The Pros and Cons of MagicBands in 2021

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When I first used a MagicBand, back in the olden days of 2103, my reaction was, “MARVELOUS!” Seven years laters, my feeling is a more neutral, “Meh.”

When MagicBands, those colorful snap-on bracelets that Disney World issues to help guests execute tasks, debuted, they were a free perk given to every guest staying at a Disney hotel, as well as to annual passholders. Some of the functions of MagicBands include: Disney hotel room key, park admission medium, food/merchandise payment method, and FastPass ticket (when FastPasses existed). MagicBands may now be becoming a thing of the past–free distribution was discontinued in January 2021.

Though the MagicBand freebies are over, you can still buy new bands. Prices range from about $10.00 for a solid color version (the ones that used to be free), purchased online by a Disney hotel guest in advance, to about $20.00-$40.00 for fancy themed versions sold in the parks and on shopDisney.com.

The alternative to having a MagicBand is that your Disney resort will give you a standard plastic card use as a room key and hotel ID. Or, if you’re not staying on property, you can use a plastic card as your park ticket and pay for items with cash or a standard debit/credit card or an electronic payment method such as ApplePay. Disney has also stated on their web site, Starting later in 2021, we plan to unveil an innovative new offering as part of the My Disney Experience app that will bring features of a MagicBand to your smart devices. 

To help you decide whether a MagicBand is something you want to pay for, here are some of the pros and cons of MagicBands.

Pros

  • They’re wearable. For some folks, this is the main attraction of the bands. They like having easy access to the band’s functions without having to fumble around in a wallet or pocket for various cards.
  • They’re reusable. For frequent Disney hotel guests, there is an environmental advantage to having one reusable MagicBand versus dozens of disposable room key cards.
  • They can be a fun fashion statement, if that’s your thing. Match colors with your outfits or support your fandom!
  • Your kids/teens can use them to have some autonomy.The wearability factor means that older kids are less likely to lose these than they would a card. Send a kid a kid back to the room to grab a sweater or over to a snack cart to buy a popcorn with less worry that they’ll leave the key/payment method behind.
  • They’re waterproof. Many folks enjoy that they can go into the water at the pool or water park and easily keep their room key and payment method on their person rather than leaving it poolside, vulnerable to theft.
  • They can be a relatively inexpensive souvenir. For those who collect things, these are things to collect that are at a lower price point than some other Disney-branded items.

Cons

  • Carrying your kids’ bands is a pain. While the bands are sizable to tiny wrists, we’ve observed many a preschooler lose patience with wearing a MagicBand. That means that mom or dad ends up stuffing the bulky band into a pocket. Carrying your child’s card in your wallet is much easier than this oddly-shaped device.
  • They’re easy to forget. You’re probably in the habit of bringing your wallet (containing necessary cards) with you wherever you go. That reflex does not exist with an unfamiliar device like a MagicBand. [Cue my husband taking my band to run from the resort bus stop back to the room to retrieve his.]
  • You have to pay for them now. Ugh. Seriously, ugh. Who needs more things to pay for?
  • Tan lines. This has been a common complaint from the bands’ inception.
  • They do not have an infinite life span. The bands are reusable, but their shelf life is finite. (Disney estimates that they’ll last for two years.) The tiny batteries housed in the bands are neither replaceable nor rechargeable, meaning that once they run out of juice, they’re toast. If you visit the parks infrequently, the environmental benefit of declining multiple cards turns into the environmental negative of tossing a battery and a greater volume of plastic compared to just one card.
  • You need dexterity to use them. Tapping the Mickey head icon on the MagicBands to the Mickey head icon on the readers (tapstiles at the park entrance, hotel doors, payment readers in shops, etc.) is easier said than done. About half the time, I end up having to take my band off to use it. If you have poor mobility in your hands or wrists, the bands can even be a struggle to put on without assistance.
  • They compete for wrist space with other devices. People who wear bracelets, watches, FitBits, and the like may find it cumbersome to add another item to their arm.
  • They can ruin your look, if that’s important to you. Not everyone enjoys wearing an advertisement.

What’s your current thinking on MagicBands? Will you buy one for your next trip? Will you keep using your old ones until they die?

First published January 29, 2021. Updated June 16, 2021.

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Erin Foster

Erin Foster is an original member of the Walt Disney World Moms Panel (now PlanDisney), a regular contributor to TouringPlans.com, and co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disney Cruise Line. She's been to WDW, DL, DL Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, Aulani, DVC Vero Beach, and DVC Hilton Head. She's a Platinum DCL cruiser and veteran of 10 Adventures by Disney trips. Erin lives near New York City, where she can often be found indulging in her other obsession - Broadway theater.

19 thoughts on “The Pros and Cons of MagicBands in 2021

  • January 29, 2021 at 11:55 am
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    You don’t even need a plastic card. Disney offers electronic tickets too. A bar code is emailed to you. Plus, you really don’t need anything if you’re staying off site. No benefit at this point.

    Reply
    • June 16, 2021 at 10:32 pm
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      I’ve now done both DisneyLand and World and have to say that the ease of the magic band, especially considering I was on a DAS pass, made the visit so much easier. In DisneyLand I basically wear a lanyard all day with my ticket in the clear portion. Gets tangled in everything. The band was so quick and easy With everything in one place and no need for a sweaty lanyard around your neck all day.

      Reply
  • January 29, 2021 at 12:39 pm
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    @bebe80: Even if you purchase your tickets online, you still need to get your hands on some sort of physical media (magicband or card) to scan at the park entrance.

    @Erin: I was surprised that your pros & cons didn’t make mention of the on-ride photo functionality. My (possibly out-of-date) understanding is that some on-ride photos are only matched to your photopass account if your magicband is detected in the ride vehicle being photographed. If you revert to a plastic card and don’t use a band, do you lose out on accessing those photos?

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  • January 29, 2021 at 12:40 pm
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    Great article on pros and cons. Just to clarify a fact for those who like using them, most functionalities of the band do NOT have an expiration date. Though the bands do contain an expiring battery that is used to interact with things like Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom and the scavenger-hunt type games in Epcot, using the band to open your hotel door, to tap into the park entries, etc. do not use the battery, as they are RFID chips to store your myDisneyExperience info. I have MagicBands from 2014 that still function. At least that’s what I understand, but I invite techies to please come in and correct me so I’m sharing the right information! I never buy new bands because I can re-use and customize the ones I have with stickers I can buy online (like MagicMyBand.com).

    Reply
  • January 29, 2021 at 1:02 pm
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    @Jennifer: You are correct, you can still use years-old magicbands (as proven by the lack of expiration dates when linking them in My Disney Experience). Magicbands have two separate sets of functionality: Active and Passive.

    The Passive functions are those that are also supported by plastic cards, and require physically “tapping” the band against something: park/fastpass/hotel room entry, room charges, photopass linking, custom test track car, etc. None of the Passive functions use the magicband’s battery; the device doing the scanning powers the interaction.

    The battery is only used for the Active functions, which are things like the auto-linking of on-ride photos (see my previous comment above), the farewell messages on It’s a Small World, the “ads” in the Everest queue, and so on. These functions rely on the magicbands to output a signal that can be detected, and are the sorts of things that will stop working whenever your battery dies.

    Reply
  • January 29, 2021 at 1:31 pm
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    Andy:
    You do not need a card to enter the park, at least initially.
    My confirmation email says “show bar code at park entrance” They also require to see your ID.
    Maybe after that they give you a card, but there is no mention of it?

    Reply
  • January 29, 2021 at 1:44 pm
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    Bands are easier to manage than key cards, as far as I’m concerned.

    That being said, unless FastPass makes a return after COVID, you don’t really need the bands inside the park anymore. (I never understood the logic of eliminating the FastPass for COVID; in fact, I thought Disney should have expanded it and eliminated the standby lines for COVID safety. But I digress.)

    Reply
  • January 29, 2021 at 3:24 pm
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    Follow up.

    I called WDW and talked to a CM. I was told that you DO NOT need a card. To enter the park, you can either show your Park Pass Reservation on MDE or show your ticket confirmation email plus your ID.

    Reply
  • January 29, 2021 at 5:51 pm
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    I bought a magic band keeper from WDW – I’ve seen them on websites like Etsy as well – with the WDW keepers you get a little screwdriver. You can then take the active disc from the wrist band and place it in the keeper – I usually attach this to my handbag or purse with its clip. This makes it so much easier than wearing it and eliminates most of the “cons”. There is no point in my buying a patterned band though as the active disc doesn’t have any design on it in my experience.

    Reply
  • January 30, 2021 at 7:35 pm
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    “When I first used a MagicBand, back in the olden days of 2103”

    Oh you mean the future?

    Gotta love the typo.

    Anyway, the magic bands are nice, but if you forget your pin, theyre only good for getting in your room and park now, so it’d be nice to not have the sweat band in the hot Florida sun.

    Reply
  • February 1, 2021 at 7:39 pm
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    Additionally, at this time, Magic Bands are still good for rider swap, DAS, Rise of the Resistance boarding and pool entry.

    Note that the electronic ticket will get you in the park, but it will not do any of these other things. You need a magic band or hard card.

    Reply
  • March 23, 2021 at 9:14 am
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    I wear my magic band face side down. This way I don’t have to twist my wrist to use it. I let my littles use their magic band to scan for food/purchases/open hotel doors, etc. They love doing this and they are very attentive to where their band is helping them to keep it on and (not lose it). I do spend a little extra on buying colorful, character bands.
    The expense is nil for having something cute to wear and look at. After we get home from Disney, we still wear ours for a few days as it reminds us to talk about memories we make. I’ve seen my children just sitting and looking at theirs, possibly daydreaming of all they saw, heard, and experienced 🙂

    Reply
  • April 9, 2021 at 6:20 am
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    When we go this year, it will be our first visit since 2007. Having missed an era of seemingly geological time, we bought magic bands and will wear them with jutting pride. I may even wear a belt bag with my resort mugs hanging from it, all while referencing my Passporter!

    Reply
      • June 17, 2021 at 3:34 pm
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        I was replying to Steve Michaels, not sure why it didn’t post as a reply to him

  • May 2, 2021 at 1:40 pm
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    We are going in July. For us,it will he easier to use the bands. Where can I find the solid ones for five dollars? We are staying at a Disney Resorr, do we buy them there?

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    • May 2, 2021 at 1:53 pm
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      If you buy solid color bands in the parks, they cost about $15 each. The only place to buy the solid ones for $5 is on the WDW website in advance of your trip.

      Log into your account. Go to the My Disney Experience tab. Then click My MagicBands and Cards. From there you’ll be taken to advance purchase options for each guest in your party. Some of the fancier ones are about $20.00, but the most basic are $5.

      Reply
  • June 13, 2021 at 12:13 pm
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    anyone else notice the cheapest magic bands are now $10.00?

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  • June 16, 2021 at 9:10 pm
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    Since I don’t have a smart phone and dislike fumbling for a card I love the functionality of the magic bands. I will definitely purchase one for our trip this September.

    Reply

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