Ohana Means Community

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Last weekend, I ran into an old friend at a concert. I know George Mowrer from the church we used to attend together and from some men’s retreats we enjoyed. Lately I’ve lost my desire for organized religion, so I hadn’t seen George for a while. He asked me if I had found another church, and I told him no, that I was giving that a break for now.

George and I are Facebook friends, so he knows of my Tiki obsession. When George asked me what I was doing to be in community, I told him my Tiki ohana was my community. He asked me to explain that to him, and I tried the best I could before the concert started and we shifted our focus to the music. I’m afraid my explanation must have been pretty disjointed. I will try to explain it better now, so if you’re reading this, George, this is for you.

My Tiki ohana is both real and virtual. I’ve written at length about the many aspects of it (Who’s Who In The Tiki Ohana): artists, builders, chroniclers, musicians, mixologists. I’ll now talk about some of the specific people I’ve gotten to know well, some in person, some virtually. I feel blessed to know these folks, as they truly make up a wonderful community for me.

Beth Lennon. A/K/A Mod Betty, Beth is the creator of Retro Roadmap, a really cool website devoted to spotlighting vintage and retro places across the country with the hope of preserving them. Years ago, Beth came across my A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge page and reached out to me to talk about Tiki. She noticed that there was an interconnect between my world of Tiki and her world of Mid-Century Modern, one that we’ve explored ever since. I invited Beth to come up to Bethlehem so I could show her Steel Stacks; she and her husband Cliff Hillis both came up and we immediately hit it off! Cliff is a musician, a singer-songwriter who is very busy in the Philly music scene. He brought me a copy of one of his CDs as a gift, and I gave Beth a SHAG art postcard that reminded me of her.

Over the years, we’ve crossed paths on many occasions. Beth came back to Bethlehem for a Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica concert I helped organize at Steel Stacks; I spent time with Beth and Cliff at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale; and I helped Beth organize a Tiki weekender in Wildwood NJ, the MCM/Doo-Wop capital of the East Coast. It was at this Wildwood event that I met many people I’ve gotten to know in the local Tiki ohana, folks like Robin Cammarota-Nicholson and Michael Hirsch.

Michael Hirsch. Michael lives in New York City, but his parents live in Allentown, so he comes to my neck of the woods often. Michael has been to my Tiki Lounge a few times. He is an architect by trade, and he is passionate about historical preservation, having written a book on Doo-Wop architecture. Michael organized a tour of historically significant landmarks in Wildwood during Mod Betty’s Tiki Weekend. He also is involved with the Society for Commercial Archeology and brought a few of his SCA friends to the Tiki Lounge the last time he visited.

I’ve seen Michael in other places besides Wildwood and Bethlehem. He and I broke bread together at another Retro Roadmap event at the Village Diner in upstate New York, where I also met his parents, Anita and Syman. It turns out the synagogue they attend is literally across the street from my house! Michael also met my friend Bruce and me at The Polynesian, an upscale new Tiki bar in Manhattan.

Robin Cammarota-Nicholson. Robin is another New York City resident I first met at the Wildwood Tiki Weekend. She and her husband Ken live in Yonkers, but Robin travels the world in her job with the American Council on Germany. Everywhere she goes, Robin searchesm out Tiki hotspots to try out. Although I haven’t seen her as often as I’ve seen Michael, I did run into Robin at a Surf Music weekend in Asbury Park NJ and at a pop-up Tiki bar at Boilermaker NYC, where the bar was taken over by Tiki mixologist extraordinaire and historian, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry.

Jeffrey Berry. Jeff “Beachbum” Berry is one of the most influential people in the Tiki revival movement which began in the 1990s. He has published multiple books on Tiki cocktail recipes and history, travels the world as a Tiki drink ambassador, and opened his own restaurant and Tiki bar, Latitude 29, in New Orleans. I first met Jeff at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale, where I attended his symposium on the dark days of Tiki drinks in the 1970s. I found him to be personable and kind, with no ego, as he spent time talking with me as if I was the only person there.

The next time I met The Bum, he took his generosity of spirit a step further. My sister Anita and I visited Latitude 29 while in New Orleans on some family business. Jeff agreed to do an interview with me for my podcast before we sat down for dinner. He was articulate, genuine, and a wonderful historian during our talk (you can check out this interview in my podcast episode here: Panda’s Tasty Jambalaya). During dinner, Beachbum Berry came to our table and shared a new drink he was working on with us, asking our opinion on it. What a nice gesture from a great guy! I consider it an honor to know Jeff Berry personally, as he is the most accessible and humble of the Tiki titans. Mahalo, Bum.

Steve Seifert. My wife Jess first introduced me to “Tikiman” Steve Seifert, who created a wonderful website dedicated to WDW’s Polynesian Village Resort: Tikiman Pages. Our family are Disney junkies, and The Polynesian is my happy place. Jess began following Tikiman’s website and Facebook page to keep up to date on all things Poly, which helped us better plan our vacations there.

Over the years, Tikiman has asked his followers to contribute to his website, whenever he knew somebody was at The Polynesian and he was looking for on-the-ground reporting. I helped Steve out when our family was on vacation there in 2014. In return, he helped publicize my blog posts through his audience, as I was blogging daily durning our stay (WDW Polynesian Day 1) and Tikiman’s followers took my readership into 5 digits!

A few years later, Tikiman decided to host a get-together for Tiki friends at the Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto in The Polynesian Village. It was really cool to meet him in person, along with seeing other members of the Tiki ohana like Jim Hayward, Scott Deeter, George Borcherding, and Kevin-John Jobczynski.

Kevin-john Jobczynski. I’ve gotten to know and appreciate a lot of Tiki artists over the years (Tiki Ohana: Artists, Tiki Ohana: Artists, Part Deux), but I’ve only actually met a very few of them. Josh Agle was the first, and I’ve documented my interactions with him before (Stalking SHAG). One of my current favorite artists is Kevin-john Jobczynski, who has become somewhat famous as a Disney Master Artist.

I was fortunate to meet KJ at Tikiman’s gathering at Trader Sam’s, where he debuted a new art print created especially for the event. I had previously purchased a piece from him entitled Mai-Tai Sunset, which was one of KJ’s earliest Tiki-specific pieces of art. How cool that he printed it on a piece of driftwood with a bamboo frame and rattan matting! This print, along with several other Kevin-john works, hangs proudly in the Tiki Lounge.

George Borcherding. Like me, George Borcherding is a huge fan of Tiki. I first got to know him via our online interactions, but I have now spent enough time with George in-person to consider him a true friend. All of our meetings have taken place at The Polynesian, which certainly isn’t a bad place to meet. A Dole Whip and a Captain’s Mai-Tai are great reasons to get together!

 

 

 

 

 

 

George, like me, has his own home Tiki bar, which he puts a lot of work into making special. I’ve never been to Nui Keoki’s Enchanted Grotto, but I enjoy following along on his Facebook page to see the latest and the greatest in Tiki decor. I believe he feels the same way about A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge.

One of these days, I will visit George in Jacksonville FL, and I’m sure he will come to Bethlehem PA too. For now, we have many memories we’ve made together at The Polynesian, from the time we met with many of our Tiki ohana at Tikiman Steve’s event, and the time we were a couple of non-Polynesian gringos crashing Auntie Kaui’s birthday celebration in Luau Cove, to just chilling out at the Tambu Lounge sipping on Mai-Tais made by Walter. And we’ll never forget being served by Skipper Natalie at Trader Sam’s, which was sadly the last time we saw her before she tragically passed away at too young an age. Okole mauna, Natalie, and mahalo, Bruddah George, for being a good friend and a big part of my Tiki community.

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.

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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