[UPDATE: I wrote an updated review of Disney World apps on March 12, 2014.] Sorry that it has been somewhat quiet on iPhone J.D. for the past week, but my wife and I took our son (age 7) and daughter (age 5) to Disney World for their first time. It was an amazing trip, although I'm still tired from five days of walking around. Although I've been to Disney World before, one thing that was new this time was the ability to use an iPhone app to enhance the trip. There are a lot of these apps in the App Store, but I had difficulty finding good, recent reviews to help me select the best one. So for any of you who plan to head there yourself, here are the apps that I found the most useful during our trip.
Before talking about specific apps, there were three features that I found most useful for any Disney World app. First, it was useful to have a good map that is clear and easy to understand and that can quickly show you where you are located on the map. It is so useful to be able to take your iPhone out of your pocket, tap the app icon, tap the location services arrow to find yourself on the map, and then instantly understand where you are located so you can figure out the best way to get to the next attraction, restaurant, etc. A map on the iPhone is must easier to use than a paper map because the iPhone quickly shows you your current location in the park.
Second, it was useful to have an indication of wait times so you can decide, for example, whether it makes more sense to head left towards Splash Mountain or head right towards Space Mountain. These apps not only tell you the current wait time, but also tell you the window for a Fast Pass. With the aid of the app, I could quickly decide that I didn't want to wait in line for 30 minutes for Space Mountain when I could instead get a Fast Pass for Space Mountain that would work in 45 minutes and I could use that 45 minutes of time to go to another attraction in the vicinity that had no wait, and then after that use the Fast Pass lane (which was usually only about a 5 minute line) and pass up all of the people waiting in the 45 minute line.
Third, it was useful to get information on restaurants to decide where to eat.
Disney Mobile Magic
Disney Mobile Magic is the official Disney Parks app. It is free, and since it is the app that Disney itself offers, it is worth getting. The app provides you with a wealth of useful information about each of the parks. The app gives you a map, and can even show you where you are located on the map. If you use an iPhone 5, however, the app is not optimized for the screen. I also don't like that the map is covered with unidentified purple balloons, and you must click each one individually to figure out which attraction it is indicating. But when you do tap, you can get some very basic information on the ride and information on the current wait for the ride and the time for the next Fast Pass.
The app also includes information on restaurants at each of the parks and even information on each of the Disney-owned resorts.
The best part of the official Disney app is that it offered the most accurate information on ride wait times and Fast Pass wait times. Otherwise, however, I preferred to use two other apps.
Disney World Maps
Disney World Maps by VersaEdge Software, LLC was the most useful app during my trip to Disney World. When you launch the app, you are instantly presented with an easy-to-read, full screen map that even takes advantage of the longer screen on the iPhone 5. Attractions are clearly labeled in red along with the current wait time. Restaurants are clearly indicated in green. Bathrooms are clearly marked — essential information when you are with young children. I found this map much more useful than the map in the Disney Mobile Magic app. Dotted lines show the path of the frequent parades. And you can simply press the location services arrow at the bottom left to have the app instantly show you where you are on the map.
Tap on any attraction, restaurant, etc. to get more information. Almost every time, I found the descriptions in this app to be more useful than the descriptions in the official Disney app.
As noted above, the main advantage of the Disney app is that is had more accurate current wait times for rides — the same time that is posted outside of every attraction at Disney World. This makes sense; they must be using official Disney sources to get this data. The Disney World Maps app, on the other hand, relies on crowd-sourcing to get wait times — other people using the app who recently indicated the current wait times. If nobody has submitted a wait time in a while, then the app gives you old data. But I was surprised how often this app did provide accurate information. Moreover, this app allows you to see a list of the most recent wait times that were submitted, which often lets you see trends of when the ride was more busy and when it became less busy. And it is super-easy to submit the wait times that you see when you get in a line, so I often found myself submitting recent wait times just to help the cause.
There is a free version of this app so you can try before you buy. My only gripe with the free version is that it shows ads at the bottom of the screen. The ads are a little distracting, but even worse the placement of the ad made it harder to press the location services arrow. After about a day of using the free version of the app, it was easy to decide to spend $2.99 for the paid version with no ads. Here is the free version on the left and th paid version on the right:
Disney World Dining
VersaEdge Software sells another useful app called Disney World Dining. Although the free Disney Mobile Magic app gives you basic information on dining, the $1.99 Disney World Dining app provides much more information on each restaurant, including virtually every single item on the menu, making it easy to decide which restaurant to visit, and also making it easy to decide what you are going to get once you get there.
For example, we had a character lunch in Magic Kingdom at a restaurant called The Crystal Palace. The free Disney Mobile Magic app gives you only the most basic information about the items available at the buffet:
On the other hand, the Disney World Dining app gives you information about the restaurant (including the characters who will visit your table at the restaurant) and virtually every single item on the menu, or in this case since it was a buffet, available at the buffet.
The menu information wasn't always perfect, but it was certainly good enough.
Note that VersaEdge also sells an app called Disney World Magic Guide that appears to combine both the Disney World Maps app and the Disney World Dining app into a single app for $4.99. I preferred having two distinct apps so that I could launch the Disney World Maps app and instantly see a map without having to navigate through menus to get there.
Disney World Wait Times, Dining and Maps Free by UndercoverTourist.com
The most useful apps for me were the two VersaEdge apps and the Disney Mobile Magic apps, there was one more app I downloaded that is worth mentioning: Disney World Wait Times, Dining and Maps Free by UndercoverTourist.com. The map is not as easy to read as the one in the VersaEdge app, although it does provide more information at a glance than the Disney Mobile Magic app, and the restaurant information is not as good as any of the apps mentioned above. But the app does include nice descriptions of rides and restaurants, and when I was looking for additional information about something, I often found this app very useful. The app was not useful enough for me to purchase the $3.99 version that doesn't have ads, but the free version was a helpful complement to the above apps.
If you find yourself headed to The Most Magical Place on Earth at some point in the future, don't forget your iPhone, and grab these apps to have an even better experience.