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.

Tiki Ohana – Artists, Part Deux

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About a year-and-a-half ago, I kicked off a series of posts on the Tiki ohana, kind of a who’s who in the Tiki world. My first post was Tiki Ohana – Artists, featuring the artists I had come to admire by that time. Well, I’ve grown in my Tiki knowledge over the past 18 months, and “discovered” and met some more pretty cool artists along the way. Here they are, the second wave of artists to grace the Tiki Lounge.

Kevin-john Jobczynski. I got to know this wonderful artist the way I meet a lot of Tiki people: on the Internet. KJ checked out my page, I checked out his, and the rest is history. He was kind enough to appear on my podcast, where we talked about his beginnings as a sports artist, doing commission work for famous athletes and celebrities, before finally becoming a Disney master artist. Kevin-john has branched out into purely Tiki art as well. I got to meet him in-person at Tikiman Steve’s TikiFest 2016, which was held at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at WDW’s Polynesian Village Resort. Please check out KJ’s amazing art for yourself: http://kevinjohnstudio.com/

img_1176Dawn Frasier. Sophista-tiki is the name of this talented artist’s studio in Seattle WA. Dawn Frasier is a multi-faceted Tiki artist, creating everything from water color paintings, rugs, handmade clothing from exclusively designed fabrics, and Tiki decor in many shapes and sizes. One of her watercolors was featured on Page 6 of Smuggler’s Cove, the wonderful new book from Martin and Rebecca Cate. I’m proud to have a print of that amazing watercolor hanging on the wall in the Tiki Lounge. Please check out Dawn Frasier’s wide variety of work here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/sophistatiki

Chaunine Joy Landeau. This talented lady’s art isn’t exactly Tiki (yet), but Chaunine Joy’s work puts her squarely on the periphery. She’s a big fan of Disney and Tiki, and it’s just a matter of time until we get her to drink the Mai-Tai and start painting something Polynesian. Chaunine specializes in whimsical watercolors painted on a page from an actual book, which is pretty cool. She and I are working on a piece of art for the Tiki Lounge, and I already have the wall space ready for it. Stay tuned! In the meantime, please check out Chaunine Joy’s studio here: http://chauninejoy.tictail.com/

Tiki tOny Murphy. Tiki tOny is an artist I’ve just begun to follow. I saw some of his artwork at the aforementioned TikiFest 2016, both on the walls of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto and on t-shirts worn by a few of my fellow revelers. I also covet some of the custom-painted Vans I saw on his website – they will be mine, oh yes, they will be mine! Tiki tOny was just named the official artist for The Hukilau 2017, and some of the initial sketches he’s shared on his Facebook page look amazing. Please check out his website for those Vans and other cool Tiki stuff here: http://www.tikitony.com/

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 8

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Saturday is our last full day at WDW. We’ve done everything we wanted to do on this vacation, so now we go back and revisit some of our favorite spots and catch up on some shopping. We spent the morning at Hollywood Studios and the afternoon at Animal Kingdom with dinner at the Yak & Yeti. In between, we came back to the Polynesian for lunch at Captain Cook’s and a dip in the East Pool. Or, as most people refer to it: the Quiet Pool.

I’m sure some people have avoided staying at the Polynesian because their main pool, the Volcano Pool, is closed for renovation. I don’t know what the finished product will look like, but it sure is torn up right now. No matter to me and my family, because we have always preferred the Quiet Pool.

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We’ve been to the Quiet Pool 3 times during this vacation. The first time was Monday night around 7:30pm, the first day it was warm enough to swim. There was 1 other person in the pool. The second time was on Wednesday at around 2pm, and there were maybe 6 people in the pool with us. The third time was today at 1pm, and we had the pool to ourselves until 5 minutes before we left, when 1 kid slowly dipped in.

Talk about a great time to be at the Polynesian if you like the pool! With the Volcano Pool closed, Disney is doing their best to make the Quiet Pool more enjoyable. There are 2 lifeguards there at all times, where before it was swim at your own risk. They also placed 3 cast members in brightly-colored outfits poolside with loud music and games, trying to have a pool party during the daytime. They didn’t have many takers. The attempted pool party was the only thing keeping our pool from being “quiet.” Frankly, I liked the way it was before, but, if anything, it’s even less crowded now. Unless you really liked spending time playing in the Volcano Pool, the fact that it’s closed is no reason to avoid the Polynesian Village Resort. Quite the contrary!

Well, tomorrow is our getaway day, so this will be my final report for this trip. I want to thank all of my new readers for checking out my blog, and a big mahalo to everybody who has supported me since day 1, about 1 year ago. I hope you’ll all keep reading my posts, as I typically write something every two weeks on the world of Tiki. Until then, aloha!

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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 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 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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