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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Stalking SHAG

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I love the work of Josh Agle, the artist better known as SHAG. Sometimes I wonder if I’m not obsessed with him. My chance discovery of SHAG’s art (see my 24Nov13 post, Whenceforth A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge?) started me on the path to Tiki, a journey I’ve thoroughly enjoyed, and I sure have collected a lot of SHAG swag over the years. Most of it I’ve gotten myself, but some of it has been acquired for me by my partners in crime, often times in-person, with requests for personalized signatures on my behalf. Which is why SHAG must think I’m stalking him.

Chicago, July 2006. My second SHAG print, Raft of the Medusa, came from his SHAG After Dark exhibition at the DVA Gallery in Lincoln Park. Now I don’t live in Chicago, but my friend Bruce does, and he agreed to head over to the gallery and pick up this print for me. As it turns out, he went there on the first day of the show, and happened to meet Josh Agle in-person, who was there for the premiere party. Bruce got him to autograph the print for me, which was pretty cool.

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New York City, November 2008. I first met Josh Agle myself at the Jonathan Levine Gallery in Chelsea, where he attended the premiere of his Voyeur exhibition. My wife Jess & I took a day trip to NYC, where we did our usual touristy stuff (Times Square, Rockefeller Center, F.A.O. Schwartz), walked down to the old Empire Diner for dinner, then ended the day at the art gallery for the SHAG party. We got there early, and he got there late, but he was gracious and kind enough to talk with me and pose for a few pictures. He also signed my new print, In Search of Tiki, which I had schlepped all over NYC in its tube in my backpack, hoping to get a SHAG personalized autograph. We were off to a good start, Josh & I.

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Anaheim, September 2009. Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2009. SHAG was commissioned by Disney to create some artwork for the event. They had worked together before on other milestone celebrations, but this was the first time that I was aware of it beforehand and had the opportunity to get some swag in real time. If only I knew somebody in LA! Well, I didn’t, but my friend Gordon has an aunt, Mary Pat Killian, who lives in Whittier and happens to have season passes to Disneyland. Bingo! Gordon asked Aunt Mary if she’d be willing to pick up a few things for me, and she was game. No personalized SHAG autographs, but she did get me some great items, including a set of collectible pins, a tin of postcards, and a cool mini print with themed frame that now hangs in my daughter Natalia’s room. Thanks, Aunt Mary!

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Chicago, February 2010. SHAG came back to Chicago, this time to the Rotofugi Gallery (which had merged with DVA) for his Red Star, Black Eye exhibition. My wallet and I were on hiatus from spending money on SHAG prints (I was up to 4 by now), but even though I wasn’t in the market for anything, I told my buddy Bruce that Josh Agle was coming back to town. Unbeknownst to me, Bruce attended the premiere event, and picked up a little something for me as a surprise birthday gift: a toy Shriner car, also inspired and designed by SHAG. How cool is that?! Of course, Bruce got him to autograph the car for me, but by this time, Josh was on to me and my network.

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Orlando, October 2011. SHAG was called upon by Disney yet again, this time to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Walt Disney World. Now this one was a big deal to me, as my family has fallen in love with WDW and had already vacationed there twice in the 3 years before this event. In fact, we were scheduled to be there again in December of 2011, but I was afraid that might be too late to get any of the good SHAG swag going on sale in October. So, who did I know on the ground in Orlando? Of course: another old friend and former hockey teammate, Michael Hardy! Mike had been living in Orlando for a few years, and when I asked him to run over to the Art of Disney gallery at Downtown Disney to pick up a few things, he was happy to do it. He called me from the gallery to tell me what was available, and we hit the mother lode: shirts, coasters, post cards, pins, and another cool mini print (this one hangs in my other daughter Lexie’s room). It turns out Mike was there on the day Josh Agle was there as well, so he went up to Josh and asked him to sign a few things for his friend, Andy Panda. According to Mike, Josh just shook his head, smiled, and graciously signed away! I was glad to be able to return the favor to Mike a couple of months later, when I treated him to a round of golf at WDW, followed by some Mai-Tais at the Polynesian Resort’s Tamba Lounge. Mahalo, Mike!

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Palm Springs, December 2012. I’ve gotten to know Monet Leann Orystick pretty well, even though I’ve never met her. Monet runs SHAG: The Store in Palm Springs, which is associated with M Modern Gallery, who has hosted several of SHAG’s art exhibitions. I’ve ordered a couple of SHAG shirts from Monet, who does a great job of sending out blast emails and Facebook posts to tempt suckers like me. One day I asked her if Josh Agle visited the store often, and she told me he tries to get there about once a month. I then asked Monet if she’d be willing to deliver a package to him, if I mailed it to the store, and she said she’d be happy to do that for me! I sent Josh a couple of my mix CDs featuring his art on the cover, and a nice letter asking him to consider coming to visit my hometown of Bethlehem. Boy, was I surprised when I got this hand-written note back about a month later!

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New York City, April 2013. Josh Agle returned to the Jonathan Levine Gallery for a 3rd time (I missed the 2nd time) for his Thursday’s Girl exhibition. He had some really cool paintings featuring Andy Warhol, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, which unfortunately I didn’t have the $10K to buy! I did come to the premiere party, however, and this time I brought the whole family with me. Thanks to some hellacious NYC traffic and family-friendly stops at Ellen’s Stardust Diner and the Nintendo Store, we were seriously late to the party, and almost didn’t make it before they locked the gallery doors. Fortunately, my friends Beth Lennon (a/k/a Mod Betty) and Cliff Hillis (a/k/a Pop Star) were there to let us in, and Beth had even gotten SHAG to sign one of the event postcards for me in case I didn’t make it. Another stalker joins the team! Well, we did make it, barely, and just like 5 years earlier, SHAG was gracious enough to chat with me and pose for pictures with my whole family. He also thanked me for the CDs I had sent him a few months earlier and asked me when we would come visit him in LA? Funny he should ask!

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Anaheim, June 2013. The 50th anniversary of Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room was a huge event in the Tiki world. I had already decided to spend my birthday weekend in LA with Jess, centered around this event as the focal point, and as an added bonus, we met “Aunt” Mary Pat Killian in-person and treated her, her husband Hank, and her nephew (and my friend) Gordon to dinner and drinks at Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar. So when Josh Agle asked me, a few months earlier in NYC, when we were coming to LA, I just laughed and told him we’d see him again in June! Of course, I already knew that Disney had commissioned SHAG once more to create the signature artwork for this celebration, and I was prepared to finally pick up my SHAG/Disney swag in-person, for the first time. And what a haul! I had pre-ordered most of it, but was still really excited to handle the merchandise: shirts, pins, postcards, mini prints, Tiki mugs, bowls, and even some cool extra stuff we got just for pre-registering for the event! As we met Josh to get some of our stuff signed, he again thanked me for the CDs I had sent him, telling me how much he enjoyed listening to them during his drives out to Palm Springs. I smiled as I handed him another CD I had brought him, just for this occasion! Josh then signed one of my mini prints, with the orange Sharpee I had brought with me for this specific purpose, giving me the coolest personalized SHAG autograph I’m proud to have. I was in Heaven.

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So when will I next see Josh Agle? Who knows? It may be as soon as The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale this June, which Bruce and I plan to attend. SHAG has been to The Hukilau before, so maybe he’ll be there this year? If so, I’ll be happy to buy him a drink, shoot the breeze, and not ask him to sign anything, for a change. Unless, of course, I end up buying some really cool SHAG swag there…