Ah Hollywood Studios. My favorite park at Walt Disney World. While exploring the park this week, I decided to take a big plunge for the sake of another review. One that I think many of you with little ones who are fans of Fantasmic! will find interesting. But I have a confession to make. The nighttime spectacular is actually one of my least favorites in the Florida parks. I think Fantasmic! at Hollywood Studios is nowhere near the spectacle seen on the Rivers of American at Disneyland. To be frank, my absolute favorite nighttime show at this park is actually Disney Movie Magic. But my niece loves Fantasmic!, and I was hoping to try out Hollywood Brown Derby too. So I decided to kill two birds with one stone and try the Fantasmic! Dinning Package at the park's signature restaurant.
I first want to point out that the price of the dining package varies based on where you dine, which is fair. A meal at Brown Derby is not going to compare to Mama Melrose's. I won't lie to you. The price it steep at $62 per adult and $22 for ALL children at Brown Derbry. However, given the hefty prices at Brown Derby, this felt like a good way to try the restaurant because no matter how it turned out, I would get an additional experience on top of it. So for me, it was justified enough to at least try.
For a mixture of reasons, I actually booked a lunch reservation at Brown Derby for 1pm. I feel that Hollywood Studios gets jammed packed with evening entertainment, and dinner time slots can sometimes collide with showtimes. Therefore, lunch simply worked out in the schedule for me on this particular day. I would have preferred dinner, however since my husband was not traveling with me, I wouldn't be able to enjoy a romantic evening with him anyway. So onwards I went to the very center of the park to enjoy lunch.
The Hollywood Brown Derby is surprisingly small once inside. But the dark lighting, wood panelling and romantic lamps makes the space feel very cozy. A fantastic break away from the crowds. Our waiter began our meal by giving us our passes that would get us into the Hollywood Hills Amphitheater later in the evening to see the show. He reminded us that in order to be seated in the VIP section of the theatre, we would have to arrive no later than 30 minutes before showtime and that seating actually begins 90 minutes before the show. In this case, Fantasmic! was performing only once at 8:30pm. He finished his introduction by taking our order.
As we waited for our bread basket to arrive, I took a small tour of the restaurant. I absolutely love the caricatures lining nearly every single wall inside the restaurant. Movie buffs like me will definitely spot out several Hollywood legends. The gold derby lamp shades are stylish and a cute nod to the restaurant. I returned to the table to be greeted with our basket of bread. Beautifully baked white rolls with soft butter sprinkled with pink Himalayan salt. I was starving at this point because the sun go to me, so these perfectly made rolls really hit the spot.
I ordered a Hollywood Manhattan as my drink, because let's face it, it's the Brown Derby. However, I must point out that the dining package does come with a non-alcoholic beverage included in the price. I wish that it would include alcohol for the adults given the price, but I got over it. My Manhattan after all was exceptionally strong and perfectly mixed together. Served in a beautiful, crystal martini glass.
Then came our entrèes. I already knew what I was going to order before I even stepped foot inside the restaurant, but the waiter confirmed my choice. To really make the dining package worth the price, it's best to go for the most expensive item on the menu. The charred filet of beef which comes with saffron potato mash, buttered asparagus, green peppercorn reduction and sun-dried tomatoes ketchup. The beef was cooked to a perfect medium temperature. It was perhaps one of the best steaks I've had at Disney World. Incredibly soft, very juicy and perfectly seared on the exterior. I loved the crunchy yet rich asparagus on a bed of mashed potatoes. However, the saffron flavor didn't really come out of the potato. Finally, the unique sun-dried tomato ketchup was very interesting. It was not too strong in flavor, and the perfect little side condiment.
Desert was a mixed bag of reactions. The regular menu at Brown Derby is simple a trio of desserts and you get to choose the trio from a list of six. When you purchase the dining package, you are given two mini desserts and sadly there is no choice. You are given the infamous grapefruit cake and a banana toffee cake. Not the best choice of two because in my opinion, both options have very distinct flavors that guests will either love or hate. Personally, I really enjoyed the grapefruit cake. I hate grapefruit itself, but this was surprisingly not as bitter as I expected. The sponge cake was incredibly soft and moist, and the grapefruit flavor is not too overpowering. There is a very subtle hint of sweet flavor in there. But I suspect many will dislike it. I personally hated the second dessert option because I distaste banana flavored desserts so that was a hard pass for me.
At the end of the meal came the bill. I was expected a big hit, and it came. After you add in the cocktail, tax and tip, my bill was at $100 for just me. I've only ever splurged like that at Disney when I dined at the California Grill. While Brown Derby had great food, a relaxing ambiance and disntict vintage Hollywood flair that I adore, it didn't quite impress me like California Grill. But I was satisfied with my meal and our server Alec was outstanding.
After a few more hours enjoying the park, it soon came time to head to the end of Sunset Blvd to watch the show. This was when I was reminded of my frustrations with both FP+ reservations and dining packages with nighttime shows. I find it nuts that you still have to arrive to theatre as early as someone in the standby line to get an extra good seat. You don't have to, because after all what you've paid for is guaranteed seating. I entered the theatre about 45 minutes before showtime and got perhaps the best seat I've ever scored at Fantasmic! I know that years ago reserved seating was elsewhere, but now when you book a dining package you are sat in the central Mickey section of theatre. I happened to score a seat about midway up from the front row and it was a superb view.
Now as I stated before, Fantasmic! is not my favorite and I think it's time for an update of sorts. I do enjoy that there is a Pocahontas section because she is a character that doesn't get a lot of attention. But I do question how relevant the movie and character is to kids today. I'm sure she has her fans, but it feels odd here at Hollywood Studios without the setting of Frontierland like you get in the California park.
By the final sequence of the show, which is the best, the villains came out. The Evil Queen works some spells to make a nightmare for Mickey. And the terrifying Malifecent dragon towered the lagoon breathing fire down below. This was the first time since seeing the show years ago that I actually got goosebumps. I haven't felt the drama and emotion of the strory thanks to the magnificent score in many years. Having a prime view really does make a difference. And despite feeling that the price of the dining package was a little steep, I understood why many would opt to do this once I finished the entire experience. It does simplify your day at Hollywood Studios by freeing up a Fastpass+ and not being stuck with a mediocre sideview of the show.
In the end I did enjoy the Fantasmic! dining package and would recommend it to others. With a few stipulations. First of all, you have to really enjoy Fantasmic! to make this worth your money. If you've never seen the show or it's been a long time and your struggling to choose between this and the fireworks show, I would save a night doing the dining package and show alone and visit the park again on a second day. If you happen to visiting Disney for a week or more and have a half day when you arrive, this could be a great way to start your trip. Check-in to your hotel, get settled and have a date night at your favorite restaurant with the VIP seating of Fantasmic! You can save the fireworks for your full Hollywood Studios day.
But my final recommendations is to maybe choose a different restaurant. I do enjoy some of the dishes here, but I now find visiting the lounge to be the way to go. You can splurge if you want and order off of the full menu at the lounge, or choose to enjoy drinks and small plates. You don't have to commit to such an expensive dining package. If you're on the dining plan, the package is eligible for 2 table service credits if you choose Brown Derby, another reason to maybe skip this. The two remaining restaurants only count as 1 table service credit with the dining package, an excellent use of the plan. Currently, the two other restaurants that offer the package are Hollywood & Vine and Mama Melrose's. Not the best restaurants at Disney World, but again if Fantasmic! is really important to you and your family and you can work with these menus, it's not a bad idea.
I think in the end the real way to to go at this show could be the Dessert & VIP Experience option. Priced at $39 for adults and $19 for kids, it is cheaper than any dessert party in Walt Disney World. Simply because it's not an all-you-can-eat experience. You can have a heftier lunch at a restaurant of your choice, and end the night with some desserts and a prime view of Fantsmic! Looks like I am going to have to go back and try out this version just to report back.