MagicBand+ Review: Good, Bad & Ugly

MagicBand+ is Walt Disney World’s new interactive wearable device with a variety of enhancements, plus two games. This ‘real world’ review covers our firsthand experiences using it for multiple full days in the parks to determine the good, bad, and ugly of the device, to help you decide whether to “plus” your WDW vacation.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, MagicBand+ (MB+) is the interactive upgrade to the iconic MagicBand, offering all of the features of the first two generations of that the Walt Disney World wearable. Like the normal MagicBand, the MB+ can scan to enter parks or Lightning Lanes. Additionally, you can connect your PhotoPass memories, unlock your Walt Disney World Resort hotel room door, charge purchases to your hotel room, and more.

Unlike those, when it’s activated, the MagicBand+ has color-changing lights, haptic vibrations, and gesture recognition. There are also MagicBand+ minigames revolving around Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary statues and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Suffice to say, there’s a lot you can do with MagicBand+ at WDW. For basic background encompassing everything you need to know about the interactive bands–plus answers to questions you might have–see our FAQ for MagicBand+ at Walt Disney World!

One other bit of background that’s worth mentioning is that Discount Pre-Arrival MagicBand Plus Designs are now available for on-site Walt Disney World resort hotel guests and Annual Passholders. Those cost $25 for solid colors and $35 for premium designs, both of which offer a savings of $10 off what you’d pay in stores at Walt Disney World or on shopDisney.com.

We chose this option, ordering our MagicBand+ on the device’s launch day for resort stays a couple of weeks later. That turned out to be a bit of an ordeal due to high demand and limited inventory, but Walt Disney World addressed that problem. Hopefully, it’s a non-issue for anyone else going forward.

The MagicBand+ device we tested was nearly dead upon purchase, and did not have enough battery life to complete the required day one software update. This is common, and is one big reason to do the pre-arrival purchase–so you can charge your MagicBand+ and updating its software prior to leaving home.

If you buy a band off the shelf at one of the theme park gift shops and intend upon using it that day, plan accordingly. You will likely need a battery charger (which you absolutely should have if visiting Walt Disney World) and a bit of free time.

Honestly, this is a big “bad” right off the bat. In isolation, it’s not necessarily an issue. The MB+ setup steps are simple enough and intuitive, overnight charging isn’t the worst thing in the world, and everyone reading this probably has experience with software updates.

The problem is the compounding effect. MagicBand+ does not exist in isolation. It exists at a time when Walt Disney World has Advance Dining Reservations, Genie+ and Lightning Lane, Mobile Order, virtual queues, and more. The reason you “absolutely should have” a battery charger if visiting Walt Disney World is because it’s difficult to make it through a day in the parks without draining your phone.

One thing that many fans and first-timers like about the regular ole “dumb” MagicBand is that it didn’t require screen time. Sure, it’s not as sophisticated as an Apple Watch or other wearables, but it got the job done and–critically–got out of the way so you could enjoy your vacation time with family. (Although I should note that legacy MagicBands did not work this well at launch.)

This is something that’s easy to overlook for locals and other MagicBand+ reviewers who are intimately familiar with the planning process for Walt Disney World. To most of us, it’s second nature. I’ve mastered the ins and outs of doing Walt Disney World, which is definitely not a humblebrag–much of my mental capacity is devoted to this stuff, which has little practical value in the real world!

The point is that for WDW diehards, learning how to use MagicBand+ might seem simple enough and an insignificant addition to your planning or visiting rituals. Take a step back and imagine being a first-timer or infrequent visitor–or explaining everything they need to know. You will literally sound like a crazy person. It’s that overwhelming and unnecessarily convoluted.

MagicBand+ adds yet another layer into the existing morass of Walt Disney World vacation planning. If you’re a first-timer who is already overwhelmed, I would recommend stopping right here–don’t bother with MagicBand Plus. If you’re a Walt Disney World veteran, let’s continue on to determine whether the MB+ is worth it for you…

The main selling point MagicBand+ is the interactivity in the parks. There’s a color-changing effect when using touchpoints, and the MagicBand+ engages with the Disney Enchantment fireworks at Magic Kingdom and Harmonious nighttime spectacular at EPCOT.

I’m a sucker for stuff that lights up, and I appreciate some of these effects. With that said, Walt Disney World shouldn’t even advertise the nighttime spectacular interactivity. This is better filed under “fun surprise if you happen to notice it” than actual feature.

Had I not already heard from others that this was incredibly underwhelming, I would’ve assumed our MB+ was defective or we weren’t standing in the right spot. (It wasn’t and we were.) For the vast majority of Enchantment, the MagicBand+ doesn’t do anything at all. Harmonious is better by comparison, but not in absolute terms.

It’s fair to expect more of this because Disney has literally been down this path before. Glow with the Show debuted over a decade ago and offered better integration with nighttime spectaculars at Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Hong Kong Disneyland. During Paint the Night parade’s show stops at HKDL, you could literally use a light-up paintbrush to change the color of performer costumes!

Not a huge deal, as the main interactivity comes via two mini-games. One in Disney’s Hollywood Studios that’s called Star Wars: Batuu Bounty Hunters. The other is throughout all four parks, and is called Disney Fab 50 Scavenger Hunt.

Disney Fab 50 Scavenger Hunt is fine. We found it cute at first, a fun way to interact with the statues scattered around Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom to celebrate the highlights of Disney+ and/or Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary.

Admittedly, we are not the target audience for this and that’s also worth acknowledging. After waving at a few characters and getting them to say hello, we were “good” on Disney Fab 50 Scavenger Hunt. However, we saw plenty of parents with small children who were much more enamored with this. Disney fans also tend to be collectors, so a scavenger hunt probably speaks to a lot of other older enthusiasts.

Viewed objectively, this mini-game is decent. If you want to “collect” the characters, you need to use the Play Disney Parks app. If not, you can simply walk up to them and wave. We had some issues with the statues recognizing our gestures, but this was usually resolved by ~30 seconds of flailing our arms about in front of them.

My only other complaint is that it doesn’t seem like the statues were created with this game in mind. Rather, it’s likely that the statues came first and the idea for the game came later, with the locations retrofit to add sound effects.

We mention this because Tokyo Disney Resort has been doing interactive in-park anniversary statues for a decade, and they’re better than this. Those also aren’t nearly as technically sophisticated as MagicBand Plus, and yet, they work more reliably and have much more dazzling effects.

Again, not a huge deal, as Batuu Bounty Hunters in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is the true star of the show when it comes to MagicBand Plus. Honestly, it feels like the entire idea for MagicBand+ was birthed from this–that one of the Imagineers working on Galaxy’s Edge had the idea for this minigame, and they fleshed out the rest of the stuff from there. Totally speculative, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this is how MagicBand+ came to fruition. Just about everything else feels like an afterthought.

We both loved Batuu Bounty Hunters in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and consider it the unequivocal highlight of MagicBand Plus, but even this minigame isn’t perfect. Let’s start by dispensing with the bad…

Our day playing Batuu Bounty Hunters started with the MagicBand+ wanting to be updated again and the Play Disney Parks app also needing an update. After knocking out these updates, the Play Disney Parks app wouldn’t load Batuu Bounty Hunters–it kept getting hung up on a mostly-blank loading screen. (A friend in the park was having the exact same issue, leading us to believe that it might’ve been a matter of high demand?)

Reading this from the comfort of your air-conditioned office doesn’t set the proper “mood” for this. The feels like temperature at Disney’s Hollywood Studios was 104° and the humidity was likewise dialed up to 11. I had sweat through my shirt just walking from the front of the park to Galaxy’s Edge, and this “bad” experience was moments from devolving into “ugly.” Thankfully, it started working.

That wasn’t the only problem, though. Star Wars: Batuu Bounty Hunters uses a hot/cold system to indicate whether you’re getting closer to bounties, and it’s difficult to ascertain the color in direct sunlight. (See above.)

It’s also tough to do this game as a team since the vibrating and color-changing MB+ is on one person’s wrist. This could be a problem for parents and children…or husbands and wives.

After completing each bounty, you need to return to Black Spire Station to the Guild Master to collect your credits. Before starting each bounty, you need to go to the Bounty Board next to that.

If it’s a busy day, this means waiting in two separate lines before/after every single bounty–and there are ~20 of them. We often spent 10 minutes at the Black Spire Station between bounties. That’s too long–less time was often spent on the bounties themselves.

Hopefully, this is less of a problem in the future when the “new Star Wars smell” wears off, but we played Batuu Bounty Hunters a few weeks after launch (albeit on a weekend), and it was still busy. The interactivity of redeeming a bounty is cool, but it would be great if starting a new bounty could be initiated from the app.

Finally, Star Wars: Batuu Bounty Hunters is a huge battery drain. This goes for both your MagicBand+ and your phone. We played the game for a couple of hours, and it took both devices down to almost nothing. You definitely want to purchase a MB+ before your DHS day so you can charge it overnight.

Even with all of those complaints, we really enjoyed Star Wars: Batuu Bounty Hunters. The gameplay is simple, but incredibly satisfying. Once you overcome the learning curve and whatever headaches you might encounter, it’s a lot of fun.

Walt Disney World fans who are averse to more screen time need not apply, but for those looking at interactivity in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge that’s actually engaging and not overly app-based (like some of the previous Play Disney Parks content), this is the sweet spot. It marries the tangible and digital worlds wonderfully, and is compelling and addicting.

Admittedly, I enjoyed Star Wars: Batuu Bounty Hunters more than Sarah did (middle aged men are the main demo, judging by the bounty board lines) but we both liked it. I’d go as far as to say it adds a new dimension to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, giving more life to the land. (It’s a small start–more like this is definitely needed.)

Starting the game at sunset and continuing as night falls over Batuu is definitely the way to go. It makes Black Spire Outpost more dynamic and energetic, and you feel like you’re part of that. It’s even better than the Batuu excursion that’s part of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser. (As cheesy as it sounds, this is the land delivering on its promise of letting guests “live their own Star Wars adventure.”)

In short, Star Wars: Batuu Bounty Hunters is the reason to purchase the MagicBand Plus. This minigame is, without question, the highlight of the new MB+ wearable. It’s not perfect, but once you overcome the issues, it’s an engaging and satisfying minigame that you could easily spend a few hours playing. Star Wars fans, kids, and those who savor simple gameplay will all get a kick out of this.

While not for everyone, Star Wars: Batuu Bounty Hunters is worth your limited Walt Disney World vacation time if you fall into the above categories. We’d recommend purchasing a MagicBand+ to share (or one for each child in your family) in order to play this–and do it when the ‘bright suns’ aren’t high overhead.

Ultimately, that ringing endorsement of Star Wars: Batuu Bounty Hunters is also an indictment of MagicBand+ as a whole. Not only is the Galaxy’s Edge minigame the main reason to “plus” your MagicBand…it’s the only reason. Unfortunately, nothing else really moves the needle for the new wearable. The other interactive features range from unnoticeable to okay, although perhaps we’re undervaluing the statue scavenger hunt.

No matter, as this recommendation (or lack thereof) is less about the interactivity and more about the downsides. The poor battery life, nightly charging, glitches, updates, etc. all make the MagicBand+ more of a hassle than it’s worth, from our perspective.

Walt Disney World is already increasing incorporating technology into the baseline park experience and vacation screen time is on the rise as a result. This optional product simply is not good enough to justify layering on even more of that and the potential headaches arising therefrom. Our recommendation is sticking to the cheaper and comparatively frictionless OG MagicBand for daily use. (Sure, you can use a dead MagicBand+ like a regular MagicBand, but why pay more for that?) Sometimes dumber devices are better.

Nevertheless, we remain hopeful that Walt Disney World will continue to iterate on the MagicBand Plus, improving its interactivity and eliminating issues, and adding more substantive content and minigames. I was really excited about the MagicBand+ and hoped it would be a meaningful step forward for Walt Disney World’s wearables, but so far, it does not live up to most of its potential. Like Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, the MagicBand+ feels rushed and glitchy, and probably would’ve benefited from more development time and resources before launching to the public.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

What do you think of the new MagicBand+ at Walt Disney World? Have you played Star Wars: Batuu Bounty Hunters or Disney Fab 50 Scavenger Hunt? What did you think of these minigames? What about the other interactive features of the MagicBand Plus? Do you think the MB+ is worth the extra money? What do you think are the biggest downsides or problems with the new wearable? Have you had any problems with MagicBand+ at WDW? If so, what were they and how did you resolve the issues? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

44 Responses to “MagicBand+ Review: Good, Bad & Ugly”
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