Keeping The Tiki Torch Lit


Part 1: Disney

Although the postwar Tiki craze faded in 1960s America, a few brave souls kept it alive and are still going strong today. The most prominent was Walt Disney.

I love the Enchanted Tiki Room! Whenever my family goes to Walt Disney World, I drag them into the small Tiki hut theatre where Walt Disney’s animatronic magic comes to life. There’s something about those colorful birds singing “In the Tiki, Tiki,Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room!” that really makes me happy.

Last summer, my wife Jess and I took a trip to Los Angeles, where we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the original Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland. Open since 1963, the attraction in LA is better than the newer version in Orlando. For starters, you can get Dole Whip soft serve and shakes right in the courtyard. More importantly, that courtyard has  a cool pre-show where 7 different Tiki gods come to life and tell you their stories (my favorite is Pele, the goddess of fire and volcanoes!). During the festivities, Jess and I saw some amazing artwork, bought lots of collectible souvenirs, and listened to a panel discussion by some of the original Disney imagineers (like Rolly Crump) who worked on the Enchanted Tiki Room over the years. We also learned that the original concept called for a larger space, including a restaurant and bar.

Although Walt Disney himself never lived to see it, the opening of Walt Disney World in Orlando in 1971 launched the original Enchanted Tiki Room concept on steroids: the Polynesian Village. This man-made tropical paradise sits right across the 7 Seas Lagoon from The Magic Kingdom, just a short monorail ride away, and was one of the two original on-site hotels at WDW. It was renamed the Polynesian Resort in 1985.

My family and I have been to the Polynesian Resort 4 times since our first visit in 2008. In fact, I proudly proclaim this is the only place we will ever stay when we vacation at Walt Disney World! Jess and I agreed to stay at the Polynesian when we first went to WDW, so I could trick myself into believing I was actually on a South Seas island. It worked! Disney spared no expense in making the Polynesian look, feel and sound like a tropical paradise. There is an abundance of palm trees, carved Tikis, Polynesian music, gas-fired Tiki torches and island decor at every turn. Ohana in The Great Ceremonial House is our favorite restaurant in all of WDW – we always eat dinner there twice in every trip! Our kids also enjoy Ohana’s character breakfast with Lilo & Stitch, who are featured prominently in the Polynesian’s cross-promotons. And the friendly and helpful staff (Disney calls them “cast members”) always greet you with an “aloha” or “mahalo” when they see you. Between the top-notch Disney service and the authentic Tiki atmosphere, the Polynesian Resort  is my “happy place” and home away from home!

Disney’s latest addition to the Tiki universe is Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel. Open since 2011, Trader Sam’s is what happens when Disney’s Jungle Cruise and Enchanted Tiki Room get together and spawn an alcoholic child. The name comes from the “head salesman” of the Jungle Cruise attraction, and so does much of the attitude and decor in this wonderful Tiki bar.

When Jess & I visited Los Angeles last summer, we stayed at the Disneyland Hotel for the first 2 nights. The main reasons we chose to stay there were to be on-property for a day at Disneyland and because the Enchanted Tiki Room 50th anniversary events took place in the hotel’s grand ballroom. As an added bonus, Trader Sam’s was right outside our hotel’s front entrance. We were fortunate enough to snag a table inside for a light dinner our first night there. What a treat! The Asian/fusion food was the perfect compliment to the serious Tiki drinks we sampled. The bartenders seemed to really enjoy themselves, entertaining their guests like the Jungle Cruise captains do. If you ordered a special drink, like the Krakatoa Punch I chose second, you were treated to an amazing volcanic eruption of light and sound behind the bar. It reminded me of the thunderstorm near the end of the Enchanted Tiki Room show. Of course, I had to bring home the volcanic Tiki Mug as a souvenir!

Leave it to Disney to create a Tiki bar that’s a theme park attraction in it’s own right. Trader Sam’s has become so popular, rumor has it they’re looking to open another one at Walt Disney World, in…can you guess?…the Polynesian Resort.

Disney has carried the Tiki torch for 50 years now. They’ve continued to expand their offerings through the downturn and upswing of Tiki culture in America. With their continued plans for growth, I’m hopeful Disney will keep the Tiki torch burning brightly for another 50 years. Mahalo!


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