The Ultimate Review: Spirit of Aloha
When Walt Disney World opened in 1971, a pair of resorts accentuated the first themed gate, Magic Kingdom. Both of them were just a monorail ride away from the park, an enticing proposition for guests. One of these hotels, Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, had additional appeal due to its Luau Cove section. Over the years, Disney put on a show here, one with authentic Polynesian dancers and exotic island cuisine. Today, let’s highlight the Spirit of Aloha dinner at the Polynesian to decide whether you should attend.
In the earliest days of Walt Disney World, back before the park had even opened, Disney hosted plenty of reporters and otherwise interested observers. Most of them holed up at the Polynesian due to the convenience and media-friendly nature of the facility. Disney used these pre-opening guests as guinea pigs of a sort, learning what they liked and didn’t like about the Polynesian.
When the hotel opened to guests, it was the crème de la crème of theme park resorts. Disney threw parties for the Mad Men era of business people on the hotel grounds. These corporate affairs were lucrative for the company, although one problem kept cropping up. A key part of these corporate events took place outdoors, and Disney couldn’t control the weather. Whenever they had to cancel a party due to rain, they had to refund the money.
To avoid additional revenue losses, Disney built Luau Cove, which is to say that they repurposed a current part of the Polynesian. This new space was covered and thereby rain-proof. It became the perfect place for corporate professionals to enjoy a show featuring Polynesian dancers. It was also the earliest iteration of what we now know as Spirit of Aloha.
Thanks to the magic of YouTube, I can show you Spirit of Aloha. This 30-minute video is actual footage from a 2017 performance. If you’re pressed for time, the best description I may provide is that it’s a Polynesian version of Beach Blanket Bingo, at least for part of the show. A wise “Auntie” tries to get two crazy kids realize how crazy they are about one another. Yes, I’ve just described the plot of every romantic comedy ever made before 1990.
The guy’s socially awkward, while the lady is a bit of a tomboy who has a baseball cap fetish. As a baseball fan, I’m all for this, but in stories like this, the women always grow more beautiful when they ditch the hat and let down their hair. It’s that type of show, which is to say archaic in the sweetest possible way.
Along the way, Auntie’s effusive congeniality warms the hearts of all the diners in the crowd. Oh, and the diners in the crowd are fair game. Spirt of Aloha performers occasionally go into the crowd and request/draft “volunteers,” all of whom are expected to go on stage and dance or kiss or whatever. It’s as cordial an experience as you’ll find at Walt Disney World, primarily because the emphasis here is on family fun.
The Polynesian has hosted this show for decades now, with some of the same performers involved for extended periods of that time. And Spirit of Aloha is true to its Polynesian roots, too. Many of the songs played are percussion-intensive. The female dancers wear glorious hula skirts, while the men are oftentimes shirtless as they wiggle. In a certain light, it’s a sexually charged show, although it’s still so Disney friendly that the kids won’t notice.
Spirt of Aloha features several classic Disney songs, including a couple of renditions of one of my favorites, Hawaiian Roller Coaster Ride. The Polynesian’s connections to Lilo & Stitch make the song a perfect inclusion, although I suspect that music from Moana will become a part of the show someday soon, assuming it hasn’t yet. I couldn’t find any 2018 video to verify one way or the other.
The signature portion of the show isn’t about music, though. It’s about fire. Toward the end of the roughly two-hour production, a fire-dancer comes out on stage and proceeds to work his butt off. For 15 minutes or so, he puts on a mesmerizing performance that dazzles in the dark. Disney turns down the lights and gives the fire-dancer a spotlight. It’s an incredible sight to behold and unlike anything that you’d ever expect to see at Disney.
How the Seating Works
There are two performances of Spirit of Aloha each night. They are at 5:15 and 8:15 p.m. The one negative of the earlier show is that the sun hasn’t set when the fire-dancer starts. For me, that takes away something from the show.
The negative for the 8:15 performance – and it’s a huge one – is that you’ll miss Disney’s nightly fireworks displays at the various theme parks. Even when the show started at 8 p.m., it rarely finished by 10 p.m. With the later start, you’re sacrificing one of the best things at Disney to see one of the other best things at Disney. The opportunity cost is high.
Spirt of Aloha has three distinct seating sections. These tiers determine pricing. Category 1 has the best seats, the ones closest to the stage. These are also the seats most likely to get picked for crowd participation. You may view that as a positive or a huge negative, depending on how external/internal you are. The price for Category 1 is $72.99 per person at time of publication.
Category 2 is $67.99 per person, although that’s not the only way that you can sit in this section. Disney Dining Plan participants can eat here for “free” in that Spirit of Aloha is a participating restaurant. It does count as a Signature Dining experience, however. So, you’ll pay two Table Service credits per person. I will add that this adds a level of complexity, too. When you book your reservation for the show, you must pay in advance, even if you intend to use the dining plan. Disney will refund your money during your meal, which isn’t ideal.
The cheapest meal possible is in Category 3. In this section, you’ll pay “only” 60.99 per person. At $12 cheaper for each party member, that could wind up as a significant amount of money. Also, the seats in Category 3 aren’t that bad. Every table at Luau Cove has a good view of the show. The only downside is that in the event of light rain, I’ve noticed that this section can get wet, even under cover. The wind seems to blow into parts of these sections more.
Anyone who has eaten at ‘Ohana has a good idea of the food available here. Spirit of Aloha serves several meal courses, starting with the divine Pineapple Coconut Bread that’s also served at ‘Ohana and Kona Café and a hearty salad. The next course is appetizers, which are Pork Dumplings and Coriander Wings. Yes, they’re the same to-die-for wings from ‘Ohana and yes, you’ll have the option to eat as many as you want.
At Spirit of Aloha, your server will provide heapin’ helpin’s of all the foods. Since it’s an All-You-Care-to-Eat (AYCE) establishment, you simply ask for more when you want more. For us, that means lots of wings. The third course is also where we’re likely to ask for seconds (and thirds). It includes skewers of sweet and sour chicken, sirloin steak, and shrimp. In other words, it features many of your favorites from ‘Ohana. Similarly, dessert is the resort’s legendary ‘Ohana Bread Pudding.
Evaluating the food here is simple. ‘Ohana is one of the most popular Walt Disney World restaurants. Spirit of Aloha serves much of the same food. Think of this event as an ‘Ohana dinner with a show…a show with an act that involves fire juggling.
Is It Worth the Money?
This debate is a tense one on Disney forums. Frankly, some people just don’t like Spirit of Aloha. They deem the show antiquated and the prices unreasonable. I…am not one of those people. My family attends Spirit of Aloha much more often than we eat at ‘Ohana for dinner. That meal costs $45 on its own, making the show somewhere between $15 and $27. To us, that’s a tremendous deal for a delightful two-hour performance.
I highly recommend Spirit of Aloha to you and yours. At a minimum, you should try it once and make up your own mind.