You Ain’t Never Had a Feast Like This! – 30 Years Ago at Disneyland

It will surprise most readers that this month’s column is not about July 17, 1993. Yes, Disneyland did turn 38 years old that day (or on July 18, depending on how contentious you are). But July of 1993 had another auspicious opening, though not for a venue that would have the lasting impact of the Happiest Place on Earth. July 2, 1993 marked the opening day of the Aladdin’s Oasis dinner show. Or July 1, depending on how contentious you are.

In April of 1993 the venerable Tahitian Terrace restaurant in Adventureland closed, having run for some thirty years. In May, Annual Passholders received a mailer, detailing the exciting new dinner show that would replace it, Aladdin’s Oasis. You will recall that the movie had appeared in theaters that year, followed immediately by the Aladdin’s Royal Caravan parade. And in a trifecta of corporate synergy, it would soon be possible to dine in a little corner of Agrabah and meet some of the characters from the film.

The changes to the Tahitian Terrace location were striking. Gone were the thatched roofs and tropical plants that marked the entrance, and in their place was a middle-eastern pavilion, patio and tower. The pavilion, complete with mosaic tile magic carpet, was a new marquee and entrance. The patio served as a waiting area for guests. And the tower was a place from which a certain street rat could slide down on a rope while fleeing the palace guards. (The tower also held a hidden away dedicated restroom for dinner guests.

Perhaps the most striking change was to the stage. A massive artificial tree (second in size only to the Swiss Family Tree House) still spread its sheltering branches over the outdoor dining area. But in place of the waterfall and fiery footlights of the stage there was now a massive stone tiger’s head, clearly intended to evoke the entrance of the Cave of Wonders, home to a carpet, a lamp, and a wisecracking Genie.

But perhaps we are getting ahead of the story. After all, this is about a dinner show, right? And that means… reservations. Because of the relatively small size of the venue, this dinner was scheduled as many times as possible in the course of a single day. There were eight shows total, four for lunch and four for dinner. The first lunch seating was at 11am, and the final dinner show began at… 10pm. Reservations were made the day of the show at a desk at the entrance, and small folders were issued with your return time.

Your genial host and proprietor was Kazim, who welcomed his guests and set the afternoon/evening in motion. Diners made a couple of choices from their menus, and meals were served in “courses” as the show unfolded all around them, but mostly in the front area of the restaurant. The first course was Oasis Hors D’oeuvres, with a choice of either Rajah’s Nibbler (Papadam wafers with mint chutney), or Abu’s Appetizer (fresh fruit mixed with honey and yogurt, sprinkled with pine nuts and hazelnuts). 

To entertain diners as they nibbled, Kazim, assisted by his brother-in-law Hassan and a trio of dancing girls named the Three Wishes began to relate the classic tale of Aladdin. And, amazingly enough, who should appear, racing off the street and into the dining area, but Aladdin himself, clutching a stolen loaf of bread. (This despite the fact that bread appeared nowhere on the menu!)

After a lively chase (including the rope slide mentioned above, it was time for more food. The second course, called the “Main Story” was again, a choice. Guests were offered one of three options. Aladdin’s Sabre consisted of beef shishkabob on a bed of nut and raisin rice pilaf, with herbed yogurt sauce, and tabbouleh. Jasmine’s Veil was a chicken shishkabob on a bed of nut and raisin rice pilaf, with sesame yogurt sauce, and tabbouleh. Finally, the Sultan’s Choice was a choice of vegetable shishkabob on a bed of nut and rife pilaf. I suppose they could have simply said, beef, chicken, or vegetarian, but that would have left a lot of empty space in the menu.

Food was delivered by the costumed wait staff, along with beverages. In addition to soft drinks, coffee and tea (hot or iced), there was also Blue Genie Punch. (Kids loved the fact that it turned your tongue blue.)

But enough about the food for now. As guests dug into their shishkabob and tabbouleh, more characters appeared.

Jafar was accompanied by his wisecracking parrot Iago, Aladdin managed to get in an appearance as Prince Ali, and Jasmine was captured by the wicked Jafar who made her disappear in one of the evening’s “mysterious special effects.” (That’s what they called it in the publicity.)

This meant, of course, it was time for the Genie of the Lamp to appear and set everything right. He actually managed to show up in a couple of guises, and thanks to pre-recorded dialogue was actually “played” by the film’s Genie, Robin Williams.

And as is true in any Disney show (especially a dinner show), there was a happy ending.

There was not, however, a particularly happy ending for Aladdin’s Oasis. While its predecessor, the Tahitian Terrace had run to full capacity for some thirty years, the Aladdin’s Oasis dinner show barely managed two seasons before it was abruptly cancelled. There were a number of factors that led to its demise.

Topping the list were concerns about the food. (This is kind of a major element of a dinner show.) The promotion for Aladdin’s Oasis promised a feast, a bountiful outpouring of “the finest cuisine this side of the River Jordan.” What was served was an appetizer, a single kabob on a bed of rice, accompanied by a small container of sauce and tabbouleh on a lettuce leaf. Aside from the fact that options were limited, many guests felt that the “middle eastern” delicacies were either too exotic, or just not authentic enough.

There was pretty much universal approval for the third course, dessert. “Aladdin’s Second Wish” was summoned up by every guest in the restaurant, who were instructed to rub the lamp that was placed in the center of each table. Smoke wafted out of the spout, and wait staff appears as if by magic with a chocolate lamp, filled with mousse and resting on a pool of raspberry sauce.

Another factor working against the continued success of Aladdin’s Oasis was the cost. It was a fixed price, $24.50 for adults and $19.50 for children. (Children had simpler menu choices.) In 2023, those prices would be over $50 for adults, and over $40 for children. Lunch prices were slightly lower, $19.50 for adults and $14.50 for children (That still works out to over $40 and $30 respectively. For lunch.)

Because of the size of the venue, the expense of the retrofit (they even ordered special china with the logo on a backstamp), and all that music and dancing and comedy, they had to fill the place to capacity eight times a day to see make it profitable. Unfortunately, word of mouth was not kind, and in August of 1994 the dinner show closed. For 1995 it opened as a dinner location with no stage show, which kind of defeated the whole purpose of the venue.

Aladdin’s Oasis did end up having a rather long life, though not as a dinner show. The space was used for various non-food activities until 2018, when it was closed down. Most of the middle eastern additions were stripped away, and it reopened as the Tiki themed Tropical Hideaway in December.

Finally, what was the actual opening day of Aladdin’s Oasis? I was a diner on Opening Day, and even have the commemorative button to prove it: July 2, 1993. There was also an undated souvenir button that was given to guests after the opening. But there is also a button, with a special ribbon attached, declaring a July 1, 1993 Grand Opening. This was an invitation only event held the day before the actual opening. So which is it, July 1 or July 2? Only the Genie of the Lamp could solve that riddle…