MyMagic Backpack+++

New buds awaken on long dormant trees; perennial flowers emerge from hibernation and the air is filled with fresh warm breezes for the first time in many months.  This has been a long brutal winter for much of the nation; spring is bringing with it a sense of rejuvenation.  The sky is blue, the grass is slowing turning green and spirits are being lifted everywhere.

Along with this new sense of hope is some interesting news from Disney; it may not be the blockbuster new ride or park fans dream of but it is major news nonetheless.

MyMagic-Backpack+++-Intro

Now we finally understand the big picutre and what Disney has been hiding up it’s sleeve for so long.

Today Tom Staggs, Chairman, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts announced a major new park wide initiative.

Bolstered by the ongoing success of the MyMagic+ system at Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando Florida Staggs has revealed a greatly revised and expanded program christened “MyMagic Backpack+++”.  This new system replaces the previous MyMagic MagicBand system effective immediately.

Tom-Staggs-BackPack

Tom Staggs shows off a MyMagic Backpack+++ at the recent press conference.

In a post on the Disney Parks Blog Staggs said: (Staggs’ comments in blue)

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 several months we have been implementing the MyMagic+ system that has allowed our guests to experience a more seamless and personal experience. We want to provide an even richer and more fulfilling experience for each and every guest who spend the day with us and that is why we’re pleased to give you a glimpse of what we are doing to take the entire Disney guest experience to the next level.

Many of our guests have already experienced some of our initiatives- like our interactive queues and the MagicBands that act not only as park entry tickets but also magically open guest’s resort room doors and may be used to purchase food and merchandise throughout the Walt Disney Resort.

Early-Testing-Demo

During the press conference early prototypes of the packs were shown. All of this amazing technology has miraculously been shrunk down to a 30 pound backpack.

None of this is news to us so far.  Disney has been focusing on various increasingly crazy and complex behind the scenes systems designed to make visiting Disney both easier (this is debatable) and more profitable for them (this is almost impossible to argue). While somewhat interesting most park fans have been underwhelmed.  It seems like a waste to spend as much money as an entire new park would cost simply so guests can make online reservations for a few rides before they leave home.

However as is often the case fans have underestimated Disney. It turns out that the bands were just a test stage and that the REAL system is much more complex and comprehensive.  Put another way, you will never have to wait for a turkey leg or frozen banana again.

magic kingdom Backpack 2

Young and old will benefit from the new system.

Staggs went on to say:

As wonderful as these additions have been we keep hearing one thing from our guests: they want even more! We have devoted considerable time and resources to create the MyMagic+ system including the MagicBands however there is a limit in what that technology will allow. This is why today we are rolling out the new MyMagic Backpack+++ system.

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”. Rather than dashing as a group, or splitting up to gather FastPasses or even using MyMagic+ MagicBands to reserve certain attractions ahead of time imagine if a magical backpack worn by each guest guaranteed admission for your favorite shows and attractions even before setting foot in the park. Imagine if this same backpack carried satellite and radio equipment that allows the Walt Disney Company to track your every move, and then provide you with real time advertising via wireless speakers built into each backpack and tailored to your specific tastes, needs and budget. Imagine if your every need and desire was anticipated and provided to you before even you realized that you wanted or needed it. This and so much more are all part of the MyMagic BackPack+++ program. MyMagic Backpack+++ will give guests more opportunities to customize, personalize and spend money on their entire visit then ever before.

BackPack AK small

All four Walt Disney World parks will participate in the new MyMagic Backpack+++ system.

This is all pretty interesting stuff!  The new system is actually an extremely high tech suite of state of the art hardware working in tandem with tracking and monitoring software developed specifically for this system.  With this Disney has upped the ante in such a way that services never before imagined may now be offered.

The blog post continues:

A major component of MyMagic Backpack+++ is the new My Disney MyMagic Backpack+++ website and mobile app, which gives guests planning their trip the latest information on all Walt Disney World Resort and the MyMagic Backpack+++ 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 the magic unfold spontaneously. No matter where guests fall in that spectrum, the MyMagic Backpack+++ experience gives them the ultimate Walt Disney World Resort experience. The onboard equipment contained within each and every MyMagic Backpack+++ constantly monitors each guest’s location, behavior, spending habits, credit limit, FICA score, glucose levels and more.  If our comprehensive system of advanced sensors and algorithms detects that a guest is not spending enough money a gentle reminder will be sent to them.  For example as an under-spending guests passes a gift shop the MyMagic Backpack+++ will issue an audible alert such as “Dumbo plush toys are available on sale, please purchase one now.” If the system determines that it is time for a guest to purchase a snack a gentle audible call out such as “Would you like a frozen banana?” or “It’s time for a turkey leg!” may be announced.  If a guest chooses to disobey a MyMagic Backpack+++ suggestion a mild shock may be issued to the guest. This is our way of setting a course correction so that every guest may enjoy the best possible Walt Disney World Resort visit.

That all sounds reasonable.

Charging

Concept art was shown featuring the in park charging stations which will be used to keep the backpacks going throughout the day.

The MyMagic Backpack+++ system is a technological marvel.  Each fashionable backpack (available in a wide assortment of designer colors and styles) contains well over 30 pounds of high-tech audio, video and biomechanical guest monitoring gear as well as lithium ion rechargeable batteries to power the rig. Batteries are good for up to four hours and then will require a brief thirty-minute recharge from one of the several MyMagic Backpack+++ recharging stations guests will find throughout the parks. 

I do wish that the batteries lasted a bit longer between charges but I am sure this will improve with time as technology catches up.

MK Backpack 3

The MyMagic BackPack+++ will be available in many different colors and styles to appeal to every taste.

Staggs goes on:

As with the previous MagicBand system the new MyMagic Backpack+++ experience will serve as a guest’s room key, theme park ticket, access to FastPass+ selections, PhotoPass card and payment account all rolled into one.  But we have added customized and personalized features such as being informed when and where you will eat, where and how much money you will spend on souvenirs and which attractions you will ride each day (up to 3 attractions are allowed per guest per day, additional attractions may be added for an additional cost).

fall-2012-handbag-trend-chic-backpacks

Lots of style choices and a wide price range.

This collection of tools and wearable technology 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 and money draining Disney memories that they want most. We’ll be testing, adjusting and adding features to MyMagic Backpack+++ 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!

This is really exciting news!  Fewer decisions and choices for guests to be burdened with and more opportunities for dining and shopping that true fans enjoy the most (without the annoying rides getting in the way).

Ted-Talk-Backpack

During a sit down interview after the press conference Staggs explained some of the detais of this revolutionary new program.

The announcement was made today at a heavily attended media event in Orlando.  Tom Staggs and a slew of other Disney executives were on hand to make the presentation and afterwards Staggs immediately sat down with Walt Mossberg and Kara Swicher of all Things Digital to discuss the new advancements.

BakPack Contents

A glimpse inside the pack shows some of the technology used to track, montior and guide each guest through the parks. The production models will be sealed shut.

From that conversation several interesting points came to light:

• Every guest regardless of age will be required to wear a pack during his or her entire stay at Walt Disney World.

• Each pack costs in excess of $12,000.00 but only the outer pack will be a required purchase for guests (ranging in price from $29.99 to $299.99.00 for designer options).  The expensive contents will be rented to guests for a daily fee expected to be under $50 per person per day (in addition to normal park admission).  A credit card will be required as a deposit.

• The equipment is always drawing power so each pack must be recharged several times during the day. Disney plans on installing quick charge stations at locations throughout the parks and resort hotels.  A 90% charge is expected to take approximately 30 minutes.

Child-Backpack

MyMagic BackPack+++ are available in child sizes and will be required for all guests.

• Adult sized packs weigh a little over 30 pounds while child sized versions are as light as 12 pounds depending on the size and age of the child using it.

• Each pack has both audio and video monitoring equipment.  This allows Disney to send out audible alerts when it is time for a guest to purchase food or merchandise as well as when attractions are available to enjoy.  The video equipment will monitor guest behavior to ensure that every guest adheres to park policies such as not littering, not cutting in line, no swearing and no “sad” faces.  Any infractions will immediately draw the attention of park security.

Backpack MGM

This kind of excitement cannot be contained. Who needs new rides and parks when Disney has backpacks for all!

• Cast members may now be situated at any point within the property including on the actual rides.  By monitoring guest locations and needs these cast members are able to deliver food and merchandise directly to consumers while the MyMagic Backpack+++ system automatically charges them for it. Examples were given that a cast member could be stationed amongst the Audio-Animatronic figures on Pirates of the Caribbean and distribute cotton candy or ice-cold beers to passing guests.

• The MyMagic Backpack+++ system will choose when and where each guest will eat and how much each guest will spend on each meal. In addition it will determine how much mandatory spending each guest will use for souvenirs and merchandise.  This will ensure fewer lines and fewer annoying decisions on the part of park guests.

• Disney has invested over two billion dollars thus far into the MyMagic Backpack+++ system and expects to spend another 800 million in 2014 on it.

It sounds pretty awesome!  Disney can now control 100% of the guest experience from when they arrive to how many rides they go on and how many pounds of ice cream they eat each day. Disney will collect and store every detail of each guests experience and will refer to it for future visits as well as selling this information to third parties who may have interesting products and services to offer Disney guests.

I’m really happy that Disney has finally answered the Harry Potter expansions over at Universal and has shown the world that they are in fact totally in touch with the needs and wants of all of their fans.

Great job Disney!

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The World’s First Traffic Jam

In the classic EPCOT Center attraction, the World of Motion, they based an entire show scene around the idea of the World’s First Traffic Jam, complete with animatronic chickens.

But Disney World’s First (and Worst) Traffic Jam happens every night at the Magic Kingdom. I don’t spend a lot of time musing about the future here (too many old haunts to visit), but I do find it interesting that Disney has finally turned its eye towards the colossal log jam that develops seemingly every single night at the Magic Kingdom. It’s like they’ve suddenly come awake to the problem, after 40 years.

As a local, I will tell you that Magic Kingdom is by far the most involved park to visit — and you know why. The parking lot is a mile away from the park itself. Going to the Magic Kingdom requires an investment in time just to get through the gate. And if you want to go home after the fireworks (i.e. when everyone else wants to go home), it requires even greater stamina.

It’s well known that Walt want the park situated as far from the everyday as possible. The monorail and the ferryboats represent a decompression chamber. As you sail over the Seven Seas Lagoon or glide in through the Contemporary atrium, the real world melts away, replaced by a fantasy land of make believe. It’s all well and good until the kids are tired, your feet are shot, and sixty thousand strong are streaming towards the monorail station.

It seems like in the span of a few months, they have embarked on major efforts to fix this.

First we have the Main Street Back Alley coming to life over behind the Plaza Restaurant. They’ve always used this backstage area as an alternate route through Main Street during heavy crowds, but now they have plans to theme it, which I am all for. It’s interesting to think of Main Street gaining another corridor, and it should be fun to see what they come up with. Anyone who has ever been stuck on Main Street during Wishes will welcome this new path.

Not only that, but the entire Hub is being expanded — hence the recent draining of the moat. I’ve heard grumblings about the loss of green spaces, but I really think Disney has absolutely no choice in this. Either cancel the fireworks, or create a bigger viewing area. Pick your poison. All it’s going to take is for some nutjob to shout “bomb!” during the nightly performance, and there will be a mass panic with lots of injuries due to the body-to-body crowds. And on peak nights (Fourth of July, New Years), you literally cannot move. It’s horrible.

Those efforts help with traffic inside the Magic Kingdom, but they’re doing things outside as well. When I arrived at the TTC earlier this week, Wishes was just about to kick off — meaning the Monorail system was about to get put under heavy load. They actually routed those of us coming into the park onto the Resort Line. It was frustrating for me, because now I had to wait for it to stop at Poly and Grand Floridian on my way in, but I’m sure the reason was to allow faster turnaround of the Express Monorail.

And finally, there is a new Ferryboat dock under construction, both at MK and at the TTC.

The new dock, still under construction at Magic Kingdom. The ferry in the distance is docking at the original dock.

The new dock, still under construction at Magic Kingdom. The ferry in the distance is docking at the original dock.

Ferries are really their best way to add capacity. You can’t add another monorail track without a lot of expense, but you could conceivably add more ferries without much more cost than just the boat itself.

It did get me to thinking about other ways in which to solve some of their problems. I don’t have much of an answer for the monorail/ferry overload. For years I’ve wished for a bridge and sidewalk over that small canal at the end of the Walkway Around the World (the one which houses the Electrical Water Pageant during the day). This would allow me to walk to the Grand Floridian, and from there continue on to the Polynesian and the TTC. It’s a ridiculously long walk, I know, but on the bad nights I wish I had the option. I hate waiting in interminable lines.

For the Fireworks problem, I’d like to see them expand the show a bit. They’ve made the Castle the centerpoint for years, but why can’t they have multiple unique viewing spots? Some fireworks that are centered around Space Mountain or Big Thunder or the Riverboat? That would disperse crowds throughout the performance, freeing up some of the logjam on Main Street. When I was at Disneyland a couple years ago, the Christmas fireworks had fake snow, with several snow points at different spots in the park. We ended up at Small World, and it was much more relaxing and the fireworks were just as good.

Anybody else have some ideas for how to improve the bottlenecks? Maybe we need a third transportation mechanism at the Seven Seas Lagoon. Ziplines over the water? An underwater tunnel? End-of-the-day Monorail FastPass? Maybe we can crowdsource a solution to make life easier. With all the changes happening to Magic Kingdom these days, a better exit strategy would be among the most welcome.

 

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The Thing Behind Door 24

It cannot be real. I won’t let it. Yet somehow the desperate, still-sane part of my mind will not let me forget the truly unsettling site I witnessed at the Magic Kingdom on the evening of March 24. As I write this, I am still quite shaken. I don’t know what will come of this nightmare. But there is a dark presence at work in Walt Disney World. And it is clutching at us all.

It happened on an innocent trip to Liberty Square. Wishes had just ended. A light rain was sending even the dedicated spring break crowd streaming for the exit. A perfect time for me to circle through the pleasantly empty sidewalks of the Magic Kingdom.

I crossed over the bridge from the Hub, studied the empty moat for a few moments before moving on. I was hungry, and checked out the menu for Sleepy Hollow. I decided with the chill from the rain that an ice cream sandwich did not sound appetizing.

I continued on past Hall of Presidents. No more shows for the evening. I rounded the corner, into that little outdoor sitting area between the Presidents and Columbia Harbor House. And then I saw it.

No other people were around in this little corner of the park — though they were certainly on the main walkway between Liberty Square and Fantasyland. Something flashed in the corner of my eye, startled me, made me turn around.

The Western face of Hall of Presidents is rather unremarkable. Colonial brick, a few faux doors, and the Paul Revere window on the second floor. Here’s how it looked the night of my passing:

Door 24

But there is something insidious behind Door 24. A strange force that delights in the creepiness of the ordinary. Allow me to brighten the above picture for you just a bit.

Door 24 Brightened

Do you see it? That thing lurking behind the window? It’s a ghostly presence, I tell you. The vestiges of some spirit creature roaming the halls of Liberty Square. What is this demon spawn? I moved in as close as I dared and turned on the flash. Behold!

Come inside and play.

Come inside and play.

Is that not the creepiest doll you have seen outside of Gran Fiesta Tour? What is that thing doing in the window, grinning its knowing smile, its pinpoint eyes searching the streets for easy prey? It’s got an odd wooden head, painted hair, a black backdrop. It’s a warning, I tell you. We have disturbed something primeval in our travels, and now it beckons our souls to come inside Door 24, where it can show us what darkness truly looks like. Perhaps it is the same evil spawn that drove the Carousel family to madness, or etched its permanent horror on the windows of New York Street, or devoured small children whole at Test Track.

Do not set foot in Liberty Square after dark. You are not safe. None of us are.

 

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