ADDRESS: Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort (1600 Seven Seas Drive, Orlando, FL 32830)
When my family talks about our Millenium New Year’s celebration trip down to Disney World, a topic that comes up frequently is our experience eating at ‘Ohana. Meaning “family” in Hawaiian, ‘Ohana had been only open for about five years prior to our first visit. Since then, it has exploded in popularity, with eager diners recommended to make reservations close to six months in advance. It only took 17 years, but I finally made it back to the place that gave me such a strong childhood memory.
The restaurant is set up as an “all-you-can-eat” buffet, where the waitstaff brings the food out to your table. An endless supply of grilled meats, stir-fried noodles, chicken wings, and potstickers is certainly enough to keep anyone happy. Within the past year, I’ve managed to return to the restaurant twice: the first time with my friends and the second time with my family. Both times I was lucky enough to score a reservation when booking within two months of the trip. All it took was just the persistent checking of the ‘Ohana restaurant website, ample use of the refresh button on my web browser, and just a little bit of luck.
‘Ohana is tucked away inside Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort. Follow the signs when you’re driving on the Disney grounds and you’ll arrive at the resort gates. Mention to the guard that you have a dining reservation and they’ll wave you through, no parking fee required. Once you’ve checked in with the host stand, there are plenty of chairs scattered around the 1st and 2nd floors to lounge around while you’re waiting. You could even pick up a drink from the restaurant’s bar, hit up the adjacent coffee bar, or peruse the gift shop downstairs as well. Once that pager starts to light up though, it’s time to begin the culinary experience.
The dining area is pretty massive, with a large number of tables underneath this open skylight area tucked away further in the restaurant. Right at the center of the dining area is a large, open grill station, where the chefs are cooking up delicious skewers of chicken, steak, and shrimp. If you prefer dining with a view, there’s also tables set up right next to the windows that look out to the lagoon, where on the other side is Disney’s Magic Kingdom. If you have a later dinner reservation, see if you can get a window seat to be able to check out the nightly fireworks show.
We got started off with a small loaf of fresh-baked Hawaiian bread once we sat down at the table, a nice way to help qualm some of the appetite that built up while smelling the food from the waiting area. Our waiter, Chris, swung by not too long afterwards, asking about our drink orders. Since the whole menu is pre-set, there was no need to order anything. Chris soon returned with a nice, heaping bowl of salad greens and our drinks. Not too long after that, he came back with the second round of food, dubbed the “kitchen platter.”
Stir-fried noodles and vegetables, crispy potstickers, and honey-garlic chicken wings made for a great set of appetizers to start off the meal. Everything had a light sweet flavor to it, with the potstickers probably being my favorite of the three. They were a great balance of sweet and savory flavors, and fried just enough for that crispy texture. The chicken wings were a close second, with the meat very tender and containing a subtle sweet flavor, that I suspect from maybe a marinade in that same honey-garlic sauce that it’s tossed in. And even after all this, we hadn’t arrived at the main course yet.
All of the meats are fresh off the grill when the waitstaff walk around the restaurant with the giant skewers loaded up with chicken, steak, or shrimp. “How many pieces do you want?” I might get 3, 4, or even 5 if I’m feeling adventurous. I’ve never really been too big into eating shrimp, so I definitely loaded it up on the chicken and steak instead. For the chicken, it’s got just enough char on the outside and stays moist on the inside, a really tough balance that was well executed when cooking it on the grill. The meat has that familiar subtle sweet flavor, most likely from a nice, extended marinade as well. I thought the steak was also cooked really well, with each piece ranging from medium-rare to medium. Those pieces also had a nice char on the outside with an assortment of aromatic flavors brought out by a blend of herb seasonings.
After three rounds of meats, two kitchen platters, salad, and a loaf of Hawaiian bread, I thought that our table had already eaten enough to suffice for two or three meals. But that’s when our waiter Chris drops the dessert bomb: bread pudding à la mode, with a warm banana caramel sauce drizzle over the top. Now that’s something you just don’t say no to. I really enjoy when there’s a temperature difference that comes into play for desserts, and à la mode is a textbook example of this. The warm bread pudding and caramel sauce contrasted great with the scoop of vanilla bean ice cream. In terms of overall taste, I thought that the bread pudding was pretty average with other ones I’ve had before. It doesn’t really “wow” you, but still leaves you feeling satisfied.
There are some studies that say that your senses of smell and taste can be the strongest connections to memories, and for ‘Ohana, that was certainly the case. Eating the food again really brought back some childhood memories, and I’m glad that the quality has stayed consistent, even after all these years! If you’re planning a visit to the Orlando area, be sure not to miss out on a meal at ‘Ohana. There’s certainly a reason that this place books up on reservations so far in advance.
Let’s now take a look at the ‘Ohana Dish Spotlight. Asterisks (*) below mark my recommended dishes.
** Crispy Potstickers **
Pork and vegetable potstickers fried to a nice golden brown.
** Honey-Garlic Chicken Wings **
Chicken wings tossed in a honey-garlic sauce, with a garnish of black and white sesame seeds.
And finally, here are my rankings for ‘Ohana:
Food: 5 / 5
Even with a pre-set menu, ‘Ohana still manages to keep some variety between the food items. The selection certainly leans towards the carnivore crowd, and the flavors on everything are just fantastic.
Atmosphere: 4.75 / 5
The smells alone coming from the open grill are certainly enough to make you hungry (especially if you’ve been saving room all day for the meal). There is usually also someone walking around the dining area and singing while playing the ukulele. I thought that was a pretty nice touch to add to the dining experience.
Service: 5 / 5
The waitstaff during both of my recent visits were stellar. They were very friendly and would make frequent rounds back to the table to make sure that we were being well fed!
Price: 4.75 / 5
It’s definitely a steeper price tag to dine in ‘Ohana (particularly for dinner). The meal ran us $45 / person, but for the overall experience, I think it’s money well spent.