CONFIRMED: Disney World Actively Restricting Use of Refillable Mugs

It literally sent shockwaves across the internet last year when we first reported that it appeared Walt Disney World was looking into closing current loopholes regarding the refillable mug system currently in place in which any cup could be used indefinitely at the soda fountain dispensers located in the food courts of the Walt Disney World resorts.

Most reactions seemed to side with disbelief or flat-out denial. Others were angered by the notion of what effectively amounts to nickel-and-diming guests with beverages Disney Parks gets for free (Coca-Cola does supply free syrup as part of an agreement with Disney, but there are obviously water, CO2 and electricity overheads). Some applauded the news while others argued as to whether using a refillable mug way past its expected end date amounted to theft or was truly unethical.

Yesterday, however, Micechat posted a Walt Disney World update which confirms that Disney Parks is now trying out this new technology at All Star Sports. According to the report, newly purchased refillable-mugs will only work for a certain period of time (does not appear to be tied to a reservation), after which they will only be able to receive water and ice from the dispensers, as will any other cups, including older refillable-mugs. From the description, it appears that the cups contain RFID chips that the dispenser can recognize and determine if it’s within the usable period. Additionally, to hinder those from simply filling a cup and passing the contents along, only to immediately refill it, there is a five minute period one must wait before attempting to refill again. The report also notes that single-use cups purchased at the food court will only work for a very limited time, also indicating they contain RFID chips with a much shorter life.

What’s important to keep in mind here, from Disney’s perspective, isn’t necessarily that it cost them a few cents each time someone uses an old mug, but that they’re not squeezing out another $65 or so per family of four on each trip for a new cup, so it comes down to the economics of lost potential sales.

You can read more about the technology and what other possibilities it includes in the patent we share here.

UPDATE #1: 7/12/11 – MouseSteps.com has more news on the changes, which they report won’t actually be in effect until early next week, including photos and video of the new machines as well as news about potential plans to bring the technology to a Walt Disney World Resort theme park soon.

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