The new Fantasmic! started up in the summer of 2017, with new effects and sequences that kept the show updated but still the same beloved nighttime spectacular. One of the new additions when the show reopened was FastPass for viewing, something that World of Color in DCA has had since it opened. With this new system came another staple familiar to DCA guests: the Dining Package. With purchase of a Dining Package you could get a meal and FastPass for entry to a special viewing area. We’ve had great experiences with the World of Color packages so we decided to see if the Fantasmic! packages would be worth it.
There are actually three different options for dining packages, much like when World of Color opened. Lowest in price is the picnic package at the Hungry Bear Restaurant in Critter Country. For about $20 you can get a health-conscious entrée, side, and dessert with a drink, fast casual style (pick up your picnic from the counter and go). This package is available for lunch and dinner and gets you a FastPass ticket per dinner purchased. This FastPass I’ve been told is not for a special seating area but for one of the general FastPass areas, which can be hit or miss depending on when you show up to enter the viewing area (much like with World of Color). The middle priced option is the River Belle Terrace, which offers table service barbecue. Each diner gets a FastPass ticket for entry to a special viewing area designated for River Belle Terrace. If you get the latest dinner reservation at 8pm (for an additional $25 per adult and $15 per child) you can sit outside and take in the show from actual seats (although there are possible obstructions). The highest level (apart from the Dessert and VIP packages) is the Blue Bayou, which also has their own designated viewing area. The dining packages with reserved seating begin at 4pm, so you can no longer opt for lunch and still get a FastPass.
We decided to go with the River Belle Terrace, partly because of price and partly because of availability. Although we love the Blue Bayou, it is always packed and getting a table can be an exercise in futility if you aren’t reserving well in advance. We decided to get an earlier dinner slot at River Belle (5pm) and have time to linger over dinner and then do stuff afterwards.
The River Belle serves barbecue since its reinvention a few years ago. We’ve had it before and been reasonably impressed, so we knew we’d be getting some good food. The Dining Package is a fixed price meal with its own menu. You get your choice of soup or salad to start, choice of entrée, and choice of dessert. You’ll also get a drink with your meal, so no worries about how much that Dr. Pepper will cost you. There is a separate kids menu, so check that out if you have little ones.
We love the corn chowder at Storyteller’s Café in the Grand Californian, so every time we see it on a menu we’re suckered into ordering it. Happily, the River Belle’s version is pretty close, albeit with the addition of some fresh bacon crumbled on top. The chowder is thick but not gloppy. The creaminess is also pretty good, although some may wish for a little more. I was pleased it wasn’t incredibly salty, but instead highlighted the sweetness of the corn and the addictive saltiness of the bacon. This was a great way to start the meal.
Busy Bumble went for the brisket sandwich. This pile of awesome was made of thick slices of smoked brisket topped with smoked Gouda, fried onions, and barbecue sauce on an onion hoagie. This was truly something special. There are so many ways this could have gone wrong, but for Busy Bumble this was one of the best dinners she’s had in Disneyland. The meat was fresh and flavorful, truly smoked and not just flavored with “smoke.” The cheese, onions, and sauce provided great counterpoints to the brisket without overpowering it. The sides were also reliably good. The beans are cooked in a sweet barbecue sauce, which makes me think of pork and beans in tomato sauce crossed with standard barbecue beans. The potato salad has firmer potatoes than most but they hold up well with the light sauce and onions. I probably wouldn’t order these on their own but they support the main entrée well.
I went with the spare ribs, something I might have regretted for the mess they made but boy were they good. These guys wanted to fall off the bone, which made for amazingly tender, juice meat and a mess with the sauce on top. With four sets of ribs this was a very generously portioned meal. Like all the entrees with the Dining Package my meal came with beans, but I opted for some tater tots as my second side. No complaints there, especially when they’re coated in yummy seasoning salt. Unlike our most recent visit to the River Belle we did not get wet naps after our meal which is why I mention that mine was so messy. If you order it make sure to bring extra napkins or be ready to wash up in the Adventureland restrooms.
Finally for dessert we had two options and we went with both. I had a lovely salted caramel parfait. This creamy delight was light and sweet, a good counterpoint to my heavier entrée. The saltiness grew stronger as I ate it, but that wasn’t at all bad. I felt like this was something I could finish and enjoy without feeling bloated. In the past they’ve had different flavors (I’ve seen butterscotch, strawberry, and chocolate posted online) so check with your server to see what the flavor of the day is. My only complaint is that the parfait glass is impossible to lick.
Busy Bumble had the signature dessert that has made heads turn: the Maleficent Dragon. This treat is made of spicy chocolate-blackberry ganache (be careful, it is spiked with some serious chile pepper spices), surrounded by caramel mousse, surrounded by chocolate, all on top of a hard chocolate layer reminiscent of a Nestle Crunch bar. Maleficent’s head and the flames on the chocolate dome are all made of chocolate, but the flames on the plate are made of a deliciously sweet and tangy mix of orange and vanilla sauces. As pretty as this was it tasted better, so feel free to clean this off the plate.
When we finished our meal our server asked us which Fantasmic! showing we’d like to attend: 9:00pm or 10:30pm? Knowing that the fireworks, weather permitting, are always after the 9pm show we opted for that one. We were told to report to Cast Members stationed between the lemonade and churro carts across from the Haunted Mansion entrance as early as 8pm to be let in.
It seems up to Cast Member discretion when to start letting people into the queue for the viewing area. We showed up at 7:45pm and were told to wait, but when we came back promptly at 8pm it seemed like some people had entered in the interim. No matter: we were only about 15 people in so it wasn’t a big deal. While in line we chatted with other guests, many who had never had the Dining Package so they had no clue what kind of experience we would have in the viewing area. We knew we’d probably have very good viewing (what did we pay for?) but would we have to stand? Would we use the seats we could clearly see being set up underneath one of the lighting towers? We all agreed that the seats probably weren’t for us (Blue Bayou maybe?), then we wondered how packed would it be once we got in. Would we have to file and fill in to make room for others early or could we choose to make ourselves at home wherever?
We didn’t have to wonder for too long. Cast Members led us down a path, checking and collecting our FastPasses, and taking us to a roped off area right in front of where the path starts uphill from the Pirates entrance. Here’s the view:
Not only would we have a primo view we were told to make ourselves comfortable wherever and sit down. We were also told that we would need to remain seated for the duration of the show and fireworks, if we stayed. No problems here since our feet could use a rest. A few people had some trouble understanding the no standing rule during the beginning of the show and fireworks, but other guests and Cast Members were quick to remind them and they complied just as quickly (except for a woman who insisted on being rude during the fireworks, but not everyone can think of others). It turns out the Blue Bayou crew were just to the left of us, not in the seats: those apparently are for disabled guests and VIPs (no Dessert Party at the time we visited). I found that their seating was no better than ours, so if you’re choosing your Dining Package based on possible seating you’re better off at the River Belle, which is $20 cheaper per plate than the Blue Bayou.
The Dining Package is a great option for those who want the best seating without having to either make a mad dash for better spots in the FastPass areas or camp out in the non-FastPass areas (there are still a few areas where you do not need FastPass, but overall the old tradition of camping out for three hours before the show is gone). The value is especially good if you already intended to have a table service dinner. The food is excellent and the show wasn’t too shabby too, although I miss the actual Maleficent animatronic.