This week on WDW ESCAPE, take a journey of the imagination with us, as we IMAGINE Ohana!
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Welcome to WDW Escape, brought to you by WDW Magazine. The November Issue of WDW Magazine is a veritable foodie Fantasia, a celebration of Disney World Dining at its most delicious.
Here at WDW Escape, we are only too happy to play along with this palate-pleasing plan. In that spirit, make a Reservation of the imagination with us, as we Imagine – Ohana.
Disney Dining is a world of magic in itself, and everyone experiences it in their own way. In some it brings out a competitive streak, as they set their alarms early for Advance Dining Reservations, wearing their victories like a championship belt or a tiara of triumph.
There are others who have honed the art of the Dining Plan, and yearn for its return so they can once again practice their secret skills of squeezing out every last snack point. Some of us seek out the newest options, and some only visit old favorites, and all of us are following our hearts when we do so.
Obviously, there is more to this magic than meets the eye. Sure, part of it is the excellence of the options at hand, offering the sort of indulgences that seem reasonable when you add the corollary “Hey, I’m on Vacation”, but there is more to it than that.
There is also an overwhelming number of possibilities, truly something for every taste. They say that there are more than 200 places to get food in Walt Disney World, from fine dining experiences to Mickey pretzel stands, and every one of them is special to someone. Why should this be? When is a restaurant more than a restaurant? In my family, the answer is “when it is Ohana”.
At the mere mention of the name, many of you have already set sail in island waters of your own delicious imagination. Those who have experienced Ohana need no reminding of what it is. You and I have crossed swords many times in the hunt for Advance Dining Reservations, and shall do so again.
But, given that there are at least 199 other dining options available (or more if EPCOT happens to be having a festival), there must be a few of you who do not yet know the joy of dinner at Ohana.
Ohana is a full-service restaurant located on the second floor of the Great Ceremonial House in Disney’s Polynesian Resort. There has been a restaurant in that space since the resort opened in 1971, though originally it was called the Papeete Bay Verandah, after the capital of French Polynesia, Pape’ete on the island of Tahiti.
Papeete Bay Verandah featured Polynesian food and entertainment, and welcomed guests until September of 1994, when a major redesign took place. On April 12, 1995, the new restaurant opened for the first time, and Ohana was born.
The fact that there have been no major changes made since that day is a testament to just how right they got things, and how many happy “cousins” have been welcomed there. Recent renovations to the Great Ceremonial House have refreshed the look of the resort, but the heart of Ohana remains much as it always has been, and as we would always want it to be.
We all know from “Lilo and Stitch” that Ohana means family, and your server will remind you of that fact every time you are shown to your table, but after one visit, your heart will always remember it. Coming to Ohana is just like coming home.
It isn’t a complicated menu. In fact, I suppose your main options are to “eat” or “don’t eat”, though I have never seen anyone choose the second option. The service is family style, and “all you care to enjoy”, which is part of what invokes the wonderful family meals we celebrate holidays with… but this is something deliciously different.
Almost at once you are welcomed with Signature Ohana bread, Pork Dumplings in Garlic-Chili Sauce, Honey-Coriander Chicken Wings and Ohana Noodles. Oh, those noodles! My children have declared them to be “like cake”, and will happily continue to put them way even after the fire-grilled meats begin to arrive.
There is something about being served meat off something the size and shape of a sword that is extremely satisfying. More so when there are multiple kinds – say, for example, Teriyaki Beef, Spicy Peel-and-Eat Shrimp and Grilled Chicken, and when it just keeps coming. Delicious. Delightful.
And just when you think you can do no more, you realize you have reckoned without the Bread Pudding dessert, served warm with vanilla ice cream and a Caramel sauce that will haunt your dreams in the long, Ohana-less months until you are able to return, triumphant.
We have met other families with an Ohana obsession in our travels. Families who work the day shift, and have never experienced dinner. To them Ohana means family having breakfast. Scrambled Eggs, Sausages and Ham, Potatoes and of course, Mickey Waffles.
All this and one of Walt Disney World’s favorite character breakfasts. The character meets are still on hold at time of writing, but as the world returns to normal, so too will Ohana, and the shared experiences of those ‘day-shift” Ohana families.
I should add that both breakfast and dinner have a menu of plant-based options too, and that my wife, who keeps Gluten-Free, has never found herself short of delicious selections, which makes it easy for us to return time and time again, to share in our Happy Place together.
And as we eat, we tell our stories. The happy moments we have shared in this place. The very first visit, when my daughter, then four, ate two dumplings, a chicken wing and what I have described as “the most expensive single shrimp I ever purchased”, and promptly fell into a deep sleep at the table, exhausted by a week of long walks and new adventures, much to the delight of her brother.
Or visits when they were able to thread the needle between being too young and shy to participate in the coconut races and other entertainment, and being to old and cool to join in. Or the time they forgot that “peel-and-eat” literally means you are supposed to peel those shrimp before you eat them.
We tell our stories like your family tells yours, because this is how we celebrate, together, as a family, in a place that feels like home.
And maybe that is the answer to the question “when is a restaurant more than a restaurant”? When that restaurant is also family. When we are Ohana.