Disney World changed the way people paid and moved about its parks in 2013 when it first introduced MagicBands.
These colourful wristbands (unless you forgot to select your colour and got assigned the default drab grey option) allowed you to not have to carry paper tickets or FastPasses, avoid worrying about keeping track of a room key, and skip having cash and credit cards at the ready and much more. (And yes, they did allow Disney to keep an eye on where you made purchases, where crowds were forming, etc.)
Back then, MagicBands were offered for free to Disney resort guests, and it’s fair to say they ushered in a new, ubiquitous layer to Disney vacations.
This week, almost a decade after MagicBands first came on the scene, Disney has upgraded the experience again with the introduction of MagicBand+. These bands are now far from complimentary, with prices starting at £29 each, but they give visitors ways to interact with the parks that weren’t possible with the old bands.
So, what can these bands do exactly — and is the new Disney MagicBand+ worth the added cost? There’s only one way to find out, so my family plunked down £123 (with the annual pass discount) for our four MagicBands the day they debuted and set out to put them to the test.
For more TPG news and deals delivered each morning to your inbox, sign up forourdaily newsletter.
In This Post
What is a Disney MagicBand+?
Long gone are the days of paper tickets at Disney World. Most folks don’t even carry plastic cards to access their tickets anymore. Some folks use Disney’s Magic Mobile service, while others still prefer the original MagicBands, even though they are no longer free.
MagicBand+ is now here, costing considerably more than the original MagicBands.
This latest iteration of the MagicBand can do all the things the first version could do, such as open your Disney resort hotel room, get you into a park or charge a Mickey bar to your hotel room folio when you’re a hotel guest (which means it should code as travel, so be sure to attach the right travel credit card to your account).
MagicBand+ also unlocks the ability to play interactive games in all four Disney World theme parks. Along with these games, MagicBand+ comes with the promise of other interactions during experiences like Disney World’s nighttime shows.
Related: Magic at every budget: These are the best hotels at Walt Disney World in 2022
How much is a MagicBand+?
The most affordable MagicBand+ bands feature a solid colour and start at £28.79 before any potential discounts.
If you (or your kids) want a themed band, like the ones we purchased, expect to spend more. We saw bands priced as high as £37.
Disney is offering a 20% discount on MagicBand+ purchases if you have an annual pass or are a Disney Vacation Club member. Each MagicBand+ comes with a charging cable with a USB-A connection — and this is an important change with the latest version, as you’ll get just hours with these new bands instead of years like the old MagicBands provided with their original batteries.
You can buy MagicBand+ online at ShopDisney ahead of your visit so you can get it set up and charged. Or, you can pick one up while you are in the parks.
Related: How to save your Disney holiday when the parks are absurdly crowded
Setting up a MagicBand+
Since we were already at Disney when they were released, we completed our purchase on-site and proceeded to update and configure a MagicBand+ for each member of our party.
We linked our MagicBand+ just like a regular MagicBand in the My Disney Experience app. The software update took less than 10 minutes using Disney’s Wi-Fi. Our band showed two of three bars on the charging meter, which turned out to be enough for a half day of gaming in the parks. Once back at our hotel, the app showed only one bar and listed the battery level as “low.” It’s unclear if you can still tap in at the parks with a dead battery in your MagicBand+.
On top of syncing your MagicBand+ to your account, you’ll need to manage a couple of other details. First, you’ll need to periodically update the software on your MagicBand+. Then, you’ll need to make sure the battery is charged enough to use it for the new interactive game (more on that in a bit).
You can also configure some other settings, including the colour of the light-up theme, brightness and level of vibration, in the My Disney Experience app. Other than the price, the only drawback we see to MagicBand+ is needing to remember to charge it when you get back to your hotel at night.
Disney World has a reputation for creating some of the most stunning attractions. Deep themes abound, including immersive experiences like the Star Wars Halcyon Starcruiser. That creativity isn’t without more than its fair share of software bugs.
Fortunately, based on first impressions, it seems MagicBand+ exceeded expectations here. We didn’t run into anyone struggling to configure their new purchase. Disney proactively had extra employees around all the guest services kiosks helping people get set up, too, though we only saw smiling faces and other happy folks waving their arms in the air testing out the new device during our visit.
Related: Disney has introduced a paid ‘FastPass’ replacement — here’s what ‘Lightning Lanes’ cost
Using MagicBand+ for interactive games
While some folks may pay extra for a MagicBand+ just to enjoy the pretty colours when they tap in at a kiosk to enter a park, the crowds of people lined up to buy MagicBand+ on day one seemed to be there to play games — or game, as it were, since the only game we were able to access on day one was called Fab 50. The game dovetails in with the celebration currently taking place for the 50th anniversary of the opening of Disney World.
Using the Play Disney app, MagicBand+ wearers aim to locate 36 gold statues that represent the Fab 50 characters located throughout all four theme parks. When we got close to a statue, our MagicBand+ would buzz letting us know we were on the right track.
Once we found the statue, we waved our arms in front of it a few times per the instructions and were rewarded with different audio at each statue (themed to the statue, of course). After that, we were able to download the character in the Play Disney app and use the augmented reality functions to play with the new character in our collection. For those of you with Pokémon Go, it’s a very similar experience.
Later in the day, a second MagicBand+ game, Star Wars: Batuu Bounty Hunters, appeared in our Play Disney app. But by the time it was available to us, the summer sun and humidity had done us in. It’s available in Disney’s Hollywood Studios and lets intrepid hunters earn credits and achieve membership in the Bounty Hunters’ Guild.
Related: How to plan an epic Disney ‘Star Wars’ trip — that doesn’t cost $6,000
Using MagicBand+ during the nighttime shows
A MagicBand+ will also light up and vibrate in conjunction with the nighttime shows, such as Harmonious at Epcot and Disney Enchantment at the Magic Kingdom.
We were too tuckered out to test this feature for ourselves on day one but will try it out and provide an update in the coming days.
Related: Everything you need to know about visiting Walt Disney World Resort
How long did the charge last?
One big bummer about the new MagicBand+ is it is yet another thing you need to keep charged while at Disney World. While the old ones would last years, with the new MagicBands, you’ll probably need to charge them daily in order to regularly use them.
It took about 90 minutes to go from one bar left to full charge, so you’ll probably want to let it juice up overnight.
Related: 18 mistakes to avoid at Walt Disney World
Is MagicBand+ worth buying?
Overall, we enjoyed using MagicBand+. The setup for our four MagicBand+ additions to our Disney toolkit worked seamlessly, and there was virtually no learning curve to using them, so we were able to begin collecting characters in the Fab 50 game almost instantaneously.
The lights and sounds made our first interactions whimsical and fun, betraying any sheepishness we felt standing in front of an inanimate object waving our arms around in the air. It probably didn’t hurt that hundreds of other people were also doing the very same thing.
But … Disney World vacations are already expensive, and MagicBand+ will put an even bigger dent in your wallet — especially if you are buying several for the whole family. The designs are really cool, so the chances your kids will want an upgrade from a solid colour band are pretty high.
A family of four with no discounts available to them is looking at spending up to £164.54 to play MagicBand+ games and enjoy the other functionalities. That’s a lot of dough for a “free” game. Add to that the loss of the free Magical Express option to/from the airport and free FastPasses of yesteryear and that’s a lot of ‘extra’ you now may end up paying.
We are at Disney World a fair amount and made the decision to invest in MagicBand+ as another way for our kids to have fun in the parks. However, if we asked our kids whether they wanted the new band or would prefer we hand them £41 to buy more toys, I suspect those bands would have remained on the shelf.
Our family has a healthy collection of the original MagicBands, as it was easy to invest in the fun, new creations back when they were previously priced at £12 each. But with MagicBand+, I suspect we’ll think a lot harder before choosing a new design to add to our stash thanks to the substantially higher cost.
Now that we’re 24 hours in, it’s safe to say we’re satisfied with our purchase. However, I highly doubt MagicBand+ will be a good value for every family, no matter how fun they are to play with.
Featured image by Edward Pizzarello for The Points Guy