Whenever I have out-of-town friends or family visiting Disney World for the first time, I insist they spend one evening at Pioneer Hall at Fort Wilderness and see the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue. For me, this show epitomizes what Disney is all about. It’s good ol’ family entertainment at its best. Young children, teenagers, parents, and grandparents all find this show extremely entertaining. Even the crankiest curmudgeon will find something to smile about at this extravaganza. It’s a hoot!
During the first few years of Disney World’s existence, there wasn’t much to do after the Magic Kingdom closed (as early as 6pm during the slower seasons). People could attend the luau show at the Polynesian or see a name entertainer at the Contemporary. There was also a lame “midnight” cruise sailing around Seven Seas Lagoon and Bay Lake (with nothing to see along the way). And of course, the Electric Water Pageant could be enjoyed as it floated by. But other than these few entertainment options, it was boring after the sun set during the fall and winter months. Disney realized early on that they needed more nighttime activities to keep their guests happy.
Although the Contemporary and Polynesian hotels had a number of restaurants when Disney World opened, Fort Wilderness had none. Since campers wanted options other than BBQ and campfires, Trail’s End Restaurant (a cafeteria style eatery) found its way to the Imagineer’s drawing boards early on. Plans also called for a large auditorium/theater (Pioneer Hall) to be located adjacent to Trail’s Inn. The original thought was that diners could bring their food into this room and watch nature films and hear guest lecturers. After much consideration, it was realized that most guests would find this type of entertainment boring and new ideas were pondered. It was eventually decided that a live show, with a separate ticket price, would be staged at Pioneer Hall.
During the first several months of operation, a number of different acts performed at Pioneer Hall. At the same time, a new show was being developed by Robert F. Jani, and co-written by Tom Adair, Paul Suter and Larry Billman. On June 29, 1974, the temporary acts were replaced with the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue starring student actors from CalArts, a school created by Walt Disney in the early 1960s. For the next ten weeks, this band of three men and three women entertained guests with corny jokes, sappy songs, and unbridled enthusiasm. The show was an immediate success and the decision was made to make this theatrical a permanent fixture at Pioneer Hall. A cast of professional actors were auditioned and hired and they took over the roles on September 5, 1974. This show has remained virtually unchanged since its opening 36 years ago and has been performed over 35,000 times to more than 10 million guests.
For those of you who have never experienced this rip-snortin’ good time, this is a dinner show with lots of interaction between the actors, serving staff, and guests. There is nothing sophisticated about this evening. It’s just silly fun and good eats. This show is so popular that it’s presented three times a night, 5pm, 7:15pm, and 9:30pm. Reservations are an absolute must and I’ll discuss the details at the end of this article.
Guests are asked to arrive 30-40 minutes prior to the show so they can pick up their tickets at the nearby Guest Services window. For those of you staying at a Walt Disney World resort, tickets can also be picked up at your hotel’s concierge desk.
Arriving 30 minutes before the show should not be looked upon as a negative, but rather a treat. Fort Wilderness is one of the most magical places at Walt Disney World and there is plenty to do while waiting to be seated.
First, there is shopping. The Trading Post offers the typical array of Disney souvenirs and a handful of Fort Wilderness specific merchandise.
For the kids, there are nearby jungle gyms and a swing set. In addition, horseshoes, giant Jinga, and a few other games are available to pass the time.
Want a mechanical foot massage? Then try “Barrel of Fun.” For 25¢ you can cool your heels, jingle your chaps, and sooth your sole.
Soft drinks and cocktails are available at Crockett’s Tavern. A limited number of chairs and barstools are available inside and a take-out window offers convenient service for walk-up guests.
A photographer is on hand to pose some fun pictures using humorous props. Your PhotoPass is good here and your pictures will be delivered to you during your meal.
But perhaps the very best thing to do while waiting for the show to begin is to sit comfortably on the porch and while away the time in a rocking chair. The evening air is calming and the scenery is relaxing. Even the dozens of people milling about don’t detract from the peacefulness. However, you must arrive a lot earlier than 30 minutes before the show if you want to snag one of these rockers. Once someone settles in, it takes a crowbar to pry them from nirvana – just ask the people who wanted me to move.
Shortly before show time, the doors to Pioneer Hall will open and people line up to be seated. Since your table has been pre-assigned, there is no need to rush. Once you’re seated, you’ll find bread with honey butter, a pewter kettle filled with a fresh green salad, and pewter plates at each setting. Service is family style so pass the goodies and dig in.
Just as you’re about to finish your salad, a troupe of zany actors barge in from the rear of the theater and make their way through the hall and eventually onto the stage. It’s at this moment you realize you’re in for a hoedown of a good time. Once on stage, this group of six breaks into their own version of the Hoop Dee Doo polka. If this tune sounds familiar, Perry Como, Kay Starr, and Doris Day all had big hits with this song in 1950.
The show stars three couples, Johnny Ringo & Claire de Lune are the dancers, Jim Handy & Flora Long are the singers, and Six Bits Slocum & Dolly Drew add comic relief. Of course they all sing, dance, and bring humor to the evening. After about 15 minutes of antics, dinner is announced and your farmer-clad server appears with all-you-can-eat Ma's Delicious Fried Chicken, Smoked Barbecued Pork Ribs, Mashed Potatoes, and Country Style Baked Beans. The chicken is especially good and it’s estimated that more than 800 pounds of ribs are served each night. Beverages include unlimited Coke products, mike and chocolate milk, coffee, ice and hot tea, pomegranate lemonade, draft beer, wine, and sangria. At one time, your server would bring you specialty drinks from Crockett’s Tavern, but this practice has been discontinued. However, Ultimate Margaritas can be order from your server for $7.25.
If you have special dietary needs, you need to tell the cast member WHEN YOU MAKE YOUR RESERVATION. You will be given a phone number to call at least 48 hours in advance to make arrangements for your meal. Last minute request may be honored, but it will take longer than if you preorder. I ate here once when I was trying to shed a few pounds. I decided to preorder the vegetarian dinner and I have to tell you, this was one of the best meals I have ever eaten at Walt Disney World. It was outstanding. I’m a meat lover, but I did not feel like I was sacrificing for the sake of my diet.
Our hearty band of performers take a break when dinner is served, but they return shortly thereafter to continue their zany performance. The finale includes audience participation and a tribute to Davy Crockett. And let’s not forget about the strawberry shortcake for dessert.
For a number of years, each guest was given a souvenir “newspaper.” This was a comical description of the evening’s events and it also included the menu. Sadly, this keepsake was discontinued in an effort to save money. I have scanned an old copy for your enjoyment and you can view it by clicking here.
I have created a ten minute video of the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue showcasing a few of its highlights. If you’ve already seen this show, then by all means relive some fond memories and watch this video. But if you haven’t seen the presentation and are contemplating doing so, you might want to skip this video. This show is meant to be experienced “fresh” when seeing it for the first time. It’s far more wonderful to be surprised by the corny jokes and unexpected happenings than know what’s going to happen in advance. I can assure you, once you see this show, you’ll be coming back for an encore. For many, this is a “must see” on every trip to Walt Disney World.
Now, on to the logistics.
As I said earlier, reservations are an absolute must. DO NOT show up a Pioneer Hall hoping to be seated. I won’t say it’s impossible, but it’s highly unlikely. You can call (407) 939-3463 or book online 180 days prior to your visit. Pre-payment is required and charges will be levied if you cancel without sufficient notice. Tables are assigned when making your reservation, so the earlier you call, the better your table.
The hall is divided into three categories.
Category 1 is on the ground floor and offers the best views of the stage.
Category 2 is divided into two sections. One section is on the ground floor directly behind Category 1 and the other section is located on the back balcony. Some people actually prefer the back balcony as it provides an overhead view of the entire production.
Category 3 seating is also on the balcony, but located on the right and left sides of the hall. I actually prefer this category over the tables on the ground floor in Category 2.
Guests in need of wheelchair accessibility may only be seated in Category 1. Guests seated in the balcony will be required to climb a flight of stairs as there is no elevator.
For the current prices, either check out the Allears Hoop-Dee-Doo page or call Disney.
The Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review offers specialty celebration cakes for an additional charge. These can be arranged by calling (407) 827-2253 48 hours or more in advance. Celebrations are acknowledged during the show.
I cannot stress this enough; the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Review is a MUST SEE show! Many people would not dream of visiting Walt Disney World without seeing this thoroughly entertaining production. If you already have hotel reservations for your next trip to Orlando, and you’re within the 180-day window, CALL NOW and make your reservation. You will write me later and thank me for making you do this.
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