As announced yesterday on the Hollywood Studios Blog, Disney will be offering A Fantasmic! Dining Experience for a limited time, December 18-31, 2011. It's far more appealing to me than the year-round Fantasmic! Dining Package, so I'm hoping perhaps this is a trial-run of something which might be later offered year-round.
So, what's the difference? Here's how they stack up according to three of my major criteria:
- Price: While the Dining Package includes a meal at one of the Hollywood Studios table-service restaurants (Brown Derby, Mama Melrose, or Hollywood and Vine), the Dining Experience provides a take-out, quick-service meal which you pick up at a designated location anytime after 11am. Certainly you get a nicer meal at one of the table service locations, but the price difference is significant. Costs for the table service meals vary, as you order from an a la carte menu at two of the locations, but in any case would certainly be higher than the $11.99-$14.99 price point of the adult meals for the Fantasmic! Dining Experience.
(And can we take a moment to notice how funny it is that the Dining Package really is more of an "experience," whereas the Dining Experience allows you to pick up a package? That's gonna be confusing.)
- Time: Table service meals don't just cost you more money -- they cost significantly more time. During the course of an average week-long vacation at Walt Disney World, I'll probably book only 2-3 table service meals on property, some of which is driven by my desire to pack as many attractions into that time as possible. A leisurely table service meal may be relaxing, but given that Disney's meal prices are rising faster than their quality, I'd rather relax back at my hotel. And actually, the Dining Package doesn't save you as much time as you might think: Even with the Package's preferred seating, it's still recommended that you arrive at the theatre 30-40 minutes before the performance. If I plan carefully (attending the last show of the night, checking the crowd calendar for best days at the Studios), I can usually find a fairly good seat arriving 45-60 minutes in advance.
- Flexibiity: Here's the hidden gem: The Dining Experience (where you pick up the package!) allows you to pick up your meal as early as 11:00am. Now, at first I thought I had misread that, since surely I shouldn't be picking up my dinner that early. I'd been caught up in the picnic mentality, thinking that I should be picking up my meal on the way to Fantasmic!, and enjoying it while I wait for the show to begin (a perfectly reasonable strategy, by the way, even if you're having neither a Package nor an Experience). But unlike the Dining Package (where your reservation is associated with a given time for eating), the Dining Experience allows you to pick up your meal at your convenience. Also, not all the options are really what one might think of as a meal . . . unless you consider chocolate dipping sauce a protein.
I suppose I should reserve final judgement, since the Experience has only just been announced, and won't go into production for another couple weeks. But I can tell you that if it were offered during my next trip to Walt Disney World (next week ohmygoshohmygoshohmygosh!), this would be an easy decision for me. I'd book this without a second thought. Once it's actually in production, I'll be interested to hear where the preferred seats are for this group, and what impact this ultimately has on "stand-by" attendees for Fantasmic!