Updated January 6, 2012.
The proper name of “Fantasmic” is “Fantasmic!” with the exclamation point. I tossed and turned over removing the exclamation point, simply in order to make punctuation easier and make it seem like I’m not yelling!!!! at you every other sentence. However, after taking time to read up on other people’s definitions of proper punctuation and not wanting to lessen the show’s impact, I have decided to keep Fantasmic!’s proper name throughout this article. Enjoy and sorry for yelling!
What is Fantasmic!
Fantasmic! is a nighttime spectacular featuring a wide assortment of Disney characters, fireworks, water screens, laser beams, a 40-foot-tall-fire-breathing-dragon, a classic orchestral score, and Mickey Mouse as Sorcerer Mickey. Housed inside of the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater at Hollywood Studios, Fantasmic! is set on top of a 50-foot tall man-made mountain surrounded by water. Nearly 50 performers take part in the production, which is routinely “sold out,” despite a theater capacity approaching 10,000 people. Fantasmic! is a blend of live-action performances and animated sequences that are projected onto “screens” made entirely of mist. Most of the live-action appears directly on the mountain and several scenes occur on the water surrounding it.
Fantasmic! invites guests into Mickey’s imagination, where the forces of good and evil clash in a battle of epic proportions. Characters from just about every classic Disney film are present, including Belle, Beast, Cinderella, Prince Charming, Snow White, Aladdin, Jasmine, Ursula, Pocahontas, Captain Hook, Jafar, Scar, The Queen of Hearts, Maleficient, and a host of others. As is common in dreams, the exact plot of Fantasmic! is somewhat muddled as the story jumps from scene to scene. Viewers are likely to grasp the fact that the good guys are fighting the bad guys, but I wouldn’t concern myself too much with the storyline. It is pretty clear that Disney wants to get out as many fan favorite characters as possible during the 25-minute show, which isn’t possible without drastic scene changes.
Fantasmic! is not downright frightening and it’s unlikely to upset anyone over the age of ten. Nonetheless, younger children may find the show scary because it is dark and there are a slew of Disney villains threatening Mickey and the other protagonists. Fantasmic!’s climax features a 40-foot-tall-fire-breathing-dragon that may overwhelm young kids. If your children have a history of being upset at loud, dark, and potentially scary shows, you may want to skip Fantasmic! or sit near the back of the theater where you can make a quick and easy escape if it becomes too much. The great majority of kids don’t have any problem with it because the action is a ways off on stage and nothing particularly bad happens to any of the characters.
The Change From Performances On “Select Nights” to Performances “Most Every Night”
From January 2009 through June 2011, Fantasmic! was only offered on “select nights.” Most weeks, guests visiting Disney World would only have two or three nights where they could visit Hollywood Studios and enjoy Fantasmic! That changed abruptly in July 2011, when Disney began scheduled the show nearly every night. As we move through 2012, Fantasmic! is scheduled every night where Hollywood Studios doesn’t close early for a private event of one variety or another. These events are rare and Fantasmic is usually scheduled 28 or 29 days a month in 2012.
This change has “helped” standardize crowds at the Studios over the course of the week. Previously, Hollywood Studios was at its busiest when it hosted Fantasmic! Crowds on days with Fantasmic! even eclipsed days with morning or evening Extra Magic Hours. With Fantasmic scheduled every night, we don’t see the giant drop off in crowds from one day to the next. The Studios is still busier when it’s hosting Extra Magic Hours, it’s later in the week, or when Magic Kingdom isn’t offering evening entertainment, but Fantasmic! and similar operating hours keep crowds relatively steady. Fantasmic! also keeps people around in the evening. When Fantasmic! isn’t scheduled, people tend to leave shortly after the 3pm Parade and few people Park Hop over to the Studios because the restaurants aren’t particularly good and the 7pm or 8pm close isn’t anything special. Fantasmic! gives people a reason to stay and keeps crowd levels heavier and waits longer into the evening.
Weather, Cancellations, Technical Difficulties, and Scheduling
Besides having to deal with larger crowds throughout the day, there are a number of other potential frustrations one might encounter when trying to see Fantasmic! The most common is weather. Specifically, rain and lightning. The great majority of Disney’s shows, attractions, parades, fireworks, and rides are not closed due to inclement weather. Fantasmic! is one that does close due to weather. Neither the stage nor the seating sections are covered at Fantasmic! and the show does get canceled if it’s raining hard enough or if there is a chance of lightning. Heavy rain makes the stage unsafe for the actors to perform and lightning is dangerous due to the chance of electrocution. What’s most aggravating is the fact that Disney will not announce that Fantasmic! is canceled until right before the show is scheduled to begin in most cases. The show usually begins as scheduled during periods of “light rain” as long as lightning isn’t in the area. However, it is always possible that the show will be canceled midway through if it does become too wet.
The second, less common problem, is technical difficulties. In particular, Maleficent as the 40-foot-tall-dragon occasionally isn’t ready for prime time. The show goes on without the Mistress of All Evil’s transformation into the dragon and it’s highly unlikely Disney will announce the dragon will not be making an appearance. The show can also be shortened or stunts left out if there are technical difficulties or because of weather. If you’re not familiar with the show, chances are you won’t even notice.
If Fantasmic! is canceled and you have purchased the Fantasmic! Dining Package, the official line is that Disney does not need to reimburse you or provide tickets to see another show. This is due to the fact that there is limited seating in the reserved section, which will likely be full to capacity for the next show, and the fact that you did get to enjoy your meal. However, you may be able to go to Guest Relations at the front of Hollywood Studios and ask for tickets to another show or make other arrangements. You may be able to get additional FASTPASSes for one of the Parks or tickets to another Fantasmic! show. It is very unlikely you will receive any sort of refund, but you may be able to get something that doesn’t cost Disney much, but will be advantageous to you. Be as nice and understanding as possible; it is much more likely they will help you out if they like you and feel sorry for you. Tell them that Fantasmic! was what you were looking forward to the most on your vacation and you are devastated that you won’t be able to see it.
Hollywood Hills Amphitheater seats about 7,000 people with additional standing room for 2,000 to 3,000 more. On average, about 25,000 people visit the Hollywood Studios each day or about 150,000 people each week. Not everyone who enters the turnstiles wants to see Fantasmic!, but a lot of them do. While the fact that Fantasmic! is now shown nightly helps lower crowds at any particular show, the first show of each evening usually reaches capacity. To guarantee decent seats together, you’re looking at a 60 minute wait for the first Fantasmic! show. If a second Fantasmic! is scheduled, you can usually secure good seats together if you arrive at least 30 minutes early. When crowds are particularly low and a second Fantasmic! is scheduled, you may be able to arrive just five or ten minutes early and secure seats, but that’s always a gamble. If the overall crowd level is a 7 or above and Hollywood Studios isn’t recommended, consider lining up for the first Fantasmic! 90 minutes early or for the second Fantasmic! at least 50 minutes early. While those numbers may sound high, they aren’t an exaggeration.
Disney opens the “doors” to Fantasmic! about 90 minutes before the first show is scheduled to start and people may enter the Amphitheater and find their seats. Before that, people line up in a queue outside the Amphitheater’s entrance on Sunset Boulevard. The bad news (other than the length of the wait) is that there is very little preshow entertainment and the seating is on uncomfortable metal bleachers without backs. You will probably want something to keep you occupied, whether it be an iPhone, Nintendo DS, old-fashioned book, or whatever else. Time does not typically go by quickly while waiting for Fantasmic! because there is very little to see or do and the seats are so uncomfortable.
If you need to leave the Amphitheater, a cast member will issue you a ticket for reentry on your way out. Make sure you obtain one of these tickets before exiting because you may not be admitted to the Theater if it fills to capacity. The ticket is only necessary if you’re planning to exit the entire Theater complex and head back down Sunset Boulevard. It is advisable to either eat a quick service or table service meal before you get in line or bring the counter service food with you. There is a concession stand inside the theater that offers theme park staples like hot dogs, popcorn, cotton candy, pretzels, and soft drinks. It isn’t an extensive menu and the food is what you would expect from the various pushcarts and small kiosks around the theme parks. It’s a long walk up hill from Sunset Boulevard to the Theater. Keep that in mind if you’re planning to carry a lot of food from another location in the Studios. Bathrooms are also located at the top of the seating area.
The First Show or the Second Show of the Night?
Throughout most of the year, Disney originally schedules one Fantasmic! show on nights when Fantasmic! will be available. About two weeks before the start of the next month, Disney may add a second Fantasmic! 90 minutes after the first show is scheduled to start on select nights. For example, let’s say Fantasmic! is currently scheduled at 7:30pm every night in October. On or around September 17th, Disney will update the operating schedule for October. At that time, they may add a second Fantasmic! on certain nights. In our example above, Fantasmic! would now begin at 7:30pm and 9pm. A second Fantasmic! is usually added because Disney is expecting additional demand on those nights. A second Fantasmic is more common when the overall crowd level is high or the Studios is hosting morning or evening Extra Magic Hours.
When two shows are scheduled, the second show is almost always less crowded than the first show. Families with young kids will naturally head to the earlier show in order to get back to their resort at a reasonable time. The Fantasmic! Dining Package is also only valid on the first show, which means just about everyone who paid for the Dining Package (explained below) will be at the first show. If evening Extra Magic Hours are scheduled at another Park or another Park is open late, anyone wanting to Park Hop to a different Park will be at the first show. All of this makes the second show significantly less crowded than the first.
If there is a second show scheduled and you’re not using the Fantasmic! Dining Package, I would strongly recommend visiting the second show if you’re able. Don’t be alarmed if it seems like the line goes on forever or there is a huge mob of people waiting to enter the Amphitheater. It takes a lot of time to clean the seating area after the first show concludes and Disney doesn’t allow anyone to enter the stadium until it’s clean. For the second show, it’s not uncommon for Disney to let everyone enter the theater at once, unlike the more orderly procession of the first show. Don’t be too concerned; there will be plenty of room for everyone to get a good seat.
Fantasmic! Starts After the Park Closes? Can Everyone See It?
If Hollywood Studios’ hours are 9am to 7:30pm, Fantasmic! will usually start at 7:30pm. If there are two shows scheduled and Hollywood Studios’ hours are 9am to 10pm, the first show will usually start at 8:30pm and the second show will begin at 10pm. This means Fantasmic! will end after the rest of the Park closes. It is a common misconception that the Parks shut down right when the Park Hours indicate that they close. In reality, it is very common for the theme parks to accept dining reservations right up to the official closing time, meaning diners will finish their meals well after the theme park is “closed.”
In addition, many of the shops will remain open for 30 minutes to an hour after the official Park close to accommodate late shoppers. Ride operators are also supposed to allow guests to enter the queue right up until the official close. Anyone who is allowed to enter the line will be allowed to ride, even if the wait is 45 minutes right before the Park closes. This means that everyone is welcome to stay for Fantasmic!, even when it’s scheduled to start right when the Studios is scheduled to close or even after it’s scheduled to close. Occasionally, Fantasmic! will start at 10:30pm when the posted hours state Hollywood Studios closes at 10pm. Even then, everyone is welcome to stay and enjoy the show. This is also true if the Fantasmic show begins during evening Extra Magic Hours. Off-site visitors are welcome to stay for those shows as well. Disney runs buses for about 120 minutes after the Parks officially close to accommodate all those with late dining reservations and they are quite aware of the Fantasmic! crowds and how many additional buses will be required to transport the 10,000 people leaving Hollywood Hills Amphitheater at the end of the night.
The Best Seats
There are no intrinsically bad seats inside of Hollywood Hills Amphitheater, thanks to the fact that the action takes place on a 50-foot-tall mountain in the middle of a gigantic stage. Of course, seats in the middle section afford the best, most direct view of the action. I recommend sitting at least a third of the way up the bleachers because it can be difficult to see the boats traveling along the water if you sit in the first few rows. In addition, it’s not uncommon for people in the bottom-third-section to get wet during the performance. If you do end up in the first few rows, you may want to put on your poncho and protect your belongings by putting them in a bag or covering them with something. If you are poncho-less, consider moving elsewhere in the stadium, even if it seems like the view won’t be as good.
As you enter, you may find that Disney employees are systematically filling up the Amphitheater section by section, rather than letting people sit wherever they want. This may result in your group being seated somewhere that you don’t want to be. If you notice that they’re seating people in an inopportune place, you can step to the side and let people go by until they start seating guests in a better section or row. Or, you can sit in your original seats for a minute and then get up and find other seats in a more desirable section.
What to Do After the Show is Over
After the show concludes, most people will hop up, gather their things, and try to cram through the exit on their way to Disney transportation or the parking lot. If it’s the first show of the night and the Park remains open for an extended amount of time, many people will head to nearby rides like the Tower of Terror and Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster. If you saw the last show of the night and the Studios is “closed,” I would recommend holding back and letting the hordes exit first. After the Amphitheater clears out, head to the stores along Hollywood Boulevard (the main drag). Most of the stores will remain open for at least a half hour after Fantasmic! concludes.
“After hours” shopping is the best because you won’t be wasting precious Park time looking for the perfect coffee mug for grandma and the shops will be mostly empty. After about 30 minutes have passed, head out to the bus stop or parking tram, where you should find that most of the people will be long gone and the lines will be short. This will result in a less stressful end to the night and shopping is more enjoyable than waiting in line outside, even if you don’t plan to purchase anything.
What is the Fantasmic! Dining Package? What is Included? How Much Does The Fantasmic! Dining Package Cost?
The popularity of Fantasmic! has spurred Disney to offer a “Fantasmic! Dining Package” similar to the popular Candlelight Processional Dinner Package available at Epcot over the holidays. With the limited availability of Fantasmic! and popularity of the Meal Package, Disney added lunchtime reservations and changed the name from the “Fantasmic! Dinner Package” to the “Fantasmic! Dining Package.” The Fantasmic! Dining Package can be booked by calling Disney Dining directly at 1-407-939-3463 up to 180 days in advance of the reservation date or it can be booked online (Disney added online booking for the Fantasmic! Dining Package on December 17, 2010). A regular reservation at a participating restaurant will not increase your chances of getting a Fantasmic! Dining Package reservation and it is not possible to convert a regular dining reservation to the Fantasmic! Dining Package if the Package is sold out.
The package is very popular and often “sells out” soon after it becomes available. Similar to the way Disney now handles Character Dining and Signature Restaurants, the Fantasmic! Dining Package requires that you put a credit card on file. You will not be charged until you consume your meal, but there is a $10 fee per person if you do not show up to the reservation and do not cancel at least 48 hours before the reservation time. You may cancel up to 48 hours before the reservation time with no penalty. If you call and the Package is sold out, you may have success if you keep calling. People often cancel and availability may reopen closer to the date of the show. You’ll have the most success booking the Fantasmic! Dining Package if you book exactly 180 days from the date you’d like to use the Package. If you’re staying at a Disney-owned resort, you can also make reservations for an additional ten days after your check-in date. Check http://www.pscalculator.net/pscalc.php to find out when it’s 180 days away from your check-in date.
Unlike the Candlelight Processional Dining Package that is available at most of Epcot’s restaurants, the Fantasmic! Dining Package is only available at three restaurants – Hollywood Brown Derby, Mama Melrose’s Risorante Italiano, and Hollywood & Vine. From my Best Table Service Restaurants at Hollywood Studios review, you would know that Hollywood Studios isn’t known for its fine dining. However, you should have an enjoyable meal regardless of which restaurant you choose. I wouldn’t recommend Hollywood & Vine, but it would suffice if you’re not expecting much in the way of quality food.
Pricing is different for each of the three restaurants and looks like this:
All prices include tax, but do not include gratuity
Hollywood Brown Derby Lunch and Dinner
Two Table Service Credits on Disney Dining Plan
Adults (anyone over the age of 9): $50.05 or $58.57
Kids (ages 3-9): $12.77 or $18.11
Hollywood & Vine Lunch
Hollywood & Vine Dinner (no characters)
One Table Service Credit on Disney Dining Plan
Adults (anyone over the age of 9): $28.75 or $40.46
Kids (ages 3-9): $14.90 or $23.42
Mama Melrose’s Risotrante Italiano Lunch and Dinner
One Table Service Credit on Disney Dining Plan
Adults (anyone over the age of 9): $35.14 or $38.33
Kids (ages 3-9): $12.77 (same price for regular and peak seasons)
The price difference is due to the fact that the Fantasmic! Dining Package is more expensive during certain dates. The first price is for “Value and Regular Seasons.” The second price is during “Peak Seasons.” In 2012, the following dates have Peak Season pricing: February 16 – February 25; March 9 – April 14; June 1 – August 4; December 21 – December 31. Pricing can always change; make sure to verify the cost at time of booking.
The Fantasmic! Dining Package includes the meal and a seat in the reserved section of the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater for the first showing of Fantasmic! for everyone on the reservation. At Hollywood & Vine, the meal includes the full buffet just as it would if you were paying for it without the Dining Package. At Mama Melrose and Hollywood Brown Derby, the Package includes appetizer, entree, dessert, and non-alcoholic beverage. The appetizer is included even when you book with the Disney Dining Plan. This is a nice bonus because appetizers are not usually included on the Dining Plan. If you are considering Mama Melrose, you may want to try to book the Fantasmic! Dining Package even if you have no intention of using the reserved-section tickets in order to get a “free” appetizer. No one will check to see if you actually use the tickets and you can either give them to someone else who wants to see the show or discard them.
While two sections are reserved for Fantasmic! Dining Package guests, there are no assigned seats. The Package is only available on days when Fantasmic! is scheduled and the tickets are only valid on the first show of the same night as the reservation. It is not possible to book the dining reservation on a Sunday and get tickets to see Fantasmic! on Thursday. You will receive your tickets at the end of your meal.
Is the Fantasmic! Dining Package Worth the Cost?
If you’re on the Disney Dining Plan and want to eat at Mama Melrose, Brown Derby, or Hollywood & Vine, you should book the Fantasmic! Dining Package if it’s available. The credit cost is the same as eating at the restaurant without the Package. The menu at lunch and dinner is the same at Mama Melrose and Hollywood Brown Derby, so it doesn’t matter if you book lunch or dinner as far as food selection are concerned. You can order anything you like. Your experience at Hollywood & Vine will be exactly the same whether you use the Fantasmic! Dining Package or not.
However, there are a few caveats to take into consideration when thinking about whether or not the Fantasmic! Dining Package makes sense, especially when paying out of pocket. First, Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater and 50’s Prime Time Café are not available with the Fantasmic! Dining Package. It’s a shame, because both of these restaurants have more to offer than either Mama Melrose or Hollywood & Vine, both in terms of food quality and service.
Second, the assigned meal times are much earlier than most people would like. The latest possible dinner reservation with the Fantasmic! Dining Package is 5:00pm, regardless of when Fantasmic! is scheduled to start. While this gives people plenty of time to eat and get over to the Amphitheater, most people would prefer to eat dinner later. Since 5:00pm is the most popular time to book, many reservations are even earlier in the day. You might consider a lunch reservation instead – the menu and price will be the same and it’s more convenient to eat lunch at 12pm rather than eat “dinner” at 3:30pm and try to change your meal schedule around for the rest of the day.
Third, you will still need to arrive at the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater at least 25 minutes before Fantasmic is scheduled to start. Disney routinely opens the reserved seating section up to everyone about 20 minutes before Fantasmic! is scheduled to begin. If you aren’t there before that happens, you won’t be guaranteed a seat and will probably find yourself in the standing-only section. Disney doesn’t make this fact particularly clear, probably because the main selling point of the Fantasmic! Dining Package is the ability to see the show “without a wait.” While it’s likely your wait will be less than if you were sitting with the general public, you will still be waiting at least 30 minutes.
Fourth, the cost of the Fantasmic! Dining Package is a fixed price, regardless of what you order or how much you eat. While you can “get your money’s worth” if you order one of the more expensive items, it is also very possible you won’t “come out ahead” if you choose one of the less expensive options. Many of the entrees at Mama Melrose are in the $12-$18 range and the cheaper flatbread pizzas are usually prepared better than the more expensive steak. Like with the Dining Plan, a fixed price meal may make you feel like you need to order the more expensive items in order to “get your money’s worth” even though you would prefer to order less expensive items that you would potentially enjoy more.
Finally, the seats in the two reserved sections do not offer the best vantage point. As stated earlier, there really aren’t any bad seats inside of the theater thanks to the elevated stage, but the reserved sections are the two furthest away from the center. Once you enter the reserved section with your tickets, you may leave and find a seat in the general admission section if you see better seats. Be careful, because it may be a hassle to be readmitted to the reserved section if you leave.
The reserved seating section is pictured below:
Map overlays courtesy of Robo, frequent poster on the disboards.com
Even with the various detractions, the Fantasmic Dining Package can save you time. It will allow you to see Fantasmic! with a 30 minute wait, rather than the 60+ minute wait required in the stand-by line. The Dining Package is especially advantageous if you were planning to eat at Mama Melrose, Brown Derby, or Hollywood & Vine anyway or plan to use the Disney Dining Plan.
The Package also presents value if you’re a big eater or were planning on purchasing the more expensive items anyway,. The menu for Mama Melrose is the same for lunch and dinner and is available at http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/mama-melroses-ristorante-italiano/. The menu for Hollywood Brown Derby is also the same for lunch and dinner and is available at http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/hollywood-brown-derby/. Look to the right of the page and you’ll see blue links that will take you to the various .PDF file menus. Currently, you could put together a meal that costs about $50 at Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano. With the Fantasmic! fixed price being just $35-$38, the Package can present additional value above and beyond the Fantasmic tickets.
Just like with the Candlelight Processional, you will be able to see Fantasmic! without the Dining Package, as long as you’re willing to wait. If the menus at the participating restaurants don’t appeal to you, you may be better off booking at another restaurant and waiting the 20 or so additional minutes required to get a seat in the general admission section. Should a second Fantasmic be scheduled, you’ll be able to attend that show with a wait similar or shorter than you’re looking at with the Dining Package for the first show.
There’s a reason Disney offers the Fantasmic! Dining Package at the restaurants and times it does – they would not be that popular otherwise. Still, you should have a very pleasant meal at either Mama Melrose’s or Hollywood Brown Derby and it’s very possible to get your money’s worth under the right circumstances.
Let Me Reiterate Fantasmic! is Truly Awesome
This review is a bit on the negative side, which is unfortunate because Fantasmic! is an amazing show, featuring mesmerizing special effects and an ensemble of classic Disney characters entertaining in a way you won’t find anywhere else in the world (other than Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySea which also feature Fantasmic! shows). The problem is not the 25-minute show in and of itself – it’s the struggle that is often necessary in order to see it.
What is the Best Way to See Fantasmic!?
If you’re on the Disney Dining Plan, I would strongly recommend considering the Fantasmic! Dining Package. Out of pocket, it can be a great value if time is of the essence and you plan to order and eat expensive entrees. If the Fantasmic! Dining Package is completely booked or you’re apprehensive about the restaurants, remember that you’ll still be able to see Fantasmic! with just a slightly longer wait. If a second show is offered, do your best to attend it. It will be considerably less crowded and will require a shorter wait. Enjoy and remember to bring something fun to do while you wait.