Family-Style Dinner Review: ‘Ohana Means ???

‘Ohana is one of Walt Disney World’s most popular restaurants, with a reputation that precedes it built up over decades. It has been a fan-favorite since long before we got engaged on the beach of the Polynesian Resort ages ago. We always sort of assumed future generations would still be vying for those coveted ‘Ohana ADRs when we’re old and subsisting on a diet of bread pudding.

As one of Disney’s most beloved restaurants, it was thus surprising that ‘Ohana did not return last June when the Polynesian Villas & Bungalows reopened. Then fall came and went. So did the popular Christmas season. Easter brought with it spring break and pent-up demand, but still nothing.

All the while, we heard from countless Walt Disney World fans wishing upon a star for the return of ‘Ohana. If other all-you-can-eat meals could be modified to facilitate their return, why not ‘Ohana?! Finally, their wishes were answered, and with them, one finger of monkey paw curled…

Dinner at ‘Ohana runs from 3:30 pm until 10:00 p.m. nightly, and is a family-style all-you-can-eat meal. It’s priced at $55 per adult and $33 per child, which makes it the most expensive modified meal of this sort without characters. Fortunately, ‘Ohana accepts the Tables in Wonderland card for a 20% discount (there can’t be many of those still in circulation) as well as Disney Vacation Club or Annual Passholder cards for 10% off.

In normal times, ‘Ohana participates in the Disney Dining Plan as a 1-credit table service restaurant for dinner, which has historically made it among the Best Uses of Table Service Credits. Of course, that’s temporarily suspended right now, but presumably that info will be relevant again in the not-too-distant future.

Most guests will be seated in the main dining room at ‘Ohana, which is filled tiki statues holding torches, island animals, other themed decor, plus an abundance of authentic Polynesian patterns and textures. During normal times, this area would be raucous rather than serene, with fun and games for kids.

Off to the side of this room is the open kitchen where the meats served at ‘Ohana are grilled. The center of the room features a vaulted thatched roof, while tables around the perimeter offer exceptional views of the lush hotel grounds, Seven Seas Lagoon, and even Cinderella Castle in the distance–but we’ll come back to this. For now, let’s cut to the chase–the cuisine served for dinner at ‘Ohana…

First up is the Mixed Greens Salad.

Our salad had a couple pieces of almond brittle on top, which contrasted with its vinaigrette dressing. Otherwise, this was a very ordinary and unremarkable salad.

Next, ‘Ohana Coconut-Papaya Scones and Cheddar-Bacon Biscuits with Honey Butter.

These were mostly fantastic. A great savory and sweet combo, with both having a crisp exterior giving way to warm and doughy centers. The cheddar bacon biscuits were dense and heavy, and nicely offset by the honey butter. We really enjoyed both, but I’d give the edge to the coconut scones (which is really a misnomer–they’re more like rolls). My only minor quibble with the scones is that some bites were surprisingly salty.

Continuing to the starters, we have the Pork Dumplings Tossed in Garlic-Chili Sauce.

These are fantastic, a minor twist on the dumplings previously served for dinner at ‘Ohana. They feature a crispness on the outside and are tender and meaty on the inside. Perfect texture, flavor, abundant filling, and the right amount of sauce. So far, so good!

The other starter for dinner at ‘Ohana is the Honey-Coriander Chicken Wings.

Prior to “noodlegate,” if you had asked me what the most iconic dish at ‘Ohana is/was, I would’ve guessed these wings. They are/were my favorite thing served at ‘Ohana, and are just as delicious as ever. The skin is crisp and the wings are perfectly-glazed. Underneath that, the meat is tender, juicy, and most. These are perfection. At this point of the meal, we started talking about how maybe the outrage over the changes at ‘Ohana was an overreaction.

Then came the main courses. Here’s where almost everything changes as compared to the old ‘Ohana.

We’ll start with the Island Shrimp Casserole with Herbed Breadcrumbs. This received the most raised eyebrows when the menu was announced, for obvious reasons. Admittedly, a small part of me hoped it’d be a surprise favorite. I have a soft spot for seafood casserole–one of my favorite guilty pleasures at Tokyo Disneyland’s Splash Mountain Restaurant is the Seafood Doria.

Our server referred to this as a stew when we were first seated, which was initially confusing as I thought it was a casserole. Upon digging into it, I understood why–the “casserole” had the consistency of soup or stew. I tried to make the most of this by focusing on the crispy and cheesy top layer plus the hearty shrimp underneath, but it was an abomination.

They’re obviously still tweaking the preparation–ours looked very different from the shrimp casserole served to guests who had dined here reopening week and ours had zero breadcrumbs. This is a colossal misfire, and I cannot imagine it’ll stick around the menu for too long. Even if you’re into seafood comfort foods, this is just not good. I’m confident I could make a better casserole than this, and the only kitchen appliance I’m allowed to use is the microwave.

There’s no such thing as “so bad it’s good” food, but there is “so bad it’s memorable” food. We’ll quickly forget the roasted chicken and sausage over time, but will undoubtedly remember whatever this was forever. Years from now, we’ll still have a good laugh over its atrociousness. If this stays on the menu, it’s only a matter of time before those rascally youngsters on TikTok turn eating the whole thing into a new “Beverly Challenge.” So I guess if making memorable or viral cuisine was the goal, mission accomplished with this shrimp casserole?

Alongside our shrimp stew/casserole came a skillet with Roasted Eight-way Chicken with Polynesian-inspired Chimichurri Sauce, Kielbasa Sausage, ‘Ohana Noodles, and Roasted Broccolini.

Let’s start with the meats. The sausage was fine, but nothing special–not the kind of thing I’d expect from ‘Ohana, either. The chicken tasted like it had been slow-cooked under a heat lamp with a mix of spices that did it no favors. This could’ve been poor luck on our part, as we’ve had pretty much this exact chicken at every other newly-modified family-style meal, and it’s generally passable.

Of course, there are also those beloved ‘Ohana noodles.

When dining at Walt Disney World all you can eat meals, I channel my inner Joey: here’s where I win all my money back! Which is to say, I usually eschew the cheaper filler in favor of high-dollar meats. Consequently, I had only ever tried a small portion of these noodles prior to this meal.

After giving them a full and thorough taste-testing session for the sake of research, I see what some of the hubbub is about. These noodles have a nice balance of savory and sweet flavors, with a good elastic consistency, chewiness, and thickness.

Another main course served in a separate skillet is the Woodfire-grilled Teriyaki Beef.

This beef used to be served on a skewer, and still has the same general flavor. The teriyaki sauce is sweet and works well with the smokey flavor of the beef. Most of our meat was cooked medium rare, so that was also good. However, it was all very tough and the chunks were unnecessarily huge. While the preparation was delicious, this meat was definitely a quality downgrade as compared to the beef at the other family style meals.

Here’s a plate of everything (minus the seafood stew/casserole, which I sampled directly from its skillet since it was so runny).

Although there were some significant misfires, we loved the wings, dumplings, and noodles, focusing almost entirely on those and having a delicious meal as a result. It did make us uncomfortable requesting refills of that trio while nearly-full portions of everything else went to waste. I know that’s the nature of family style feasts, but we still don’t like it–I guess at least Walt Disney World has a robust food waste program.

Finally, we have the famed ‘Ohana Bread Pudding served a la mode with homemade caramel sauce.

I can’t quite put my finger on what, but something has changed about the preparation and consistency of this bread pudding. Nevertheless, it’s still one of the better desserts at Walt Disney World. I would still give a slight edge to the twist on this dish at Sebastian’s Bistro, but this one is a 10/10. A great way to end dinner at ‘Ohana on a high note.

To emphasize those highs and minimize the lows, we’d request no shrimp casserole, teriyaki beef, roasted chicken, or sausage from the outset if/when we do dinner at ‘Ohana in the future. Obviously, that’s a lot of high-dollar dishes to be skipping, begging the question of whether ‘Ohana is even worth doing at such a high price point.

However, there is more to the ‘Ohana dinner experience than the food.

The live music and Polynesian atmosphere was so relaxing, and a huge change of pace from the usual vibe at ‘Ohana. Normally, I’d describe ‘Ohana as “controlled chaos,” which is no knock. After all, the name means family, and this restaurant radiates joy and fun. It’s usually like a convivial cookout among friends and extended family–it just works.

Now, ‘Ohana borders on being romantic.

Between the roaming live musician performing songs on the ukulele and the fact that around 25% to 33% of the tables at ‘Ohana were filled during our dinner (common right now due to staffing shortages), the scene was downright serene.

As the night at ‘Ohana wore on, we were able to enjoy day transition to night, with what felt like a “private” performance of Electrical Water Pageant outside the window.

We love watching Electrical Water Pageant and have seen it almost a dozen times since its return. However, this was the first time watching from an air-conditioned, bug-less setting. I could get used to that!

Not too long after Electrical Water Pageant, it was time for Happily Ever After.

I wish I would’ve brought my tripod, as we had a perfect view of the fireworks. The music being piped in also made ‘Ohana the perfect place to watch the Magic Kingdom nighttime spectacular. During the fireworks, almost everyone in the main dining room turned their chair to face the windows.

As intimated elsewhere, we’ve thought ‘Ohana was slightly overrated and had been resting on its laurels for at least a few years. While I’ve held that view in the back of my mind for some time, I could never quite articulate why. The fact is, our first dinner at ‘Ohana as adults was on our honeymoon. It was one of the most memorable meals of the trip, and everything about the experience was perfect.

Revisiting familiar favorites at Walt Disney World is as much about chasing nostalgia as the thing itself, but you can’t go home again. There’s that rush of fond memories and sentimentality, but it’s never quite the same. I didn’t know if it was ‘Ohana that had changed, or our tastes. Maybe the fan-favorite restaurant was as good as ever, but could just never live up to the idealized version of it that lived in our minds. Conversely, maybe we were still romanticizing ‘Ohana and it was amidst its Le Cellier-like fall.

Or maybe it was a little of both. The new menu, modified meal–whatever you want to call it–is an unequivocal downgrade. Of that much, I’m certain. We went in skeptical, but hoping it would exceed our expectations and be something special.

The food was not, yet ‘Ohana still is. We’ve now been married for some time, and have learned that strolls down memory lane can be even more satisfying when they take delightful detours. Just being there brought back a flood of emotion and fondness we have for ‘Ohana. Seeing Electrical Water Pageant and the fireworks was downright saccharine. And those schmaltzy memories are now forever inextricably intertwined with a “WTF casserole” that will always make us laugh.

So, as much as I want to tell you that there are easily two-dozen superior restaurants at Walt Disney World and the current cuisine is an overpriced mixed bag, there’s more to it than that. I know this will sound cheesy, but there’s a certain understated wisdom in ‘Ohana meaning family. At its core, ‘Ohana has always been about the bigger-picture experience as much as the food. Even as we’re in no rush to return on the basis of the menu, those memories are a powerful pull.

Perhaps you likewise have ‘Ohana nostalgia that you’re eager to revisit. Maybe you don’t, but want to forge your own. If you’re looking for the bottom line and the cuisine is all that matters, skip ‘Ohana. Even with a few standout dishes, it’s not worth the money. But like so many things in life, the full story is a little more complicated than that. You’ll have to decide for yourself what ‘Ohana means to you.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

Does the modified family-style meal served for dinner at ‘Ohana sound like it would be worth the money to you? Thoughts on that seafood “casserole,” the beloved noodles, wings, or anything else on the menu? Have you done ‘Ohana at Walt Disney World in the past? Do you agree or disagree that food is only part of the overall experience at ‘Ohana? Will you be booking an Advance Dining Reservation for dinner here?  What did you think? Worthwhile for the food, atmosphere, or for both? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Other thoughts or concerns? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

52 Responses to “Family-Style Dinner Review: ‘Ohana Means ???”
  1. Joanne Attridge August 10, 2021
  2. Trish Popolo July 28, 2021

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