March 7, 2013 at 9:22 AM ET
Visitors to Walt Disney World know the drill: if you want to spin in a giant tea cup, drop down Splash Mountain, or wave to Snow White, you'll likely encounter a less than magical turnstile before the fun can begin.
Recently, though, guests have been in for a surprise.
At Disney properties in Florida the company has taken out half the turnstiles and replaced them with “touch points,” globes with a mouse logo that lights up green when a visitor holds a valid ticket up to it, Disney told NBC News.
Choose this way to enter a park and you can just walk in. There are no more gates or turnstiles to deal with.
Visitors in wheelchairs or those with strollers can use the same entrance that everybody else does.
Park employees have also been equipped with iPod touches to scan tickets. The gadgets are part of a test and provide “another option to help with guest service,” Disney said.
The company has been quietly introducing the upgrades as part of its “MyMagic+” program, which will eventually get rid of turnstiles all together. It will also provide visitors with other high-tech features, such as the “MagicBand,” a wireless RFID bracelet that will function as a park entry pass, hotel room key and wallet. The program, still in the testing phase, is expected to be fully rolled out over the coming year.
The changes are designed to make moving around the parks smoother. The company hopes they will create a “more seamless and more personal experience,” wrote Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, in a blog post earlier this year.
Visitors can get in quicker without turnstiles, Disney pointed out, which may translate into shorter lines. Park employees will still be working at the entrances, helping visitors and monitoring the process.
Most people are “surprised and delighted” not to see turnstiles, Disney told NBC News. The new system is in place only in Florida for now, though visitors will likely see similar upgrades at Disney properties in other parts of the country and the world down the road.
Industry observers predicted the changes will likely pay off for the company.
If there’s less hassle for travelers to enter the park, that adds to their experience and makes them a little happier during their visit, said John Gerner, managing director of Leisure Business Advisors. That, in turn, can translate into more money for the park.
“This may give [Disney] a bit of an advantage in that people know now that when they come to visit a Disney park, it’ll be a little more convenient perhaps than other theme parks,” Gerner said.
It’ll be a while before the wristbands are handed out, but the disappearing turnstiles are already a reality.
Studies have shown that theme park visitors hate “double dipping” – or having to constantly go into their pockets to bring out more money or produce tickets – so the wireless wristband will likely appeal to guests by helping reduce the need for cash, Gerner said.
“In the time that they would have spent waiting at a turnstile to get in, those are a few more minutes that they can spend browsing in a shop or getting something to eat and that adds revenue,” said Gerner.