While Disney occasionally hosts classical music acts, you'll usually have to go downtown to get a taste of the traditional arts.
Concert Halls & Auditoriums -- The city continues to dream of getting the remaining financing necessary to complete its multimillion-dollar world-class performing-arts center (with groundbreaking for the Dr. Phillips Center for Performing Arts having begun in June 2011). While you're holding your breath, there are two existing facilities, both of which fall under the wand of Orlando Centroplex.
In Walt Disney World -- Disney does not turn into a pumpkin when the sun goes down, offering plenty of nighttime entertainment, including laser-light shows, fireworks, IllumiNations, and Fantasmic!. There are also two distinctly different dinner shows worthy of special note, the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue and Disney's Spirit of Aloha, and a third show that's an occasional player. Note: While they offer family-friendly entertainment, don't expect haute cuisine. The food, though good, takes a back seat to the show.
It All Adds Up, Up, Up . . . -- If you want to dine with your favorite Disney character during the holidays, expect to pay a bit extra. Holiday pricing, first instituted in 2007, is now the norm during peak seasons and the days (even weeks) surrounding most holidays -- among them, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's, Easter, Memorial Day, July 4th, and Labor Day. At press time, holiday pricing was running approximately $5 extra per person. For details and exact dates, go to www.disneyworld.com. To make Advance Dining reservations, call tel. 407/939-3463.
Elsewhere in Orlando -- Outside the Disney zone, Orlando has an active dinner-theater scene, but keep in mind that the city is a family destination -- and the dinner shows are very reflective of that. You won't find the sophisticated offerings you would in major cultural centers such as New York, London, or Paris. Most of the local shows focus on pleasing the kids, so if you're looking for fun, you'll find it; but if you want critically acclaimed entertainment, look elsewhere. You also won't find four-star food, but dinners are certainly palatable enough. Attending a show is considered by many to be a quintessential Orlando experience, and if you arrive with the right attitude, you'll most likely have an enjoyable evening. Your children certainly will.
Note: Discount coupons to the shows can often be found in the tourist magazines that are distributed at gas stations and information centers; you'll also find them in many non-Disney hotel lobbies and sometimes on the listed websites.
Prime Rib & a Side of Murder -- Want to try your hand at playing Sherlock Holmes? Sleuths Mystery Dinner Shows, 8267 International Dr. (tel. 800/393-1985 or 407/363-1985; www.sleuths.com), are interactive dinner shows staged in an intimate theater setting where guests play detective and try to solve a whodunit murder mystery.
A roster of suspects and impending victims (okay, they're really actors) interact with guests throughout the experience, which includes a preshow where you're introduced to the characters and served appetizers and a salad. When the actual performance begins, the actors both captivate and, at times, reduce you to hysterical laughter. Then it's time for dinner, which includes a choice of Cornish game hen, prime rib (for $3 more), or lasagna. While eating, you discuss clues with the other detectives at your table (the round tables seat eight). Each table is given the opportunity to interrogate the suspects, who can get quite hilarious, depending on the amount of alcohol people have consumed before they get to ask their questions (you get unlimited wine and beer). The suspects duly questioned, a mystery dessert is served, and then the murderer is revealed. It makes for a very entertaining yet relaxing evening out.
Fourteen different productions (each about 2 1/2 hr. long) are offered throughout the year. Admission costs $53 adults, $24 kids 3 to 11. Reservations are recommended. To get here, from I-4 W. take exit 75A; at the light, turn right onto Universal Boulevard, and follow it for 1 mile to Gooding's Plaza on the right. Parking is free.
Don't want to venture all the way downtown for comic relief? Head to Fat Fish Blue, at Pointe Orlando on International Drive (tel. 407/480-5233; www.theimprovorlando.com or www.orlandofatfishblue.com), where the Orlando Improv Comedy Club (originally located on Church St. in downtown Orlando) has partnered with Fat Fish Blue (a casual eatery featuring Creole cuisine -- and room for up to 400) to bring a lineup of live entertainment 5 nights a week. Think jazz and blues in addition to local and national comedy acts. Replacing Matrix and Metropolis, the restaurant/comedy club opened in August 2010.
Not Your Ordinary Circus
Lions and tigers and bears? Oh, no. But you won't feel cheated.
Disney's partnership with Cirque du Soleil, the famous Montreal-based, no-animals circus, is located in Downtown Disney West Side. The eye-popping La Nouba (derived from the French for "to live it up"), set in a custom-built, state-of-the-art theater, is a Fellini-style amalgam of live music, dance, theater, and acrobatics that will have your jaw dropping. Highlights include a cyclist who does things with a bicycle that would make an X-Gamer jealous, a spectacular coordinated trampoline performance, and a pint-size troupe of Chinese acrobats who do tricks with diabolos (Chinese yo-yos) that bring the house down. I rank this one just beneath Las Vegas's Mystère, though the comedic interludes in this production are the best of all the permanent Cirque shows.
That said, though La Nouba is a ton of fun, it's also one of the priciest shows in town, so you need to decide if your budget can take the hit. Ticket prices vary according to location (don't feel you must spend extra for the expensive seats -- nearly every spot in the theater offers a good view) and range from $71 to $124 for adults, $57 to $99 for children 3 to 9 (plus 6.5% tax). Yes, it's an expensive 90 minutes, but prices here are among the cheapest of all the Cirque productions in the U.S. Shows are at 6 and 9pm Tuesday through Saturday, though the show is dark 6 weeks each year. There are occasional matinees, so call ahead (tel. 407/939-7600) or check www.cirquedusoleil.com for information and tickets.