Disney began its two week test of the Fantasmic Picnic Package as detailed in this post from a couple of weeks ago. Officially titled, “A Taste of Hollywood To Go – A Fantasmic! Dining Experience,” the Package is very similar to the Fantasmic Dining Package that was previously (and continues to be) available at Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano, Hollywood & Vine, and Hollywood Brown Derby. Basically, for a fixed cost, the Package entitles everyone on the reservation to a meal at a chosen restaurant and a guaranteed seat for Fantasmic. The main difference is that the Taste of Hollywood To Go is about $25 cheaper per person than Mama Melrose’s Ristorante Italiano and $40 less expensive than Hollywood Brown Derby. As we’ll see shortly, people booked with either Taste of Hollywood To Go or the table service Fantasmic Dining Package are seated in the same section, marginalizing the value of the more expensive meals a bit. Of course, the key feature of the Fantasmic Dining Package is the guaranteed Fantasmic seating, which ought to be a relatively pain-free way to see the show with a wait much shorter than you would experience in the general seating sections. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.
Let’s have a look at the process, the food, the seating, and the show:
As outlined in this helpful Disney Parks Blog post, A Taste of Hollywood To Go is available as a “test” from December 18th to December 31st. To book the Package, you need to call Disney Dining in advance. At that time, they will ask you what you’d like to order and how many people are on the reservation. In this post, I had mentioned that they did not ask for an entree, but Disney ended up calling back to find out what I wanted, making planning and preparation much easier on their end. After all, if everyone orders the Fried Chicken there would be no reason to prepare anything else. This week’s Times Guide also indicates that you can visit Min and Bill’s Dockside Diner throughout the day to check on availability and purchase it should there still be meals/seats available.
All meal pickups are at Min and Bill’s Dockside Diner. From Mickey’s Sorcerer’s Hat, simply take a left and walk towards American Idol Experience. Look to your left and you’ll see Min and Bill’s Dockside Diner sitting on Echo Lake. Min and Bill’s continues to serve its regular menu during meal pickup, confusing things a bit. When Fantasmic is scheduled two times over the course of the evening (or even three times between Christmas and New Year’s Eve), you’ll be able to select which show you would like to see. Today, I could have selected the 6:30pm or 8pm show. This is a departure from the table service Fantasmic Dining Package, where the guaranteed seating was only available for the first show of the evening, regardless of how many shows were scheduled.
The sign indicating you’re in the right place uses the same images as the Disney Parks Blog.
Here we are in line. A cast member was trying to direct people who were ordering off of Min and Bill’s regular menu to the left and people that were picking up Taste of Hollywood meals to the right. Unfortunately, there was quite a bit of confusion over who belonged where. Some of this could be chalked up to first day jitters, but better signage would certainly help. Only two lines are currently operating, but for some reason they’re right next to each other. It would make a lot more sense to leave the middle line open and operate one line on each side. Ordering was also a bit of a challenge. Rather than simply walking up and ordering what you’d like off the menu as you might normally, you’ll need to give the cashier your name, which they will check against a list that will have your desired entree noted. The cast member will then go over your beverage options (bottled Coca-Cola products) and try to find your food. It sounds a lot simpler than it ended up being.
In true picnic fashion, your meal will be presented in a Disney Parks bag.
This is it. Your meal will be served in one of these plastic containers. To the right are plastic utensils with a small packet of salt and pepper. The idea is that you can take your meal wherever you’d like. You’re supposed to pick your food up at least 90 minutes before the start of your reserved show time.
This is the $14.99 “Teriyaki and orange marinated beef with udon noodle salad and caramelized vegetables and sesame mandarin vinaigrette, seaweed salad with gingered carrots and mandarin orange cheesecake” unboxed.
Compared to the Disney Parks Blog:
I guess they’re similar. Disney Parks’ noodles and beef look considerably better. The beef was surprisingly tasteless considering it’s advertised as being marinated and it’s served with sauce on top. There’s also exactly six small pieces of beef, three bites of noodles, four bites of seaweed salad (probably less if should you like that sort of thing), and dessert. It wasn’t a lot of food. I was hungry going in and this felt more like a heavy snack than a $15 meal. I was hungry again after the show. As far as taste, the food was not particularly good and everything was served ice cold. My guess is the fried chicken and poached salmon are also served cold and prepared well ahead of time. A cast member just goes to the back, picks up the trays, and delivers them to your outstretched palms.
I’m not crazy about cold steak in the first place and this certainly didn’t change my mind. The cheesecake was, by far, the best thing about this picnic.
This is why we’re here. You’ll receive one of these cards with the date, party size, and show time. Bring your own pen if you want to add to the Party Size.
These are the instructions on the back. Unfortunately, they’re incorrect because Disney continues to use the entrance for reserved seating that’s near the Tower of Terror gift shop rather than the entrance near Beauty and the Beast as the map indicates.
45 minutes before showtime – guess we’ll head over.
As we head down Sunset Boulevard towards Tower of Terror and Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, we’ll pass by these Dining Package Entrance signs.
Down here where the Dining Package entrance is supposed to be (according to the map), we’re greeted by a couple of cast members that will point us in the appropriate direction.
We’re actually headed around the corner towards the entrance to Tower of Terror.
This is the Dining Package entrance. You’ll need to arrive with your entire party and show the cast member your green card.
We have the Dining Package users on the left and general admission on the right. You may very well see people from the general admission line ducking under the rope into the Dining Package line. This isn’t necessarily a huge concern for you because there is a much more stringent check at the top of the hill.
This is about 40 minutes prior to showtime and we’re stuck all the way back here. The line isn’t moving.
A packed house er…..a packed line to get into the packed house. These people right in front of us have tried to move over from the general admission line, but they’re getting “told” by another guest. They retreated back with the rest of the riff raff.
By far, the worst part of the night was the mob at the top of the hill trying to get into the reserved area. We have a single cast member trying to collect Dining Package tickets with a small opening in the ropes. There’s easily 200 people trying to force their way up. My guess is that this setup works when there are far fewer people with Dining Package tickets. Ordinarily, we would only be talking about a few hundred people that used the Dining Package at Mama Melrose, Hollywood & Vine, and Hollywood Brown Derby. Add an extra thousand with Taste of Hollywood To Go tickets and you have a mad house. To make things slightly worse, there was a suit in the back with a smug smile on his face repeating something to the effect of, “Stupid tourists, your seats are reserved, there’s no reason to push.” I’m paraphrasing there, but he didn’t seem to understand that people were pushing in order to get out of the crazy mob and the only way to get out of the mob was to push forward. Either that, or give up and leave. The thought did occur to me.
This isn’t the best illustration, but the mob you see in front of us continues all the way around in a three-quarters-circle. There’s no definitive queue, which would help quite a bit, along with better signage and more people to police the tickets. Someone in the mob stated that this wasn’t “very-Disney-like.” I assured her that this was “exactly-like-Disney.”
Here I am seated for the show with perfectly decent seats. The seating area was expanded to accommodate the additional people from the To Go Package, so I’m further towards the center than I would be if the seating area was only the two far-right sections.
This is about 20 minutes to showtime – there are a few seats in the far, far corner, but it’s going to be standing room only in a minute. Even the second show at 8pm was standing room only with 15+ minutes to showtime. I had walked up about 15 minutes before the show began to check on crowds, but couldn’t even get into the seating section. When Hollywood Studios is recommended and the overall crowd level is a 5 or below, you can usually walk into the second Fantasmic just before it’s about to start and find seats somewhere. I usually recommend arriving 60 minutes early for the first show or 20 minutes early for the second show. It might seem excessive, but there’s really no way around it. Should you want “the best seats,” you’re looking at a 90 minute wait for the first show and a 40+ minute wait for the second show.
Your usual day at the Studios sees about 26,500 people and the Hollywood Hills Theater seats about 7,000 with room for about 2,000 more to stand. With Hollywood Studios expressly not recommended and the overall crowd level well above average, there simply isn’t enough room to meet demand.
We do still have plenty of seats nearby in the reserved section, but some of that has to do with the fact that so few people can get through security at the top of the hill.
You can sort of see the last people filing in here in the far corner about 15 minutes before the show begins.
I thoroughly enjoy Fantasmic. It’s my favorite nighttime show. Some of that sentiment back to when I was much younger and I remember how much my dad liked it and how amazing he thought the water projections were along with the rest of the production. When you’re young and look up to your father, you instinctively think that whatever he thinks is cool is cool.
With that said, the show doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. It is Mickey’s dream after all, so we should give him a little leeway in the storytelling.
“People” tend to point to the Pocahontas scene in particular as being out of place. I wouldn’t mind a change to something more relevant perhaps, but the action coupled with the shear number of actors on stage is enough to keep me thinking that it’s a fun section of the show. No, I don’t want to hear about “how much better it is in Disneyland” either.
I think this is a subliminal message to recycle?
I won’t ruin the rest of the show.
Overall, the food was disappointing and Disney needs to figure out how to streamline the admission process into the reserved section of the theater. Imagine paying $60/person at Hollywood Brown Derby for the Fantasmic Dining Package, only to find out that you’re squished together with a couple hundred people who spent much less. The scene to get into the Theater was thoroughly unpleasant for every single person that experienced it. While you could arrive earlier and potentially miss some of the mobbing, that also defeats the purpose of the Dining Package in the first place. If you want to (or are willing) wait 60+ minutes, you might as well sit in the general admission section and save your money for better food.
Overall, I think it was worth paying the $15 for the To Go Experience, despite some negative feelings. It was an uncomfortable ten minutes in the mob and the food wasn’t outstanding, but I did end up with excellent seats for the show for not a whole lot of money. Hopefully, given time and feedback, Disney will improve the admission process and the food.
Finally, keep in mind that this is a limited test only until the end of 2011. Should it be successful, I would imagine it will roll out when Fantasmic reopens from Refurbishment on February 13th or sometime soon after.