At Walt Disney World, You Can Sit Back, Relax and Leave the Driving to.. Stitch!?
While visiting Walt Disney World, you no doubt have seen many of Disney Transportation’s buses. Most often, the marquee on the buses reads where the bus is headed, be it to a park or a resort. Sometimes you might even spot a bus whose marquee reads VIP CAST MEMBER when it is in fact porting around Disney Cast Members. In the past, you might have even seen a bus whose marquee was completely blank. And you might have also seen marquees sporting the names of Disney characters.
Stitch is the latest alumni to have the distinct honor of having his name on the Disney buses. Others have included Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Remy, Snow White, Ariel and more — even the Aristocats have been granted the honor. In fact, the character’s name designates the version of the very special software that runs on each of those Disney buses, a program called Magic-in-Motion.
The keystone to Magic-in-Motion is the use of Global Positioning System (GPS). Now virtually a household word, GPS allows Magic-in-Motion to perform most of its tasks — from the most mundane all the way to pie in the sky feats. On its very basic level, the GPS allows Disney Transportation to monitor the location of all of its buses in real-time. Although I won’t get into it too much here, this has proven to be a bit of a double-edged sword, even for guests.
Interestingly enough, the Disney’s Magical Express buses also have added GPS technology over the years and that’s what triggers playing the videos. As an aside, the videos have also been moved to a chip as opposed to the original DVD versions. But back to the Disney Transportation buses and the Magic-in-Motion program.
We’ll first talk about what’s obvious about the system to guests: the music. Each park and every single resort has its own music loop (consisting of several hours of music). Wherever the bus is headed (as indicated by the marquee), the bus automatically plays the respective music. This makes things particularly interesting for guests at the Contemporary Resort going to Disney’s Hollywood Studios for example. Since the route is shared between the Contemporary, the Polynesian and the Grand Floridian and guests going to the Studios wouldn’t board a bus that reads POLYNESIAN, they’re instead offered a special treat as the music changes from Disney’s Hollywood Studios to Polynesian to Disney’s Hollywood Studios to Grand Floridian to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Add to that an initial annoyance in the system that whenever it switched to a new music loop, it would start at the beginning each time. If you don’t hear the music, it’s because the driver has the ability to control the volume.
Another thing obvious to guests is the audio spiel. This too is played automatically by Magic-in-Motion when it hits certain key points via GPS depending on its route. If you’re staying at All Stars Music for example, which often shares buses with its sister resorts, and headed to the Magic Kingdom, you might hear the spiel kick in as soon as you’re about to leave the resort area if the Magic Kingdom is your next destination. Or, if you’re headed to All Star Movies, you won’t hear anything quite yet until you enter the All Star Movies area, announcing your arrival there. If you don’t hear (or see) the spiel at all, Magic-in-Motion may require a reboot by the driver.
The marquee is also controlled by the Magic-in-Motion program and employs GPS. As the bus knows its next destination, as it arrives at a particular loading zone, the proper GPS coordinates trigger the marquee to automatically change itself to read its new destination. This functionality however is one of the buses most fickle as GPS can sometimes be and while a lot of problems have been worked out over the years, there’s still some residual problems. So on rare occasion, you may see a bus that looks like it’s headed to where it already is (or even blank). It’s basically the same sort of thing that might make your own GPS unit think you missed a particular turn even though it hasn’t come up yet.
Getting into more under the hood and wishful thinking items, here’s the real meat of Magic-in-Motion – facilitating moving guests around the property. You know those problems you hear about sometimes of 40+ minute waits for buses or hours-long lines at the parks? Believe it or not, Magic-in-Motion really wants to eliminate that. For example, as guests board, the bus actually counts them. When the bus feels it’s full (or very close to), it prompts the driver to note if any additional guests are left behind due to capacity. The driver is then able to answer the prompts and signal Disney Transportation that another bus is needed.
If that’s not enough, here’s the ultimate goal of Magic-in-Motion: automatic bus routing. There are five hubs in the Disney Transportation system: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Downtown Disney. Each of these hubs is equipped with cameras that monitor the individual loading zones. The hope is that software will automatically monitor each loading zone at each hub and will automatically route buses based on need. Sound too good to be true? Unfortunately it seems to be at the moment (and past years). I’ve been told before that they decided to just opt to drop that hope because of the seemingly endless list of obstacles with it, but I’ve also been recently told that they’re still holding on to hope that they can get it done.
Even so there’s still plenty more with the system that benefits both Walt Disney World and its guests and it’s constantly involving, hence the Disney character name changes. A recent additions to the Magic-in-Motion system includes new spiels the driver can prompt the bus to say whenever someone celebrating a special event (usually prompted by both a guest wearing a button and the driver’s willingness to do so).
Another recent addition is the Deadhead marquee. A deadhead bus is one that’s headed towards a particular location but is not carrying guests. This can happen for all sorts of reasons, but you’ll see it mostly in the mornings and after park closings. Essentially, the bus needs to drop off guests somewhere but doesn’t want to pick up new ones. In the past, a deadheaded bus would have a blank marquee. Now instead of having a blank marquee, the buses sport a DHxx marquee where DH stands for Deadhead and xx refers to where the bus is headed. For example, DHPC means ‘I’m headed to Pop Century but I am not carrying passengers.’ There’s a unique two letter abbreviation for every resort and park for the deadhead marquee.