Welcome to the future of fireworks and parades at Walt Disney World! In recent weeks, as the final rollout of FastPass+ has concluded in the Disney World parks, I’ve been sharing my experiences using the system as an Annual Passholder at Epcot, as well as at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. Since my last post, FastPass+ has been fully implemented for all Disney World guests, including day-guests not staying on Disney property, and I’ve finally had the opportunity to experience one of the most controversial aspects of the new system. Without further ado, here are my FastPass+ parade and fireworks viewing tips, based on my personal observations at the Magic Kingdom.
Festival of Fantasy FastPass+ Parade Viewing
When the features of FastPass+ were first announced, the private reserved viewing areas for parades and other spectaculars were the aspect I was most skeptical (even cynical) about. Personally, such performances are usually very low on my priority list during a park visit for several reasons. Most of the parades had grown quite stale to me from years of over-exposure, I have an aversion to spending valuable touring time staking out a spot of asphalt just to get a good view, and I can’t abide being crammed like sardines in the crowd that accompanies the procession. So I would normally use that time to take advantage of marginally shorter queues at my favorite attractions. If I did want to see a parade, I’d typically walk up a minute or so before it started, and make do with a partial view blocked by the sea of shoulder-sitting small-fries in front of me. With a limit (soon to be lifted) of only 3 FastPass+ reservations per day, I couldn’t see myself “wasting” one on something like a parade when Space and Splash are beckoning.
But with the debut of Festival of Fantasy, Disney has turned my thinking around. As we’ve previously said, the Magic Kingdom’s new parade is one of the best they’ve done in decades, and it’s a welcome replacement for the previous mothball-worthy daytime production. My first viewing of Festival of Fantasy on opening day was from in front of The Hall of Presidents in Liberty Square, and while I was duly impressed by the costumes and floats, I found the cramped quarters just as frustratingly claustrophobic as always.
Then, a few weeks later, I returned to the Magic Kingdom, this time with a FastPass+ for Festival of Fantasy securely attached to my shiny new MagicBand.
Despite my previous skepticism, the experience was vastly more enjoyable this time around. The parade viewing area is on the inner north side of the central hub, directly facing Cinderella’s castle, and extends approximately from the Liberty Square bridge to the passage towards Tomorrowland. That’s about 150 degrees worth prime real estate, reserved exclusively for a maximum of 350 people (according to cast members staffing the area).
Entering the viewing area was fairly painless, thanks to a small army of tablet-wielding FastPass+ parade facilitators, and once inside I found all the elbow room I could wish for. The typical Disney World parade experience involves standing in a 1-foot-square spot of asphalt for at least a half-hour, unable to shift more than a few inches in any direction without nudging your neighbors. Inside the FastPass+ parade viewing area, the opposite is true; I could walk freely around the viewing area without restriction, or even sit on the ground and stretch out my legs along the curb.
I’ve heard some people report that the FastPass+ parade section is “too close” to get good photographs, which may be true if you are trying to get a wide-angle shot encompasing multiple floats. But I found it to be a fantastic location for capturing details of the cavalcade’s characters, thanks to the freedom to follow the floats as they cross in front of the castle.
Several signature moments, including the steampunk-styled dragon’s dramatic fire breathing, appeared to be timed for optimal viewing from the FastPass+ parade area.
Main Street Electrical Parade FastPass+ Viewing
A few days later, I was back at the Magic Kingdom to relive one of my childhood favorites, the Main Street Electrical Parade. The FastPass+ viewing procedures for MSEP are identical to those for Festival of Fantasy, and I found the experience equally enjoyable. The vintage float designs do tend to look a little better with some distance, but I felt that was outweighed by the lack of crowding, and the ability to walk up only minutes before the parade arrived, which permitted me to take a couple laps on the PeopleMover prior to the parade.
Wishes and Celebrate the Magic FastPass+ Fireworks Viewing
Finally, the experience of watching Wishes — the Magic Kingdom’s signature fireworks show — from the FastPass+ viewing area was perhaps my most magical moment of all. The Wishes FastPass+ area is located on the northeast side of the central hub, near an area known as the “rose garden.” While everyone else is standing on cement, you will be able to stretch out on a grassy lawn, which can feel like your own personal patch of heaven after a day of plodding around the park. One young guest in the crowd I attended with said it was like “a picnic with fireworks,” and I heartily concur.
As a two-for-one bonus, the FastPass+ fireworks viewing area opens early enough for you to catch Celebrate the Magic, the video projection show staged on the surface of Cinderella Castle fifteen minutes before each fireworks performance.
The one disadvantage of the Magic Kingdom’s FastPass+ fireworks area is that it is off-center, so the fireworks don’t appear directly above the iconic landmark like you see in television commercials. But I still thought it looked quite beautiful even from an angle, and managed to capture some surprisingly good shots of the spectacle with my iPhone.
If you can’t secure a FastPass+ for Wishes, be aware that (at least on the night I attended) a nearby section of pathway leading to the former Swan Boat docks was accessible to anyone, providing almost the same view — minus the grass to sit on.
With all the construction currently occurring on the hub, this area may well be closed off, but it’s worth asking a FastPass+ cast member if you are allowed to watch from there.
Final FastPass+ Parade and Fireworks Tips and Observations
Most of the buzz about FastPass+ has revolved around using it for attractions, but I think parade and fireworks viewing may turn out to be the program’s “killer app,” or at least a “sleeper hit.” Using FastPass+ for E-Ticket rides is certainly a great convenience, but by arriving at rope drop and following a good touring plan, you can have nearly the same experience without it. FastPass+ parade and fireworks viewing areas, on the other hand, afford a luxurious VIP-style treatment that ordinary guests can’t have (at least without dropping a boatload of money on an exclusive party). If you are only visiting the Magic Kingdom for one day, and want to experience as many of the “mountains” and other classic rides as possible, I would not necessarily recommend using one of your 3 advance reservations on a viewing area. But if you are here for an extended vacation (or are a local passholder like myself) and don’t need to cram every roller-coaster into a single day, then I strongly suggest you try spending one of your FastPass+ slots on an exclusive viewing area.
A few final tips:
- On-site resort guests can book FastPass+ reservations 60 days before their hotel stay begins, and Annual Passholders and day-guests with pre-purchased tickets can book 30 days out. But viewing areas for the parades and fireworks often don’t become available through My Disney Experience until a month or less in advance. For example, at the time of this writing, FastPass+ reservations for Festival of Fantasy are offered through April 30, but not in May or June. I recommend making your FastPass+ reservations for your preferred attractions as soon as you are allowed. Then keep checking back with the app or website, and switch to a parade or firework viewing area as soon as that option becomes available.
- There is often only one daily performance of Festival of Fantasy, and it is very popular due to its newness. Wishes and Main Street Electrical Parade more often have multiple showings nightly, with lower attendance for the later performances. Therefore, if you must pick only one FastPass+ viewing expereince, Festival of Fantasy is probably your best value.
- Your FastPass+ return window for the parade will begin 15 minutes before step-off time, but the parade won’t actually arrive at the viewing area until ten minutes or so after the scheduled start time. There’s no need to stake out a spot in advance, so feel free to stroll into the FastPass+ parade viewing area just as the parade officially begins.
- On the other hand, viewing Celebrate the Magic is an unadvertised bonus included with Wishes FastPass+ reservations, so you will want to arrive at least 15 minutes before the fireworks start.
Have you had a chance to try FastPass+ parade or fireworks viewing at Walt Disney World yet? Please share your experiences in the comments below!