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Disneyland’s Fantasmic! Viewing Tips
Fantasmic has returned to the Rivers of America banks in Disneyland! With it has come masses of people who are trying to see the iconic show. In this post, we’ll give our best viewing tips on seeing Fantasmic, including when to see it and where to watch it from.
As of late September 2022, Fantasmic is showing on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays at Disneyland. Historically, the show will run more often during busy times of the year like summer and Christmas. Fireworks are often shown on weekend nights at 9:30 and you can watch them from Rivers of America if you so choose. Main Street is probably a better view but there’s nothing wrong with the river view.
In case it’s your first time seeing Fantasmic at Disneyland, the show takes place on Tom Sawyer Island and the river surrounding it. Most of the seating area is in New Orleans Square, looking out into the river, and stretches slightly into Frontierland.
There are two general tips for viewing Fantasmic, before getting into specific options on where to stand. The first thing to know is that there are Fantasmic Dining Packages and they will get you the best possible seat for the show. Three different packages are offered starting with the premium package, currently at River Belle Terrace but this will likely be at Blue Bayou once the restaurant fully reopens. The premium package costs $75/adult and includes a meal along with a centered spot for the first showing.
The standard package is also at River Belle Terrace and costs $50/adult. This package will include a reserved seating area for one of the two shows and lunch or dinner. Finally, there’s the On-The-Go package at Hungry Bear Restaurant which includes a 3-course meal from the counter-service restaurant and reserved seating for one of the 2 shows. This costs $35/adult.
I usually don’t recommend these but I’m going to flip that in this instance especially if you want to see the first showing of Fantasmic. The reserved area for these packages is by far the best seating and the dining packages aren’t over-the-moon expensive. I’d recommend the cheapest option at Hungry Bear Restaurant, settling for a slightly worse seat than paying the $75 for the most expensive. But getting one of these dining packages will save you a major headache and a lot of time for the first showing.
It is difficult to come across dining package reservations in the days before a park trip so try to reserve well in advance. There are a few same day cancellations every day but we haven’t had much luck in going that route.
The second general tip is the same as what we recommend for any nighttime show at Disneyland Resort – see the second showing. This doesn’t apply to the dining packages but for standby guests, it will save you so much time by going for the second show. I’d recommend showing up to the area around the end of the fireworks (about 9:40 PM) or just watch the fireworks from there. That’s less than an hour of waiting for a quality spot unlike the 2 hours or so you’d need for the earlier showing of Fantasmic.
If you noticed, the premium dining package offers spots for the first show but not the second which matches up with what we’ve observed and heard. There are far less dining package reserved areas at the second show. If you know where to go before the second show (keep reading for details), getting a spot to sit near the front row and center is possible where it’s not at all for the first.
There’s a chance that all of the hubbub dies down some as we get farther into the summer and the novelty of the show returning wears off. But I also think that crowd level and demand will be quite high at Disneyland through the end of July. All this to say, save yourself some time by seeing the second showing of Fantasmic.
Here’s this incredibly fancy and very professional map I’ve color-coded for those wondering about standby areas!
Okay, are you done laughing at the wonderful highlighting and writing? Not yet, okay I’ll hold…. Alright, as you can see VIP and Dining get the best spots. For the first show that dining section goes all the way over into the blue highlighted area titled ‘2nd Show?’ We’ll get to that section in a minute.
That leaves the purple, pink, green and yellow highlighted sections left for the first show. The yellow highlights are an afterthought, basically a whatever’s left after the good spots are taken. If you just want to catch a glimpse of the show and not devote time to it (which we do not recommend) then showing up 20 minutes before the show and finding a spot wherever will do. That’s the yellow.
The purple highlighted section will leave you closest to the show via standby but with a few obstructions and nowhere near a straight on view of Mickey fighting a dragon. If you can wiggle your way around a tree or lighting rig being in your way then this is a decent spot to stand. You will ultimately have to stand in this area, as you will in every other non-dining or VIP area.
I think the pink section is the best place to stand for Fantasmic, as it’s the most centered and has an elevated view. Unfortunately, this is also the smallest area as it’s just the bridge above the Pirates queue. If you want to get there a few hours before the show then standing along the rail here, looking out at the river will lead to an excellent experience. It’s just a matter of the amount of time you want to devote to it.
A compromise of these areas is the green section. You won’t have to get there quite as early, as people can start lining the fence at 7. The ground is also heavily sloped so that makes it easier to see over those in front of you. While it’s not as good as standing on the bridge, it will be an easier spot to snag and not as frustrating as dealing with the obstructed views in the purple section.
Finally, the blue area is the very best you can do via standby and, as I mentioned, it’s only available for the 2nd show generally. To get there, line up in the purple area after the fireworks. Get as close to the rope on the left (if facing the water) as possible, as that is where Cast Members will let people into the blue area. I’ll reiterate that this isn’t a guaranteed spot but if they have room then standby guests will be able to get there. Wait until Cast Members give you the all clear to go there, until then stay in the purple section.
One last thing to keep in mind is to please respect the Cast Members who are trying to direct traffic. It is not their fault that the spot you want is taken up by dining packages. They are following orders and trying to get everyone where they should be in a short amount of time. Be kind to them and all of those around you, as it’s a cramped space. Also, go see Fantasmic! It’s amazing.
We’ll keep following how the crowd flow goes at Fantasmic and adjusting strategy as we go! Please let us know any questions or thoughts you might have in the comments below.
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Categories: Vacation Tips
Tagged as: Disneyland , Fantasmic viewing areas Disneyland , Where to watch fantasmic from
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Fantasmic! at Disneyland – Everything You Need to Know
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Updated November 9, 2023
***After the demise of a popular animatronic, this show will return May 24, 2024!
Fantasmic! is an old school Disneyland gem! Definitely consider it for your visit.
As with any big show at Disneyland, good planning will ensure you have a good experience.
I’ve compiled this information from what Disney has released to us, what other dining packages typically include and specifically what I know from the dining experiences offered prior to Covid.
First, check this link to see if Fantasmic! is showing during your dates.
Depending on when you visit, Fantasmic! will show every day of the week or on weekends only. Weekends include Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Disneyland.
When Fantasmic! is running, most days include 9:00pm and 10:30pm shows, but confirm before your visit.
Fantasmic! is a very popular show that debuted in 1992 as an attempt to pull crowds over into the space that borders the Rivers of America. The show includes both water and pyrotechnics and can be scary for little ones. There are plenty of children at the show. But, if you have kids who scare easily, I recommend watching videos on YouTube prior to visiting. The basic synopsis involves good vs evil. Spoiler alert: Good always wins.
The show was reimagined in July of 2017 with new scenes and an altered story line. It still consists of a combination of part of the show on Tom Sawyer Island and the rest on water craft, including The Sailing Ship Columbia, Mark Twain Riverboat and small rafts.
It typically lasts around 25 minutes. Guests will fill the viewing area that surrounds the Rivers of America to watch the show.
Showtimes for each day vary. Visit the Disneyland site to see what timing is available for the days you will be at the parks. Adjust the calendar at this link for your visit. Most days will include two shows. Those are at 9:00pm and 10:30pm.
As with other Disney shows, the earlier times are always more crowded.
I like both shows for different reasons. The earlier one may be more crowded, but it’s so convenient to watch Fantasmic! and then not have to move to watch the fireworks (typically at 9:30pm each evening). Love that. However, if you must see fireworks on Main and/or with a castle view, you can grab a spot there fairly close to show time (for fireworks at 9:30pm) and then walk over to see the 10:30pm Fantasmic! with less of a crowd. After fireworks, there is a mass exodus. Cast members work hard to direct people through each land and out of the park and by 10:30pm there is a noticeable difference in the quantity of people there.
Let’s now take a closer look at the three options for Fantasmic! viewing.
Booking a Dining Package
As with other big shows at the park, Fantasmic! offers dining packages that give you a premiere spot for viewing the show. In most cases, you will dine at the restaurant hosting the dining package and then show up later to watch the show with everyone else stationed around the Rivers of America. There is one exception – we’ll cover that in a second.
Dining packages are always popular at Disneyland and with the return of Fantasmic!, these are in high demand. Do not hesitate to book your package now. If you change your mind on using it, cancel within 24 hours of your dining time so that your credit card on file is not charged the $10 per person cancellation penalty. These packages do not requirement pre-payment. All you have to do now is make the reservation. The app does not allow you to make these reservations. You must use the Disneyland site or call Disney directly at (714) 781-DINE (3463) between 7:00 AM and 9:00 PM daily (Pacific Time) to book.
Magic Key and Disney Visa discounts apply to all dining packages, but the two cannot be used together.
Magic Key and Disney Visa discounts apply to all dining packages, but the discount won’t apply to the upgraded portion of your bill. For example, if you booked the Upgraded River Belle Terrace package at 8pm, you will receive your discount on the $45 per person portion, but not the $15 upgrade per person.
Dining packages can be booked 60 days out from the day you plan to dine at Disneyland.
Disneyland is super accommodating with food allergies. If you have specific needs, share those when you book online in the section provided. If you call in to book, let the cast member helping you know your needs. Then, when you check in at your dining time, reiterate those details again.
Each dining package includes favorites from the restaurant’s menu and sometimes a few dishes not available during regular dining. Exceptions/substitutions/changes, etc….from the Fantasmic! menu to the normal one are not allowed. You may only choose from the Fantasmic! menu.
The basic game plan includes enjoying your meal and then once you pay your bill, you will receive a “FASTPASS” (or return voucher) that will allow you entrance into the viewing section that coordinates with where you dined. Sometimes, they’re referred to as Return Tickets or Return Vouchers. But, they look just like the paper FASTPASS Reminders.
With any of the three dining package options, I recommend arriving an hour prior to showtime. The FASTPASS that you receive after paying your bill will advise showing up 30 minutes prior. And, lines will likely not be allowed to form until that time. But, with the popularity of this show, you don’t want to miss out on what you paid for – good viewing. Show up to the viewing area an hour early and just hang out. Wait for the line to form and jump in it as soon as cast members allow.
For the later show, be prepared to find all three dining option guests mixed into the same viewing area. This feels a little frustrating since they section off the earlier show and allow those who paid for Blue Bayou to have the center view. I attended the later show when I reviewed the Blue Bayou package and when I arrived, everyone was sitting together. I asked a cast member and he confirmed that the later show mixes everyone. With this in mind, if you want a great view at a low cost, consider the Hungry Bear package for the late show.
The three dining package options include:
Blue Bayou Dining Package
For a detailed review from a previous experience, visit this link .
To book this package, visit this link .
- Blue Bayou is located in New Orleans Square, to the right of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction exit. It is the premiere dining package and usually the most sought after.
- Blue Bayou has indoor seating only, but you’ll feel like you’re outdoors in some ways because of the restaurant’s design. This dining option is located inside the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction and is old school Disney fabulous. You’ll see the boats of the attraction float by during your meal.
- If you’re interested in a water-side table (there are only about 15 tables located right next to the water), go by the reservation podium located at the front of the restaurant about 30 minutes prior to your reservation time and ask if you could please sit water-side. Your wait may be a little longer than expected, but many guests think this is an essential part of dining at Blue Bayou.
- Viewing for Blue Bayou is typically dead-center, front row. There will be an iron railing in front of you, but this has never bothered me.
River Belle Terrace Dining Package
For a detailed review from my experience, visit this link.
To book this page, visit this link .
- Reservations for River Belle Terrace start each day at 4:00pm. When you book – online or on the phone directly with Disney – you will learn which show your dining time is assigned to. The FASTPASS that you receive that allows you into your viewing location will state this show time, too. You may not attend a show other than the one your FASTPASS assigns you to.
- An upgrade to River Belle’s dining package is available for $25 per person, adult or child. To upgrade your experience, you must call (714) 781-DINE or (714) 781-3463 between 8:00 AM and 9:00 PM Pacific Time daily. In order to upgrade, you must dine at 8:00pm. With that dining time and a confirmed upgrade, you can enjoy dinner and then stay at your seat to watch the first performance of Fantasmic! – which begins at 9:00pm – from the outside patio (where you’ll be seated). With this upgrade, you will enjoy a charging station at your table, a lanyard, and continued drink service through the show.
- River Belle Terrace is located in Frontierland, across from the Rivers of America. It is typically considered 2nd in line to Blue Bayou as far as food goes, but I’m a huge fan of this place. It reopened with a new menu in February of 2016 after Big Thunder BBQ closed down for Star Wars Land. While it isn’t a total mimic of what Big Thunder offered, the menu transitioned to include more grown up, modern BBQ selections and I’ve really enjoyed them.
- River Belle has both indoor and outdoor seating. I’ve dined in each and they’re both lovely. There is far more outdoor seating compared to indoor, so be prepared for a possibly longer wait if you want to dine indoors.
- River Belle’s viewing section is next to Blue Bayou, so it’s not dead center, but it’s still really good. It will go up to the railing, so front row is possible, just like Blue Bayou. You will be able to sit on the ground in this section, unlike guests with FASTPASSES and those in standby.
Hungry Bear Grab-n-Go Dining Package
For a detailed review of this dining package, visit this link .
- Reservations for Hungry Bear Restaurant start each day at 3:00pm. When you book – online or on the phone directly with Disney – you will learn which show your dining time is assigned to. The FASTPASS that you receive that allows you into your viewing location will state this show time, too. You may not attend a show other than the one your FASTPASS assigns you to. (From what I can tell, all Hungry Bear dining package guests are assigned to the first show each evening.)
- Hungry Bear is a casual restaurant located in Critter Country, just across from where you grab FASTPASSES for Splash Mountain and to the right of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
- Unlike Blue Bayou and River Belle Terrace dining packages, you do not have to dine on location. You may simply pick up your food and take it elsewhere to enjoy or you may use one of the tables at the restaurant. All seating is outdoors, in a covered patio overlooking the Rivers of America.
- Upon arrival, you will pay your bill and receive your meals packaged up to go (or stay). The restaurant provides everything you need – boxed meals, cutlery, napkins, etc. At this time, you will also receive your FASTPASSES granting entry into the Hungry Bear viewing section for Fantasmic!
- The viewing section for Hungry Bear is next to Blue Bayou, which is dead center. If enough guests buy this package, you may have to stand for the show. (Blue Bayou and River Belle Terrace dining package guests are guaranteed the option to sit on the ground.) I have yet to see this section full enough to enforce the standing rule. So, for the price you pay, you’re getting an excellent view.
Standby sections aren’t bad! Don’t panic if you don’t book a dining package for this show.
There are two standby sections that I have had great luck with over the years. If you are using the standby option, consider:
- The bridge that goes above the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction: A rope is set up on the side of the bridge facing the water. The rope keeps guests snug in that area and out of the way of traffic, as guests use this bridge to exit the Frontierland/New Orleans Square area to get to Adventureland. I’m usually able to slide in there to watch the show.
- There are several little pockets of space behind an iron guard rail in between the Cafe Orleans patio and the French Market. Many guests think this is a walk way area and don’t stop to grab a spot. Rest assured, if you’re in a path for guests, cast members will alert you to keep moving. These are great last minute options to watch the show.
Guests with Disabilities
There is a section next to the River Belle Terrace dining section for guests with disabilities. A cast member will escort you to the section for guests with disabilities. There are no chairs provided. This section is typically filled with guests in wheelchairs and ECVs along with their family/friends.
Within each dining package section, guests in wheelchairs or ECVs are stationed near the back of the section so that they’re not blocking other guests’ views since they’ll be sitting on the ground. Feel free to enjoy any of the dining packages and know you can sit with everyone in your party within in the dining package sections noted on the map below.
The map, above, shows the general idea, based on what previous years included. This is a VERY ROUGH idea of where each section will be located. I’ll update the map as information becomes available.
- There is no current option for guests to sit in a chair at Fantasmic! If this is a deal breaker for you, I recommend booking the River Belle Terrace 8:00pm option with the upgrade so that you can stay in your seat to watch.
- If your child won’t eat any of the options on the child’s menu (when the menus are available), you may pay for an adult dining package and allow him or her to order from it. But, children cannot order from it without paying the adult pricing.
- As with all restaurants at the Disneyland Resort, these dining package options will do their best to accommodate guests with food allergies or special diets. When you book your reservation, make clear notes in the comments section with your needs. If you book by phone, share your needs with the cast member you speak to. Upon arrival, reiterate what your needs are to the cast member you’re checking in with. Your notes will already be attached to your reservation, but I recommend calling attention to them when you arrive.
- A Disability Section should be available in the Fantasmic! viewing area. I’ll share more details on that as soon as I find them and will also update my post on Disabilities at Disneyland .
- This show can be surprisingly scary for many children. It’s main theme is “good vs evil” and “good” wins, but the show, as a whole, is shocking at times. I encourage you to watch the video, below, if you are concerned at all that your child could be scared.
As always, please leave me a comment or email me with any questions or concerns. Happy to help you!
Pearls in the Park 2024
2024 at the Disneyland Resort
Guide to Fantasmic at Disneyland: Best Viewing & Seating Spots
In this guide, we’ll offer tips & tricks watching Fantasmic at Disneyland, best & worst views, sitting & standing locations to see the nighttime spectacular, whether dining packages are worth the money, and suggestions for taking better photos of this impressive Disney nighttime spectacular. (Updated April 27, 2023. )
For those unfamiliar with it, Fantasmic is a nighttime spectacular performed most nights on the Rivers of America at Disneyland. A variation of the same show–albeit with different and some newer scenes–is also presented in Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World. It was previously shown at Tokyo DisneySea, before being replaced by Believe! Sea of Dreams.
Fantasmic is an evening extravaganza combining various elements–fire, water projections, lasers, and fireworks–for a show that is loosely about the power of imagination. Disney Villains turn Mickey’s dream into a nightmare, and the little mouse uses the power of his imagination to overcome them! The elaborate production also features 50 live performers, massive sets, and rousing music to produce a larger-than-life show.
The premise of Fantasmic is that Mickey Mouse is fast asleep, dreaming of being the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. This sets the stage for a series of scenes from other films, some of which Mickey Mouse appears inside. He conducts montage moments from Fantasia, Aladdin, Lion King, Tangled, Beauty and the Beast, Little Mermaid, Jungle Book, Winnie the Pooh, and many other movies.
The most memorable moments occur with the arrival of pink elephants on parade, swashbuckling pirates doing battle, princesses and princes dancing, and monkeys doing monkey things. When suddenly, Mickey Mouse is pulled into the Magic Mirror, his dream takes a dark turn and becomes a “nightmare fantasmic.” The Evil Queen from Snow White conjures up some of Disney’s most dastardly villains—including Maleficent as a 45-foot, fire-breathing dragon! Mickey must use the power of his imagination to vanquish his foes—and save the day! Speaking of Maleficent, that brings us to our 2023 update…
April 27, 2023 Update: During the second performance of the nighttime spectacular last Saturday, the Maleficent dragon caught fire during the climactic scene of Fantasmic at Disneyland . The fire erupted as Mickey Mouse began to shoot sparks at the giant dragon’s head to defeat it in the storyline of the show. The Anaheim Fire Department responded to the scene, with all Cast Members and guests safely evacuated the area.
In the days since, Disneyland has been scrambling to fix damage, with scaffolding erected on the Tom Sawyer Island stage. Despite this, Disneyland has removed Fantasmic from the schedule until May 19, 2023 and released the following statement: “We know our guests love and miss Fantasmic, and Disneyland Resort teams are working hard to assess when we can bring back an adjusted show as quickly and safely as possible.”
It’s important to stress that Fantasmic returning on May 19, 2023 is entirely tentative at this point. Fantasmic could return earlier or later depending upon how the safety inspections goes and how quickly interim replacements for the damaged showpieces can be prepared. Judging by the nature and extent of the fire damage, it’s likely that the Murphy Audio Animatronics figure of Maleficent will be missing for far longer.
At the very least, the Maleficent dragon scene is likely going to be presented in b-mode for the next several months. Whether that ends up being a mist screen (likely at first) or a “dragon on a stick” (possible within a few weeks) remains to be seen. However, it could still take months–if not until 2024–before an advanced, fire-breathing Maleficent Audio Animatronics figure returns to Fantasmic at Disneyland.
In the meantime, we would highly recommend making a point of seeing the new Wondrous Journeys fireworks from the front of the park if at all possible. See our Disneyland Fireworks Viewing Guide for the best and worst locations–the recommendations here simply cover the easiest way for seeing both Fantasmic and the fireworks in the same night, but Wondrous Journeys is such an excellent nighttime spectacular that it deserves to be seen up close from its intended viewing angle. This new fireworks show is on par with Happily Ever After, arguably the best fireworks show ever to be done by Disney.
Upon returning, this viewing guide will still apply to Fantasmic. Although Mickey Mouse defeating Maleficent is the climactic scene and the highlight of the nighttime spectacular, Fantasmic as a whole is still amazing, and a 10/10 production even with that scene modified or presented in its b-mode.
We are big fans of Fantasmic, and have seen both the original and “Fantasmic 2.0” version dozens and dozens of times at Disneyland. (Far fewer at Walt Disney World.) While we love World of Color and enjoy Main Street Electrical Parade, the heart and soul of Disneyland’s nighttime entertainment is Fantasmic. If you’re a Disneyland first-timer or have only watched it at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, Fantasmic at Disneyland is a true treat and an absolute must-see.
The seminal Disneyland version of Fantasmic is going to be very popular for the foreseeable future, and it’ll play to a packed house nightly–even with multiple nightly showings. You might want to get a dining package for Fantasmic if you plan on seeing the show anytime soon. With Disneyland’s decision to forgo the virtual queue for Fantasmic, and it not being available as a Genie+ Lightning Lane selection, the dining packages are the only way to guarantee a good view without camping out for hours. We’ll cover that and more in this post.
Since this is the first article dedicated to Fantasmic on this blog, even though it has nothing to do with viewing or photographing the show, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share a fun tidbit that I assume other Disney fans will find interesting. Up until its late stages of development, Fantasmic was known as Imagination!
The name was ultimately changed because of concerns with being able to trademark the generic Imagination name, whereas Fantasmic (a made up word), could be easily trademarked. The Imagination! name got so far along in the process that Disneyland even made up marketing posters with Imagination! as its name. I like the name Fantasmic, but I’ll admit that I get chills when I pop in the Fantasmic CD and the opening line “imag-in-ation…imag-in-ation…” plays.
Okay, on with the more relevant information for successfully viewing and photographing Fantasmic! We’ll start with simply seeing the nighttime spectacular along the Rivers of America at Disneyland…
Best Viewing Spots
Disneyland’s seating can be tricky. Unlike its counterpart at Walt Disney World, Fantasmic does not have a purpose-built outdoor amphitheater. When we say that it’s performed “along the Rivers of America,” we mean it. Its seating area is literally just a multi-level walkway and a promenade along the waterfront during the day.
That Fantasmic comes alive essentially out of nowhere is part of its charm. It also makes figuring out where to watch–or even where to wait to watch– a challenge for Disneyland first-timers.
During most busier dates, Fantasmic is performed twice nightly, at 9 pm and 10:30 pm. Typically, the first showing of Fantasmic will wrap up, and then the Disneyland fireworks will be presented almost immediately thereafter. The second performance of Fantasmic will occur about 30 minutes after that. If you’re planning on watching the first Fantasmic, stay in your spot after it ends to see the fireworks–there are mist screens with projections on the water and most of the pyro is visible. (You won’t have time to get a spot on Main Street after seeing Fantasmic.)
Note that these times are subject to change. You should check the entertainment schedule in the Disneyland app for the specific show times on the days that you’re in the park.
Currently, viewing protocol for Fantasmic is not similar to World of Color. When the latter returned to Disney California Adventure, it began using a virtual queue as a replacement for free FastPass or paid MaxPass that used to be offered. Our assumption was that Fantasmic would follow suit and offer Genie+ Lightning Lanes, but that has not happened as of 2023.
Instead, Fantasmic’s main seating area–on the ground in the lowest tier along the Rivers of America–is reserved for dining packages, and what’s left over is filled in by standby guests. However, there are no guarantees for standby and the number of dining packages sold can fluctuate each day.
In addition to that, there are standing areas behind and around the seating areas. These are scattered all over the place, with locations including the bridge over Pirates of the Caribbean and sections of walkway near River Belle Terrace and Haunted Mansion. These are not in the main seating area, and aside from the Pirates of the Caribbean viewpoint, are typically off-center views.
It’s very difficult to offer tips & tricks right now for any of these locations, as our recent experiences with Fantasmic has been nothing short of chaotic. I cannot stress this enough, and it’s not hyperbole. Multiple fights have broken out, and it’s easy to see why–even trying to navigate through Frontierland and New Orleans Square is a challenge.
On top of that, the viewing areas are all packed, and there’s not much consistency as to how or when they fill up. There are ropes that form cattle corrals for guests to watch Fantasmic, but if you’re a first-timer, it’s difficult to make sense of what’s going on. In addition to this, protocol and procedures are still “evolving” as Disneyland Cast Members try their best to manage crowds. With that in mind, I’ll offer a few pointers and circle back to this section in a few weeks with clearer viewing strategy…
My first piece of advice would be to see the second showing of Fantasmic, as it’s significantly less crowded and no one is camping out for it hours in advance since the first performance ends roughly an hour before the second starts. The second point is really the key, as some locals stake out Fantasmic spots in the late afternoon for the first performance of Fantasmic.
For the second performance you’ll want to watch the Disneyland fireworks from the border between Frontierland and New Orleans Square, in the area between River Belle Terrace and Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s pretty easy to sneak in and grab a waterfront spot during the mass exodus after the first Fantasmic–and you should be able to stay there for the show. (Just be careful not to inadvertently enter the dining package area to the left of the general public area!)
At this point, that’s the best recommendation we have for watching Fantasmic. If you’re willing to gamble, another option is waiting over by Harbour Galley (in front of Haunted Mansion) for last-minute seating in the reserved seating area for dining packages. If this section isn’t full, standby guests are allowed to fill-in a few minutes before Fantasmic starts. (No guarantees on this, though.)
Worst views are anything with an obstructed view. This might seem obvious, but it’s worth reiterating that Fantasmic does not have a purpose-built venue along the Rivers of America. This is just the normal waterfront, and there’s a lot of stuff in the way. The easiest way to determine whether a view is going to be good or bad, is to stand there and see how clearly you can see the main stage on Tom Sawyer Island.
While the main building there is key, there are multiple levels and props on the stage, some of which block Mickey Mouse and other characters if you’re standing at a harsh angle on the far sides along the Rivers of America. In front of Haunted Mansion or Golden Horseshoe qualify as locations that are less than ideal, and the same goes for the Harbour Galley and River Belle Terrace seating areas. The latter is now sold as a premium dining package that costs more than the normal–and superior–dining packages. Unless you absolutely need a chair, you should opt for something else.
Alternatively, you can do a Fantasmic Dinner Package. With this, you’re paying a premium to dine at Hungry Bear Restaurant, River Belle Terrace, or Blue Bayou in a bundle that includes a ticket for reserved seating. The best seating location is for Blue Bayou, with Hungry Bear and River Belle Terrace flanking the dead-center seating of Blue Bayou.
Even though it’s the priciest option, Blue Bayou is the dining package we recommend for tourists. If you’re going to do the Fantasmic Dining Package, you might as well splurge for a meal and dining experience that are actually good. Blue Bayou and Fantasmic are both quintessential Disneyland experiences, and this is a great way to do both.
See our River Belle Terrace Fantasmic Dining Package Review for our past experience with that option. We just did the Hungry Bear On-the-Go Fantasmic Dining Package and will be reviewing that very soon. Both are great options at different price points–the viewing location for River Belle Terrace is definitely the better of the two.
If you do these dining packages, you’ll either want to get a front row spot and look through the rail or sit a bit back from the front. Second “row” (air quotes because it’s all very informal) in this seating area isn’t great because the hand rail along the waterfront will effectively block part of your view. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with being in the third or fourth rows of the seating area, as it slopes upwards away from the water. (As far as the seating area goes, I think front or back is best.)
My favorite spot for viewing Fantasmic at Disneyland is directly in front of the show control area at the back of the seated area. To give some reference, this is directly in front of Cafe Orleans. The Pirates of the Caribbean bridge is another good standing spot, too.
Disneyland claims that any view of Fantasmic is a good one, but that’s not entirely true. While the show has multiple mist screens to provide 180º of “good” views, there’s only one main stage. This means that views of Mickey Mouse, the dragon, and anything else that takes place are best from the center of the seating area.
In reality, you’re going to have little choice over your viewing location unless you’re visiting during the off-season, once crowds die down. The good news is that most spots in the seating area offer a great view. It’s a dynamic show and the seating area is intimate, so don’t fret over where you’re sitting.
Fantasmic Photography Tips
Fantasmic can be a challenge to photograph due to the low light and moving elements, coupled with flashes of bright effects. For point and shoot users or DSLR owners without much technical knowledge, my best recommendation is to put your camera in “sports” mode. There is a lot of fast action in Fantasmic, and this will keep your shutter speed high and prevent you from having blurry photos.
However, it will also result in a lot of noise and dark photos for much of the show. I would probably only focus on brightly lit scenes (such as when the dragon appears), as you are going to end up with a lot of garbage shots. Remember, this is an imperfect solution to a complex show to photograph.
If you are comfortable with your cameras settings (or willing to learn), you have better options. If you don’t have basic technical understanding of the elements of exposure (shutter speed, aperture, and ISO), I highly recommend reading Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson before reading any further trying to take better photos. If the paragraphs that follow don’t make sense to you, start with that ( and other photography books ) and then come back.
In terms of gear, you’ll want to use the longest zoom you have. For me, this is a Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II . The significance of good gear for photographing Fantasmic (or a really close viewing spot) cannot be understated. You’ll want a zoom lens that is also fast.
You do not need a tripod for Fantasmic. You don’t even need a monopod. Your shutter speed will need to be relatively fast to freeze the action in the show. Remember, a tripod only eliminates camera shake induced by the photographer…it doesn’t freeze the things you’re photographing!
Additionally, use the metering mode on your camera that takes the center-average of the frame, rather the whole scene. Since you’re photographing characters and they’ll have spotlights on them, you want to meter off of these characters. Do not average that metering with the dark areas behind them.
If you stay in the default metering mode, prepare for blown out characters. I usually take this a step further by also dialing in -1 as my exposure compensation. It’s easy to brighten dark spots than to recover blown highlights. You’ll also want to adjust your focusing mode to ensure that you’re continuously focusing. Again, moving characters, so you want to be tracking focus on those movements.
As for exposure settings, I like to go with aperture priority with a wide open aperture (f/2.8 on my lens), with auto ISO, setting a base, and a minimum shutter speed. Reasonable minds may vary on the use of aperture priority mode, and not every camera has as solid of auto ISO options as Nikon DSLRs, but I think it’s the best option.
For minimum and maximum ISOs, go with the minimums and maximums your camera allows. I’ll explain why later. A lot of the activity in Fantasmic happens fast, so I recommend setting a minimum shutter speed of 1/200th of a second (sometimes I go slightly faster, sometimes slower). You still might get some blur with this, but you will get a lot of sharp shots, and this will prevent you from constantly maxing out your ISO and ending up with too much noise in your photos.
The reason for these settings instead of, say, full manual mode or shutter priority, which might seem like the intuitive options is simple: the Maleficent Dragon Scene. I find this to be far and away the best scene in Fantasmic for photos. This is especially true in Disneyland, where Murphy the Dragon is truly a sight to behold.
This scene in all versions is also much brighter than most of the rest of the show (thanks to fire) and its intensity changes during the course of the scene. If you use manual mode, you’ll blow shots in this scene unless you’re really quick with settings.
Shutter priority is better than manual mode, but it doesn’t allow for the dynamic auto ISO settings, meaning you have to preset your ISO, which I prefer not to do. For the dragon scene in particular, you’ll either have to change your ISO setting you there’s a chance you’ll inadvertently have your ISO too high, and have noise when no noise was “necessary.”
This scene can be difficult to photograph not just because of the settings required to tackle it, but because smoke and heat can obscure the scene. The heat can make Mickey blurry (sometimes this looks cool and adds to the scene), and smoke can drift in front of the scene and cause problems, too. Challenging photography, indeed!
For example, with the photo above, I was in aperture priority with my aperture at f/2.8, my minimum shutter speed at 1/125th of a second, my minimum ISO at 100, and my maximum ISO at 6400. For most of the show, my shots were at ISO 5000 or above. However, for this shot, the ISO plummeted to ISO 360! That meant a photo with far less noise, but otherwise “ideal” settings. Unless I was ridiculously quick to change my settings, if I shot this in shutter priority, I would’ve ended up with a higher aperture (which wouldn’t have been a real benefit) and a higher ISO.
This is the main reason why I recommend aperture priority and auto ISO for Fantasmic! Hopefully with this information, you’ll be able to take great shots of Fantasmic, too. Just remember, you’re bound to get some (many) bad shots, so don’t get discouraged…just be ready for the dragon scene.
Overall, Fantasmic is an excellent show at every park at which it’s shown. While my personal favorite is Disneyland’s Fantasmic, they are all a ton of fun, and feature some gorgeous imagery and special effects. Seeing Fantasmic at Disneyland is difficult, as the show is incredibly popular and the seating area is very small. It’s less of a challenge at the other two parks. At all of them, it’s worth the time and effort. It’s also worth the effort to try photographing the show, as it looks gorgeous in photos!
Planning a Southern California vacation? For park admission deals, read Tips for Saving Money on Disneyland Tickets . Learn about on-site and off-site hotels in our Anaheim Hotel Reviews & Rankings . For where to eat, check out our Disneyland Restaurant Reviews . For unique ideas of things that’ll improve your trip, check out What to Pack for Disney . For comprehensive advice, consult our Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide . Finally, for guides beyond Disney , check out our Southern California Itineraries for day trips to Los Angeles, Laguna Beach, and tons of other places!
What’s your favorite viewing location for Fantasmic? Do you typically do the dining package, standby, or have a different strategy for seeing the show? Bummed that there’s no virtual queue for Fantasmic? Have you tried photographing Fantasmic? Any other tips you can offer? Hearing from you is half the fun of these articles, so share your thoughts and any other tips you might have in the comments!
Written by Tom Bricker
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PLEASE come back May 19th! Even in modified form, I would be fine with that. I will be at Disneyland for my first visit ever that week. I am a long-time goer to Walt Disney World and Fantasmic is my favorite show! The 19th is literally the last evening I will be there! I so hoped I would get to see it at Disneyland, as I heard it is better (I have yet to see the new WDW version).
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