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Disney imagines a world without cash
Bloomberg News
Last month, Disney began testing a cashless environment at its Animal Kingdom Lodge. Lots of options remain: Credit cards, debit cards, Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Google Pay and — of course — Disney's MagicBands, which function as wearable payment devices, hotel room keys, theme park admission tickets and fashion accessories.

The lodge is separate from the Animal Kingdom theme park, one of many resorts Disney operates in Florida. As with other Disney hotels, Animal Kingdom Lodge guests have free bus access to the theme parks, meaning they never have to leave the Disney ecosystem for the duration of their stay.

Thus, it's clear that while cash is still accepted at the rest of Disney's properties, the company will be watching closely to see whether Animal Kingdom Lodge guests build habits that follow them throughout their vacation.

"Cash represents a larger problem for amusement parks than for many other merchant types," said Rick Oglesby, founder and president of AZ Payments Group. "The nature of the amusement park, having huge crowds, wild rides and many opportunities to get soaking wet, makes it undesirable to carry valuables of any type, including cash."

For Disney, a cashless property is not as radical a departure as it would be for a restaurant or a shopping mall. Disney has long designed its theme parks to exist as worlds unto themselves, issuing its own "currency" to use as money or as a souvenir.

Disney Dollars existed for about 30 years before being retired two years ago. Disney Dollars laid the foundation for a contactless Key to the World card that eventually became the wearable MagicBands in use today. Disney also pursued alternative "non-miles" travel incentives when the market was still dominated almost entirely by frequent flier perks, and was an early adopter of OEM mobile payment systems.

All of this goes back to Walt Disney's original vision of E.P.C.O.T as a self-contained city that reorganized work, education, transportation and systems of commerce and ownership. The idea eventually inspired the E.P.C.O.T theme park in Florida, not far from Animal Kingdom Lodge.