Review: Hoop Dee Doo Review
Nestled deep in the heart of Disney’s rustic Fort Wilderness is the grand Pioneer Hall, especially charming at Christmas time, decked out in all its sparkling holiday splendor. And if you want the recipe for a rootin-tootin, stompin and hollerin good time, take one part down home entertainment, blend in one part hearty grub, sprinkle with some Disney magic and you have the Hoop-Dee-Doo Review, the musical dinner show which has become a staple at the campground for decades.
There is no mistaking this is country at its essence. There is no shortage of red gingham (from the napkins to the aprons to the Christmas ribbons adorning the balcony wreaths) or sturdy wrought iron fixtures, From the wooden plank floors to the faux cast iron dinnerware to the mason jar drinking glasses, this is as down home country as it gets.
Upon entering the large dinner hall, one immediately notices the large vaudevillian feel of the stage. And we quickly noticed something else: While the servers were decked out in their themed attire, they were not as “in character” as you might expect from a seasoned cast member. They were efficient although not terribly enthusiastic. While we didn’t expect to be greeted with a merry chorus of “Howdys”, we thought they might have done something, anything to set the proper mood. They sadly did not add much of anything to the experience and were curiously rather bland. Luckily, the performers soon reigned supreme over the hall and brought the night to boisterous, jovial life.
There are two seating levels and three pricing tiers: Category 1 seats will cost you the most and are located on the main floor. Category 2 seats are a little less expensive and are located at the back of the main floor (they seem to have some obstructed views in this location) and on the second level directly across from the stage. Category 3 seats are most economical and are located on the sides of the upper level. From what I could observe, it seems like some of the Category 3 seats were actually superior to the Category 2 seats. We were seated in the center of the main floor (Category 1) and were close to a good deal of the action which took place off the stage.
Guests are greeting with tables already set with a small loaf of golden cornbread and a sturdy metal bowl of a garden-fresh mixed green salad. The cornbread was spongy and delicious without a hint of dryness or mealiness. It was warm and oh-so delicious with gobs of creamy butter. The salad was crunchy (chocked with tons of thick cucumber slices, diced carrots, red onion and cherry tomatoes) and dressed with a wonderful Italian vinaigrette, with a perfect oregano seasoning. During this course we were able to bask in the comforting feel of the place and some of its slight familiarity (the bison and elk heads on the side of the stage seem vaguely familiar – I could swear I remember them from Country Bear Jamboree and also from the adjoining Trail’s End restaurant).
Suddenly, the mellow feel is disrupted by the sound of an approaching stagecoach and the Pioneer Hall Players burst through the front doors in a rowdy introduction. The air is filled with revelry and jubilant frivolity. They hoot and holler and perform a series of old familiar favorites (My Darling Clementine, She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain, Turkey in the Straw) with a vaudeville feel. And because we visited in mid-December, we were able to hear some holiday bonus tunes as well, all sung with a country flair and accompanied by banjo.
After the first act, dinner is served. And oh what a dinner it is. Come and get it!! The dinner is a pre-set menu, with everything served family style in sturdy kettles and pots. It is an all you-can-eat feast featuring corn, mashed potatoes, ribs, fried chicken and baked beans. Hearty, hearty, hearty. The ribs were smoky and succulent with a tangy barbecue glaze. The fried chicken was plump, moist and meaty with a light, crunchy coating. The corn was sweet and buttery while the beans were brown-sugar sweet. And the potatoes were creamy and whipped perfectly with just a few lumps to make them all the more comforting.
As guests devoured kettle upon kettle of the aforementioned grub, the show resumed and audience participation was key. From celebrating guest birthdays and anniversaries to singing ditties about the places we all came from to playful flirting by cast members, guest involvement was in the spotlight. And the Davy Crockett finale complete with a few choice audience member roles was adorably endearing.
And how many places do you know of that actually sing a tribute to your dessert? Yes, there is actually a strawberry shortcake number complete with servers making cameo appearances carrying trays of the delectable confection from the stage to the eagerly waiting diners. The dessert was dreamy: moist yellow cake dressed in clouds of whipped cream and dripping with mountains of fresh strawberries and a fruity glaze. Amazing and a huge shame that we hadn’t saved more room to finish the humongous portion we were presented. Heaven knows we tried.
And to end the evening on a real county high, one person at each table is given a washboard and spoon and encouraged to play an impromptu syncopated symphony. It may be a cacophony but it capped off a wonderful evening. A perfect encore.
Okay, so maybe some of the jokes are a bit corny and some of the sketches a little hokey but this is all about becoming part of the moment. Be silly if you have to. The sillier the better. This, after all, is Disney, and fun is the name of the game. You can’t beat the food or the entertainment as pure nitty-gritty satisfaction. A not-soon-to-be-forgotten dining adventure is guaranteed for all. Yee Haw!
FOOD: Bring a healthy appetite. There seems to be an endless amount of kettles stockpiled with delicious country grub. And save room for the heavenly dessert. An explosion of strawberry goodness.
ATMOSPHERE: As country as it gets. The wooden ceiling beams, bearskin rugs and iron light fixtures make it look like the ultimate log cabin. The Players are pros and know how to get the crowd to become part of the moment and part of the fun. There is no down-time here once the show begins.
SERVICE: Efficient although not very enthusiastic
TIPS: Check the seating chart before you book your reservation. The more expensive seats may not necessarily be the best seats. Definitely participate and be part of the action if you get the chance. It will add a tremendous amount to your Hoop-Dee-Doo adventure.