Late last month, Disney released the Disney Parks Mobile Magic app for all iPhones, after it had been released for Verizon Android devices last year. This free app provides Disney World guests with a GPS map of the park, up to the minute wait times for attractions, dining reservations, and even a character finder.
Last week, I visited Disneyland in Anaheim, California, and I was eager to try out the Disney Parks iPhone app. It was my first opportunity to use the app inside of a Disney Park. Continue reading for my impressions on how the app worked during my visit to the happiest place on Earth.
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As soon as I got onto Main Street, I took my iPhone out and fired up the Disney Parks Mobile Magic app. I had some issues connecting at first while standing inside the Market House waiting for a coffee, but as soon as I stepped outside of the dead zone, I was good to go. The first thing that you should know about the app is that it uses GPS to make sure you’re actually in the park. You actually have to be at Disney World or Disneyland to receive the wait times, Fastpass information, and more. When I initially downloaded it from the iTunes store, I turned it on from my apartment, but I was only able to look at the maps of Magic Kingdom, Epcot, and the other parks. I couldn’t access that extra information.
The GPS in the app is scarily accurate. As the image above shows, I was standing right outside of the Market House. This was really cool. The maps in the app are beautifully drawn with pins showing each attraction and restaurant. Touch the pin and you’ll receive more information, all while just glancing at the map. Ever since I’ve had an iPhone, I’ve wished for a cool, interactive map to Disney World. It seems like Disney has provided just that.
But what about the wait times? For me, the biggest draw of using this app is being able to look at up to the minute wait times and be able to adjust my plans accordingly. I’ve used a few 3rd party wait time apps, and while they are very well designed, they rely heavily on users reporting wait times from the parks. Sometimes this worked out great. But too often I’d find that the wait time reported by the 3rd party app was way off. Nothing’s more frustrating to read that Toy Story Midway Mania has a 30 minute wait and rush over there, only to find that the ride has been down for the past hour.
So how does Disney’s official app do in terms of accurate wait times? Amazing. Throughout the day, the wait times and Fastpass times reported were always accurate. For example, when the app reported that the wait time for Space Mountain was 20 minutes, it was indeed 20 minutes. (The images below show that, although Space Mountain’s wait marquee did not show up that well in the snapshot I took with my iPhone. But trust me, it said 20 minutes.)
Having accurate wait times always available to you is an extremely powerful tool. My party was able to see that Fastpasses for Star Tours were starting to run out faster than all the other attractions while waiting in line for Finding Nemo, so after going on that ride, we zipped straight to Star Tours and got our next Fastpasses. This app definitely can save you some time at Disney World or Disneyland.
There are also some other great features such as booking dining reservations and finding characters at the park. I wasn’t able to try out those features, but I plan to in the future.
However, there was one huge caveat to my Disney Parks iPhone app experience. It absolutely killed my battery life.
On a normal day at Disney World or Disneyland, I’m able to make it 10 hours in the park with around 20% of my battery left over. If I’m not bringing my DSLR into the park, my iPhone acts as my camera for the day. I usually take a couple hundred pictures, a few videos, send some text messages, and maybe check out a few websites on a normal day. I would definitely consider myself a heavy iPhone user. However, after entering the park around 10 AM, my battery was completely drained by 5 PM. My phone was dead, which was the first time this happened to me at Disney World or Disneyland. This also meant that I couldn’t take pictures or videos for the rest of the day. I was extremely distraught when I was unable to snap a picture of the Roast Beef sandwich I had at the Jolly Holiday Bakery. Eating the delicious sandwich was the only way I could cope.
Granted, this is a small sample size, and there’s a chance that something else was the culprit for destroying my battery that day, or that it was something wrong with my iPhone. I went to our Guide2WDW Twitter account to see if anyone else had this issue. Twitter user @ICUStat replied to us “@Guide2WDW I used it at MK this eve to attempt to make dining res at California Grill for tonight. In 15 mins lost 12% battery charge.” Still, not a scientific study, but could be indicative of a problem.
As I stated before, the application does use GPS, which is a notorious battery hog. It also seems like the GPS is constantly on whenever the app is on. I do wish there was an option to only have the GPS used to check you in, sort of like how Foursquare works or how Instagram geotags your pictures. It uses the GPS briefly just to make sure you’re there. It seems that the Disney Parks app constantly uses the GPS. This definitely provides an accurate placement for you on the map, but is that really necessary? Like I said before, it’s neat to see exactly where you are on the map, but Disney World and Disneyland are not extremely difficult to navigate. Especially if you’ve been there dozens of times like I have. It would be nice if there was an option to turn off the constant GPS, as it would probably save some battery. Otherwise, I’m probably going to invest in an external battery pack to carry with me whenever I go into the park, since I do think the app is very useful.
There were a couple of other small gripes: My cell coverage at Disneyland was hit or miss, so sometimes I would see a “we are still gathering data” screen. It didn’t happen extremely often, and it’s not really the app’s fault. Also, the navigation could use some retooling. Much like the Disneyland Explorer App for the iPad, Disney World’s iPhone app should include a pop down navigation menu to more easily access the parts of the app you want to get to.
Well, those are my first impressions of the official app for Disney World and Disneyland parks. Despite the issues, I would definitely recommend getting it. Just plan accordingly. Maybe share the load of the battery life between your party and have different people use their iPhones to access the app throughout the day.
Did you have similar or different experiences? Did you run into the battery life issues? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.