Universal’s TapuTapu vs. Walt Disney World’s MagicBands: Which wristband comes out on top?

in Disney, Theme Parks, Walt Disney World

It’s been four years since Walt Disney World first introduced the MagicBand, wristbands that aim to give theme park guests a technology-based way to better enjoy their vacations with less stress. This week, Universal Orlando fires back with a wearable of their own, called TapuTapu, ready to make its debut together with their new Volcano Bay water park.

So which wristband comes out on top? Let’s weigh the features in a battle of the theme park wearables…

Disney’s MagicBand

Since its debut in 2013, Walt Disney World has regularly added new abilities to the popular MagicBand, reaching even beyond its technological capabilities into the world of collectibles.

When it first premiered, Disney has to answer to guests used to planning their vacations in a very specific way. The idea of reserving ride times well in advance left many concerned about spontaneity going away. “We know that some people like to plan every aspect of their Disney vacation in advance while others like to plan very little, letting their day unfold spontaneously. No matter where guests fall in that spectrum, My Disney Experience gives them the flexibility to plan as much or as little as they’d like to create the exact Disney experience they want,” explained then-chairman of Disney Parks & Resorts Tom Staggs back in 2013.

Today, it’s hard to imagine traversing a Walt Disney World theme park without the use of FastPass+ and the MyMagic+ system, which offers guests the ability to book so much of their vacation online, quickly and easily.

In its theme parks (and water parks), Walt Disney World guests can use MagicBands to:

  • Enter the park as admission, replacing paper tickets
  • Access select FastPass+ experiences, allowing guests to reserve ride times in advance to skip long lines
  • Enter Disney Resort hotel rooms, once linked to a reservation, acting as a room key
  • Buy food and merchandise, when linked to a credit card
  • Connect to Disney’s PhotoPass, registering images captured by Disney’s in-house photography service
  • MagicBands have been designed to be relatively comfortable in both hot and cold temperatures and are waterproof.

    In addition, Walt Disney World continues to roll out MyMagic+ experiences, which can be triggered by a tap of the MagicBand. This means guests can interact with “magical” elements that Disney has been playing with in recent years, such as an interactive finale scene in The Haunted Mansion and the StoryMaker ending of It’s a Small World.

    It’s been said that MagicBands will some day extend to allowing characters and even Audio-Animatronics figures to “recognize” guests to have deeper, richer interactions with them.

    So far, the MagicBand has been well received, with a small industry of add-on collectibles popping up around it. It was designed for everyday use across all of Walt Disney World and there’s no sign of it slowing down. The MyMagic+ system has most recently been integrated into Walt Disney World’s newest addition, Pandora – The World of Avatar, which offers FastPass+ for both of its signature attractions as well as the introduction of Mobile Order, which allows guests to order their food at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in advance of arriving at its restaurants.

    Universal’s TapuTapu

    When TapuTapu makes its debut this week, it will become apparent that Universal has done its homework, ensuring this wearable not only meets guests’ needs while in a water park, but also offering an experience that is unique to Volcano Bay.

    When designing TapuTapu, Universal’s team looked closely at the problems guests generally have that prevent them from fully enjoying the water park experience. “We started really looking at those core issues and said ‘How do we fix those?'” said Jeff Polk, Vice President of Water Parks at Universal Parks & Resorts. “Ultimately, it all came back to this wearable.”

    TapuTapu’s features that are similar to Disney’s MagicBand include:

  • TapTu Pay – Universal’s clever name for the ability to link their wristband to a credit card
  • Virtual Line – Universal’s version of Disney’s FastPass system allows Volcano Bay guests to simply “tap in” at an attraction to receive a designated return time via the screen on the wristband (those with reserved private cabanas can even do this without ever leaving their chair)
  • TapTu Snap – Another clever name, this time for Universal’s service for interactive photo opportunities and selfie-spots throughout the water park, allowing pictures to sync to guests’ online accounts
  • TapuTapu wristbands will also enable guests to play with a variety of interactive elements throughout Volcano Bay, including triggering streams of water spurting from whales in Tot Tiki Reef, shooting water cannons at guests on the Kopiko Wai Winding River, and illuminating images in the volcano’s hidden caves.

    “This band is different in that it’s loaded with a lot more technology in it,” explained Chris Crayner, Chief Digital Officer at Universal Orlando Resort. “It has a screen on it that allows you to see where you are as you virtually wait. It allows messages to help you understand where you are in terms of virtual line and whether the pay successful.”

    TapuTapu has “a lot of technology packed into it,” said Crayner, including “mid-range readers” and a “two-way communication device.”

    The key differences (and arguably, upgrades) that TapuTapu has from Disney’s Magic Bands include:

  • A small screen that offers themed visuals providing two-way communication, enabling guests and employees to fully understand each interaction
  • Haptic feedback will offer guests a gentle buzz on the wrist when Virtual Line ride times approach
  • Guests that rent a locker in Volcano Bay can use TapuTapu to access it
  • TapuTapu also ties in to the bigger picture of Universal trying to “reinvent the vacation experience overall” at a theme park. Beginning with the Virtual Line being introduced in Race Through New York Starring Jimmy Fallon and continuing next year with Fast and Furious Supercharged, Universal’s guests will see fewer and fewer lines and unpleasant experiences required to enjoy a day at the parks.

    But the TapuTapu wearables were designed specifically with Volcano Bay in mind, so don’t expect to see the making their way into Universal Studios Florida or Islands of Adventure any time soon. In that way, they are not Universal’s equivalent of Disney’s Magic Band.

    “We’ve created a water theme park that has the story intertwined into everything you see. It in the architecture. It’s in the fabrics used for the canopies in the village huts around the park. It’s part of the interactive experiences that you can enable through the TapuTapu wearable,” added Polk. “It’s evident in everything.”

    Now, neither Disney nor Universal were even close to being the first to market with an interactive wristband. They’ve been in use at many water parks, theme parks, hotels, and other attractions worldwide for years. But there’s no doubt that between these two tourism powerhouses, more people are now getting their hands on such wearable devices than ever before, using them in even more fun ways.

    So which one is the winner of TapuTapu vs. MagicBand? Obviously, theme park guests take home the top prize of being able to enjoy the newest attractions, rides, and slides without waiting in seemingly endless long, hot lines, while also enjoying fun new interactive elements.

    To choose a true winner between these wearable devices, we’ll have to wait and see how TapuTapu handles this week when Volcano Bay opens. Check back here after opening weekend for more thoughts.

    Volcano Bay will officially open at Universal Orlando this Thursday, May 25th. Pandora – The World of Avatar officially debuts on Saturday, May 27th at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

    Stick with ITM throughout this week for coverage of both of these grand opening events beginning tomorrow and continuing into Memorial Day Weekend!

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