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Nothing short of magical
This year, I celebrated my birthday in Walt Disney World, and during the five fabulous days spent at the 40 square-mile theme park (almost the size of San Francisco) I did not once feel the urge to venture into the "real world" that was Orlando, Florida. All I needed was Disney's MagicBand.
This Disney wearable is a cute wristband you can personalise: mine was red with an outline of Mickey Mouse's head inscribed on it, and my nickname and Band ID on the back. It resembles a watch, or a bracelet, and in fact a Fitbit Flex 2: slim, swim-proof, and does not tell time.
It was, in a word, magic - a device which I used for virtually everything: unlocking the door of my Disney Resort room, entering all four theme parks, checking in at FastPass+ entrances (express queues for rides), and charging food and merchandise to my room. On most mornings, I would jog the riverside trail between my hotel, Port Orleans French Quarter, and its twin hotel, Port Orleans Riverside. I loved how all I carried were my iPhone and earphones, and my faithful MagicBand. With it, I could let myself in and out of my room, get breakfast, and buy the spontaneous souvenir. There was no need for a wallet or room card.
I simply touched the MagicBand to a sensor, and followed up with a fingerprint scan or four-digit pin entry for security verification. Its being a slender wearable made wearing and carrying it around effortless. The tapping of the band on sensors and watching it light up in green only added to its magic.
What I found most amazing was how I could plan ahead. The MagicBand is linked to the Disney World app, through which I could make dinner reservations at busy restaurant Be Our Guest or book a FastPass+ for popular ride Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, while standing in line for another ride! The app could track where I was, and direct me to ride entrances, parade grounds and even the nearest restrooms. It told me which restaurants were still open after midnight, and whether certain rides were worth using a FastPass+ for (those with minimal waiting times were not).
Besides waiting times, it showed me the ride's thrill type (big drops, scary, dark, spinning, slow ride) along with a snappy description. My favourite was Careen through the Himalayan mountains on a speeding train while avoiding the clutches of the mythic Abominable Snowman. This was Expedition Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain, a roller coaster ride in Animal Kingdom.
If I wanted to remember a magical moment - and there were plenty - all I had to do was find a friendly (what other dispositions were there?) Disney photographer, have my MagicBand scanned, my picture taken and saved in my Disney World app, and the memory captured for good.
One more cool thing - the MagicBand ID-ed me on one ride and used that information in a good, intimate way. At the end of "It's a small world", a whimsical boat ride past singing children from around the globe, "Goodbye Jacquelyn" flashed across one of the many screens that bade riders goodbye in various languages. I felt like royalty!
One annoyance was that the MagicBand was tied to the credit card used to book the hotel room, which was my boyfriend's. This made splurging on my whims and fancies hard. So thank god for Apple Pay at the park. (PS: I wear my MagicBand on my right wrist, and my Apple Watch on my left).
It was then the height of summer. Even my Singaporean skin found the heat oppressive. But the Disney magic made it a fantastic holiday, and the MagicBand was a huge part of it.
It might be a mobile wallet solution in but a small and fictional universe, but it has pointers for the real world, where the mobile wallet market is fragmented, competition is rife, and players compete for merchant adoption. I can think of one place in Singapore that should sit up and take note: Sentosa.