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 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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Tiki Temples

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These are the houses that Tiki built. Part restaurant, part bar, part nightclub; all aloha spirit. This partial list of Tiki temples represents the Meccas for Tiki geeks, like me, to visit as often as possible. If possible. Some of these places are gone now, torn down or closed up in the name of … progress?

A proper Tiki temple is a place you can go (or could have gone) to escape the real world for a little while. Enjoy a strong, rum-based drink with many layers of flavor. Chow on some Pu-Pu, typically Asian fare with some Polynesian flair. Listen to some cool music, like Exotica, Lounge, Hawaiian, or Surf, preferably performed live. If you’re lucky, catch a performance by a Polynesian dance troupe, including the amazing Samoan Fire Knife dance.

Here are some of the places I’ve been fortunate enough to see for myself, either in-person or through some second-hand tales that inspired me.

 

imageThe Mai-Kai, Fort Lauderdale FL (1956-present). This is the granddaddy of them all, 58 years old and still going strong. The Mai-Kai is the perfect Tiki temple: great drinks, fine food, wonderful atmosphere, and the most authentic Polynesian entertainment outside of the South Pacific. I’ve been there a handful of times now and can’t wait to go back. You don’t have real Tiki cred until you’ve stamped your passport at The Mai-Kai.

 

imageThe Kahiki, Columbus OH (1961-2000). Full disclosure: I’ve never been to The Kahiki. A few years before I started my Tiki journey, this temple was torn down to make way for a Walgreens store. A fucking Walgreens! However, I do feel a connection to this historic place, as I described in one of the many “worlds colliding” segments of my Whenceforth A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge blog post last year (24Nov2013). Jeff Chenault just published a new book, Kahiki Supper Club: A Polynesian Paradise in Columbus, which chronicles the history of how a cold Midwestern town came to host one of the most elaborate Tiki temples ever built. I look forward to checking it out.

 

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Walt Disney World’s Polynesian Village Resort, Orlando FL (1971-present). This is my happy place. My family has vacationed at WDW four times, and we always stay at The Poly. We’re going back for our fifth trip next month! The Polynesian Village Resort takes the Tiki temple to another level: an escape for an extended stay. All of the elements are here, with the addition of authentic Polynesian architecture and amenities. This is a South Pacific paradise conveniently located in Central Florida.

 

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Painkiller, New York NY (2010-13). At the other end of the spectrum, we have this wonderful Tiki bar nestled into an unlikely neighborhood on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Sadly, PKNY closed their doors when they lost their lease last year, but not before I had the chance to visit. I joined my friends Jack Fetterman and Gina Haase of Primitiva in Hi-Fi for a night of merriment with fantastic Tiki drinks, great music, and surprisingly authentic Polynesian decor. Mahalo, Jack and Gina!

 

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Disneyland’s Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Room, Anaheim CA (2011-present). Disney strikes again, this time in Disneyland with the opening of their own Tiki bar with a Jungle Cruise twist. I wrote all about my visit to Trader Sam’s last year in my blog post Aloha Spirit: Los Angeles (02Jan14). This place has become so popular that Disney plans to open another version of it at…wait for it…The Polynesian Village Resort at WDW. Oh, happy day in my happy place! If only it was open in time for my trip next month. Oh, well.

 

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Three Dots and A Dash, Chicago IL (2013-present). Another great new Tiki temple in an urban setting, this gem opened just over a year ago. Owner Paul McGee has already won awards for his upscale Tiki bar Three Dots and A Dash in downtown Chicago, which looks like a speakeasy from the outside. Inside, down a flight of stairs, you’ll find a sprawling restaurant and bar with meticulously crafted Tiki drinks, great food, and lush Polynesian decor. And the waitresses are pretty cute 😉

 

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The Yachtsman, Philadelphia PA (2014-present). Somewhere between PKNY and Three Dots and A Dash lies the latest urban Tiki bar I’ve visited. The Yachtsman just opened last month in the Fishtown section of Philly, and it has the feel of a cool neighborhood bar. Don’t let that description fool you, though; this place is steeped in Tiki culture. The owners are veterans of the Philly restaurant scene, but they take their Tiki drinks very seriously, with fresh, homemade ingredients and expert craftsmanship. The decor is spot-on Tiki, and they plan to start serving food soon. The Yachtsman has all the makings of a proper Tiki temple, and should become a great one in time. I look forward to my next visit!

So these are the Tiki temples I know or have some experience with. There are many other great places I haven’t been to that are just as wonderful: Don The Beachcomber, Trader Vic’s, The Tiki Ti. I need another trip to California! There are also some brand new places I need to check out, like Beachbum Berry’s Latitude 29 in New Orleans and Suzanne Long’s Longitude in Oakland. I hope to do that soon, in my continuing Tiki journey. I hope you’ll join me there for a Mai-Tai, some Pu-Pu and a great escape. Mahalo!