We’ll drop by the Polynesian Village Resort to check out Disney’s Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show. Two shows are scheduled each night on Tuesdays through Saturdays with the first show beginning at 5:15pm and the second at 8:15pm. The first show is typically more popular with the Tables in Wonderland discount only being good on the second show. Check-in begins an hour before showtime behind the Tiki Shrug in the Polynesian’s main lobby.
Luau Cove, where the show takes place, is not the easiest building to find, particularly if you don’t know where you’re going and it’s dark. But you’ll basically take a left outside the Great Ceremonial House and follow the twisting pathways until you find it. Or worst case scenario – just tweet me and I will stumble over from Trader Sam’s and sort of show you the way.
A couple hundred people should be headed in the same direction. At least one person should know where they’re going.
Seating is broken up into three categories and you’ll choose which section you want to sit in when you make your reservation online here or by phone. Unfortunately, while you can pick your section, you can’t pick your exact seats like you might be able to at a concert. Because of that, there are some seats in Category 2 that offer better views of the stage than Category 1.
My recommendation would be to go with Category 1 for $12 more per person than Category 3. This is the seating section taken from the stage.
Category 2 on the left and Category 3 on the right.
Tables should be assigned at check-in so it may behoove you to arrive towards the beginning of that process and request a center seat in your section closer to the stage.
But your seat will be on the lousy side if you opt for Category 3.
This picture was from the center-most seats in Category 3 closest to the stage. And while I have a decent enough view, the ceiling does get in the way, the pillar is going to make photography challenging, and you sort of feel removed from the energy of the show.
The Luau is two credits on the Disney Dining Plan and users are only eligible to book Category 2 or 3. With each credit then only being “worth” $30 before tax and gratuity, it’s a pretty lousy value. One credit on the Dining Plan at Akershus over at Epcot will get you $57 of value per credit since that’s the cost of dinner there, for example. At Teppan Edo, you could put together a meal that easily costs $45 without trying. So you may want to save those Dining Plan credits for something else, particularly since you won’t be eligible for the best seats.
Out of pocket, ‘Ohana dinner currently costs $43 for adults, or $56.51 after tax and 18% gratuity. That means Category 3 at the Luau is “only” about ten dollars more than the other all-you-care-to-enjoy meal at the Polynesian. Category 1would then be about $21.50 more per adult.
Here’s the Luau menu, which is actually not up to date. Dessert is a Pineapple Guava Cake and the Honey-Lime Slaw is no longer on the appetizer platter. Probably without question, the food lineup at ‘Ohana is better and I think just about everyone leaves that restaurant with at least one thing that they love, whether it be the coconut bread, pork dumplings, steak, or bread pudding. On the plus side, the Luau does include a few complimentary alcoholic beverages, including beer, sangria, and wine, in addition to soft drinks.
Back to the experience, Spirit of Aloha is largely outdoors, so the weather may come into play, whether it’s hot, cold, or rainy. The performance portion of the Luau is canceled in rain/lightning, but the meal portion typically proceeds as the seating area is covered. Guests should receive a partial refund should the entertainment be canceled if requested. But if you visit often, you may want to plan your Luau date to be during a warm, but not “hot,” time of year. Nothing about 45 degrees really screams Hawaii, but the humidity of the summer can be unpleasant as well.
Seating is assigned at check-in and a host will walk you to your table, more or less in the order you arrive at Luau Cove, beginning about 15 minutes before showtime. The Luau experience is more than two hours long and there isn’t necessarily a great rush to arrive at the Cove.
In fact, the timing of the meal works out better when you’re seated closer to showtime rather than first thing. If you do check in early, you might lounge about the resort for a while instead of hurrying straight to the Cove. There isn’t a ton to see or do out there.
The meal begins with a few bites of fresh pineapple, a salad tossed with a zesty mango-poppyseed dressing, and a soba noodle salad.
It was a refreshing, if not particularly memorable, beginning. But I’m a sucker for cold noodle salad and this one was tangy and vibrant with some citrus and honey notes and a little crunch from the sesame seeds. The salad consists of little more than greens, but the dressing has a really addictive quality to it with a sweet, ginger, garlicky flavor. The sliced mango on top offers some fruity flavors that contrast with the dressing nicely. I like the bread at ‘Ohana breakfast the most and this is not that – I thought this was a lot denser and less flavorful.
I think the cup of Concha Y Toro Frontera Chardonnay looks larger than it is – it’s only about two gulps worth. It’s also about the cheapest wine you can buy – less than $8 for the large 1.5L bottle. The beer also looked to be on the short side. It didn’t seem like there was a whole lot of checking in to see if anyone wanted drink refills as the tip is already included in the price, which is pre-paid before you arrive. But you may run into prompter service than we did. If you’re using a discount, you’ll need to visit the podium at Luau Cove to apply it.
Additional drinks are also available:
The souvenir cup is kind of cute and the kids might get a kick out of taking home the coconut. But don’t expect any of them to pack a punch.
The main spread.
The vegetable medley offered a few crunchy vegetables and consisted largely of beans and carrots with the single baby corn on top.
The Aloha Pulled Pork had a mild rub applied to it, but I thought the meat had an unfortunately soft texture, like it had been overcooked. It was okay, but it would work a lot better in a sandwich with some sauce and slaw over trying to stand on its own.
I liked the sticky jasmine rice, which had a nice fluffiness to it along with a little bit of sugar from the ginger.
I liked the sweet and smoky sauce on the ribs, but the meat itself was soft, bland, and largely fat. They were okay in this setting, but it’s not something that you would expect to be served at Kona Cafe.
The chicken was my favorite part – juicy and fresh tasting with a flavorful, smoky rub with some spice on the back end.
The “Child’s Offerings” are available upon request after you’re seated. Choices include Grilled Chicken or Mahi Mahi with Green Beans, Brown Rice, and a Fresh Fruit Plate for Dessert.
If any of that sounds good to the table, I’d suggest ordering at least one as the fish is prepared to order. It had a really nice flakiness to it with the fruit topping adding a burst of fresh flavor. Cheese Pizza or Corn Dog Nuggets with Tater Tots are also available.
Overall, low expectations are the key on the food front, I think. The food is filling and certainly not terrible, but it’s probably not as good as Flame Tree Barbecue.
The “Warm Pineapple Bread Pudding with Caramel Sauce” is out in favor of a pineapple guava cake situation. Like the entree, it was “okay” – a refreshing, relatively light way to end the meal after eating so much meat. The cake is nice and moist (sorry) with the guava filling doing a nice job of making everything taste fresh.
One note on food timing – I’d suggest asking your server to bring the main course out a couple of minutes before one of the two long show stops. Ours was delivered as the show was starting back up and since it was “hot” at that point, we mostly paid attention to eating rather than the performers. And then we twiddled our thumbs during the lengthy break.
The show, which ends over two hours after it begins, gets more and more entertaining as the night wears on. Here, kids and adults are invited up front to learn some dance moves.
The band is also an underappreciated highlight as the majority of the music is performed live. It’s a talented roster.
Officially, “Auntie Wini is hosting a fun-filled luau to say goodbye to one of the local girls who’s headed to the “mainland” for college—and you’re invited!”
But the story is convoluted and never terribly clear about what’s going on. I was under the impression that the girl, Leilani, was returning home rather than on her way out.
But the dancing, costumes, and music are a lot of fun:
Here’s a 13-minute video I took of the fire dancing finale, which is an exciting and impressive way to end the experience. The fire arrives 6:50 into the video, but it may be worth watching the buildup to get a better idea about the quality of the dancing and music.
Overall, the Spirit of Aloha Luau is not going to be a quintessential part of a first vacation for most people. There is plenty of entertainment in the theme parks and arguably better experiences at the resorts. There’s certainly higher quality food. But I’m not sure that the price is necessarily prohibitive versus other meals or experiences. With tax and tip, Crystal Palace (Lunch/Dinner), Garden Grill (Lunch/Dinner), Hollywood & Vine (Lunch), and Tusker House (Lunch/Dinner) are $56 per adult or $10 less than Category 3 seating here at the Luau. At $71 with tax and 18% tip at Akershus, you’re only three dollars away from Category 2 seating. And kids may enjoy the interactive elements of the show and the great finale as much or more than a few brief moments spent with Disney characters.
On the other hand, the food is far from great and the show is probably a half hour too long. It may also be too loud for those sensitive to sound. But it is also a 2.5-hour experience that includes the all-you-care-to-enjoy meal with appetizers and dessert, a couple of glasses of wine or beer, and the show for what may be a reasonable amount of money. I think it’s worth doing once on a 4th or 5th trip or if you’re looking for an experience that you might have passed over on previous vacations. With suitable expectations on the food and an understanding that the performance only gets better, there is a reasonable opportunity for some fun here.
But I’m not sure you’ll be in a rush to return. And that’s probably okay.