Welcome to Jim Hill Media - Entertainment News : Theme Parks Movies Television

Where to go to get dinner and a show while vacationing in Orlando

Where to go to get dinner and a show while vacationing in Orlando

Rate This
  • Comments 5

For nearly 40 years now, it's been a key component of a Central Florida vacation. That - for one night - you take a break from the theme parks and then head indoors to enjoy a bit of dinner theater.

Of course, the real pioneer of this Orlando entertainment tradition is the Hoop Dee Doo Revue. Which has been entertaining WDW Guests (appropriately enough) in Pioneer Hall at Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground since the Summer of 1974.


Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

For the longest time, Hoop Dee Doo was really the only game in town. Disney pretty much had a lock on the Central Florida dinner theater market until British entrepreneur Robert Earl came to Orlando in the early 1980s.

Mind you, this was before Earl had made his fortune founding the Planet Hollywood and Earl of Sandwich restaurant chains. Back then, Robert was just a guy who was looking to take a concept that had proven to be highly lucrative for him in London (i.e. "Shakespeare's Tavern," an entertainment-based restaurant where performers playing comic versions of great characters from English literature regularly wandered through a highly-themed dining hall and then entertained the patrons with bawdy songs & ribald stories) and then bring it to the world. Disney World, to be precise.


Please note the never-built theater complex towards the back of this
piece of concept art. This is where Robert Earl hoped to stage his
family-friendly version of "Shakespeare's Tavern" at Epcot's UK
pavilion. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

In the early 1980s, Earl met Disney World executives about possibly adding a more family-friendly version of "Shakespeare's Tavern" to Epcot's UK Pavilion. So that WDW Guests would then have something new to experience as they wandered around World Showcase.

Unfortunately, Disney's then-management team (this was prior to Michael Eisner coming on board as the Mouse House's Big Cheese in September of 1984) said "Thanks but no thanks." That Walt Disney World already had a dinner theater experience and it was the Hoop Dee Doo Revue. More to the point, that if Mickey was going to develop any shows for the WDW Resort, that they'd then do so in-house via the Imagineers.


Gone but not forgotten

But Robert Earl was not to be deterred. Having received the brush-off from Mouse House management, he just found financing elsewhere and then went off & built his dinner theater experiences outside of Disney World property. By the late 1980s, Earl had three of these businesses up and running in & around Orlando: Fort Liberty along 192 and King Henry's Feast & Mardi Gras out on I-Drive.

And given how successful these three dinner theaters were, dozens of other restauranteurs then tried to replicate what Robert & Disney were doing. Often with little or no lasting success. How many of you remember unique dining / entertainment experiences like the American Gladiators Live! Or the Fortune Feast Game Show and Dinner?


Another favorite that faded fast

Yeah, Central Florida can be kind of a tough market for dinner theater. Just ask the folks who financed Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede Dinner & Show. That $28 million complex opened with great fanfare in  June 2003 only to then quickly & quietly close its doors in  January 2008. Reportedly done in by a tough-for-tourists-to-reach location over by the Orlando Premium Outlets Mall.

These days, the dinner theater shows that continue to thrive in and around Orlando ... Well, they do so not just because these entertainment enterprises are all easy-to-get-to locations. But also because - year in & year out - these dinner theater shows give Central Florida visitors great value for their tourism dollar. Delivering fine food and a fun family-entertainment experience at a very affordable price.


A castle in Kissimmee. Photo by Jim Hill

First up is the Medieval Times Dinner Tournament. Which has been entertaining tourists at this highly themed location in Kissimmee since 1983. Once you cross the moat, you'll find yourself back in the 11th century. Where you'll then enjoy a four-course meal as you watch knights do battle inside of an immense area. Where - while dressed in authentic suits of armor - they'll joust at full tilt while riding beautiful Andalusian horses.

Now please keep in mind that the story that Medieval Times Dinner Tournament is telling is set in a time before the invention of utensils. Which means that you'll be eating your herb-roasted chicken and/or barbeque spare ribs with your hands. But given how tasty the food is at this particular dinner theater, I don't imagine that you'll mind licking your fingers in order to clean them off.


Photo by Jim Hill

Next up is Arabian Nights, which initially arrived on the scene in Central Florida back in March of 1998. This dinner show is an equestrian extravaganza with over 50 talented horses prancing around inside of a 90,000 square foot stadium. As you dine on prime rib or lasagna, you'll be treated to a 22-act production. Where Arabians, Andalusian, Lipizans, Palominos, Quarter Horses, Belgians and Percherons go through their paces. Doing tricks and stunts that are sure to dazzle everyone seated in this 1001-seat venue. (1001? Arabian Nights? Get it?)

Anyway ... If you and/or any of your family members are real horse fans, then you ought to yourself to come by Arabian Nights an hour or so prior to showtime. That way, you'll then get the chance to enter the Great Hall early and do a meet-n-greet with some of the four-legged stars of this popular dinner theater experience.


Photo by Jim Hill

Of course, if you prefer swordplay to horseplay, then you need to set sail for the Pirate's Dinner Adventure. Now this particular Orlando area dinner theater opened back in May of 1996, long before Disney began making its super-popular "Pirates of the Caribbean" movies. So while you won't find anyone like Captain Jack Sparrow out here on I-Drive, you're sure to enjoy a full evening of family-friendly fun, food and interactive entertainment.

And when I say "interactive," I mean interactive. The climax of the Pirate's Dinner Adventure show comes with the younger members of the audience are recruited to come battle these buccaneers. So be sure and have your cameras ready when these new members of the British Navy make their appearance and get ready to storm the ship.


Photo by Jim Hill

What's that you say? Real pirates weren't family-friendly. These rogues drank rum while they hung out with loose women  and then told ribald stories & sang bawdy songs (Hmmn. That sounds familiar for some reason). Recognizing that there might be some visitors to Orlando who'd then be in the market for a more risqué dinner theater experience, the folks behind Pirate's Dinner Adventure just opened an adults-only, after-hours establishment known as the Treasure Tavern.

You get the idea that this dinner show is not intended for kids when - as you walk through the door - you're immediately handed a flagon of Treasure Tavern's signature drink. Which is rum punch. Then Gretta (i.e. the tavern's outrageous barmaid) serves as your host for a two-hour long experience. Which will feature live music, all kinds of comedy plus daring acrobatic acts.


Photo by Jim Hill

And did I mention the food? We're talking a fresh garden salad, slow roasted prime rib, opera cake, and a full liquor bar. Which will hopefully make it that much easier to get in the true pirate spirit for an hour or two.

If you prefer thinking to drinking ... Then there's another International Drive establishment that you have to check out. And that's Sleuths Mystery Dinner Show. This is (after Hoop Dee Doo Revue, of course) the Orlando area's oldest dinner theater experience. Since 1980, both locals and tourists have been trying to solve these hilarious who-dun-its. Which - given that you actually witness the murder and then get to interrogate all of the suspects - sort of redefines the idea of "interactive."


Photo by Jim Hill

Mind you, the menu always stays the same at Sleuths Mystery Dinner Show (i.e. succulent Cornish game hen, thick slabs of prime rib and/or a vegetarian option). But the mysteries keep changing. There are currently 13 different crime-laden comic scenarios that this talented cast of performers plays out. So depending on which night you come through the door, you could find yourself in the middle of a wedding that goes horribly wrong, a celebrity roast which takes a homicidal turn, even a high society pre-fox-hunt banquet where it's the hunters who suddenly become the prey.

There are - of course - other dinner theater experiences to be found around the Orlando area. But as the Walt Disney World Resort gets ready to celebrate its 40th anniversary, I thought that it might be fun to take a look at some of Central Florida's other long-running shows. Which (obviously) include Medieval Times Dinner Tournament, Arabian Nights, Pirate's Dinner Adventure and Sleuths Mystery Show.

And if you're looking for tickets for any of these long-running dinner theater experiences ( or the recently opened Treasure Tavern Show) ... Well, I think I know some folks who can help you out there.

Your thoughts?

Blog - Post Feedback Form
Your comment has been posted.   Close
Thank you, your comment requires moderation so it may take a while to appear.   Close
Leave a Comment
  • * Please enter your name
  • * Please enter a comment
  • Post
  • Orlando's an excellent place for when you're looking for some adventure. This is what travel agents might charge around a $100 and that is just a burden. Instead, your solutions look nice.

  • www.waydm.com/.../ghaziabad

    www.waydm.com/.../faridabad

  • sagetech.supportphone-number.com

  • I'm going to Orlando and I suppose that it would perhaps be something really special. The hardwood floor refinishing denver team had told me of a few places and I suppose that it would help me out as well.

  • When ever we are talk about food we wish to have some good restaurant list where we go easily and have dinner as well.But some time we have not much resources for it and we just become more creative for it and doing some fish caught.These are good restaurant that you mention for food dinner.

Page 1 of 1 (5 items)