In this guide, we’ll offer viewing tips for Fantasmic at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, insight into the dining packages that offer reserved seating for the show, and suggestions for taking better photos of this impressive Disney nighttime spectacular. (This post was last updated July 25, 2017 following Fantasmic’s return to Disneyland.)
For those unfamiliar with it, Fantasmic is a nighttime spectacular at Disneyland, Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World, and Tokyo DisneySea at Tokyo Disney Resort. It combines various elements, like fire, water projections, lasers, and fireworks, for a show that is loosely about the power of imagination.
We are big fans of Fantasmic, we have seen it a couple of times at Disneyland since its July 17, 2017 return. If you’re interested in our thoughts on the re-imagined show, read our Fantasmic 2.0 Review. Suffice to say, Fantasmic is better than ever before, and the Disneyland version still reigns supreme…
The seminal Disneyland version is going to be a very popular FastPass for the foreseeable future, and even with multiple nightly showings, you might want to get a dining package for Fantasmic if you plan on seeing the show anytime in 2017. We’ll cover that and more in this post.
Since this is the first article about 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 Walt Disney World, and continue with Disneyland…
Best Viewing Spots – Disneyland
Disneyland’s seating can be a little trickier. As of right now, seating policies for Fantasmic are similar to World of Color. This means it is pretty much dining packages and FastPass-only. While there are some standby spots still, they are not in the main seating area, and are far from ideal. You really want a FastPass or dining package for Fantasmic at Disneyland.
As of right now, Fantasmic is running twice nightly, with FastPasses running out for both shows in under two hours after park opening on most days. If you want a FastPass, plan to arrive to Disneyland and rope drop, and make the FastPass distribution (located near the Mark Twain dock on the Rivers of America) your stop after doing a few Fantasyland attractions.
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 FastPass for reserved seating. The best seating location is for Blue Bayou (which also provides cushions as part of the dining package), 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.
The seating for Blue Bayou’s Fantasmic dinner package cannot be beat, and the seating cushions are a nice touch. Again, it’s expensive, but we think it’s worth the premium over River Belle Terrace. That is, assuming you even want to do a dinner package in the first place. (Our River Belle Terrace Review covers our experience with the Fantasmic Dinner Package there.)
If not, FastPass seating can still be good, but you need to arrive to the park early, and also arrive around 45 minutes early to the Fantasmic seating area to get a good spot.
At Disneyland, my favorite spot for viewing Fantasmic 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 very front of the standing area, directly behind the seated area is also great.
While Disneyland claims that any view of Fantasmic is a good one, 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 by far the 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 in 2018, 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.
Best Fantasmic Viewing Spots – Walt Disney World
The first thing to determine is figuring out where to sit for the best view of Fantasmic. At Walt Disney World, this is pretty simple. Fantasmic’s viewing area is set up like a normal stage show/theater, with the action taking place mostly on a stage, and in the water in front of that stage.
The seating area is literally an amphitheater, with benches for seating. My preference is as close to center as possible, and near the front, but not all the way at the front. Roughly 10 rows back, give or take.
At Disney’s Hollywood Studios, front and center should be pretty easy to locate. Note that the very front will get you wet, and slightly off-center is no problem. My personal preference would be to go toward the Sorcerer Mickey or Scar side if can’t get dead center because Mickey appears towards that side during the dragon’s appearance, but it doesn’t really make a huge difference.
The Fantasmic Dining Package is a good option, particularly if you’re on the Disney Dining Plan. This is because it’s essentially a “free” add-on with your Dining Plan credits, meaning it does not require an extra credit or surcharge. In other words, if you’re already doing a table service meal at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, there’s nothing to lose by booking the Fantasmic Dinner Package. It’s win-win.
If you’re paying out of pocket, the Fantasmic Dining Package does cost a bit of a premium over a normal meal at participating restaurants. Due to this, we are not keen on paying for the Fantasmic Dining Package out of pocket. As Disney’s Hollywood Studios has added more nighttime entertainment (including Star Wars – A Galactic Spectacular fireworks), there’s less demand for Fantasmic. Reports you might read of 60-90 minute waits to get into Fantasmic are a thing of the past.
Plus, if you don’t want to spend extra money on the Fantasmic Dining Package, you can always use FastPass+ for it at Walt Disney World. Quite often, you can book a same-day FastPass+ for Fantasmic, meaning you can use your initial allotment of FastPass+ for attractions like Toy Story Mania and Tower of Terror, and then grab a last-minute FastPass+ for Fantasmic. This is our top recommendation for anyone not on the Disney Dining Plan.
The seats reserved for the Fantasmic Dining Package dead center–the best seats in the house. Seats for FastPass+ are just to the left of these–still in an excellent location. As mentioned, most seats in this amphitheater are pretty good, so even standby is going to be pretty solid.
Scoring seats for Fantasmic at Walt Disney World used to be a real challenge. Fantasmic had a very limited schedule, only running a couple of times per week, which made it very difficult to see. Now, it’s shown nightly and there’s also alternative entertainment at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. As such, you really don’t need to worry about it. Seeing Fantasmic is easy and low-stress.
As for Tokyo DisneySea’s Fantasmic, we haven’t yet seen it enough to give our take on the “best” spots. Unlike the Disneyland and Walt Disney World versions, it’s a 360 degree show, but with the main action oriented towards the park’s entrance. As near to here and as close to the water is what we thinks worst best as far as our experience goes.
The only “trick” spots of which we’re aware are the Bellavista Lounge in Hotel Miracosta, and the top of the highest close-to-the-water fort in Fortress Explorations. I thought this latter spot offered a great and unique last minute vantage! (The photo above was taken from this location.)
Fantasmic Photography Tips
Although Fantasmic has a lot going on in it, from lasers to fireworks to projections, I think shots of the characters will be what most photographers will be after. I usually try to incorporate some of these other elements in my character shots to make them more than just ‘standard’ character portraits. The downside is that these photos can be very difficult to capture, requiring the right knowledge and equipment.
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. A lot of you might have a 55-250mm lens that you got as part of a kit with your DSLR, and that is a perfectly fine option. In some cases, I set aside my 70-200 and opt for my Nikon 28-300mm VR.
It’s not as good of a lens, but the extra reach can help. Even @300mm, I had to crop some of these shots fairly significant. The significance of good gear for photographing Fantasmic (or a really close viewing spot) cannot be understated. Some of my photos pale in comparison to those who take pro-grade wildlife and sports lenses to the parks for Fantasmic.
Ideally, I’d pair this teleconverter with my 70-200mm for a ‘best case’ set-up. That is, until I win the lotto and can afford a $10,000 wildlife lens! (Might need to start actually buying lotto tickets if that’s the plan…)
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!
A faster shutter speed itself will counter the effect of user induced camera shake. At least, in most cases. Even then, I recommend not using a monopod because the limited gains don’t outweigh the inconvenience.
Start by putting your camera in spot metering (Nikon) or partial metering (Canon). Basically, this is the metering mode that takes the very center of the frame, rather the whole scene or the center-average. 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 -.7 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 servo (Canon) or AF-C (Nikon), which will 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 1/100th 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, by far, 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, FastPass, or have a different strategy for seeing the show? 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!