What’s New at The Polynesian

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Walt Disney World’s Polynesian Village Resort is my happy place. When we take family vacations to WDW, that’s where we stay. It’s non-negotiable. The last time we were there, back in November 2014 (see WDW Polynesian Village Day 1), The Poly was under construction, and a lot of the resort was unrecognizable. Last week I was in Orlando for a sales conference at the Marriott World Center, and we brought the family in a few days early for a mini vacation. We didn’t stay overnight at The Polynesian, but we did spend a few precious hours there last Saturday afternoon.

So what was the reason for a quick trip to my happy place? Like I need a reason?!? Actually, there were 4 good reasons:

  1. To see how the renovations turned out;
  2. To get some Dole Whip;
  3. To have dinner at the Kona Café;
  4. To meet my Tiki buddy from Jacksonville, George Borcherding.

Let’s start with George. He and I have become Facebook friends because we share a love of Tiki and WDW. George and I had never actually met, but when I told him I had a sales conference in Orlando in February and planned to stop by The Poly, George marked the date on his calendar and said he would meet me there. True Tiki friendship knows no bounds!

After a quick introduction in the Tambu Lounge, we headed down to the Pineapple Lanai for our first Dole Whip. It’s not a stretch to say George is addicted to Dole Whip. He obsesses over it on Facebook, and his travels in search of Dole Whip are epic. Once we scored our Dole Whip, we sat on the outdoor patio around the corner to be first in line for our next destination: Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto.

Here was the thing I was most excited to see on this trip: Trader Sam’s. My wife Jessica and I have been to the one at Disneyland, when we were there in 2013 for the 50th anniversary of the Enchanted Tiki Room (see Aloha Spirit: Los Angeles). When we found out they were opening one at The Polynesian, we were looking forward to checking it out. Unfortunately, it was just being built when we were last here. So this was our next chance, and we took it!

The thing that was most distinctive about the East Coast Trader Sam’s was Uh-Oa, a crazy, Voodoo like goddess who is a focal point of the corner of the bar where we sat. Uh-Oa is also one of the signature drinks that generates an elaborate light and sound show when you order it, and comes in a cool Tiki mug. Of course, we ordered it first, and I brought that mug home to pair with my Krakatoa mug from the West Coast Trader Sam’s.

After a couple of drinks at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto, George and I went back into the Great Ceremonial House to pay tribute to Maui, the Polynesian Village Resort logo who has come to life as a large statue at the center of the first floor. I was sad when they decided to remove the iconic waterfall that rose 2 stories above the lobby, but I must admit Maui is a nice replacement. The ground floor is much brighter now, with plenty of seating and wonderful nautical decor hanging from the now-visible glass ceiling. Well done, Disney!

Mahalo, George, for making the trip to hang out with me at my happy place! After this photo, we said aloha to George and went upstairs to have dinner at the Kona Café. My family had never eaten dinner there before, as we’re partial to the feast at Ohana, but this was the trip for new things, so we gave it a shot. It was very nice! They have a new menu at Kona Café, and many of the appetizers are familiar from Ohana, but the entrees were different and quite good. I had the tuna, and it was one of the best pieces of tuna I’ve ever had! After dinner, my son Ryan and I had one more Dole Whip for the road, and we were on our way to our next destination.

All in all, our visit to the Polynesian Village Resort was short but sweet. The changes they’ve made were all for the better, in my opinion. We stayed in 3 different hotels in Orlando for the 4 nights of this trip, and my family agrees: when we come back to WDW for a full vacation, we will come back to The Polynesian. Like I said before: it’s non-negotiable.

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Wildwood Weekend

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The Mid-Atlantic Tiki ohana is alive and well and was spotted in Wildwood NJ over the weekend of May 15-17, 2015. Mod Betty of Retro Roadmap, with a little help from The Thrifty Discount DJs and yours truly from A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge, held the first annual Wildwood Vintage Tiki Weekend at the Caribbean Motel. We had a great time here at the Doo-Wop capital of the world!

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So what is Doo-Wop? I myself didn’t know, until Beth Lennon a/k/a Mod Betty approached me with her idea for this weekend, after we both attended The Hukilau in June of 2014. Doo-Wop describes a lifestyle from the 1950s and early 1960s in the USA, centered around architecture, music, and entertainment. Other parts of the world refer to this style as Googie, another word I had to go look up in Wikipedia. Whatever you call it, The Wildwoods in NJ have it in spades, and are working hard to preserve it. And Mod Betty seized the opportunity to combine two of her passions, retro and Tiki, into one event. Brilliant!

imageimage Friday night began with a cocktail reception and music provided by A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge, featuring my own Mai-Tai recipe. It seemed to be well-received. After nightfall, we all boarded buses for a guided tour of North Wildwood, Wildwood, and Wildwood Crest, hosted by the Doo-Wop Preservation League. We saw many amazing motels, restaurants, and bars, culminating in a stop at the Cool Scoops Ice Cream Parlor, a 1950s memorabilia lover’s dream!

imageSaturday day morning and early afternoon allowed me some free time with the family. We spent it on the Boardwalk in Wildwood, browsing through gift shops, playing games in a vintage arcade, and scarfing down some Mack’s Pizza. I grew up eating this pizza as a young kid, and now my son Ryan is addicted to it as well!  

Once 3pm rolled around, it was time for the main events of the weekend to begin. These included a room crawl/swap meet, limbo contest, fashion show, and wonderful dinner of pig roast, barbecue chicken, and all of the trimmings. And there was more rum. Lots of rum! Thanks to Mod Betty, Cliff Hillis, and the many guests who served drinks in their rooms during the crawl, we didn’t run out of rum until well into the night!

The Thrifty Discount DJs spun cool lounge and exotica tunes all afternoon and evening, and as the sun went down, the vintage Tiki revelers kept up the merriment with dancing, drinking, and socializing. At one point I asked the DJ if he had the theme from Hawaii Five-0, which of course he managed to dig up and play right away. I grabbed the nearest, able-bodied men I could find and we proceeded to get on the floor and paddle the outrigger from the show’s closing credits. We were cheered on by the beautiful dancing ladies in their retro dresses. Good times!

  

As Sunday morning dawned, some of us took off early to head home or grab some breakfast, while others stuck around to take some last pictures and say their goodbyes…for now. Everybody had a great time at this first Vintage Tiki weekend, and we look forward to doing it again next year. A big mahalo goes out to Mod Betty of Retro Roadmap for organizing this wonderful event! To all of the Tiki ohana who made it this year, and to those of you who couldn’t make it but will be here next year, I say the same thing: Aloha.

     

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 5

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Tonight I’m blogging live from the Tambu Lounge, sucking down my first Mai-Tai of the trip. I opted for the traditional Mai-Tai rather than the Captain’s, and sadly, my young bartender wasn’t familiar with Auntie’s Mai-Tai. Oh well. I’ll have to try again later this week when Walter’s behind the bar.

This day is ending right next to where it started, at Ohana for Breakfast with Stitch. This is a regular event for us, along with dinner at Ohana, which we did on Monday. It’s great to stick with the traditions we’ve embraced from previous trips to the Polynesian, especially in light of all of the changes going on around us. My kids adore our breakfast at Ohana, because they get to meet and greet their favorite character, Stitch, along with Lilo, Aloha Mickey, and Pluto (my son’s 2nd favorite). We also all love the passion fruit/guava juice they serve with breakfast; they need to bottle and sell that stuff, we miss it so much after we leave!

We did get one new wrinkle at breakfast this morning: the introduction of the Stitch waffle. As if this great breakfast couldn’t get any better! My kids will be talking about this for months. Our server told us this new taste treat would be replacing the ubiquitous Mickey waffle, but I don’t believe it. Maybe just at the Ohana breakfast? Stay tuned.

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For something new this trip, we decided to try Blizzard Beach. Since the Volcano Pool is closed for renovation, the good folks at Disney offered free passage to Blizzard Beach for all Polynesian Village Resort guests. The process went very smoothly. We boarded a bus from the Polynesian directly to Blizzard Beach, and when we arrived, there was a small kiosk set up especially for us. They gave us passes to the water park, towels, and free sunscreen. Nicely done.

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As for Blizzard Beach itself, we really enjoyed it there! From the lazy river to the family tube ride, our kids had a blast. So did we adults. The weather broke perfectly for us, giving us the mid-80s on the day we planned to try a water park. Yet again, we tried something new this trip and were rewarded with another must-do for our next trip. I recommend Blizzard Beach for any Polynesian guests missing the Volcano Pool.

So now I’m finishing my 2nd Mai-Tai (Captain’s this time), so I need to wrap it up for tonight. We have an early day at the Magic Kingdom tomorrow, so until then, aloha!

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WDW Polynesian Village Day 4

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Today we spent the entire day at Animal Kingdom, including dinner at Sanaa, the restaurant at the Kidani Village (DVC) section of the Animal Kingdom Lodge. I would highly recommend this place to anybody! We went there mainly for my mother-in-law Phyllis (yes she comes with us to WDW and she’s wonderful!), so she could watch giraffes out the window as we dined. Phyllis loves giraffes. The food was African-Indian fusion, and anybody who knows me knows I hate Indian food, but I was feeling adventurous tonight and tried some new things, and I was pleasantly surprised. The food at Sanaa was fantastic! We will be back.

Anyway, I bring up Kidani Village as an example of a Disney DVC resort done right. They were so true to the Animal Kingdom theme that it really feels like an extension of the park. I’m hopeful the new DVC sections of the Polynesian Village will build upon the legacy of this wonderful resort. I’m cautiously optimistic after seeing the plans for the renovations here at the Polynesian.

Some of those plans are on display on the temporary walls in the Great Ceremonial House. This is a smart use of the otherwise unsightly space created by these walls. Since they block your view of what’s being destroyed from the past, they might as well show you what their removal will reveal in the future. In the case of the central area of the GCH, I like what I see. The grand old waterfall is being replaced by a bright and airy new courtyard, with the Polynesian Village logo rendered as a 3D sculpture prominently featured in the design. I think that will look really cool, and will be a nice tribute to the original logo.

The other renovation I’m excited about is the addition of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto. This new bar and seating area is going in the northwest corner of the GCH, where the old arcade used to be. You can’t see any of the construction going on, as the door leading out of the west side of the GCH is temporarily closed and the new seating area is behind the outdoor construction fencing. This area feels claustrophobic as you walk through it now, but it should look amazing once it’s finished next Spring. I’ve been to the Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at Disneyland, and if our version here turns out even half as well, we’re in for a treat!

Tomorrow we return to Ohana for breakfast with Stitch, one of my kids’ highlights of our stay. I will also try to make it to the Tambu Lounge and blog from there tomorrow night. Until then, aloha!

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