So, a highlight of our trip this past weekend was being able to use the Magic Bands and the new FastPass+ system.

My initial reaction, based on one small sample of a weekend trip, is that it’s a great system and has unlimited potential. I never pulled my wallet out the entire trip. OK, I lie, I actually had to show ID at the Confectionary to get my AP discount.

We used it to open our hotel door, get into the parks, pay for all our meals, pay for all our snacks and even pay for our souvenirs.

The system is pretty simple as far as getting into the room and the parks. You just line up the Mickey head on your band to the Mickey head on the post and put your finger on the scanner and when it turns green, you’re good to go. Very quick, unless you get behind someone who doesn’t quite get the concept, or can’t remember which finger they use.

As far paying, the quick-service places are easy, you just touch the MB to the little machine and type in your pin number, and voila, you’re done. If you choose to pay at the table-service places, you will still get a receipt that you have to fill out and sign, but they will come with a machine to scan your MB.

FastPass+

We also had a chance to experience the new FP+ system. I made our FP+ selections probably a month before the trip and was able to get all of the times I wanted. I purposely did the first afternoon at Hollywood Studios to see what it would be like to do a half-day at a park with and without FastPass options.

So, we started that day at Animal Kingdom without any FastPass availability. Because the system will eventually get rid of standard FastPasses, I decided to not even try to get any. We rode Kilimanjaro Safaris first thing in the morning with no wait, then did Pangoni Trail before our breakfast at Tusker House. After Tusker, we did Festival of the Lion King. It wasn’t really a good sample of FastPass-less life, because we didn’t even venture outside of Africa the entire trip. So I don’t know what it would have been like to try to ride Expedition Everest, or Kali River Rapids.

After Lion King, we headed to Hollywood Studios to see how the FP+ system would work. Our first FP+ was for Toy Story Midway Mania at 2 p.m. We got to Studios a little early, so we actually decided to hop on to Great Movie Ride, which was only a 15-minute wait (probably more like 10). After Great Movie Ride, we took our time going to Toy Story Midway Mania. That’s definitely the best thing about FP+. You don’t have to run to the attraction first thing. We got on Toy Story Midway Mania after a short 5-minute wait in the FP line.

Our second FP+ experience that day was Star Tours. Unfortunately, when we got to Star Tours for our FP+ time, it was down. We were assured that if it remained down during our hour, we’d still get to ride later. We waited out the downtime by watching Indy and when we got back to Star Tours, it was back open. We used our FP+, even though the line was only 10 minutes. It was probably good we did use it, because it still took us about 10 minutes to get on the ride. When we got out, the line had doubled, so we timed it right.

Our last FP+ experience was Fantasmic between 5:55 and 6:05 p.m. for the 6:30 p.m. show. This was the one I was most curious about, and maybe we were unlucky, but the FP+ was not worth it. It was nice to show up at 6 p.m. and get into a 75% full theater, but we were ushered all the way to the left of the stadium. The view was not the greatest and we felt like we were kind of away from all the great special effects. If I had to do it again in the future, I’d probably opt for the Fantasmic dining package over the FP+ experience. The dining package seats were in the middle of the stadium, and you could arrive up to 15 minutes before the show.

Our second day of FP+ experiences were at Epcot. We did Soarin’ at 9 a.m., Test Track at 2 p.m. and Mission Space at 3 p.m. All of them went well. Again, so good to not have to book it to Soarin’ to get FastPasses with the masses. We took our time, got in line around 9:05 a.m. and got on the ride by 9:15 a.m. Test Track was very similar, got in line around 2:05 p.m. and was on the ride by 2:15 p.m. We didn’t need Mission Space FP+ at all, because most of the crowd was in World Showcase. I think I’d probably rethink the third FP+ for that park, maybe Illuminations if the spot is a good one.

Our final day of FP+ experiences were at Magic Kingdom. We spread these out, as another experiment. We left off the Fantasyland rides because we get there for rope drop and it’s my experience that I can do all of Fantasyland in 45 minutes before the stroller brigade arrives. So, our first FP+ was for Haunted Mansion, which we ended up not using because wait time was 10 minutes and the kids wanted to go through the interactive queue anyway. Second FP+ was for Jungle Cruise, which we used at 11 a.m. Our final FP+ was for Buzz Lightyear, which was at 1 p.m. Both of those worked fine, because standby lines were each 30 minutes.

I think I preferred spreading them out, like I did in Epcot and MK. You could easily build a touring plan around each FP+, especially if you arrive early and are able to beat a lot of the crowds.

Now, one thing I definitely don’t like is the tiered system that Disney is testing right now, giving you a choice between headliners and then two of the mid-level rides. In other words, you’d have to choose between Test Track and Soarin’, and stand in line for the other. I don’t like that system. I think they should let you have three (or even four) FP+ choices and leave it at that.

Final verdict

I love the Magic Bands. So easy and convenient. Never have to fumble for a card inside a lanyard. Never have to reach for your wallet to pay for a soda. Another aspect I didn’t mention, because we didn’t use it a lot, but it also serves as your PhotoPass card.

I’m still iffy about the FP+ system. I definitely like that it favors advanced planning. I don’t like that it appears the advanced planning will be limited. I will say that compared to our last November trip in 2012, we waited in more lines this trip. Normally, if we have an option to get a FP, we grab one and go find a shorter line. Not having that option handcuffs you. We had to wait for Dumbo and Spaceship Earth, both attractions that we would normally not wait in lines longer than 5 minutes for them. But since it’s still in the testing phase, I’m willing to let them work out all the kinks before I decide for sure.

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