Swap your dinner-and-a-movie routine for a late-day meal and a live show at one of Florida’s many dinner theaters. From a display of extreme horsemanship to the tune of more than 240 stomping hooves at Arabian Nights in Orlando to a murder mystery that plays out aboard a moving vintage train in Fort Myers, there’s no shortage of eating-meets-acting to be had. Read on for where to find Florida’s best dinner theaters.
High-quality shows with talented actors who come from across the country to audition (including several who’ve performed on Broadway) have kept this North Florida dinner theater in business since 1967. The famous thespians who have performed here over the decades include Cyd Charisse from Singin’ in the Rain and Betty Grable (“How to Marry a Millionaire”), who performed in the last stage show of her career at Alhambra. The performances range from family-friendly productions such as My Fair Lady and A Christmas Carol to stage adaptations of movies such as Seven Brides for Seven Brothers. Dining is buffet style, and takes place before the curtain rises on the show. While menus change regularly, typical items include pot roast and fried chicken with Southern sides and strawberry shortcake for dessert.
Sure, there’s a buffet and a storyline involving Scheherazade. But more than anything, sheer horsemanship is what this 90-minute show is about. Talented horsemen riding more than 60 horses representing 14 breeds, from Shetland ponies to Arabian steeds, demonstrate techniques such as dressage, Roman riding and circus bareback in the 56,000 square foot arena around which you’ll dine. Chariots are pulled, court jesters bumble about, flaming hoops are hopped and acrobatic riders somersault from their saddles only to land right back in them. Pair that with the music and elaborate costumes, and it’s a riveting scene. There’s unlimited beer and wine during the show, and you can choose from 6 different entrée items (standard roast beef, chicken and pasta offerings) and 2 desserts.
In a town that’s often pegged as G-rated, this dinner theater that’s closer to a PG-13 or, gasp, R-rating fills a much-needed adults-only niche for quality entertainment in the theme park capital of the world. The fun starts the moment you’re given a complimentary rum punch upon walking through the door. And the spectacle—part European-style cabaret, part variety show—features everything from a Mongolian contortionist prone to twist up like a pretzel and a mime comedian act to improv performers, snarky puppets and dancers. Count on lots of innuendo dished up with your 3-course meal, which is served atop proper china by costumed “wenches” between acts. The menu sticks to the tried-and-true-favorites food niche, with dishes like primed rib served aside loaded baked potatoes and tiramisu for dessert.
That this theater resides at the Broward Center for Performing Arts is testament to the fact that it’s a class act—the center hosts a world-class lineup of operas, ballets and plays throughout the year. The dinner theater’s cast of 10 do satire to a tee, and the spoofs are reminiscent of the funniest moments from shows like Saturday Night Live and Capitol Steps, with more music in the mix. The shows are constantly being tweaked to the times and almost any topic is fair game—from relationships and politics to pop culture and current events. And while tickets are on the pricier side compared to other dinner theaters, you get what you pay for with a variety of Italian and American dishes such as prosciutto wrapped asparagus and classic beef tenderloin.
You’ll dine on the move inside a vintage rail car dating as far back as the 1930s during a 3 and a half hour return journey aboard the Murder Mystery Dinner Train in Ft. Myers. As the train rolls north toward Punta Gorda, a 5-course meal is served and the characters make their ways through the 4 cars, bringing the murder mystery to life. You’ll be given a sheet of paper to keep track of all the clues, and a prize goes to 1 sleuth per car who can figure out who did the dastardly deed. There are 2 different shows to choose from each week, and menu selections are standard dinner theater offerings such as chicken, prime rib and shrimp.
With such fine dinner theater options that encompass everything from satire to scandal, date night just might get a new twist during your time in Florida.
Based in Cocoa Beach, FL, freelance writer Terry Ward never tires of the nightly theater that is dinner with an ocean view from her condo balcony.