Pros and Cons of Dinner Shows at Walt Disney World
Are you a fan of dinner and a show? If so, you’ll love a Walt Disney World vacation. In addition to all of their other wonderful restaurants and show attractions, Disney hosts a pair of dinner shows. Both of them are delightful ways to spend an evening…but which one is the best? Here’s what I think of the two dinner shows at Walt Disney World.
Something that amuses me about the dinner show conversation is that a different Disney fan might feel exactly the opposite of me. Both of the entertainment activities have their supporters.
Families who have chosen to attend these events as part of their regular Disney vacations are extremely (and understandably) attached to their preferred show. Diminishing them in any way might be taken as a personal affront. That’s certainly not the intent here, although I certainly have a strong opinion on the subject.
The conversation was actually more complicated before 2019. Mickey’s Backyard BBQ was another delightful dinner show that had its share of ardent supporters. Unfortunately, Disney has (temporarily?) closed it to construct a new resort, Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge.
Here are a few general things to know about the two dinner shows. First of all, reservations are strongly encouraged. Many events sell out. The relaxed atmospheres at both shows have made them longstanding favorites.
The cost of the shows is similar, although Spirit of Aloha costs a bit more. At the time of publication, Category 3 seating for that show costs $66, while Category 2 is $74 and Category 1 is $78. At Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, the prices are $64, $67, and $72, respectively. All prices listed are for adults.
The category aspect may confuse you. Think of each building as a seating chart akin to a concert. Some seats are better than others. When you pay more, you get a more valuable view. The good news is that your price includes tax and gratuity.
You’ll pay in advance to book a table here, which means that when you’re at the meal, everything that evening is already included. You won’t need to pay out of pocket during the event. My family likes this aspect, as we have one “free” meal that we paid for several months ahead of time.
You could save money by using the Disney Dining Plan, but there are two caveats. It’s only available for Category 2 and 3 seating, and it requires two Table Service credits for one meal. Each show is effectively a Signature Dining experience.
The most significant difference between the dinner shows is the number of presentations. The musical revue plays three times per night, with shows currently running at 4 p.m., 6:15 p.m., and 8:30 p.m. Spirit of Aloha runs at 5:15 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.
Historically, the timing of Spirit of Aloha’s late show worked out well with watching fireworks. In recent years, however, you’re sacrificing a viewing of Happily Ever After to eat here. I’m not crazy about this change.
Boozehounds, take note! Both shows include beer and wine in the event pricing. You can drink until you find the jokes funny!
Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue
I previously discussed Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue in 2017. What’s remarkable about this dinner show is that nothing has changed since then. The stability of the show is its calling card. Since its inception in 1974, Disney’s changed precisely one thing: dessert. Otherwise, the song has remained the same since the earliest days of Walt Disney World.
In fact, cast members from way back when joke that they can still call out much of the dialogue. It’s a byproduct of playing the same character three times daily during your entire Disney career. The gags and songs are nearly identical from what they sounded like during the Gerald Ford administration.
The world has changed mightily, yet this musical revue has stubbornly maintained status quo. In that manner, it’s generational. Parents have shared the experience with their children and then grandchildren, and we’re now up to great-grandchildren in some instances.
Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue is easy to find and even easier to reach. You just take a boat from Magic Kingdom to Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort. You will then follow the crowd to the venue, an interior concert hall on two floors.
There are two primary components to my evaluation of a dinner show. It’s not rocket science. There’s the dinner and the show. At Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue, the cuisine is rustic and robust. You’ll never go hungry here.
The show is decidedly throwback in nature, and that’s by design. It’s intended to be a comfortable experience for guests of all ages. Disney personalizes the event by adding birthday and anniversary elements. They even “score” it by highlighting the person celebrating the best birthday (youngest, oldest, etc.) and the couple claiming the longest anniversary.
The musical pieces and comedy gags are straight from yesteryear. They’re the type of silliness that would seem right at home on Jungle Cruise, but the tunes are catchy enough that you won’t care. And the audience participation element adds a bit of chaos to the proceedings. Kids, in particular, can elevate a show with their antics. The entire performance is endearing and inclusive.
What I like best about Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue is that I could go a decade without seeing it. The instant that I did, it’d be like hanging out with an old friend. We’d share the same jokes while rehashing some favorite memories.
Spirit of Aloha
Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort is home to Spirit of Aloha, and this fact may be relevant to my ranking, as that’s far and away from my favorite place to stay at Walt Disney World. So, an evening at Spirit of Aloha brings back happy memories of previous nights spent (almost) under the stars, watching the show.
This outdoor stadium is covered, but it’s in an open space that can be impacted by inclement weather. I say this to point out that Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue has one key advantage over its compatriot. It never gets rained or snowed out. For that matter, cold weather can close down Spirit of Aloha.
To my mind, that’s the only real negative. The location of Spirit of Aloha can’t be beat, as it’s a monorail resort. Reaching the actual event theater is a bit of a walk, at least from the lobby. In truth, it’s not that much longer to walk from the pool at the Grand Floridian to Spirit of Aloha. Sure, the theater is closer to the Polynesian, but it’s more in the middle of the two hotel campuses than you might expect.
The food at Spirit of Aloha is vastly superior to that of Hoop-Dee-Doo, and I say that as a fan of the latter. You’re basically eating at ‘Ohana, with several courses of food platters, each of which is All You Care to Enjoy (AYCE). When you want more, you ask for another plate, which your server will happily provide.
I’m honestly not sure that I pig out as much anywhere else at Walt Disney World as I do at Spirit of Aloha. For whatever reason, it’s more comfortable asking for refills here than at the restaurant. Since they serve the same bread and many of the same entrees, it’s somehow a better version of ‘Ohana to me. It’s also why I mainly eat breakfast at that restaurant and then choose Spirit of Aloha when I want the dinner items.
The show at Spirit of Aloha is an odd hodgepodge of seemingly divergent ideas. The first half of the presentation is a romantic comedy of sorts narrated by an “auntie” who is friends with both the man and woman involved. They’re clearly crazy about each other yet cannot say the words. Spoilers: everything works out in the end.
After the lovey-dovey musical segment, complete with audience participation, Spirit of Aloha changes to a celebration of Polynesian culture. The hula dancing gets a bit more exotic, and the show-stopping performance at the end is a fire dance. A scantily clad juggler spins a fiery wand in a way that mesmerizes audiences.
Frankly, the back half of Spirit of Aloha is as PG-13 as Disney gets, but it seems perfectly fitting for the time of night and hotel’s theming. It’s a strange juxtaposition with the Disney Channel love story that starts the show, but I love this incongruity.
My family’s made Spirit of Aloha a staple of our visits for many years now, whereas Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue is more of a “once every few years” type of visit. While I enjoy the genteel comedy of the Fort Wilderness show, I’m much more impressed by the showmanship on display at the Polynesian performance. I’m a Spirit of Aloha guy. I understand if you feel strongly the other way, though. There’s no wrong answer here.