Aloha Spirit: The Mai-Kai

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As I mentioned before, I believe karma introduced me to Tiki, and it continues to swim in my bloodstream. I’ve seen many signs in my travels that have confirmed this for me. Here is an example of what I’m talking about.

Fort Lauderdale FL, November 2012. So, 9 years into my Tiki journey, I came to realize that the Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show was the Mecca of the Tiki universe. The Mai-Kai is the grandaddy of all Tiki bars/supper clubs in America, opened in 1956 and still going strong. This destination quickly rose to the top of my bucket list. But how to get there?

My original plan was to take a side trip to Fort Lauderdale during one of our Walt Disney World vacations in Orlando. This turned out to be easier said than done, as the 2 cities are not all that close to each other and dragging my wife Jess away from Disney property is like selling an anchor to a drowning man. Add to this the notion that she just wasn’t that into Tiki (yet) and it became apparent to me that this would have to be a solo trip over a long weekend.

A funny thing happened as I started planning my excursion to The Mai-Kai: Jess decided she wanted to come with me! It turns out she really loves to travel to new places, as evidenced by her willingness to accompany me on past business trips to Amelia Island and New Orleans, and although we now have kids at home, we’re lucky enough to have my mother-in-law and sister-in-law living 10 minutes away and willing to watch the kids for a long weekend, so this means Jess can go with me on these kinds of trips, so she came with me to Fort Lauderdale. Which was a good thing.

The focal point of this trip was dinner and the Polynesian show at The Mai-Kai on Saturday night, but since we were going to be there from Friday night until Sunday morning, we needed some other stuff to do. We stayed at a hotel right on the beach, but Jess isn’t much of a beach person and it was unseasonably cold that November weekend in Florida. Fortunately, Jess had planned ahead and scouted out Las Olas, the “Rodeo Drive” of Fort Lauderdale. My ladyfriend knows her shopping! We had a nice afternoon dining and (window) shopping at some pretty tawny joints, driving through some very ritzy neighborhoods, and gawking at some of the biggest yachts we’d ever seen. High-end living.

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Finally it was Saturday night, time to head over to the Mai-Kai. Jess agreed to drive so I could sample as many Tiki drinks as necessary. What a wonderful place! It was nondescript on the outside, right along US1, but inside the fence it was a sprawling Polynesian paradise. We spent a long time wandering through the gardens, where we discovered a whole world of Tiki statues, waterfalls, palm trees, and tropical flowers. Inside, we settled in for happy hour in the nautically-themed Molokai Bar, where the lovely maidens enchanted us with half-priced appetizers and drinks. Best Mai-Tai I’ve ever had! We were then seated for the 6pm dinner show, where the wonderful Polynesian/Asian food and Tiki drinks kept flowing as the singing and dancing began. Now I’ve never been to Hawai’i, and the closest I’d ever gotten to seeing a Polynesian show was at Luau Cove at WDW’s Polynesian Resort, but the show at the Mai-Kai blew me away! It was amazing watching the dancers and musicians take us on a journey through the Polynesian islands, including the mesmerizing Samoan Fire Knife Dance. This show is not to be missed!

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After the dinner show ended, Jess & I returned to the Molokai Bar for one more drink. She then insisted we take another walk through the gardens, and that’s when it hit me: Jess was having as great a time as I was! How did we get from her not even wanting to come on this trip to her being fully engaged in the Tiki spirit? Karma. Or maybe just her wanderlust for travel, who’s to say? In either case, mahalo Jessica Montero – my soulmate, best friend, and favorite travel companion. I love you!

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