Home » Is Too Much Technology Actually Ruining the Disney Vacation Experience?

Is Too Much Technology Actually Ruining the Disney Vacation Experience?

Technology has always played a role in the Disney parks experience. From the beginning, innovations like audio-animatronics, complex ride systems, and an emphasis on the world of tomorrow have helped make Disney magic possible. As the world has grown more digitally connected, the Disney vacation experience has naturally evolved to integrate new technologies not only into the parks themselves but also to place that tech straight into guest’s hands.

By the 2020s, we’ve reached a turning point where use of personal technology isn’t just a convenience for guests visiting Disney parks—it’s now become inescapable.

Use of tech has become essential to planning a vacation to Walt Disney World or Disneyland. Smartphones have become an all-in-one replacement for cameras, park maps, tip boards for queue times, even your park ticket. Apps like My Disney Experience and Disney’s park websites have made the vast majority of guests services available online for everything from resort and dining reservations to purchasing ride photos.

How much is too much, though?

The intersection between technology and vacations can be a deeply personal and often-heated subject. For some guests, even the usage of an app to manage a vacation is too much stress. For others, the shift doesn’t become irksome until bugs and badly designed systems come into play. Whatever camp you fall in, there’s no question that trying to plan a Disney Parks vacation without significant use of a smartphone or computer is becoming nearly impossible, and it is definitely having a tangible effect on trips overall.

Is too much technology ruining the traditional Disney vacation experience? Here are some pros and cons to consider…

1. Pro – Much easier to access information

If there is a significant upside to Disney’s push for integrating apps like My Disney Experience into vacations, it is convenience. There is no question that it is significantly easier to gather information to improve your park visit than it used to be.

Gone are the days when you needed to carry a guidebook, a park map, and printed copies of reservations. You no longer need to plan long treks across the park just to learn what queue waits are, and phone calls with painful hold times are no longer necessary to make dining and resort reservations (in most cases… we’re looking at you, Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser).

Disney has made it easier than ever to access helpful information like attraction details, restaurant menus, queue wait times, resort and park maps (with detailed navigation), and current closures on My Disney Experience and their websites. Being able to find all of these things in one location has really made smart vacation planning much easier, especially when you need to look things up on the fly within the parks. In this aspect, increased integration of personal technology has definitely provide some plusses.

2. Con – Convoluted (and unnecessary) systems

The base idea of apps like My Disney Experience is to increase convenience for guests. This brings us to one big problem: some of Disney’s systems are painfully convoluted.

My Disney Experience suffers from a serious case of being overstuffed with marketing fluff and extraneous features that don’t actually offer much except confusion to the average guest. The presence of all the extra junk can make the app difficult to navigate and prone to bugs, sometimes causing more aggravation than it resolves.

A perfect example is the Disney Genie feature of My Disney Experience—a service that has almost nothing to do with the Genie+ service (aka paid Fastpass+) except perhaps as a dodgy marketing tool. In theory, Disney Genie is designed to offer guests real-time suggestions on which attractions to visit throughout the day based on wait times—sort of like an in-house version of Touring Plans built directly into My Disney Experience.

As we’ve explored in the past, Genie’s recommendations are often terrible, placing far too much emphasis on proximity rather than using actual good sense. The service’s name only adds to the confusion since it is easily confused with Genie+—indeed, we’ve theorized Disney may have made these names (and the service) purposefully convoluted to encourage impulse purchases of Genie+ and Lightning Lane in the midst of the mess.

Even many of Disney’s in-app services where intentions to improve guest experience appear more sincere (such as Mobile Order, Friends and Family, and Virtual Queues) often get bogged down with layers of digital hurdles that cause massive headaches for guests who don’t want to spend extra time fiddling with technology. While some of these systems have improved over time, many still miss the mark on being completely user-friendly.

3. Pro – Making reservations is much easier than it used to be

This one may hinge on how you feel about phone calls, but I must say, Disney’s shift towards moving dining and hotel reservations online has been a very welcome change.

It comes back to ease-of-access: it is much easier to make an informed decision about a dining or resort reservation if you can compare options without someone on the phone having to list them off for you. Just having the choice to browse Disney’s full range of reservation ability online has proven a game-changer for trip planning, especially in cases when you are already in the parks. More than once, we’ve been able to score day-of reservations to some of Disney’s best restaurants and experiences thanks to My Disney Experience.

That isn’t to say Disney’s online reservation system is without fault—it definitely can cause some frustration when it doesn’t work correctly. However, when it works properly, online reservations have overall proven a win for us.

4. Con – BUGS and battery drain!

So many bugs…

Bugs are already the worst part of dealing with technology, and Disney’s online system seems to have them in spades. Both websites like DisneyWorld.com and the My Disney Experience app remain replete with digital hiccups that can turn the vacation planning experience into a hair-pulling nightmare. Anyone who has been halfway through a task on DisneyWorld.com only to be met with Stitch’s drooling maw and the dreaded “Someone Ate The Page!” message knows this all too well.

An error here and there is one thing, but Disney has several systems known for extremely frustrating bugs. A good example is the Friends and Family feature of My Disney Experience. It is supposed to allow you to connect to other guest profiles so you can easily manage plans and parties for your trips. You send an invite to another guest, and if they approve, you are be able to include them in plans like Virtual Queues, dining reservations, etc. on upcoming trips.

The problem is it frequently bugs out.

Over years of taking family and teenage students to the parks, we’ve learned all too well that bugs with the Friends and Family system can eat up hours of time. The app frequently fails to actually add people after invites are accepted, and it seems to get particularly buggy when dealing with accounts managed by someone else (such as those for minors). We recently tried a dozen different tricks to connect to a pair of accounts managed by a friend, and nothing we did worked.

This is particularly problematic when Disney’s virtual queue system depends on Friends and Family being correctly connected by the time boarding groups become available. It’s the sort of thing that can prove a vacation wrecker in the worst of circumstances. Bugs have been known to wreak havoc with virtual queues, attempts to make high-demand reservations, and even with interactive elements in the Play Disney Parks app.

If bugs aren’t enough of an issue with My Disney Experience, battery drain is a whole other problem. Both Disney apps and their in-park Wi-Fi are notorious for sucking the life out of a cell phone before you even hit lunchtime. The extreme battery drain means guests either have to opt out of using Disney’s Wi-Fi or carry chargers and accessories like power blocks to keep phones going through a long Disney day.

5. Pro – Interactive elements have become mini-attractions

While bugs are definitely no fun, there is one area where Disney has found some pretty cool ways to turn smartphones into conduits for Disney magic—interactive elements throughout the parks.

Most of these hidden attractions are accessible through the Play Disney Parks app, though a few are integrated with special toys you can purchase like the droids built at the Droid Depot (which will respond to certain things in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, like if a stormtrooper is near). The app opens up a whole range of games, scavenger hunts, and special challenges that allow you to engage with special elements throughout Walt Disney World and Disneyland.

Our favorite example of this is the Star Wars Datapad game in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The game turns your phone into an in-world Star Wars computer that can interact with locations throughout the Black Spire Outpost. Would-be Slicers can hack terminals, ships, speeders, and droids that may respond in real time. Your Datapad can intercept secret messages, translate Aurebesh text and alien languages, or reveal the contents of crates. Guests can also engage in special jobs and missions for Batuu locals, including partaking in missions designed for the queues of Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance.

Disney’s “digital attractions” aren’t necessary for the average guest, but they are a lot of fun if you enjoy free exploration activities at your own pace. For kids, it’s pure Disney magic, and for older guests, its like being in a living video game. We are particularly excited about the upcoming arrival of MagicBand+, which will add another layer to these interactive elements with new quests like bounty hunting missions on Batuu or scavenger hunts in other parts of Walt Disney World.

6. Con – The “staring at your phone” problem

This is one of the biggest complaints we see about the modern Disney experience—it seems like these days, the vast majority of people spend their vacations staring at a smartphone.

Some of this is voluntary and has more to do with culture than the parks—as someone who works with teens, I can attest to this. However, Disney’s push to integrate smartphone technology into every element of the parks experience has ended up forcing it on a larger audience, including those who would rather not spend their vacation glued to a phone.

The balancing act is a tricky one—it’s one thing to offer options and convenience through technology. The problem is it is often in Disney’s favor to require guests to use these tools, as is the case with Genie+ as well as virtual queues. These systems quickly move from being options to requirements, and that can definitely lead to more time spent on phones than may be ideal on a vacation.

I can agree that there is a need for us all to remember to look up from our devices while on vacation, particularly when personal connections are being lost in the midst of the technology shuffle.

7. Pro – Increased options for improving guest experience

There’s one final upside to consider in the midst of Disney’s push for more tech integration in the parks—the shift has done much to expand guests’ options throughout the Disney parks experience.

A perfect example is Mobile Order—I love the fact I have the option to order counter service food throughout Walt Disney World without standing in an immense line, particularly if you often get stuck behind someone who hasn’t decided what they want to order by the time they get to the counter. Being able to place my order from anywhere in Walt Disney World, let them know when I’ve arrived, and easily pick it up from a counter when its ready is a delightful option.

Another example is the Merchandise Mobile Checkout feature. In select Disney park stores, you can use My Disney Experience to scan your merchandise and checkout using the app. Rather than waiting in the cashier line, you just do a quick check-in with a roaming cast member who quickly scans your purchase, then sends you on your way. The system isn’t very widespread yet, but it’s a great idea.

A more controversial one would be Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane access. I definitely am not a fan of Genie+ in its current state—I think Disney did a poor job rolling out the system, setting it up to feel more like an upcharge guests feel pressured to use to avoid hassle rather than a true quality upgrade. However, I do appreciate that guests visiting from out of town for a rare Disney vacation have the option to use the service to get the most out of their vacation in a limited time.

There are dozens of ways technology has been implemented throughout Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort to give guests options to enhance their experience should they choose: digital room keys, making park tickets available on MagicMobile, early resort check-in, and easy Photopass access are just a few cases.

8. Con – Losing the human element

We already touched on this with the “staring at the phones” phenomenon. It really is easy to get so glued to technology that connection with our loved ones is lost in the midst of our vacation. There’s another side to that problem, though…

In Disney’s zeal to integrate technology into every aspect of guest experience, there is a risk of losing the human element that makes Disney parks truly magical.

Right now, we are in a time where it feels like accountants are making a lot of the big decisions at Disney parks. Many core values that were mainstays of the parks experience are getting foggy. In the midst of labor shortages and pervasive budget cuts, Disney appears to be seeking to automate and streamline anything that can be handled by a technological system instead of a cast member.

The danger is losing the element of personal connection between guests and cast members that has set Disney apart for years. We haven’t crossed that bridge yet, but early signs are trending that way. If every potential interaction a guest might have with a cast member is replaced with a computer or phone, that opportunity for above-and-beyond guest service is lost. Guests may have a more efficient experience but not necessarily a memorable one.

We can see this in the realm of attraction design, too. If new attractions are largely based on creative use of screens, there’s an element of human creativity and artistry that gets lost. Guests end up feeling like we’ve moved from staring at a smartphone screen to staring at a bigger screen from a ride vehicle. It’s not that screens can’t be used creatively in attraction design (Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run is, in my opinion, one of the better uses of this technology)—but if that becomes the default, some depth and immersion is definitely lost.

A visit to Disney parks isn’t just about rides, restaurants, and shopping—the cast members are the ones who really make the parks come alive. From characters to ride operators, every cast interaction with a guest is an opportunity to make someone’s vacation unforgettable.  The more these moments are stunted and dumbed down, the more is lost. Over-implementation of technology to replace cast member roles definitely can have this effect.

Is too much tech ruining the Disney experience? That’s really going to come down to your own preferences and perception. There are some big plusses and leaps that have been made thanks to Disney’s efforts for technology integration, but there are also some significant problems that have had a noticeable negative impact on the parks experience. I wouldn’t go so far as to say the experience is completely ruined, but there are some areas that continue to raise cause for concern—the biggest of which is maintaining the element of human connection.

How do you feel about the push towards technology being so integrated into the Disney parks vacation experience? What works and doesn’t work for you? Let us know in the comments or on Facebook and by voting in our poll below! Thanks for reading!


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