Will Big Mickey be watching you?

Disney unveils electronic wristbands for guests at its parks

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ORLANDO, Fla. – Disney has formally exposed the public face of its $1 billion+ "NextGen" initiative, both in press releases and in an article in the New York Times.

First the basics. Disney says "MyMagic+" -- as it is now called -- will revolutionize your trips to Disney World's theme parks and resorts. The NY Times article talks about having the Scuttle animatronic in "The Little Mermaid" ride talk to you directly while you wait in line.

One idea that may be in the works is letting your child design a "Small World" doll of themselves that will appear in the ride at some point.

Last year there were tests with Mickey Mouse able to greet children by name when meeting them on Main Street. NextGen would make that a lot easier and "more magical."

At its heart, the system requires you to wear a bracelet Disney calls a "MagicBand" -- and will even let you pay extra to theme your band to your favorite princess, for example. 
"MyMagic+" also brings some convenience, allowing you to pay for your food and souvenirs with a swipe of that bracelet. That same bracelet will let you into theme parks by waving it and entering without going through an old-fangled turnstile. That's a plus for people with strollers.

But the system will do a lot more than that. As envisioned, and being tested, there will be thousands of sensors all over the 40-square mile resort.

Disney thinks it can recoup the costs of a program many unofficial sources told WKMG-TV has skyrocketed to at least $1.5 billion. It's going to take more than little Suzie asking mom for a Princess Jasmine wristband instead of a plain one.

While the wristband itself contains no personal data, only a unique ID number, that ID number is linked to a profile in Disney's database. As part of the personalization program, parents will get to pick how much or how little information to share over a web site or smart app that will also let you pick FastPass+ attractions.

You can tell Disney if it is your little princess's birthday -- or your anniversary, for example, and theoretically cast members (and that talking Scuttle) can wish you a Happy (fill in the blank special occasion).

Disney admitted to the NY Times the system can also tell if you bought a balloon, for example, what attractions you rode and in what order; which ones you used a FastPass for; how long you spent in a section of the park; How long it took you to order food and eat; what shops you went in or which characters you met (and which ones you skipped). 

In short, it's a mountain of information on every moment of your trip that  Disney can use, for example, to offer you a discount on a certain type of souvenir, or a discount to encourage you to go to a less-popular dining spot.

But it can also be used to figure out better which attractions to open later and close earlier; which characters to trot out, and which to retire.  And that's the tip of the iceberg.

Then there's FastPass. Since 1999, it has operated the same way. Want to ride Thunder Mountain without a wait in line? Stick your ticket into the FastPass machine, get a ticket -- and come back in the hour time period printed on it. Easy. But also a hassle.

FastPass is soon to give way to FastPass+ -- which is a key part of NextGen. Guests, especially Disney Resort guests, will be able to plan out a whole day of FastPasses at once -- linked automatically to your MagicBand.

No more rushing to Toy Story Mania at park open to get a FastPass good for 4pm. For the first time you'll also get to use FastPass+ to reserve a spot for the fireworks show, or the parades.

That's all great for people who plan days, weeks and months in advance. What about locals? Annual ahd seasonal pass holders?  That's still being worked out;  expect announcements soon.

Disney is apparently toying with the idea that people at deluxe resorts may get more FastPass+ tickets in a single day than guests at value resorts (i.e. pay for the Polynesian -- get five FastPass+ reservations vs. three at Pop Century).