For more details, look at this link: http://www.fool.com/investing/2016/11/05/is-disney-worlds-top-rival-about-to-make-magicband.aspx .It would also be interesting to see how Disney responds. Disney is looking to launch the magic band 2 but so far, it has spared us the details about what the Magic Band 2 can do: https://disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog/2016/11/magicband-2-coming-to-walt-disney-world-resort/. If you are interested in rumors about what the new band can do, please check out this article: http://www.behindthethrills.com/2016/11/magicband-2-is-coming-to-walt-disney-world/

  5. This is awesome! I can imagine so many additional efficiencies this creates in addition to customer satisfaction: staffing allocations across the park; food inventory and waste reduction; pricing during off-days or seasons; facilities maintenance; programming during slow or frustrating times of day; restaurant turnover time; or adaptation to trends in customer demand for various rides or characters. I’m sure those are just a few in how this could be utilized to lower costs and improve quality. Very cool to see TOM principles combine with data in such a comprehensive way.

  6. I love this! Not only does this improve operational efficiency, but it actually enhances the experience of it, too, by helping you to collect photos and keep track of lost children (maybe? :P). I also love the idea for its potential – measuring emotional response to different experiences through heart beat, activity level, etc. That might get into the danger zone of “big brother Mickey” you mentioned in the article, but I can see that data becoming so useful for the rest of Walt Disney business units, like Pixar.

  7. What an awesome idea for Disney!! I imagine that they will see an increased amount of sales in food, rides, etc. because there is probably a psychological thing playing there – parents don’t have to take out their wallets every time, so they are more likely to simply pay for things. Since my understanding is that the bands themselves cost extra to have, I wonder how long it will be before Disney sees a full adoption of the bands by all visitors? Currently, is there a separate line for those who don’t have the bands? In addition, I’m thinking that right now, people are probably super happy with the bands because they seem more efficient, but once everyone starts to use it, won’t it just go back to the way things were, with disgruntled customers?

  8. This is great! I think this is a very clever way for Disney to 1. Improve the customer experience and 2. Easily gain access to consumer information. While I understand the privacy concern, I highly doubt that there is an inch of the Disneyland property that is not already under heavy video surveillance and monitoring (with or without the wristband technology). My first thought when reading this post was to use the wristbands in order to locate missing children on the park grounds. Additionally, it’s an effective way for Disneyland to increase ride utilization by showcasing wait times for all rides throughout the park and worker utilization by reassigning staff based on activity level.

  9. Magical post, Bouncer!

    I went to Disney and had my own personalized wrist band, and the experience was so easy, fun, and painless! I think it is a great idea and can really see where this aggregation of data can help with Disney’s efficiency and provide a much more customized experience. Another reason Disney might have implemented this though (or just a very convenient consequence) is because of (even more) financial benefits. I read an interesting article about the psychology of money and paying, and, basically, people were more adverse to spend if the money was as cash instead of a credit card. If transactions were replaced with a band or other gizmo, people were more likely to spend a significant more amount of money.

  10. I feel excited but at the same time somewhat violated by the house of mouse. I understand that this allows them to provide a higher level of service and some pretty cool products but I just don’t know how I feel about some central Disney overlord tracking my every movement. This reminds me a little bit of the new HBO sci-fi show Westworld (if you haven’t seen the show that is not a compliment) where guests hand over all control to the amusement park and eventually events take a turn for the worse. No I don’t think amusement park robots are going to go rogue (again Westworld reference) but I do question whether these small improvements for the customer are really worth being tracked. Disney tries to pass this off as enhancing the user experience but at the end of the day I think this helps them more than it does the customer. I do wonder how they measure their ROI on the $1B investment and whether other attendees share my concerns or whether people are willing to give in and leave their experience in the hands of the park operators.

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