In the never-ending Disneyland versus Walt Disney World debate, one thing that most bicoastal Disney park goers can agree on is that the caliber of Disneyland's Fantasmic! production is much higher than that of it's Hollywood Studios counterpart. The setting is better, the implementation is better. It's just, well, better.
So, if you have the time to see it, it's essential to make the most of it. Today we are going to look at the different options available to you from super-planner with a Fantasmic! Dining Package to FASTPASS extraordinaire and all the way back to those brave souls that love to wing it as they go.
Fantasmic! Dining Packages
Blue Bayou Restaurant
Booking a dining package here will include a 3-course meal (starter, entrée, and dessert). The allocated seating at Blue Bayou Restaurant begins for lunch at 11:30 AM (Lunch $62 per adult; $29 per child (ages 3 to 9) – tax and gratuity are not included) and for dinner 4:00 PM (Dinner $72 per adult and $29 per child (ages 3 to 9) – tax and gratuity are not included).
Also included is admission to the reserved viewing area for your allotted Fantasmic! performance. If there are two performance times, don't be surprised if you need to settle for a lunch spot to secure the earlier show; this is a cheaper option as well.
River Belle Terrace
Booking a dining package here will include a 3-course meal (starter, entrée, and dessert). The allocated seating at River Belle Terrace for the Dining Package begins for lunch at 1:00 PM (Lunch $45 per adult; $25 per child (ages 3 to 9) – tax and gratuity not included) and for dinner 4:00 PM (Dinner $45 per adult and $25 per child (ages 3 to 9) – tax and gratuity are not included).
Once again, also included is admission to the reserved viewing area for your allotted Fantasmic! performance. You will notice that the pricing for both lunch and dinner is the same, making there no cheaper time (or bad time) to take advantage of this dining package.
You can upgrade to special 8:00 PM seating for an additional $25 per adult and $15 per child (ages 3 to 9) so you can enjoy your dinner while taking in the evening's first showing of Fantasmic! from your seated area on the outdoor patio.
If you are wondering why you can't find the premium 8:00 PM seating online, it is because it can only be made either at the restaurant or by phoning Disney dining directly.
Hungry Bear Cafe On-The-Go Package
A less expensive dining package option allows you to pick up your takeaway meal (choice of four pre-set options) and then receive access to a slightly less-desired viewing area along the front of Rivers of America. You might be picturing yourself watching the show with a warm meal in hand, but hold up a minute because to get the first showing of Fantasmic! you will need to make a reservation to pick up your food between 3 pm and 6:45 pm. Reservations for pickup from 7 PM until 8:30 PM will be allocated for the later show. Times may be subject to change based on the schedule of Fantasmic! on your preferred night.
The Fantasmic! On-The-Go Dining Package will set you back $29.99 for adults and $19.99 for children (ages 3 to 9); again, tax is not included.
What are the pros and cons of the dining package?
Well, the upside is terrific food. The Blue Bayou is one of my favorite dining experiences in the Disneyland Resort. The setting is absolutely magnificent and makes you feel like you've been transported into the bayous of Louisiana. Knowing that the Pirates of the Caribbean ride is passing you by adds to the magic and ambiance, as boats drift past while you dine. What more could a person want? Well, the problem is, it's expensive. When you add in tax and gratuity, it is easy to drop a few hundred dollars on this experience if you are traveling with a couple of people. If you can afford it, it's worth it in my opinion.
The reserved seating is in a great position, ideally situated to view the fireworks after the first show as well. That seemingly flimsy little cushion that they occasionally bestow upon you might seem insignificant at first, but after an hour of sitting flat on your toosh, you will be thanking your fairy godmother you have it. Take a moment to feel sorry for the poor saps a few chain link divides down from you who don't have such small luxuries to rely on. That is your Bayou money at work right there. I must add that having done the Blue Bayou experience twice in the last few years, once we were given the cushion and another time we were not.
View from the Blue Bayou reserved seating area.
FASTPASS (no dining)
The FASTPASS distribution area is around the Rivers of America, close to the waiting area for the Mark Twain Riverboat. It is a small-ish booth, usually operated by two cast members who are happy to answer all your questions. If there are two shows on the night you are visiting, the FASTPASSes are distributed in two lots. The first show will be distributed until there are no more left, at which time the second show will begin to issue until the show is sold out. Once there are no more tickets available the booth closes up shop. Within each show time, it does not matter when you get your tickets. The first FASTPASSs don't equal a better position or advantage, what does matter though is how early you get to the line for the FASTPASS entry later that night. The closer to the front of that line you are, the better chance you have of getting a decent spot. It doesn't matter if you get the last four FASTPASSs for the show in your time slot; if you get there early at night, you can get the best spot.
When there is reserved seating left over that was not utilized by the Dining Packages, this space is offered to FASTPASS holders. Usually, the front of the line will have a better shot at taking advantage of this seating area. Most of this will be ground seating only and while that can sound fantastic, without anything to sit on and a long wait before the show begins, many people can find this unbearable and end up leaving the area. I know what you are thinking, by the time 9 pm rolls around sitting on the ground sounds like a gift from Mickey himself right? Not always. Seating can be a little cramped, and without any cushioning underneath you, you may feel well and truly desperate to stand up before the show begins.
Another thing to be aware of: FASTPASS distribution for Fantasmic! is separate from the rest of the FASTPASS system, so don't feel like you are bound to your nighttime entertainment. These passes are entirely isolated, so keep making the most of your FASTPASS or MaxPass system as usual.
View from FastPass Riverbelle Terrace seating area - accessed without a dining package due to the extra room available.
What are the pros and cons of FastPass viewing areas?
Waiting, lots and lots of waiting. Getting a good spot relies on you getting to the FASTPASS entry line early. Yes, more waiting. Grab a pretzel or a churro on the way and settle in because you will be standing for a decent amount of time. Once the gates open and the tickets are checked, you will head into the Mark Twain boarding area for a bit more waiting. Shortly before the show is set to begin, they will open the viewing area with a strong caution not to run or trample other people. Yes, it has come to this. While run-walking to your desired viewing spot, you will be asked for your FASTPASSes which are being collected by brave, and hopefully kevlar-clad, cast members. Then you will wait again. See the common thread here? Waiting. Oh and if you do manage to score some of that leftover dining package seating, get ready for flat bum syndrome from your hour wait unable to move or shift in any direction.
The upside is, it is free. You can be rewarded with a front row, unobstructed view of the show, perfect for little kids or anyone that doesn't have the height to see over the masses and you can do so for no extra charge other than your park entry. If you are sticking to a budget and have a few days in the parks, definitely give this a go. You also have not made any significant investment in a dining package if the weather turns bad and the show is canceled. No, there are no refunds or compensation if the show is canceled due to weather.
One note of caution: visit the bathrooms before you enter the line for access to the Mark Twain area. There is no opportunity to pick up and go to the toilet after you've started the lining up process. From this point on — and this is one of the only times I am going to tell you this — stop drinking the water.
People say that the second show is sometimes better to aim for; there are fewer people in the park and even some who planned on staying that will have piked out early. The problem is, you might be one of those people. Disney days are long and very exhausting, be confident that you will survive till the second show before banking on it with a dining package.
Wingin' It (Just A little Bit)
Oh come on, I can't be the only person that had that follow-on lyric come to mind, right?
Anyway, if you decide to be one of the brave people who are prepared to take on the likes of glow sticks directing you away from every possibly decent viewing area, you have my full respect. Stand-by viewing has become increasingly difficult over the years and while not too long ago it was possible to camp out a spot an hour beforehand or stumble upon an excellent area to stop and watch the show at the last minute, those moments of luck are almost non-existent now. Most areas where you could catch a decent view will be decorated with cast members waving glow sticks and directing the crowds like airplanes to keep moving.
So where can you go? Well, it seems to change every time we are there; however, one of the most coveted spots is the bridge that runs over the top of the Pirates of the Caribbean queuing area. There is usually a small strip near the railing that is roped off for standby viewing, though to secure yourself a standing position near the railing for the most unobstructed view, allow at least a 1-2 hour wait and claim your spot early.
There are also a few areas out of the way of moving traffic where you can get a fairly good view in front of, and around, the Haunted Mansion. Wherever you stake your claim, it's time to designate someone in your party for a churro run because you are about to get bored and hungry. Get a plain one, the flavors are usually revolting, but admittedly I have a hang-up about that as some of you may recall.
Once the show is over and the fireworks have concluded, most people will be heading for the exit; escorting children and senior family members toward a well-deserved sleep. If you can manage it, I highly recommend heading in the other direction. There is no better time to head straight on into Pirates of the Caribbean followed by a quick roll around the western tracks of Thunder Mountain Railroad. It is a quite different experience in the dark. Then, when the tired, poor people are waiting for the second show to begin, you can stroll on out of there like you own the place, free from the masses and taking your time to enjoy the last moments of Main Street USA lit up at night. You will be surprised how well a ride or two will help clear those initial bursts of people.
Don't fret Walt Disney World fans; I will throw you a bone here. Your Hollywood Studio's Fantasmic! has some epic seating. No frozen arse or the pins-and-needles sensation of dead limbs from sitting down or standing up too long. You have tiered seating. How extremely civilized!
Now is the time to give your fellow Dis-er a helping hand. Share your secret Fantastmic! viewing spots below.
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