What’s New at The Polynesian

Standard

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.

Advertisements

Tiki Temples

Standard

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.

 

image

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.

 

image

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!

 

image

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.

 

image

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 😉

 

image

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!