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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Tiki Ohana – Builders

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The Tiki craze was created by Don The Beachcomber in the 1930s, exploded with the return of American GIs from the Pacific Theatre of World War II in the 1940s, swept the nation in the 1950s and early 1960s, and vanished almost completely by the 1970s. Fortunately, Tiki was resurrected in the 1990s and is regaining its popularity today. Here are the current keepers of the Tiki torch who helped build and rebuild this wonderful lifestyle.

 

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LeRoy Schmaltz and Bob Van Oosting. 1956 was an important year for Tiki. This was the year The Mai-Kai opened its doors in Fort Lauderdale FL, and the same year that 2 guys in Southern California opened Oceanic Arts. I’ve written at length about LeRoy and Bob’s story (Keeping The Tiki Torch Lit, Nov 2013). It’s not an exaggeration to say that Oceanic Arts was the most important contributor to the Tiki lifestyle, both yesterday and today. They weathered the downturn of the 1970s and 1980s and are still going strong. Mahalo LeRoy Schmaltz and Bob Van Oosting. Please check out their website: www.oceanicarts.net.

 

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Sven Kirsten. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the most important figure in the current Tiki revival. Sven Kirsten is a self-proclaimed urban archeologist, a foreigner to our shores, who took it upon himself to research, document, and chronicle the Tiki culture of Mid-Century Modern America in his comprehensive tome, The Book of Tiki (2000). By doing so, Sven Kirsten inspired an entire generation of Tiki-philes to come up above ground, publicize their findings, and connect with each other. Sven Kirsten’s popularity is at an all-time high, as evidenced by last year’s successful exhibition at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris: Tiki Pop, L’Amérique rêve son paradis polynésien. Please check out the companion book here: www.taschen.com.

 

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Otto Von Stroheim. The Tiki craze was born on the West Coast, and the revival started there as well. From his home base in Los Angeles, Otto Von Stroheim was an early pioneer bringing Tiki back. He began publishing his Tiki News magazine in 1995 and continues to publish it as an e-newsletter today. Otto and his wife Baby Doe also created Tiki Oasis, the original Tiki weekender event held every August in Southern California, typically in Palm Springs or San Diego. He is one of the experts on all things Tiki, from cocktails and mugs to entertainment. Okole maluna, Otto Von Stroheim. Please check out this wonderful interview at The Atomic Grog: www.slammie.com/atomicgrog.

 

image Christie Tiki Kiliki White. Meanwhile, on the East Coast, a young lady in Atlanta GA was dreaming of putting on a Tiki Weekender event of her own for the folks who couldn’t make it to California. Along with her friend Swanky, Christie Tiki Kiliki White created The Hukilau in 2002, hosted by Trader Vic’s in Atlanta. That first 3-day Tiki weekend was a resounding success, and The Hukilau was moved to The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale the following year, where it’s been held ever since. I attended last year’s event and blogged live all 4 days I was there (Aloha from The Hukilau, Jun 2014). Now considered the world’s most authentic Tiki event, The Hukilau celebrates it’s 14th anniversary in 2015, thanks to the tireless efforts of cofounder and organizer Christie White. Mahalo, Tiki Kiliki! Please check out The Hukilau’s website for information on this year’s event: www.thehukilau.com.

 

image Tim Swanky Glazner. As a cofounder of The Hukilau, Tim Swanky Glazner is the East Coast’s answer to Otto Von Stroheim. An expert on all things Tiki, Swanky has many interests including wood carving, Tiki mugs, and mixology. He is the head bartender at Hapa Haole Hideaway in Knoxville TN, and created The Swank Pad website years ago to keep track of his diverse collections. Swanky is currently researching a book on the history of The Mai-Kai, which given his expertise and collection of memorabilia, should be an amazing read. Please check out Swanky’s Facebook page devoted to his forthcoming book here: Mai-Kai: Mystery, History and Adventure.