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Dinner Attractions - Dixie Stampede

Dixie Stampede
8251 Vineland Avenue, Orlando
(866) 443-4943; (407) 238-4455

Prices: Adults $49.99, children (4-11) $21.99. AARP & AAA discount of $4. Plus tax and tip.
Times: Wed-Sun 6:30 (arr 5:15); some Friday and Saturday 8:30 shows added during high season
Directions: Take I-4 Exit 68; then north on Vineland.

Dixie Stampede is Orlando’s third horse-themed dinner attraction and it seems to have borrowed elements of the other two. But since this one is presented by Dolly Parton the expectation is that it will be, well, bigger.

Like Arabian Nights, there is an emphasis on beautiful horses and riding skills, although Dolly’s show has fewer horses and less horsemanship (but just as much horsing around). Like Medieval Times, described later, there is a competition and you get to cheer for your side while you eat your dinner with your fingers. There are a number of Parton-owned Dixie Stampedes in the South, but this one is unique in that it serves beer and wine.

The show begins as you walk from the parking lot past outdoor horse stalls where the show’s true stars take their ease while waiting for the action to begin. Inside, you are ushered past photographers waiting to snap an optional souvenir photo and through the gift shop to the “carriage house” where a short pre-show entertainment gets the crowd warmed up. Recently, the featured act was Lucas, a comic juggler who does some amazing things with a variety of props, including golf equipment, while keeping up a family-friendly patter that has the audience chuckling along with him.

Fancy frozen drinks are served here, along with peanuts and popcorn, but while the drinks contain no alcohol, the prices pack a $4 wallop. At least you get to keep the boot-shaped souvenir mug they’re served in.

After the preshow, the audience is ushered into the main arena, a cavernous U-shaped arena with tiered bench seating much like that at Arabian Nights. Here Dixie Stampede seeks to settle “once and for all,” by friendly competition, that “legendary rivalry” between the North and the South — represented by opposite sides of the arena — while you eat a quite tasty meal.

A brief survey of American history takes us from free ranging buffalo to the Civil War, which to judge from this show seems to have been a good-natured dust up between fun-loving youths. Song and dance routines salute Southern romance on the one hand and Yankee ingenuity on the other. All this is interspersed with a few horse tricks, some comedy routines, and dinner.

The meal, by the way, is simple but quite good, with the main attractions being a small, but juicy chicken and slices of barbecued pork. Dessert is a flaky apple turnover. It’s all washed down with unlimited iced tea and soda; the beer and wine is limited to two servings. The eat-with-your-fingers aspect is cute and no one seemed to complain, but it seems a bit out of sync with the rest of the theme.

The main order of business, however, is that promised competition, which gets under way just about time you’re finishing off the main course. The audience is shamelessly egged on to root for their side while booing and hissing the other and folks seem to get into the spirit of the whole thing with alacrity. A series of games follows, most of them equine versions of the sort of silly games played at country picnics, pitting North against South. Not all games involve horses, though. In fact, some of the most enjoyable feature little kids from the audience chasing chickens, piglets decked out in the Blue and the Grey, and racing ostriches.

The finale, introduced by Dolly herself on film, is a rousing patriotic salute to America. Not only are all the riders carrying flags and dressed in red, white and blue, they’re decked out in red and white lights as well. For an American audience it’s a stirring, if somewhat hokey, way to end the show, but I couldn’t help wondering what the foreign tourists were making of it all.

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