Ever since Disney cut back the showings of Fantasmic! to a few showings per week, getting a seat for this nighttime gala has become a real challenge, with many guests giving up on seeing the show due to the pent up demand for the show. While the decision to make the cut in shows is regrettable, nonetheless, you can still see Fantasmic! if you follow these guidelines to ensure a spot for you and your group.
Always see the last show
If there is one rule you follow when seeing Fantasmic!, it's that on a night when there is more than one showing, you must see the second show. The second show is going to be much less crowded and far easier to get a seat and the time to wait will be far less. Often I hear that guests would go for this option, but someone in their group (kids, grandparents, themselves) can't stay up late enough for the show. If that is the case, invest in an afternoon nap so that you can take advantage of the second show. You will find this simple guideline the most important of all.
Look for consecutive nights
Earlier this year, Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World researchers conducted some tests to see how the schedule is affecting crowds. What they found was that when there were consecutive nights of Fantasmic!, the crowds were considerably less each consecutive night following the previous night. Basically, if there is Fantasmic! on Sunday and Monday nights, the crowds on Monday night were far less. So if you're looking at your calendar and notice two nights in a row when Fantasmic! is being shown, opt for the second consecutive night as it will be easier to secure a seat.
Give yourself time
The reality of seeing Fantasmic requires you to invest some time to see the show. At the very least, consider giving yourself about 45 minutes, although on nights where there is only one show or if you opt for the first show of the evening, you will need to give yourself 60-90 minutes to get a good spot. This large amount of time required is an unfortunate reality that the current schedule has produced. If you're saying to yourself "But Matt, you could do the Fantasmic! Dinner Package instead!", I'd remind you still need to show up at least 30 minutes ahead of time but the more likely scenario is you showing up 40-50 minutes ahead of time to ensure you don't jeopardize your spot and don't forget the seating is at the extreme end of the theater, which presents issues with not only seeing the stage fully, certain scenes are going to be out of sync with the music you hear as well as you'll be able to see backstage, which can ruin the magic for some.
Just like if you want a spot on Main Street USA before Wishes or a spot near the water with no trees in the way for Illuminations, you need to arrive early and stake out your spot. Certainly going to the second show of a night will mean less of a wait, but there is no scenario where you can simply show up a few minutes before show time and be assured of a seat. Long waits are a part of Walt Disney World and so it's important to give yourself plenty of time so that you get to see the show, even if it takes a little while.
Off-peak season (September, January): 3-45 minutes before showtime
Peak season (July, Easter, Presidents Week): 45-70 minutes before showtime
Holidays (Christmas, July 4th, New Years): 80-120 minutes before the first showtime
Location, Location, Location
Once inside the amphitheater, there are plenty of choices as to where to sit. You can consult a seating chart but there are certainly better places to sit or at least guidelines for better seating. Ideally, you want to site about two thirds of the way up from the first row near the water and a little off center. To be honest, with the exception of the two sections on either end of the stage (Ursula, Witch, Hades or Beast), all the sections are comparable. It really comes down to where in the section you want to sit. The first 3 or 4 rows near the water can get you wet, but more importantly I don't think it gives you as good a vantage point to see everything going on. The last row or three are a bit of "nose bleed" seats, in that they are so far removed from the show that personally, I don't like them.
When you're looking for seats, keep in mind most people see an empty row and sit right at the end of it. Generally there are empty spaces in good rows in the middle of the rows. Simply ask if the space in the middle of the row is taken and you may find yourself with some pretty good seats, even if you have to climb over a few people or step on a few toes (that's what they get for not moving all the way down the row anyway). Basically, don't assume the space in the middle is empty because you could potentially pass up some prime seating.
Look for better odds
The strategies discussed above are pretty solid and apply to pretty much every day of the year. However, there are some strategies that can come up depending on if the conditions are right. When it comes to Fantasmic!, no one likes seeing the show in the rain and if it's been raining throughout the day, that's enough to keep most folks from going to the parks that night. Even a typical Florida afternoon downpour will send many running for the resort bus. When it rains for a few hours, many guests give up on the show and you can find an easy time of getting a seat. If you find it to be a rainy day, look at the forecast or at a weather map and see if it looks like there might be a good chance that it wont downpour that night. It's a gamble and you may simply end up wasting a lot of time to see nothing, but a rainy day at Walt Disney World is better than a rainy day anywhere else, right?
During the fall and winter, the Magic Kingdom has nights when Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party or Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party are occurring at the Magic Kingdom and while many guests purchase tickets to attend, many more do not and these guests want to go somewhere for the night. On these nights, expect larger than normal crowds as guests locked out of the Magic Kingdom, will come to either Hollywood Studios or Epcot to spend the night so if you have a choice of two or three nights on your vacation to see Fantasmic!, cross reference those nights with the party schedule and mark those nights off as a possibility.
Speaking of events, the same theory holds true for when there are special events at the Studios. Events such as Star Wars Weekends or ESPN the Weekend draw larger than normal crowds so opt for a Fantasmic! show on a weekday. During other events where the Studios close early and there is no showing of Fantasmic! such as for Night of Joy or Grad Nite, avoid the next scheduled showing of Fantasmic! if you can as those who couldn't see it during those nights, will look for the next opportunity to see it. This all goes back to "avoiding the mob mentality".
That ought to give you a pretty good idea of what you need to do on your next trip to Hollywood Studios to avoid the crowds (somewhat) and get yourself a good seat with hopefully less wait than most people there. With a little planning and maybe some luck, you will be able to enjoy Fantasmic! even if the number of shows are significantly reduced. Once more, I implore you to write to Disney and complain about the cut back as all it's done is inconvenienced everyone even though we still pay the same price.