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Disney’s Technology Magic

Wearable MagicBand+ is Latest Innovation to Debut at Anaheim Theme Parks

As one of Orange County’s two largest employers, The Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) has remained a driving influence in the local economy since its first theme park, Disneyland, opened in 1955.

In the decades since, Disney has showcased its technology—such as mobile ordering, immersive rides, and artificial intelligence-fueled events and experiences—at its Anaheim theme parks, which draw nearly 18 million visitors a year, according to industry reports.

Next up for the home of Tomorrowland: a new-and-improved wearable technology for park goers launching in Anaheim this month.

MagicBand+ connects to the park’s mobile app to allow customers to link tickets, annual passes, photos and line reservations to use in a tap-and-go system throughout the parks.

Previously, visitors had to rely on their phones or physical tickets.

The revamped version of the band—which first launched in Walt Disney World in 2013—includes LED lights, vibrations and other touch-focused haptics for nighttime shows and virtual events, such as scavenger hunts, to build on park immersion.

The cost of the band ranges from $34 to $44 apiece.

“The technology within is really giving us the means to be able to offer more interactive experiences for guests in the park,” Product Management Director Gina McCarter said during a preview event for the new bands last week.

Disney will first offer the wearables for sale to pass holders, vacation club members and Disney employees on Oct. 19, and will release the product to the public on Oct. 26.

Investing in Anaheim

Innovations like MagicBand+ “keep people interested and engaged in the parks,” which is a win for the city and county, according to Anaheim spokesperson Mike Lyster.

After the pandemic started in March 2020, the resort was shut for about 13 months. Since the park reopened, the city has experienced a record recovery, Lyster said.

The Walt Disney Co. reported revenue for its parks sector reached $7.4 billion for the third quarter ended July 2, up 70% compared to a year ago.

Anything that drives business to the resort also creates opportunities in Orange County, Lyster said, pointing to the 2019 opening of Galaxy’s Edge—the $1 billion, 14-acre Star Wars-themed Disneyland expansion—which included a variety of new immersive experiences.

MagicBand+ is a more gradual, complementary investment compared to new lands and rides, Lyster said, and fits well as an added benefit in between larger projects.

“For many, this is comparable to what they might wear now,” Lyster told the Business Journal. “[Disney] is bringing the technology we’re already seeing in our daily lives inside the parks.”

Engaging Features

Galaxy’s Edge played a role in the rollout of the bands.

Disney Imagineers—park engineers—created a virtual bounty hunt within the Star Wars-inspired land where guests can tap their MagicBand and be assigned a character to find by following lighted cues on the band.

“It was a piece of hardware that delivered on the promise of a tracking fob that we’ve now seen on-screen,” Imagineer Asa Kalama said of using the new MagicBand+ capabilities to build the game.

At nighttime shows like World of Color, Disney’s live entertainment teams can designate different music cues to send various light sequences and pulses to the bands during the event.

“The first generation of the band gave you those utility features for access and being able to quickly do things,” Disney’s McCarter said. “This is giving us the opportunity to really engage with guests in the park in a new way.”

OC Mark

Disney officials expect the band will be able to receive software updates through its connection to a mobile device.

Possible upgrades include mobile ordering, payment and checking in to hotels through the band.

“We were really thoughtful about the technology we were putting in and making sure that it was robust enough to be able to support that extensibility,” McCarter said.

Good for Anaheim

The wearable technology comes to California a few months before Walt Disney Co.’s 100th anniversary celebration and during various construction projects at Disneyland.

With plans to renovate and update the Downtown Disney shopping district and the Paradise Pier hotel, and add new rides and themes within the resort, the company’s investment in Anaheim is not slowing.

“Anything that’s good for the parks is good for Anaheim,” Lyster said.

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