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 June 1, 2022.)
For those unfamiliar with it, Fantasmic is a nighttime spectacular performed nightly on the Rivers of America at Disneyland that just returned in Summer 2022 after a multi-year hiatus. It was previously shown at Tokyo DisneySea and will someday also return to Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World.
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!
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.
For Summer 2022, 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 Forever 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, like it did before.
As of the start of Summer 2022, that is not the case. 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 experience with Fantasmic thus far in Summer 2022 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 Forever 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!
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!