Disneyland recently changed the way theme park guests can view the popular nighttime Fantasmic! show in a new experiment. Rather than have guests sit and wait for hours in front of the Rivers of America, Disneyland has instituted a Fantasmic! FASTPASS distribution, much like the system that has been operating at California Adventure’s World of Color for a few years now.
In addition to the free FASTPASS distribution that takes place on a first-come, first-served basis, there is now a special “Preferred Viewing” option for those willing to dish out some extra money for one of the Fantasmic! dining packages.
But is this change good or bad for guests in the long run? Let’s see how the new offerings measure up…
There are four Fantasmic! dining packages, including sit-down meals at Blue Bayou Restaurant and River Belle Terrace, a dessert party at Hungry Bear Restaurant and on-the-go meals from Aladdin’s Oasis. I decided to go with the River Belle Terrace option, which offered a prix fixe three-course meal complete with starter, main course and dessert.
The meal itself was quite good. Being a vegetarian, I partook in the pasta main course which featured fresh vegetables and a very tasty garlic cream sauce. The fresh mixed greens to start was a healthy and yummy option, and both the caramel apple pie and chocolate mousse cake dessert options were excellent caps to the meal.
After finishing dessert, the staff provided a FASTPASS to each member of the party and instructed us to line up in front of Pirates of the Caribbean no sooner than 8:15 pm. Finding the queue location was a difficult exercise in itself, since with the new Fantasmic! FASTPASS system, there are several different areas organized for lining up.
“Preferred Viewing” guests were not to be let into their viewing area until exactly 8:15 pm, but many patrons started lining up 15 to 30 minutes beforehand, waiting to be let in so they could grab the best spots available. This resulted in some overcrowding and unfriendliness between guests, especially as some who arrived right around 8:15 pm managed to skip the line with ease.
While the premise of the Fantasmic! FASTPASS may be to help clear the walkway in front of the Rivers of America prior to showtime, this plan begins to go haywire around 7:15 pm. Trying to make your way from Critter Country through New Orleans Square, you can easily get lost in a sea of bodies heading in the same direction. The chaos, rather than being lessened, has been rerouted to the area behind the French Market restaurant, while the Fantasmic! viewing area remains mostly clear, with a smattering of guests walking toward Critter Country.
As for the location of the “Preferred Viewing” section, it did not disappoint. The Fantasmic! dining packages offer the most coveted views of Fantasmic!, front and center. And unlike many of the other sections designated for Fantasmic! audiences which required guests to stand, the “Preferred Viewing” area involved sitting on the ground for the duration of the show.
On the plus side of this new arrangement, guests who want to see Fantasmic! will no longer have to wait for upwards of five hours to claim the best spots for the show. The barrier to entry now, however, is either getting into the free FASTPASS distribution queue first thing in the morning or paying quite a bit of money for a Fantasmic! dining package.
In short, this new system has done little to curb the major issues surrounding Fantasmic! The bottleneck that ensues around New Orleans Square is still very much alive, albeit in a different way. And while the Fantasmic!. FASTPASS may save a lot of time for guests who are willing to pay more for a better experience, there is still some waiting around involved (even after being let into the “Preferred Viewing” section at 8:15 pm, audiences must still wait 30 minutes until showtime). As for those who prefer to go the free FASTPASS route, there may still be an hour of queuing or more, as guests start lining up for those spots earlier than those with “Preferred Viewing”.
The new Fantasmic! viewing options may not entirely remove the pandemonium, but they do make things a little more streamlined. And for those who are able to, I heartily recommend trying out a Fantasmic! dining package. It may be pricey, but as a one-off experience it promises a truly great view of the show and a very good meal on top of it.