24 Hours in Orlando

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Prelude

So, this time last week, I was attending my company’s annual sales conference at The Marriott World Center in Orlando FL. It was the usual over-the-top event full of business reviews, strategy sessions, panel discussions, and an awards dinner (where I did not win…again). The highlight by far of the conference for me was the keynote speaker, Neil Pasricha. Neil got his start writing the blog 1000 Awesome Things, and he has now published many books including You Are Awesome, which all of us at the sales conference were given a copy of. I enjoyed his presentation so much that I went up to Neil afterwards and got him to personalize my book. We also discussed blogging in general, my blog and podcast, and I gave him an A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge sticker (I keep these on hand for just such an occasion). He said he would check out my sites. Thanks Neil!

The first two days of the sales conference featured miserable weather. Wednesday and Thursday it was in the mid-50s, overcast, rainy. Not exactly the escape a Pennsylvania guy was looking for in Orlando in January! Fortunately, the weather turned on Friday – 70s and sunny. The conference ended at noon, so this was perfect timing for the events I had planned. As most of my colleagues boarded taxis headed for the airport, I munched on my box lunch and waited for a ride of a different kind.

The real fun was about to begin.

Friday 24Jan2020

1:00pm. My brother from another mother George Borcherding arrived at the Marriott World from his home in Jacksonville FL. George is a fellow Disney and Tiki enthusiast who also happens to be a Walt Disney World annual passholder. He travels to Orlando at least once a month to get his Disney on, which usually includes a stop at our happy place, the Polynesian Village. Since I don’t live in Florida, I don’t have an annual pass, so my trip to Walt Disney World for a half-day visit would cost me a pretty penny. How could I justify this expense?

Here’s how. Last December I won the championship of my buddy Chris Benton’s fantasy football league. Not bad for my first year in the league! This is a 12-team league with cash prizes for 1st and 2nd place only. In addition, the champion gets to host a pretty sweet trophy. The cash prize was more than enough to cover the cost of a 1-day park ticket, a 1-night hotel stay, food and beverages, and spending money for souvenirs. So, why not? I earned the right to spend this found money on some great memories.

1:30pm. George and I drove to the Baymont Inn to check in, then travelled to the Hollywood Studios parking lot, where we boarded the new Disney Skyliner headed for EPCOT. I hadn’t been to WDW since they opened the Skyliner, so this was a nice treat and a cool way to fly to our ultimate destination.

2:00pm. We arrived at EPCOT, where the International Festival of the Arts was in full swing. Truth be told, the main reason I wanted to stay in Orlando for an extra day was to attend this event, where my Tiki friend and Disney Master Artist Kevin-John would be debuting his two new It’s A Small World art prints. I had my eye on the Polynesian print, and KJ was going to be at the event from 3-5pm today signing his art. We had an hour to kill.

George and I decided to cruise through the World Showcase, where they had tents set up for all of the featured artists at the festival. Although Kevin-John was my main attraction, I had also discovered another artist when browsing the festival’s website: Eunjung June Kim Atellier. June Kim had 4 works she was debuting this year, and I love them all, but the one I really wanted was Happy Orange Song. We found her art in the Wonderground Gallery tent in front of the Germany pavilion, and I bought the big print I coveted and postcards of the others. Sadly, June Kim wasn’t at the festival this week to sign her art, but I will track her down in the future.

2:30pm. We still had a little time to kill before seeing Kevin-John, so George suggested we do a little drinking around the countries. We started with a Tokyo Sunset in Japan, which was a tropical, Tiki-like concoction. Then we moved on to England where we tried some whiskey flights. I went Irish, George went Scotch. We timed our stop in England perfectly, as the typical 15-minute Florida rainstorm passed through while we stayed high…and dry.

3:00pm. The time had arrived to visit with Kevin-John. We wandered over to the Canada pavilion, where the main artists tent was located. When we got there, only one couple was in line in front of us, so we only had to wait about 10 minutes for our chance. George and I both bought the Small World – Polynesia print in the tent and had them ready for KJ to sign. I had brought an orange Sharpee for the occasion, which he gladly used. Kevin-John was gracious with his time and genuinely glad to see us. I think he spent 15 minutes with George and me, talking story and signing our art. I felt bad for the people in line behind us, which at this point had swelled to over twenty people deep. Everyone was in a good mood, though, and it turns out George and I knew many of them anyway, or at least they knew who we were. Ah, Tiki celebrity!

3:45pm. After we finished with Kevin-John, it was time to head over to EPCOT Future World and go on some rides. Sadly, this part of EPCOT is really torn apart right now, as they are renovating much of the park. My wife’s favorite fountain is gone; MouseGears is closed and ready to be demolished; much of the walking area is inaccessible as large walls have gone up to hide the mess. It really is only a 1/2-day park right now.

Fortunately we had FastPasses for Soarin’, the one must-do ride at EPCOT. Although I really miss the old ride, which featured scenic California, the new ride is pretty cool as you fly around the world. Thank goodness they didn’t change the pre-ride queue and briefing video, where Puddy still calls the shots. “Nice work, Pal.”

After Soarin’ we had FastPasses for Living with The Land and Spaceship Earth, but we didn’t need them, as both standby lines were less than 10 minutes. That was a good thing, as our half day at EPCOT was nearing an end and we had another happy place to get to. I bought some souvenirs for the family and as dusk fell, we hit the road.

6:30pm. George and I got back on the Skyliner, flew to Hollywood Studios, hopped in his Honda Pilot and drove back to the Baymont Inn, where we unpacked and got ready to head back out. At this point we switched to an Uber, as there was going to be some Tiki drinking involved tonight. No sense driving the rest of the night.

7:30pm. We arrived at the Polynesian Village Resort, our happy place and final destination of the day. I hadn’t eaten anything since that box lunch at the Marriott World, so we went to Captain Cook’s, where I ordered the Hawai’ian flatbread pizza while George chowed down on some pork fried rice. We sat out on the terrace on a beautiful evening, listening to music and enjoying the water wall.

While we were eating and chilling, we met up with some off-duty cast members and their friends. George knew everybody, as he comes here a lot! By the end of the evening, I would know them too. George also touched base with Skipper Nick, who was working at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto tonight, and put our name on the waiting list to get in.

8:00pm. George got a text from our friend Polly Allsmiller, who was hanging out upstairs at the Tambu Lounge with her husband Rich. Walter was tending bar tonight, so we headed up to get the best Mai-Tai on property and say hello to our friends. I had met Rich and Polly the last time I was at The Polynesian. They are wonderful people and tell amazing stories about their times at Disney, both in California and Florida. The Allsmillers are genuine ohana and I’m so glad we got to spend time with them!

8:30pm. George got a text from Skipper Nick that our table was ready at Trader Sam’s, so we finished up at the Tambu Lounge and headed back downstairs. Rich and Polly joined us as we settled in for a long evening of Tiki drinks and merriment with friends and cast members. Trader Sam’s is more than just a Tiki bar – it’s a Disney Tiki bar. If the Enchanted Tiki Room and the Jungle Cruise had and alcoholic child, this place would be it. I’ve spent quite a few evenings here, and I hope I get to spend many more. I’ve also made quite a few Tiki friends here over the years, and tonight just added to my ohana. This truly is my happy place.

Saturday 25Jan2020

12:30am. After closing down Trader Sam’s, we headed back upstairs to the Tambu Lounge to hang out with Walter and the rest of the Polynesian cast members as they closed up shop for the night. By 1am George and I hailed an Uber and headed back to the Baymont Inn, where we called it a night.

Denouement

9:00am. I had woken up a little earlier than this, but George was still sleeping, so I quietly packed my suitcase and headed down to the lobby for some breakfast. George was staying in Orlando until Sunday, and I was flying home today, so I didn’t bother him this morning. I ate my breakfast and called an Uber to take me to the airport. Aloha, George, and thanks again for hosting me for the day! I love you, bruddah.

10:00am. I arrived at MCO with lots of time to spare, as my flight wasn’t scheduled to take off until 12:50pm. I had heard horror stories from my colleagues flying out the day before about long lines getting through security. I didn’t want to chance it. On this Saturday morning it only took me about 15 minutes to get through security, so I had time to kill. I started reading Neil Pasricha’s blog, which is really good. It inspired me to read his book, the one he had personalized for me two days earlier. I finished it 3 days after I got home, and enjoyed every page. I can’t wait until his new book comes out, which he teased us with during his presentation at the sales conference.

After a leisurely lunch at Ruby Tuesday in the airport terminal (not many choices here), I boarded the plane heading back to Newark. So long, Orlando. Until we meet again.

1:00pm. Wheels up as I reflect on the past 24 hours. This truly was a wonderful trip, albeit a short one. It really made me happy to be able to see such wonderful people and do such fun things in the course of one day. I’m glad I took Neil Pasricha’s advice to spend the 20 minutes (well, maybe a little more) to write it all down. The 20-minute replay truly does give you the chance to relive the happiness, and will continue to do so every time I read this blog post. Mahalo, Neil. And George. And KJ. And Rich & Polly. A hui hou.

WDW Polynesian Village Day 7

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If it’s Friday, it must be EPCOT. We returned for another go at Food & Wine Festival, and although it was nowhere near as packed as last Sunday, it still got pretty crowded as the day went on. We didn’t really spend a lot of time sampling the country kiosks, but I did try the Aulani Sunset drink from Hawai’i. It was pretty tasty, a nice mix of rum and fruit juices.

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The other foods sampled and approved by my family included the filet at Canada and the waffle at Belgium. Anecdotally, we heard rave reviews about the lamb chops in Australia and the pierogies and kielbasa in Poland. While we we were in the World Showcase, we also did the Kidcot activity, where my kids got to color their own Duffy Bear on a stick and get them stamped and colored in each country. We managed to get them all, starting in Canada and ending in Mexico. I highly recommend this activity for any family looking to keep their kids entertained while also exploring the countries in a little more detail.

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Some of the highlights from our travels around the World Showcase included the Oh Canada! movie in Canada, ice cream in France, the Mitsukoshi department store in Japan, the Karamelle-Kuche shop in Germany, the Yong Feng Shangdian shop in China, and the Gran Fiesta Tour ride in Mexico. Once we made it around the world, it was back to Future World for some shopping at Mouse Gears before boarding the monorail to get back to the Polynesian for dinner.

Tonight we dined at Ohana for the second time during this trip. Ohana is our favorite dining spot in all of WDW. Two dinners and a breakfast during an 8-day stay should attest to that! God forbid Disney should ever mess with Ohana, as that may change my opinion of this resort. So far, the only changes they’ve made are replacing the salad with lettuce wraps and doing away with the chicken skewers. I can live with that. The key ingredients are all still here: pineapple-coconut bread, chicken wings, pork dumplings, lo mein noodles, grilled veggies, pork/steak/shrimp skewers, all served family style. All-you-care-to-eat, which for me is a lot! Tonight I took it easy to make sure I saved room for the tasty dessert: bread pudding with vanilla ice cream and bananas Foster syrup. Yum. I am pleasantly full as I prepare to call it a night 🙂

Tomorrow is our last full day at WDW, and we plan to split the day at Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom. I’m not sure if I’ll have anything new to write about, but I’ll try. Until then, aloha!

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WDW Polynesian Village Day 6

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Today we returned to the Magic Kingdom. We had to try the new Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which was like a smoother, shorter Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. With Dwarfs (sic). We also took in the new parade at 3pm, Festival of Fantasy, which brought a lot of new color to Main Street. But I believe we spent the majority of our time today in Adventureland.

Since we first arrived at the Polynesian last Saturday, I’ve noticed a recurring theme: Adventureland is being promoted throughout all of the parks and resorts that we’ve visited, through a collection of new Disney merchandise celebrating this theme. It seems to be a mashup of the Polynesian Village, Enchanted Tiki Room, Jungle Cruise, and other exotic elements. There are plates, bowls, glasses, figurines, t-shirts, and many other items celebrating Adventureland at Disney. This woven throw sums it up best (and can be yours for the low, low price of $74.95!):

imageToday I picked up 3 Aloha plates (available in blue, green, and red) and 2 Adventureland glass tumblers (available in orange and green) to take home. We also stopped at Aloha Isle Refreshments, after taking in the show at the Enchanted Tiki Room, where I had my first-ever orange-pineapple swirl Dole Whip. What a taste sensation! It was like a party in my mouth. I believe Aloha Isle in Adventureland is the only place where you can get orange Dole Whip, to swirl with either the traditional pineapple or vanilla. I’m sad it took me 5 trips to WDW to figure this out, but I’m happy I now know this little nugget of info.

Tomorrow we return to EPCOT, where I hope to report on the Food & Wine Festival. Until then, aloha!

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WDW Polynesian Village Day 2

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Today we planned to spend the day at EPCOT. We woke up to a beautiful view from our balcony, of the sun coming up over the GCH and the new bungalows being built out back on the water. Unfortunately, it’s been cold here our first 2 days. Not Florida cold, but PA cold: 40s at night, low 60s during the day. We’ll never make it to the quiet pool at this rate! Fortunately, we’re supposed to get back into the 80s by Wednesday. Let’s hope.

Since we were headed to EPCOT, that meant a trip to the TTC to catch the monorail there. Normally, we would take a short walk from Rapa Nui, across the special path where the tiny lizards darted between the log fences. Not today. That path is closed, as is Rapa Nui for that matter, so we headed out front from the GCH to the temporary path by the bus stop and the parking lot.

The one nice thing about walking this way was getting to walk by the new Polynesian Village Resort sign at the street entrance to the resort. What an awesome sign! I rarely noticed the old sign in the past as our Magical Express bus pulled into the Polynesian, but this sign is something else completely. Cascading water, burning Tiki torches, and the retro style of the typeface make this new element a winner. It looks even more impressive at night. So much so, I actually stopped to take a video of it!

Do I still miss the old path? Absolutely. I hope they reopen it once they finish the renovations. The walk took twice as long, but we’re talking 10 minutes instead of 5, so not much to bitch about there. As Jess mentioned today, our new digs are lacking in the foliage we used to enjoy on the East side of the  resort, and the old path to the TTC took us right through the heart of it. So yes, we do miss walking on the old path. Tomorrow I will go exploring over to the other side to check out the construction. Hopefully I’ll get to enjoy the lush vegetation once again. Until then, aloha!

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WDW Polynesian Village Day 1

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So here we are, back in my happy place, 18 months after our last visit. Well, technically, that’s not true. I was here briefly back in January on business, for my company’s annual sales meeting, and although we were put up at The Yacht Club near Epcot, a few colleagues and I snuck away one morning and caught the bus to the TTC and made the short trek to The Polynesian. For breakfast. At Kona Cafe. But I digress.

We had reservations about booking this stay here, because of all of the construction going on. The two longhouses where we’ve stayed in the past, Rapa Nui and Tahiti, are both shut down for renovations, as is half of the Great Ceremonial House, the Volcano Pool, and the main path to the TTC. No matter, I told my wife Jess. I’d still rather stay at a construction zone Polynesian Village than any other resort on WDW property. I think. Over the next 8 days, we will find out!

We arrived today at about 3pm and immediately noticed the construction as we walked into the GCH. The front desk was moved to the left side of the entrance, and the entire center of the building was behind temporary walls. They’re getting rid of my beloved indoor waterfall, but that’s okay, because I’ve seen the plans for the new courtyard and it looks pretty cool. Check-in was pretty smooth, and we’re staying in the Fiji longhouse, which is on the Marina (west) side of the resort. We’ve never stayed on this side, but so far I like it.

The one new part of The Polynesian we sampled today was the Pineapple Lanai, which is the new place to get Dole Whips here. It’s not a big deal, just an outdoor seating area and a walk up counter where the art gallery used to be, but it’s a nice enhancement. They serve you now, instead of the self-serve deal they used to have inside Captain Cook’s, and you can get a Dole Whip float in addition to the Pineapple, Vanilla, and swirled soft-serve. Tasty!

Well, that’s all I’ve got for today, as it’s been a long day of traveling. I look forward to sharing more observations of the under-renovation Polynesian Village during our stay, as well as any other vacation nuggets that you may find interesting. Until then, aloha!

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Aloha Spirit: Polynesian Resort

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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.

Orlando FL, December 2008. Our first family trip to Walt Disney World. My wife Jess grew up a big fan of Disney; I did not. I was convinced that Disney was evil! The way they tried to get at every last dollar you had, through your kids, by bombarding them with their movies, their TV shows, their songs, their product placement, their marketing genius that targeted everybody, but especially children. No way in Hell did I ever want to go to WDW, but Jess was adamant, so I made a deal with the Devil (Disney). I would go to WDW, but under one condition: we would only stay at the Polynesian Resort. If Jess was going to drag me to WDW, she needed to trick me into believing I was staying in Hawaii. Grudgingly, she agreed.

As karma would have it, this turned into our best vacation ever. I was in my own little Tiki heaven, surrounded by Polynesian beauty at every turn: the music, the food, the drinks, the palm trees, the Tiki torches, the decor, and the amazingly helpful staff that attended to our needs with a cheerful “aloha” at every turn. Disney really impressed me with their service, which is second to none. Ironically, Jess probably enjoyed staying at the Polynesian as much as I did, for many reasons. It’s a deluxe resort on Disney property. It’s on the main monorail line to the Magic Kingdom. It’s right next door to the Transportation & Ticket Center (TTC), from where you can catch the monorail to Epcot or busses to all of the other Disney parks and resorts. It has the best restaurant, Ohana, in all of WDW. By accepting my condition, Jess was introduced to the perfect vacation spot. Karma. Mahalo, Jessica!

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