Fantasmic Fastpass – Good Idea?

2014-08-22 210258 - Mickey Mouse Fireworks Fantasmic Disneyland (2)As of the middle of December, Disneyland has initiated a Fastpass system for the Fantasmic show at Disneyland on the Rivers of America.  The Fastpasses are separated by colored viewing areas and are issued at new mobile machines that are back on Big Thunder Trail behind Big Thunder Mountain.  When I was there for my family’s Christmas vacation to the park, I saw the system but didn’t have the opportunity to experience it.

Next week, I and a couple friends and co-workers will be going to the park for a couple days.  One friend has an annual pass and is a Disney nut like me but has never seen the show.  For another co-worker, this will be only his second trip to the park and he also has never seen the show.  So I will be taking this opportunity to try out the new system and see how it works.

2014-08-22 210522 - Disneyland Fantasmic Kaa (2)Now, let me take you through what used to happen before the Fastpass system was started.  At anywhere from 4:00 to 5:00 in the afternoon, you would start to see people come out to the Rivers of America with blankets.  They would take these blankets and essentially “mark” their territory for the show.  From other annual pass holders and other blogs I’ve read online, these people were referred to as the “blanket brigade”.  I’ve heard in some instances that some of these people would lay out their blankets and ask one of the other blanket brigaders to “watch it for them” and they would go off to do other things.

I remember on several of my recent trips seeing the same older gentleman in a rascal scooter with two six foot tarps on either side of him right in the middle of the prime viewing area.  He was there every time I went to the park.

2014-08-22 210934 - Disneyland Fantasmic Pirate ShipWhat has been frustrating for me is this is my absolute favorite show at Disneyland.  It’s another one of those things that takes me back to my childhood and since I’ve been going again, I’ve never been able to get a closer center viewing area than the third section back.  On my fist trip a year and a half ago, I managed to get a seat right on the railings to the Rivers of America…but it was a side view.  We were close enough to get wet from the water screens but we couldn’t see much of what happened on the stage.  That particular viewing area was a 2 hour wait with a 3 year old…that was tough.

A couple of times, I’ve gotten a spot right on the railing of the third section back.  So it allowed me to stand my son up on the railing and not have to hold him in order for him to see the show (BTW, he also loves this show), but it was still a tough viewing area.

For my son’s birthday this last year, it was just he and I that got to go the park.  A little Father-Son bonding time.  I had decided as we left from the previous trip to stop by City Hall and buy tickets for he and I to do their dessert package.  For $54.00 per person, you got an actual “seat” in the second section back (that’s right, further back than the blanket brigade) and a dessert box and drink.  The dessert box was huge and had a lot of stuff in it but one of them was plenty for my son and I.  I ended up bringing the second box back to2014-08-22 211910 - Disneyland Fantasmic Malificent Dragon my hometown for my wife.  Now, here was the other downside of this $108.00 adventure that I decided to try with my son on his birthday…people could check in and pick their seats 2 hours before the show.  The line to check in started forming 2 hours before you could check in.  So 4 hours before the show, people got in line to choose their seats for Fantasmic premium viewing.  I wasn’t going to do that and when I got there to check in, they tried to tell me that my 4 year old son and I weren’t going to be able to sit anywhere near each other.  Um…..no.  After about 10 minutes and several conversations with what I would think was “park entertainment management”, we got seated with he in one row and I was seated right behind him.  The next issue, there was a large pillar on our left hand side so the entire left side of the “stage” was impossible to see.  We couldn’t see the second half of the Peter Pan sequence.

So let’s not forget, I did the dessert package so that we could sit down, have a good viewing area and not have to spend 2 – 4 hours before the show staking out our territory.  All this because as of about 2 hours before the first show, the entire first section of the viewing area was completely full of people.

There was one other option before the Fastpass.  You could hover around the Rivers of America as the first show was ending.  As everyone is exiting the area, you could get a fairly decent view and the show started about an hour later.  I however, had a 4 year old and staying up until midnight is a challenge.

2014-08-22 211922 - Disneyland Fantasmic Malificent DragonSo that was then.  Now, there are separate viewing areas that are color coordinated and depending on which option you take, you get a different viewing area.  You can get to the park and just get a Fastpass, you can eat at 4 different restaurants and do the Fantasmic dining package: Blue Bayou, River Belle Terrace,  The Hungry Bear Dessert Package and Aladdin’s Oasis Grab ‘N Go.  All the packages are different prices and I’m assuming that your viewing area is based on how much you paid for dinner.

So what I think is going to happen is there is the best seating area and that is for people that do the Blue Bayou dinner package.  Then a slightly less desirable, but still great area for the River Belle Terrace dinner package.  Then another one for the Hungry Bear Dessert Package.  Another for the Aladdin’s Oasis Grab ‘N Go package.  And then the rest of the area for the regular Fastpasses that were handed out on Big Thunder Trail.  You can also line up 90 minutes before the show for a chance at stand by seating if there’s room but there’s no guarantee.

So the point of this is that I’m going next week and going with at least 2 people that have2014-08-22 212132 - Disneyland Fantasmic Mark Twain Mickey Mouse never seen the show.  So I’m going to pick one of the above options and see how the process works and what kind of seating is available for which packages.  When I come back, I’ll complete this blog entry with the results of how things went.

Personally, I did not like the blanket brigade…AT ALL.  I hated that in order to get decent viewing for the show, I had to camp out for 4 hours.  I always thought that maybe 2 hours before the show, they should have cleared out and blocked off the area and 1 hour prior, opened it up on a first come, first serve basis.  I understand why they couldn’t do that though.  It would have been a mad dash of people running, pushing and falling to try to get the area they wanted.  Fights would have started.  It would have just been ugly.  So I get it…but people staking their claim 4 hours ahead of time?  And 72 square feet of area? That’s excessive.

Check out the updated page on Disneyland’s Fantasmic Fastpass…

Bus Vs. Tram

2014-08-23 082700 - Disneyland Bus2014-08-23 173650 - Disneyland Tram

     VS.

 

 

 

Now, I’ve talked to lots of people about the difference between parking in the Toy Story parking lot and taking the bus to Disneyland or parking in the Mickey and Friends parking structure and taking the tram.

The Mickey and Friends parking lot is a six story parking structure with about 10 lanes of inbound traffic.  Five of the six levels provide covered parking and the oversized vehicle parking lot, the Pinocchio parking lot, is located next to the Mickey and Friends parking structure.  The tram station has four loading and unloading zones for high capacity tram cars.  The parking structure is relatively close to the park so it’s a 5-10 minute walk should you choose not to take the tram.

The trams carry a lot of people to and from the park but there is a downside. First thing in the morning, right after the fireworks and in the last hour of the park being opened, the lines to get on the tram are insanely long and it can take a very long time to get on one.  I’ve waited 4 and 5 trams to get on and get back to my car.  Then, once you get back to the parking structure, depending on where you parked, you have as much as a 10 minute walk to your car.  The parking structure is huge and if you don’t get there are the right time, you end up in row 1, which sounds good but is actually the furthest row from the escalators and elevators down to the tram.  Also, if you get there first thing on what the park anticipates to be a busy day, you end up in the Pinocchio parking lot and if you were going to Mickey and Friends to park in covered parking and keep your car cool in the summer, that will backfire almost every time…it has for me.  On some mornings, you will make the turn onto Disneyland Drive from Ball Rd and find the ramp to enter the parking structure blocked by the Anaheim Police Department and signs directing you to other parking lots like Pumba (on the opposite side of the park) or what I believe is called the Simba parking lot ( I can’t find it on any website…even Disneyland’s but it’s a parking lot straight down Disneyland Way, past the Downtown Disney parking lot and just south of the Paradise Pier Hotel).  Now, you can get past the Anaheim Police Department at the parking structure ramp if you have someone in the vehicle that is special needs.

Now, the Toy Story parking lot is a smaller parking area but it is still a good size.  There are benefits to parking in Toy Story.  The main one being that I have never waited more than 2 buses to get on and in the summer or winter months, the buses are cooled or heated.   I’ve ridden the tram in the winter and froze my face off.  Also, getting back to your car after the bus ride is not even a 5 minute walk, even if you’re parked in the farthest corner of the parking lot.  Most tourists don’t know about the Toy Story parking lot so there’s usually no issue on them running out of parking or closing the lot unlike the Mickey and Friends parking structure.

When I started writing this a while back, in my mind, there was a clear winner in this battle.  My first 7 or 8 trips to the park over the last year and a half, I refused to park anywhere else other than the Mickey and Friends parking structure…unless I was forced to park somewhere else.  Now I’ve never parked in the Pumba lot but a friend of mine (who is also a Disneyland fanatic) recently made a trip to the park and when she made the turn onto Disneyland Way, she was redirected to the Pumba lot.  They apparently direct the traffic on a small access street that actually goes around the perimeter of California Adventure and comes out on the east side of the park onto Disney Way, where the busses would come into the park.  Oddly enough, the last part of this drive on the east side of the park, is the original entrance to the parking lot when it occupied the lane that is now California Adventure.  I have however, parked in the Simba lot and that one is a pain.  There is no transportation from the lot to the park.  you have to walk through the parking lot, through the Paradise Pier Hotel parking and driveway area, into the west end of Downtown Disney between the Disneyland Hotel and the AMC theater.  Then, if you’re there before the park opens, you have to walk past the Monorail station that could take you into the park if it was open and all the way through the rest of Downtown Disney.  This is a long walk and the first time I had to park in this lot, we did it with a 3 year old.  I swore I’d never park there again and I haven’t.  There’s a trick to get into the Mickey and Friends that we’ll cover on another blog that I’m working on.

parkinglot_frontNow some people have asked me why I like the Mickey and Friends parking structure more than any other parking lot at the resort and my answer has always been the same.  For the few trips we made when I was a kid, DCA didn’t exist…it was THE parking lot.  15,167 parking spots divided into 19 areas named after Disney character.  That’s how you remembered where you parked.  “We’re parked in Pinocchio 7”.  This system is still in place in all of the Disney parking lots.  But for me, the defining thing about parking in the old lot was there was a central driveway down the middle of the lot and you could ride a tram to the front gate.

So when I started coming to Disneyland again and found that what I remembered as the parking lot was gone, the Mickey and Friends parking structure gave me that experience on the tram that I remembered from my youth.  To me, you weren’t at Disneyland until you got on the tram.  The Toy Story parking lot transportation system was a public bus…that wasn’t magical.  It felt like my car broke down and I had to ride the public bus to get to where I needed to go.

So there it is.  The Mickey and Friends parking structure is better.  Especially for people that remember the experience of the trams from the old parking lot.  However, on my last couple of trips I have started to change my opinion slightly.  The tram experience still makes takes me back to my childhood experiences…and that’s priceless.  But I have been able to manage my time much better in the Toy Story lot.  When I go to the park, I got for rope drop as many days as I can.  If I decide to park in Mickey and Friends, I have to leave my hotel 30 minutes earlier than I would if I parked in Toy Story.  The reason is you never know if you’re going to have to wait in a long line of cars to pay for parking,  or get rerouted to another parking lot, walk from that new lot, wait in an insanely crowded tram depot for several trams to go by.  In the Toy Story lot, you park, walk for a minute or two to the bus and it leave within a couple minutes.  Much faster and no waiting.  Next, when you get to the park and get to bag check, the tram side of the promenade has long lines from people coming from the resort hotels and the trams which are operating at full capacity to bring the guests into the park.  The bus side has virtually no wait.

Next, if you need to go a ticket booth to upgrade to an annual pass, or get your annual pass or anything else, the tram side line at the ticket booths are crazy.  The bus side, you can usually walk right up to a window.

So, here’s my final answer: park in Mickey and Friends if you want the authentic Disney experience and park in Toy Story if you’re looking for time management and speed.  My heart is still with the tram but I don’t live in California and my trips are short and numbered.  I have to make the most of my time.

Thanks for following.  I hope you enjoyed reading.  Stay connected and look out for these upcoming blogs:

  • Fantasmic Fastpass
  • Disneyland Tips for the Novice Park Visitor
  • The Haunted Mansion 45th Anniversary – Part 2