Pins in The Tiki Lounge

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There are many facets to the story of my Tiki journey. One angle I haven’t explored yet is my collection of Tiki pins. As I look back on the many pins I’ve gotten, and continue to get new ones, it suddenly occurs to me: these pins tell a story. With pretty pictures. Let’s start at the beginning.

2008-13, Walt Disney World

Our first family vacation to WDW in Orlando FL was in December of 2008. We were on the every 18 month plan, which saw us journeying to the Polynesian Village Resort four times between 2008-13. These were the days before Disney Magic Bands, so you carried your ID cards in a plastic pouch on the end of a lanyard. The lanyard was a perfect place to hold pins, and we were quickly introduced to the art of pin trading at Disney.

Pin trading was a family affair, as my wife and kids were really into it. I also enjoyed it, and was fortunate enough to score my first Tiki pin (the one with the black Mickey ears hat) via trade. I loved that pin, and through a little research, I discovered there were two more Tiki pins in the set. I managed to find the second one in due time, again by trade (because they no longer sold these), but the third one eluded me. Then, one day, by dumb luck, the third pin (the blue one) found me. Seriously! We were walking through Animal Kingdom, on our way to the Safari ride, when a Disney cast member came running up to me and offered me a trade. He had noticed (from afar) the two Tiki pins on my lanyard and told me he had the third one if I was interested in it. I sure was! It was karma that this missing pin found me, early on in my Tiki journey.

Besides trading for pins, we also bought our fair share of them. At first I was drawn to the pins from some of our favorite WDW rides, like The Haunted Mansion and Tower of Terror. Then I discovered pins specific to the Polynesian Village, available in their main gift shop, Bou-Tiki. They had some fairly generic (but still cool) pins, and they incorporated Lilo and Stitch into some of them, an added bonus. During our first visit, which was during the Christmas season, I also found a special Holiday 2008 Polynesian Village pin. What a great find! It turns out they put out a new holiday pin every year. I have made it my goal to get one of these special pins every year that we visit WDW. So far, so good.

2013, Disneyland

For my 48th birthday, Jess and I decided to take a trip to Los Angeles CA. My main motivation for the trip was to attend the 50th anniversary celebration of Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room, the original. We also snuck in a trip to Whittier to visit Oceanic Arts, on our way to Anaheim. Jess wanted to try Disneyland, to see how it compared to Walt Disney World, which we had been to four times already. She also had never been to California and wanted to see Hollywood and Santa Monica. We ended up staying at the Disneyland Hotel, which is where the ETR celebration was being held, and put us close to Disneyland before we toured LA.

Magic bands were just becoming a thing at Disneyland in 2013, but we still had cards to navigate our hotel, which meant another pouch/lanyard and more space for new pins! Here I focused on the pins specific to Disneyland, including the hotel were we stayed, the iconic park sign, and the rides we really enjoyed. Some rides were unique to Disneyland (The Matterhorn), some were better here than at WDW (Space Mountain, It’s A Small World), and some not as good (Splash Mountain). It was fun to try them all, and I got as many pins as I could to remember our one trip to Disneyland.

But let’s move on to the main reason for our visit: the 50th anniversary of The Enchanted Tiki Room!

I was very excited for this event, mostly because it would be another opportunity to see one of my Tiki art heroes, SHAG. Disney had commissioned him to do some special paintings for this event, and I was lucky enough to get him to personalize a print for me. I had also pre-ordered a bunch of ETR swag that I picked up at the event, including some pins marking the 50th anniversary (displayed on yet another lanyard, this one for the event!). While we were at Disneyland, we of course did the Enchanted Tiki Room, which was another attraction much better there than at WDW. The main difference is the outdoor courtyard area, which features 8 animated Tiki god statues and a stand selling Dole Whip (as captured in SHAG’s art). I hadn’t planned on getting the special pins dedicated to each Tiki god, but after seeing them in person, I had to have those pins too. All are now displayed proudly in the ETR corner of the Tiki Lounge.

2014-18, Walt Disney World Part Deux

Back to Walt Disney World we go. A lot had changed when we returned for a family vacation in 2014. Magic bands had now replaced the old card system, so there was no need to wear lanyards anymore. They were building a new Tiki bar at The Polynesian Village called Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, modeled after the Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel which had opened the year before (and we got to visit a mere weeks after it opened!). They also opened a new stand at the Great Ceremonial House, the Pineapple Lanai, where you could get Dole Whips and floats. And yes, they were building new over-water bungalows out back, and for a mere $2500 a night, you too could stay there. Too rich for our blood.

Anyway, though WDW and The Polynesian were changing, as were our family vacation plans (now on a 36-month schedule), my hunger for pins has not changed. I still seek out the special holiday pin every year we visit. Although we’ve only been back twice for full family vacations, we have been back for special trips at least once a year over the past 5 years. Even though we might not be there over the holiday season, I have friends in Florida who visit Orlando regularly and can pick stuff up for me. So, for example, we took a road trip in June that had us at The Polynesian for 4 days; the 2018 holiday pins weren’t available then, but you can bet I will have one of those pins hanging in the Tiki Lounge before the end of the year!

2018, Non-Disney Tiki

So, why did it take me 10 years to realize that other folks make Tiki pins besides Disney? I don’t know. Maybe I was distracted by other art forms, like paintings, Tiki mugs, and books. Or Tiki playing cards, like the cool Tikilandia deck designed by Robert Jimenez from LA. It was when I ordered two sets of these beautiful cards that I received one of Robert’s pins as a thank you gift. Well, that pin was so cool that I had to order another right away! I decided to display these pins on a new canvas, literally – the back of my Tiki bar director-chair stool, which is made of canvas.

Not long after I got the Tikilandia pins, I next discovered the Salty Dame and PinChe Loca pins made by Megan Besmirched from Chicago. Megan is part of the great Tiki scene in the Windy City that includes Kymm Bang’s gravel art and amazing Tiki bars Three Dots And A Dash, Lost Lake, and the Witco shrine of Hala Kaliki.

Finally, my newest pins come from Gil Taimana from San Diego. He is the owner of Tahiti Gil’s South Seas Trading Co. and Tahiti Felix’s Master Tattoo & Museum. I met Gil through the Disneyland Addiction group, and his artistic homage to Disney and the Enchanted Tiki Room is quite strong. Just look at these amazing pins! They really tell a story, and if you’ve been to the ETR at Disneyland, you appreciate the story even more. Pretty powerful that a tiny work of art can do that.

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Aloha Spirit: Los Angeles

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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.

Los Angeles CA, June 2013. For my 48th birthday, I decided I wanted to travel out to Disneyland to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Enchanted Tiki Room. Once again, my wife Jess balked at going with me, at first. I had resigned myself to making this trip as cheap as possible, staying at Comfort Inns to use up my Choice Hotels points, eating a lot of tacos and burgers, since the flight would not be inexpensive. This all changed when I suggested to Jess that we could spend a day in Disneyland and another touring Hollywood. She was in!

Of course, now this would no longer be a trip done on the cheap. My ladyfriend likes to travel in style! Actually, the only major change was in hotels: we would now be staying at the Disneyland Hotel, which all though it was a little salty, had its advantages. We would be within walking distance of the Disneyland park, which gave us some flexibility on Saturday. The Enchanted Tiki Room celebration was taking place in the Disneyland Hotel’s grand ballroom on Friday night and Saturday, and since this was the focal point of the trip for me, staying there was another bonus. SHAG was signing his prints at the show on Saturday afternoon, so we could sneak away from the park, check him out, take our signed loot back to our room, and head back to the park for the evening. Good planning.

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We actually flew into LAX on Friday morning. Our flight got in around 10:30, we picked up our rental car at about 11 (travel tip: Enterprise at LAX rocks!), and headed for Whittier CA first, arriving just in time for lunch. Our first order of business was to try In-N-Out Burger for the first time – it didn’t disappoint! Jess stumbled upon their secret menu, so we had our burgers and fries “animal style,” and I really enjoyed the Neopolitan shake: vanilla/chocolate/strawberry all mixed together. Yum.

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The real reason for starting in Whittier was to find a Tiki Mecca: Oceanic Arts. I’ve written at length about our visit with Leroy Schmaltz and Bob Van Oosting (see Keeping The Tiki Torch Lit II, published 20Nov13). Let’s just say we had a great time visiting with these Tiki pioneers for a few hours, and they even gave us directions for the back roads to get from Whittier to Anaheim, so we could avoid the freeway traffic on a Friday afternoon. More importantly, I really believe seeing Oceanic Arts was the turning point in my wife’s apathy towards my Tiki obsession. Jess had a great time chatting up Bob and Leroy, took lots of pictures, and even insisted we buy Leroy’s book, Night of the Tiki. Between visiting this place and The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale, Jess is starting to get my love of Tiki. The trip was off to a great start!

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Once we finally escaped the gravitational pull of Oceanic Arts, we hit the back roads and headed for our next destination: Anaheim CA and the Disneyland Hotel. We made it there just in time to check in and have a little happy hour before meeting some old friends for dinner. That’s when we found the biggest advantage of staying here: Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar. This gem happened to be right in front of our hotel building, a very short walk from our room. And what a place! I’ve also written at length about Trader Sam’s (see Keeping The Tiki Torch Lit, published 11Nov13). We liked it so much, we had happy hour and dinner there on Friday night and stopped back again for another round on Saturday afternoon before heading back to Disneyland. Good times.

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The Enchanted Tiki Room 50th anniversary celebration on Saturday afternoon was a nice event. We had pre-ordered lots of collectible merchandise and picked it up there. We saw lots of cool artwork and met some of the artists, including SHAG, who we were seeing for the 2nd time in 2013! He very patiently chatted with us and signed our stuff – what a nice guy! As an added bonus, we decided to sit in on a symposium featuring some of the original and more recent Disney Imagineers who have worked on The Enchanted Tiki Room over the years. They told some wonderful stories! The star of the panel discussion was Rollie Crump, an original Imagineer and one of Walt Disney’s contemporaries. Jess was really excited to see and hear Rollie Crump, as she had read all about him and his close relationship with Walt. What a nice treat.

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The rest of our trip was all about Jess. We spent Saturday morning and evening in Disneyland, which is something she had always wanted to do, comparing and contrasting the rides here with their counterparts at Walt Disney World, and although Disneyland is a lot smaller, there were some wonderful differences, in particular the whole New Orleans Square area, where we had a great lunch. Since we were only there for 1 day, Jess made sure we were first in line for rope drop. We knocked out the whole park by lunch time, and returned later in the afternoon to revisit the better rides and catch the Phantasmic show. That was amazing! The show was capped off by a live Peter Pan vs. Captain Hook battle aboard a pirate ship, followed by the Mark Twain steamboat piloted by Steamboat Willie Mickey Mouse. Don’t miss this show when you come to Disneyland!

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Our last day, Sunday, was a whirlwind tour of some other SoCal hotspots. After breakfast, we headed for Hollywood to see the iconic sign and check out the famous Chinese Theatre. Our next stop was Paramount Studios, where the tour was wonderful. Finally, we headed for Santa Monica so we could put our feet in the Pacific Ocean, Jess for the first time ever, and had dinner in town. We ended the night at a hotel near LAX, and flew home early Monday morning.

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So, where does Tiki karma fit in to these 3 days in LA? Plenty of places. Starting with the thought that I convinced Jess to come with me on this trip by incorporating the touristy LA things I knew she would like to see, and in the end, I believe she enjoyed the Tiki stops almost as much. Then add the change of hotel venue to the Disneyland Hotel, which was her suggestion, and the advantages that came from that decision were many. Finally, something as small as getting better directions from Leroy Schmaltz at Oceanic Arts after listening to his cool stories for a few hours. All in all, it was a wonderful Tiki trip through La-La land. Mahalo, Los Angeles. We will be back.

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