MagicMobile v. MagicBands at Disney World

MagicBand+ is the hot new thing at Walt Disney World, but it’s not the only option for entering the parks and other features. MagicMobile is a service that uses your phone or other smart devices, and can be a convenient alternative to Magic Bands. This post compares and contrasts the options, provides basic background, and offers commentary about which we prefer.

Let’s start with a simple rundown of the options: Key to the World Card, MagicBand, MagicBand Plus, and MagicMobile service. All of these are part of the integrated MyMagic+ system. You may not be familiar with that term, which wouldn’t be surprising since Walt Disney World has essentially abandoned it in the last few years. Even the official MyMagic+ page no longer mentions it (except in the fine print).

Anyway, MyMagic+ is a suite of technologies that integrate various aspects of their Walt Disney World experience into one system. Half of that occurs in the My Disney Experience app, where you make Advance Dining Reservations and Genie+ reservations, while the other half occurs in the physical world, mostly by interacting with touchpoints.

There were a lot of other big ambitions for MyMagic+ that never came to fruition, but the underlying system remains. (See “The Messy Business of Reinventing Happiness” and “Behind the Scenes at Disney As it Purged a Favorite Son” if you’re interested in more on the trials and tribulations of MyMagic+ and NextGen.)

With that out of the way, let’s run through the various ‘real world’ options for interfacing with the My Disney Experience app and Walt Disney World’s infrastructure:

Key to the World Card – This is Walt Disney World’s term for your hotel room key. This predates MagicBands and MagicMobile, but is still going strong. While the company has tried to fully replace and eliminate Key to the World cards in the last several years, they are still available if you go to the front desk of your resort and request one.

Key to the World Cards can do the following:

  • Unlock your Disney Resort hotel room door
  • Enter theme parks (with linked valid theme park admission and park reservation)
  • Connect Disney PhotoPass images to your account
  • Gain access to virtual queues (currently in use for Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind)
  • Redeem Lightning Lane ride reservations booked via Genie+ or the a la carte purchase option
  • Charge to your Disney Resort hotel folio during your stay

MagicBand – Walt Disney World’s original wearable device, now in its second generation. These old school MagicBands remain available for pre-arrival upgrade and purchases at Walt Disney World gift shops.

MagicBands are waterproof and adjustable wristbands that allow guests to link their My Disney Experience accounts to a bracelet, allowing them to be hands-free in the parks and resorts. MagicBand has all of the same features as the Key to the World Card.

Additionally, MagicBands operate with long-range RFID for automatic linking of on-ride photos. A battery is necessary for that, and those tend to die after about 2 years. All other MagicBand features use short-range RFID, which does not require a battery.

This means you can use the same MagicBand for scanning into the parks, opening hotel doors, or any other tap point…pretty much forever! Only the on-ride photo feature will stop working after a couple years.

MagicBand+ – We find it best to think about MagicBand+ as two devices in one. One of these is the MagicBand, which functions in exactly the same ways as a legacy MagicBand. It has all of the same features, functionality, strengths and weaknesses as those identified above. Think of this as the “dumb” aspect of the device, which (again) works without battery power and does basic things like entering the park or Lightning Lanes.

Then there’s the other half–the “Plus Part.” This is component not offered by the OG MagicBand, and encompasses all of the interactivity, lighting, vibrations, minigames, and experiential elements. This is the (sorta) smart device that’s powered by a battery and requires recharging. When the battery is dead, the minigames and special effects won’t work, but all of the regular MagicBand features will.

For more on this popular-but-polarizing new device, see our MagicBand+ Review: The Good, Bad & Ugly. Sadly, there’s a bit too much of the latter two categories for our liking with the MagicBand Plus.

MagicMobile – This service is now available for Walt Disney World guests in the My Disney Experience app, and can be added to your Android, iPhone, or Apple Watch digital wallet. Once enabled, the MagicMobile service works by holding your smart device near access points around Walt Disney World.

Disney MagicMobile passes can do the following:

  • Enter theme parks (with linked valid theme park admission and park reservation)
  • Connect Disney PhotoPass images to your account
  • Gain access to virtual queues
  • Redeem Lightning Lane ride reservations booked via Genie+ or the a la carte purchase option
  • Charge to your Disney Resort hotel folio during your stay

In comparing these lists, you might notice the one thing missing from MagicMobile is opening hotel room doors. At present, this is not supported (yet?). In case all of that is confusing, here’s a comparison chart that breaks down the differences:

Before we get started with the commentary, one strong recommendation we have when it comes to MagicMobile is enabling Express Mode. (See How to Set-Up MagicMobile.) With this, MagicMobile works automatically without FaceID or your passcode. Just hold your iPhone or Apple Watch near a reader. Your pass may also be available when your iPhone needs to be recharged.

This means that using MagicMobile does not require any screen time. MagicMobile also does not drain your phone’s battery.

I’ve bolded this because there’s the misconception among some Walt Disney World fans that MagicMobile requires more time with your face in your phone, which is false.

That is a valid criticism with the whole of the Walt Disney World guest experience in the era of Mobile Order, Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, and everything else that’s reliant upon My Disney Experience–but it’s inapplicable with regard to MagicMobile, specifically. After the initial setup (which can be done whenever), you do not need to “interact” with your phone or watch to use MagicMobile. The device can be in sleep mode or inactive and MagicMobile still works!

When MagicMobile first debuted, I had issues with it. While setup went smoothly, the touchpoints at Walt Disney World didn’t always recognize my iPhone. In essence, nothing happened when I put the device near the reader–nothing came up on the phone and the touchpoint didn’t illuminate.

In fairness, it’s also possible that this was an issue with my Apple Wallet. I’ve literally never had any problems with it anywhere else, so that would be a first. By contrast, I’ve been having issues with Walt Disney World technology for over a decade; about the only consistency with Disney IT is problems. While I’ll never know conclusively the cause of my issues with MagicMobile, I’m going to apply Occam’s razor.

As a result, I stopped using MagicMobile for a while and reverted to MagicBands. I didn’t give MagicMobile a second thought until one day I left my MagicBand in the car and didn’t realize this while within feet of the park entrance. Rather than walking all the way back to the parking lot, I figured I’d give MagicMobile another shot.

It worked flawlessly, even in Express Mode.

Suffice to say, I began using MagicMobile more and more and was won over by the service. I haven’t had a single issue with it in the last several months, and to my recollection, I haven’t had any issues with it in this entire calendar year. My troubles were at launch, which isn’t to say it’s error-free, but if you tried MagicMobile when it first debuted and had problems, it might be worth revisiting.

There’s nothing particularly novel or noteworthy about MagicMobile. It works exactly like other Apple Wallet products and payment options, or even like the Key to the World card or MagicBands. For me, the advantage really comes down to the fact that I’m always carrying my phone, anyway, so why not just use that?

I used to not mind or even enjoy wearing a MagicBand, but that hasn’t been the case for a while. To each their own, but I already wear an Apple Watch on one hand. I don’t need or want anything on the other–seems a bit Bohemian to have a bracelet on each wrist.

Speaking of which, MagicMobile can be enabled on the Apple Watch instead of the phone. This really simplifies things, and makes the transition from MagicBand to MagicMobile especially easy. (Former Disney CEO Bob Iger speculated that Disney and Apple would’ve merged had Steve Jobs not died. I wonder whether the MagicBand would even exist if Disney and Apple collaborated a little more closely–or if Disney had just waited for wearable technology to advance a bit before developing the MagicBand.)

For whatever it’s worth, Sarah prefers to use MagicMobile via her Apple Watch. However, she also favors using MagicBands and continues to do so. From her perspective, the MagicBand is associated with vacation and is a fun accessory. (I also don’t think the aforementioned Bohemian bracelet ‘rules’ apply to women.)

Sarah also finds the MagicMobile service to be inferior to the MagicBand, as there are still some things it can’t do. She’s right.

While usable by anyone, I’ve realized recently that MagicMobile is definitely more of a feature for locals, whereas MagicBands might make more sense for tourists.

Generally speaking, locals do not wear MagicBands to work or in their day-to-day lives. Those residing in Central Florida might store a MagicBand in their cupholder, but it’s easy to forget. By contrast, it seems that everyone these days feels “naked” without their phone. It’s a lot less likely to be left at home or in the car when making that after-work trip to EPCOT.

For a tourist, there is definitely something to be said for putting on your MagicBand once landing in Florida, entering ‘vacation mode,’ and pulling out your phone or other screen-based devices as little as possible.

Another relevant consideration for tourists is one conspicuous omission from MagicMobile: unlocking your hotel room door. For that, you need to open the Resort Hotel tile in My Disney Experience, and use the “unlock door” feature. While that sounds simple enough, it’s often easier said than done. I’d say my success rate for this is about 75-85%.

That may not sound bad…until one of those failures occurs when you’re staying in Ranchos 7A at Coronado Springs and get back to your room after midnight. Sadly, that is not a hypothetical. It also wasn’t the first time I’ve been burned by the unlock door feature in My Disney Experience, which always seems to fail at the most inopportune times.

Ever since that fateful evening, I stop at the front desk to get a room key sometime early-on during our stays when it’s convenient. Much faster to do that than to walk to the room, strike out with technology, walk to the front desk, and then back to the room.

Ultimately, there’s no one-size fits all answer to whether a Key to the World Card, MagicMobile, MagicBand, or MagicBand+ is best. All four are very similar to each other, with the feature set having considerable overlap. What it really comes down to is your vacation budget, view towards accessories or wearable collectibles, and personal preferences.

While we’ll readily admit that MagicBand+ disappointed us, we still think buying a MagicBand makes sense for most tourists staying on-site at Walt Disney World. However, that comes with the considerable caveats discussed above, and is hardly “necessary.” It’s definitely the easiest and most streamlined option, but it’s possible the ‘value add’ over MagicMobile or Key to the World Cards doesn’t outweigh the cost. If you’re on a tight budget, stick with the free alternatives. As far as Walt Disney World splurges go, MagicBands aren’t high on the list for us. As always, your mileage may vary.

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

Have you used MagicMobile on your phone or watch? What about MagicBand+ or MagicBand? Or, are you still sticking with the Key to the World Card, circa 2008 style?! If you’ve used all (or multiple) of the above, which ones do you like or dislike? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? 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!

33 Responses to “MagicMobile v. MagicBands at Disney World”
  1. Paula November 11, 2022

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