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.

A Small Collection

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Tiki mugs are addictive. At least, they are for me. It all started with a nice score on eBay, and since my first Tiki mug purchase, I’ve gone on to collect a few more. I’m now out of room in the shelf I built just 6 months ago, which means I should probably stop buying Tiki mugs. Or build another shelf in A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge. 😎

As I marvel at the small collection of Tiki mugs I’ve amassed in just a few short years, it dawned on me: these works of art are mileposts along my Tiki journey. I will now recreate that journey for you, with pictures to prove it. Here we go.


The Kahiki Polynesian Supper Club, Columbus OH. As mentioned before, I found this gem on eBay, at a pretty reasonable price. There were many Tiki mugs sold at The Kahiki, so it isn’t particularly rare, but I had just begun researching this now-extinct Tiki temple and had a trio of “worlds colliding” moments (see Whenceforth A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge) when I found this mug. It was the start of a new addiction.


The Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show, Fort Lauderdale FL. As my research into Tiki temples continued, I learned of the granddaddy of them all, The Mai-Kai. Founded in 1956 by two brothers from Chicago, this is the oldest and best Polynesian supper club in the world. My wife Jessica and I took a long weekend trip to Fort Lauderdale a couple of years ago (see Aloha Spirit: The Mai-Kai) so I could see this Tiki Mecca for myself. We spent many hours in this beautiful place, walking through the gardens, checking out the amazing Polynesian dance show, and knocking back a few libations in The Molokai Lounge. The tall Tiki mug came with my first Mai-Tai, and the rum barrel came from the gift shop. Good times, and I would return later for The Hukilau.



Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room and Trader Sam’s, Anaheim CA. In 2013, Jess and I hit the road again, this time to California for the 50th anniversary celebration of The Enchanted Tiki Room (see Aloha Spirit: Los Angeles). We spent a couple of sessions in the new Trader Sam’s, where my favorite drink was the Krakatoa. It came with a cool animated show in the bar and this spiffy, lava-dripping Tiki mug. I also picked up this amazing Pele mug by Kevin Kidney at the Enchanted Tiki Room festivities, where I also scored some cool SHAG swag from the man himself. It was a memorable trip that contributed a lot of pieces to the Tiki Lounge.


The Hukilau, Fort Lauderdale FL. In 2014, I left Jessica at home and met my buddy Bruce at The Hukilau, the East Coast’s biggest Tiki weekender event (see The Hukilau: Day 1). 4 days of hanging out with like-minded Tiki geeks led to many new friendships and 2 cool new Tiki mugs: an orange coconut mug and a Marquesian cannibal mug by Eekum Bookum. Tasty.

Tiki Pop, Paris France. Sven Kirsten is the godfather of the modern Tiki movement (see Tiki Ohana: Builders). His newest book, Tiki Pop, was the companion book to the expo he had in Paris in 2014, Tiki Pop : L’Amérique rêve son paradis polynésien, at the musée du quai Branly. I gladly scooped up this tome and the Tiki Bob mug that came with it. Both are displayed proudly in the Tiki Lounge.


Three Dots and a Dash, Chicago IL. Last year, for my 50th birthday, the family took a road trip to Chicago. We spent time visiting my buddy Bruce, who lives in Lincoln Park, and he surprised me with a gift of this cool Tiki mug from Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge in Minneapolis MN. After a wonderful dinner at David Burke’s Primehouse, Jess took the kids back to the hotel and Bruce and I headed to Three Dots and a Dash for some Tiki drinks. While there, I picked up this gorgeous seahorse bowl designed by Baï of Paris. This is the most beautiful piece of Tiki art I own! It would inspire me to get another Tiki mug from Baï later.


Hawaii Kai, New York NY. When we returned from Chicago, my mother-in-law Phyllis surprised me with a gift of this cool bamboo Tiki mug. She got it on her honeymoon in NYC, at the now-defunct Hawaii Kai, Manhattan’s most famous Polynesian supper club. This is the rarest Tiki mug in my collection. Mahalo, Phyllis!


Tiki Lounge, Pittsburgh PA. Last year, we attended the first annual Wildwood Vintage Tiki Weekender in Wildwood NJ (see Wildwood Weekend), organized by my friend Beth Lennon of Retro Roadmap. I made a lot of new friends at the beach that weekend, including Paul Matarrese from Pittsburgh. During a room crawl / swap fest, I bartered one of my music compilations for this cool Tiki mug Paul brought along. The matchbook was a nice throw-in.

 Tiki Farm, San Clemente CA. Tiki Farm is one of the most popular purveyors of Polynesian pop culture around. They’ve created many Tiki mugs during the current Tiki revival, and just celebrated their 15th anniversary with this beautiful mug by Doug Horne. The mug comes with a cast-in spear holder in the back to hold a cool orange spear swizzle stick.


Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at The Polynesian Village, Orlando FL. On a quick trip to Orlando for a work sales conference last month, we made a quick stop in my happy place, The Polynesian. When we were there for our last family vacation, Trader Sam’s was still under construction. It’s now open for business! I met my newest Tiki friend, George Borcherding, for some Dole Whips and a couple of Tiki drinks. Our first drink was the Uh-Oa, which came in this cool bowl. I now have 2 Tiki mugs from Trader Sam’s, one from each coast.


Ku by Baï, Paris France. Ku is the Hawai’ian God of War. This is my 2nd Tiki mug designed by Baï, but this one I got directly from her. Whereas the Three Dots and a Dash seahorse bowl is my most beautiful Tiki mug, Ku is my most detailed and substantial Tiki mug. I really love Baï Tiki’s work – it’s stunning!

So there you have it. These are my prized possessions: Tiki mugs collected along many stops of my Tiki journey. But these aren’t the only Tiki mugs I own. My friends have a habit of thinking of me during their travels, and pick up little Tiki trinkets to bring home as gifts to me. Some of these gifts are Tiki mugs. Nondescript but cool, I haven’t been able to identify their origins, but I display them around A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge nonetheless. Here are a few final pictures of these beauties in action. If anybody recognizes any of these Tiki mugs, please let me know. Aloha!




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 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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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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